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The Seven Best Things You Can Do with an Amazon Echo

In fact, you can do much more

Amazon Speakers

     
                                                                Image source: https://www.amazon.com/

On October 31, Amazon released the 2nd generation of its Echo, a smart speaker. But what is all the buzz about, there are thousands of speakers out there, smart or otherwise, so what’s the big deal with the Echo? Indeed, if you look at the Echo as yet another speaker, it’s nothing special. However, the Echo is exceptional not for its audio functions. It is a true magic lamp, home to a genie who is at your command as soon as you say her name — Alexa…

So, basically, the article should have been titled The Seven Best Things You Can Do with Amazon Alexa, because it is Alexa who is actually doing all the work. However, Echo is your direct channel to Alexa, through Echo, you can speak to her and hear her answer you. Just make sure you say her name first, otherwise she will not listen.

So, what can Alexa do for you? What can you ask her through Amazon Echo?

Meet Alexa, Your Diligent Assistant

Alexa is you voice assistant with AI. You can talk to her, ask her for information, tell her to do certain tasks or have her arrange services for you. Some things do not need any specific accounts, profiles or access permissions, while others, like, for example, checking your bank account or ordering a ride through Uber, require account details for Alexa to access the service.

When you purchase the Amazon Echo speaker, Alexa is already hiding within. To set Alexa up, you need the barest minimum — a Wi-Fi network and a device to download the Alexa app to. Plug the Echo in the power outlet and connect to your Wi-Fi network (just follow the simple instructions in the Alexa application). When you are connected, just start talking to Alexa (remember, say her name first to wake her up).

Make a Wish

Make thousands of wishes, rather. In addition to answering questions and providing the information from various open sources, Alexa has about 15 thousand dedicated functions, called skills — from sending messages and checking the latest news to supplying meditation soundtracks and reading bedtime stories to your kids. Just enable a skill (to enable a skill you need to ask Alexa for it — surprise!) and Alexa will perform your request.

In this article, we will look at how Alexa can help you in automating your home, because she can really be brilliant at it. Before we go on, I would like to answer the sceptics’ question: “Your smart home is already in your smartphone, why would you need another gizmo to automate what is already automated?”. Well, the point is not about “automating the automated”, it is about giving you additional control. Alexa can turn your lights on when your hands are full, and you cannot reach for your smartphone. Or, she can dim the lights and shut the blinds when you are in bed with a headache and even opening your eyes is a torture. In any case, being able to use your voice to control your home gives you additional options which you can fully appreciate only when other options become unavailable. And, if truth be told, you’ll quickly appreciate the overlord feeling that comes over you once you see how machines obey the sound of your voice.

OK, so we’ve got Echo and Alexa, so let’s see what we can have them do in the context of home automation.

Smart Lighting

Of course, this is what first comes to mind — “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights!” There are lots of Alexa-compatible smart bulbs, both working via a hub and standalone, so you will have no problem selecting the ones which suit your conditions best. Check the smart bulb line by Philips — you can have bulbs and light strips, white and color-changing, for small and wide areas. The downside is that Philips bulbs require a hub, the Hue Bridge, which in our case will be receiving commands via Alexa. If you prefer not to install a hub for your lighting, look at LIFX or TP-Link bulbs which will communicate with Alexa directly. For TP-Link bulbs, however, you will need to enable Alexa’s skill.

Safety and Security

Keeping your home safe is mostly about preventing intruders from getting in. This is the main purpose of the thousands of locks of different complexity which are invented around the globe. Home automation is no exception, and Alexa can be of help here to provide voice control.

With August Smart Lock, you can ask Alexa to lock it or to check if it is locked or not. Again, this requires a hub (August Connect Wi-Fi bridge) and a special Alexa skill.

Temperature Control

Smart thermostats are very popular with homeowners for the great opportunities they provide — in terms of both comfort and savings. With a smart thermostat, you can always be sure that your house is heated only when and where it is necessary keeping your expenses at a reasonable level. Bring Alexa into the picture — and you can tell her to make it warmer right from under your blanket. Or, when you are in the middle of cooking a big dinner with hands plunged deep into dough or greasy from cutting steaks — just tell Alexa that you are too hot, and she will have the thermostat lower the temperature in your kitchen. Nest Learning Thermostat can integrate with Alexa directly, while Honeywell requires a SmartThings hub.

Cleaner

Cleaning

Everybody has heard of robot vacuum cleaners, and many of us own one of them already. Indeed, the idea is great — your home is getting cleaned while you are doing other things, resting or even away (and cats enjoy riding them, too, as we know from numerous videos). Well, with Alexa, the minimal effort of switching on your vacuum cleaner is no longer necessary — just say “Alexa, ask Roomba to begin cleaning” without breaking off whatever you were doing. To operate robot vacuum cleaners via Alexa, you need to enable the corresponding skill.

Smart Switches

We have already browsed the smart bulbs which Alexa can help you control. However, if your light bulbs are not smart yet, you can still control them remotely using smart switches. The lights will come on and off on your command. With Alexa, you can send the command through her. For no-hub installations, choose Belkin Wemo Wi-Fi Smart Light Switch turning your lights on and off. This switch currently cannot dim your lights, so if you need that function, look at other products, for example, Lutron Caseta Wireless Dimmer Switch which you can voice-control to make your lighting brighter or dimmer. This switch requires a hub, though.

Smart Plugs

Smart Plugs

Image source: https://www.tp-link.com/us/products/details/cat-5516_HS110.html

Smart plugs seem to be among the simplest smart devices, however, their power is in their ability to turn any simple device into a smart one. They are the perfect choice for those just starting their smart home journey, as they are small, reasonably priced and require zero installation effort — they are simply plugged into any existing wall socket taking over its functions. Smart plugs control the power supply of whatever is plugged in turning it on and off on your command. Again, Alexa is here to help you control your plugs and the devices connected through them. TP-Link Smart Wi-Fi Plug with Energy Monitoring may be a good choice for its decent set of features at an attractive price.

Smart Kitchen Appliances

These are something every home cook will appreciate. Isn’t it cool to have another “pair of hands” when you are cooking two or three recipes at the same time? Wouldn’t it be great to tell the oven to lower the heat or to switch off altogether while you are busy whipping cream and can’t let the whisk go? Well, make Alexa your sous chef and tell her what to do. Bosch has rolled out a whole line of its Home Connect appliances supporting Alexa — an oven, a coffee machine and a washing machine.

Afterword

Many people think that Amazon Echo and Alexa are just for fun. In reality, their capabilities are much wider than playing music or telling the current time in Kathmandu. Amazon Echo with Alexa is your genie ready to grant you thousands of wishes. Just summon her, tell her… and don’t forget to say her name.

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