Alexa is the voice and the operating interface for Amazon's voice-interactive Echo devices. The Echo provides the port through which Alexa connects you by voice control to Amazon's cloud of entertainment and information resources, to the Internet, and to smart devices in and around your home.
Amazon produces Echo in several configurations. The standard Echo, now in its second generation, offers an improved speaker array over the first generation Echo. Echo Dot, also in its second generation, embodies all the functionality of the standard Echo at half the cost. Echo Dot's onboard speakers are minimal, but the Dot has an audio output plus Bluetooth, so it's easy to connect the Echo Dot to higher audio quality speakers. Amazon Echo Plus includes a built-in smart home hub which can make setting up voice controls over smart home devices easier, especially if the devices are not natively Alexa enabled. Echo Show and Echo Spot incorporate a touch screen, which provides an alternative means of input, but, as with the other Amazon Echo devices, Spot and Show also respond via Alexa to vocal commands.
Setting Up Your Amazon Echo
Before powering up the Echo device, download the Amazon Alexa app for your phone or tablet. It's available through the App Store or you can download it from https://alexa.amazon.com. The app is supported in Fire, Android, and Apple iOS.
- Power up your Echo. With the standard Echo, the Echo Dot and the Echo Plus, the indicator ring at the top will turn blue and then orange. When the ring is orange Alexa will greet you.
- Launch the Alexa app and follow the instructions to connect your Echo device to a wi-fi network. If you have trouble connecting the device to your wi-fi, restart it by unplugging it and then plugging it in again. If that doesn't work, try resetting your Echo to its factory settings.
- Wake up Alexa. Amazon Echo devices are set to respond when you speak the word"Alexa" as the "wake word." You can begin to explore Alexa's capabilities by first saying "Alexa, what time is it?" or something similar. Although your choices are limited, you can also change the wake word to "Echo," "Amazon," or "computer."
Questions? Ask Alexa
From the outset, Alexa can answer questions, play selections from any of the music you've purchased through Amazon, and, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber, from the enormous library of free Amazon Prime music as well. To begin to take full advantage of Alexa's capabilities, you'll want to customize the settings in the Alexa app. Set your location and make sure Alexa has the correct time. Select "Settings" in the main menu of the app, then scroll down to "Accounts." There, you can link to a Pandora or Spotify account, if you have one, choose the source of your daily news under "Flash Briefing" and set "Sports Update" to report on your favorite teams.
Add Some Special Skills
As versatile as Alexa is right out of the box, Skills add further, almost unlimited, capabilities. Skills are more-or-less equivalent to apps, some of them developed by Amazon and a great many more independently developed. Some of them are general abilities and some of them set up a link to a specific service, like ordering a pizza or summoning an Uber ride. Tap on "Skills" in the app menu to see what's available and to make your selections. When you find something you like, you simply enable it. When you want to call up a Skill, you will need to use a particular word or phrase that Alexa links to it. You can discover that special prompt word or phrase by checking the Skills description.
Smarten Up Your Home
One of the most valuable services Alexa can provide is as the control center of a smart home. Myriad smart home devices are available—from lights, locks, and thermostats to major appliances—all of them designed to respond, through Alexa, to direct voice commands or remotely through the Alexa app. When choosing a smart home device, check to make sure it works with Alexa.
When setting up smart home products, you first have to download the device's companion app and establish the gadget independent of Alexa. Once it's established, you can link it to Alexa. In many cases, that simply requires saying, "Alexa, discover new devices." Within a few seconds, Alexa will recognize the device and register it in the Alexa app. In some cases, you might have to enable a dedicated skill from the app's list of "Smart Home Skills."
Once you have added several smart home products to Alexa's domain, the Alexa app allows you to group them and give them any name you choose. Thus, with a single command, you can turn off all the lights in a room or in the whole house, or group any combination of smart home actions you find useful.
Alexa is Still Growing
Alexa's versatility and adaptability mean you can freely experiment. Try out features and commands and fine-tune them to suit your individual habits, adding and discarding Skills as you gain experience. The Alexa universe will continue to expand, with more smart products and new Skills to control them, new services and more entertainments. Stay tuned.
A former agency art director then freelance designer, illustrator and copywriter, Bill has written for the medical, technical, industrial, food and agricultural industries. With over 35 years experience in the area of home improvement. He has produced books on multiple subjects for Home Depot, The Handyman Club of America, Hometime, Black & Decker and Popular Mechanics.