You can connect and control a wide range of smart home devices with Amazon Alexa. The voice assistant can also play well with hubless devices like WeMo switches and Nest thermostats.
Amazon takes privacy seriously and lets you control your Alexa experience with settings in the Alexa app or the device itself. You can even turn off your microphone and silence the speaker.
Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant that offers various capabilities, including interacting with smart home devices, controlling your TV and music, and delivering news and weather updates. It can also help you set up routines, like “Alexa, good night,” which turns off the lights, locks the door, and plays sleep sounds. You can even use it to create a morning routine that includes reading the day’s weather forecast and playing your favorite playlist.
With over 100,000 third-party apps that enhance its functionality, Alexa is a powerful tool for the smart home or office. These apps are called Skills and are available for free through the Alexa app or website. Many are designed to work with smart home devices from various manufacturers, including SNAS, Fibaro, Belkin, Ecobee, LIFX, IFTTT, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, and Wink. Some are also designed to provide a level of hands-free security.
It’s important to remember that Alexa and similar digital assistants cannot do everything you ask them. Their hardware limits them, and they cannot control all aspects of a device. Sometimes, you must download the corresponding software to perform certain functions.
One of the most popular Alexa features is Routines, which allows you to automate a series of actions using a single command. For example, a simple “Alexa, goodnight” can trigger the machine to turn off your lights, lock your doors and play sleep sounds. Another helpful feature is Whisper Mode, which enables Alexa to communicate in whispers and listen specifically for your wake word.
In September 2019, Amazon announced several new Alexa skills to improve privacy. These include disabling Drop In, which lets you connect to other Alexa units in your home and use them as intercoms. It’s a great feature for parents with children who want to keep an eye on their kids, but it raises concerns about privacy and security.
Other new Alexa features include a skill called Alexa Together, which allows aging adults to make hands-free calls to Urgent Response and send their location to loved ones in an emergency. The service also enables family members to receive alerts about their loved one’s innovative home interactions and call for assistance if they can’t use the device themselves.
The Amazon Echo hardware lineup looks like an unassuming series of Bluetooth speakers and alarm clocks, but these devices do much more than play music. They use Amazon Alexa, an intelligent personal assistant that enables users to control their smart home devices, order items from Amazon, read the news or an e-book or audiobook, set reminders, turn on the lights or the TV, and more.
When activated using the “wake word” (Amazon defaults to “Alexa”), Alexa will listen for a spoken command and respond accordingly. It can also connect to other services and third-party apps, including smart-home gadgets from a variety of manufacturers, enabling the Echo to turn on your lamp, open your garage door, check your calendar or add an item to your shopping list. It can also play music, answer questions, report the weather, recite sports scores and schedules, provide restaurant information, read the news, tell jokes, make phone calls, and even give you your daily commute status.
You can control Echo from an Android or iOS device, including smartphones, tablets, and laptops. You can also set up and modify your device through the Alexa app, which lets you customize your voice input and view your recent commands. The app also offers features unavailable on Alexa, including creating a group of frequently used phrases and controls that can be triggered with a single word or voice.
The Alexa app can also pair with third-party apps and devices, allowing you to watch video feeds from Netgear Arlo or Ring cameras. The Alexa app can also support IFTTT, a free web service that lets you create cause-and-effect relationships with different devices or services, such as automating your home when you arrive at the front door by linking it to your smart lock.
Despite its many capabilities, Echo is not without its quirks and glitches. Fortunately, resetting your device when something goes wrong is easy, although the exact process will vary depending on your model. You can also mute an Echo device with a button with a slashed-through microphone, which can help protect your privacy and quiet down the speaker for a while.
Amazon Fire TV
The Amazon Fire TV is a streaming media player plugs into an HDMI port and gives you access to apps, movies, shows, subscription services, music, photos, and games. It also supports over-the-air (OTA) TV to watch local channels without a cable subscription.
The setup is simple, plug in the power adapter and HDMI cable. Then turn your TV to the channel showing a “Fire Stick” logo and follow the instructions onscreen. You can also use your existing television with a Fire Stick, but you will need an HDMI extender. You can also pair the Fire TV Stick with an Echo speaker, letting you control playback and start streaming using your voice.
Fire TV emphasizes its content as an Amazon product, but it offers access to a wide variety of apps and services, including Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Disney+, and more. You can even rent movies through the Prime Video service, which is included with your Amazon Prime membership.
There are several different models of the Fire TV, from the inexpensive and basic model to the more expensive version that supports Dolby Atmos surround sound. All come with an Alexa Voice Remote, which is voice-enabled, so you can use voice commands to navigate the interface and open apps or find what you want to watch. The Fire TV also lets you connect to other smart devices like bright lights, a smart thermostat, or a security camera for easy home integration.
If you don’t want to deal with a physical remote or its potential to fall down the back of the sofa, the Fire TV app on your smartphone or tablet does everything a physical remote can do and more. It’s available for both iOS and Android.
One thing to remember with the Fire TV is that it uses a modified version of the Android operating system, which means you won’t have access to all the same Android apps available on other streaming media players, such as Chromecast and Google TV. However, most apps available on Fire TV are free to download, and there is a growing selection of paid apps as well.
Amazon Family is a service that comes bundled with Amazon Prime and gives Prime members discounts on day-to-day baby products like diapers. It also includes a newsletter that’s customized to your child’s age. Other benefits include 20% off diaper subscriptions, 15% off eligible products from your registry, and same-day delivery in select cities.
When you sign up for Amazon Family, you must agree to share your wallet, which means you can use the other person’s credit and debit card to make purchases on Amazon. This is designed to stop people from creating multiple accounts and using different cards. This feature is only available to adult household members and can be turned off if you want to stop sharing your card details.
There are two adults in a Household, and they can manage the profiles of up to four teens and four children. Parents can access digital content on Kindle and Fire tablets using Kindle FreeTime, and they can control parental settings by deciding what information kids can view and setting academic goals. Parents can also impose time restrictions on their children’s accounts.
Aside from the free Amazon Prime perks, you can also share Kindle books, digital video and audio, and other Prime features with members of your Household. You can also share your birthday with other household members and send each other gift cards to spend on Amazon. You can even use Amazon Prime Rewards to earn points and cash back on your purchases.
While Amazon Family has some benefits, it’s important to remember that it is only for families and not for friends, roommates, or distant relatives. One big reason is that it links all of your billing and payment options, which can be problematic if you have a separate account with another person. Additionally, once you remove someone from the Household, they can’t create or join another for 180 days.
To start with Amazon Family, visit the Amazon Home page and click “Add an adult or a teen.” Enter the other person’s email address to verify the account. Once the adult has confirmed their identity, you can begin sharing items from the Family Library.