The Amazing Amazon Echo

The Amazing Amazon Echo

amazon-echo-topicThe Amazon Echo was quite a surprise when it was released in late 2014.  A smart speaker/virtual assistant that works with your voice.  Even though it’s a pretty cool device, it took a while to gain popularity.  This was partly because it wasn’t available to the general public for the first 6-months or so.

I’ve grown to really love it.  The array of mics around the top of the Echo allows the device to know where you are.  If the Echo is in the middle of the room and there are people talking all around it, it knows where you are and listens to only you even if there are other people talking in the room.

You activate it by saying a keyword.  By default it is called Alexa but you can also use Amazon or Echo if you prefer those.  After saying the keyword the light on top of the device points in your direction showing you where it is listening.  You then give it a command.

Music

You can ask Alexa to play music for you from your Amazon music account as well as Spotify, iHeartRadio, or Pandora accounts.  I listen to KFI radio by saying “Alexa, play KFI”

Amazon Ordering

You can ask Alexa to order Amazon products for you.  It’s really easy if you’ve ordered the item before.  When I run out of bacon crumbles, I simply say “Alexa, order more bacon crumbles”.  She will order your usual product and it arrives 2 days later.  It’s as simple as that. You can put a code on the echo if you don’t want your kids ordering things that you don’t know about until it arrives.

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General Questions

Just like Siri or Google Assistant, you can ask general questions of Alexa.  She’s not quite as smart as Siri or Google but she’s not that bad either.  You can ask:

  • Alexa, when was Alyssa Milano born?
  • Alexa, who is Grace Vanderwaal?
  • Alexa, tell me a Star Wars Joke?
  • Alexa, what is the weather going to be like today?
  • Alexa, how long will it take me to get to work today?
  • Alexa, how many tablespoons in a cup?
  • Alexa, order me an Uber.
  • Alexa, set timer for 3 minutes.
  • Alexa, what is the latest news?

Home Automation

My favorite use of the Amazon Echo has got to be Home Automation.  I’ve hooked it smart devices in my house like my WeMo Lights and Rachio sprinklers.  Doing this allows an Echo owner to ask things like:

  • Alexa, turn on the family room light
  • Alexa, Ask Rachio to water Zone 3 for 15 minutes
  • Alexa, turn off the lights downstairs
  • Alexa, Lock the font door
  • Alexa, how much gas is in my Ford?
  • Alexa, turn up the thermostat to 78 degrees.

Amazon Echo Devices

amazontapfront-jpg-crop-article250-mediumThere are 3 different types of Amazon devices.

The Original Echo has a good speaker in it but it’s not a great speaker.  If you want great sound to play music out of you can use the Echo Dot to hook into a better speaker.  The echo Dot is basically Alexa without the speaker.  It’s made to connect to a better speaker system.  You can talk to the Echo Dot and it replies out of your speaker system.

For those who don’t want the convenience of being able to talk to Echo at anytime, there is the Amazon Tap.  You press a button (tap) first and then ask Alexa to help you.

Conclusion

I love my Amazon Echo.  It’s a great device.  I recommend it to anyone who has ever wanted to talk to your house.  It’s been such a hit that there will be a lot of copy cats.  Look for similar devices soon from the likes of Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft.  I personally am excited for the Google Home device that will probably do a lot of the same things but will be more integrated into Google Services.  We’ll know more about it after Google’s Early October event.

WeMo Light Switch by Belkin

WeMo Light Switch by Belkin

372About 6 months ago, I installed WeMo light switches in my house.  These switches allow you to control your lights a number of new ways:

  • Using your Smartphone
  • Set to a Timer
  • Using your Computer
  • Using your Voice with help by the Amazon Echo or other service
  • Old fashion way using your finger on the switch

For the most part, they work great.  They connect to your home network through your Wifi connection. There are multiple types of WeMo devices.  There are light switches, or simple plugs where you can plug in lights, fans or other electronics.  They even have a device that allows you to track your energy use real time on your smartphone.  If you want to know when your laundry cycle is over, you can have the app notify you.

Installation

372-1I installed the switches myself (although if you are not comfortable working with electricity, you should hire an electrician to do it for you).  I turned off the electricity at the breaker, removed my old light switch using a screwdriver and installed the new switch using the easy to follow diagram included in the packaging.  Then, I turned on the breaker and connected the switch to the Wifi using the WeMo app as a guide.

Use

We used the WeMo app to program one of our lights to a timer, turning on at sunset and back on at sunrise.  Using our Amazon Echo with our lights is fun.  We can say, “Alexa, turn on the dining room lights” or at night we can say “Alexa, turn off all the lights downstairs”.  This Christmas, we plan to use our WeMo devices to control our Christmas lights, both outside and on our tree.

Price

The prices usually range from $35-50 per device depending on which version that you get.  It would be pretty expensive to replace your whole house at once so starting with 1 or 2 and then purchasing more as time goes by can be a smart idea.  I purchased mine through Amazon.

 

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