The Amazon Echo is an awesome digital assistant that is affordable, too.
IF YOU'RE SHORT ON TIME ...
What is an Amazon Echo Exactly?
You have probably heard about the Amazon Echo and/or seen the commercials featuring Amazon Alexa - but if you are anything like me, you may not know exactly what the thing actually does.
I am a huge fan of gadgets and consumer tech but finding the time to learn about new things is hard.
But the longer I waited - the more models Amazon came out with. Sheesh - innovation.
So, I decided it was time to take a closer look.
To answer the question - the Echo is "a hands-free speaker that you control with your voice."
Alexa is the voice inside that speaker.
But it is so much more than just a speaker.
In the picture:
The 2nd Generation Amazon Echo in Charcoal Fabric - comes in 6 color options. Get more info:
3 Popular Amazon Echo models:
What Are The Different Amazon Echo Models?
Before we get in to what you can do with the Amazon Echo, let's take a look at the different models.
There are quite a few so it can be confusing.
The Second Generation Amazon Echo
One of the newest models is the second generation Amazon Echo.
If you don't have an Echo yet - then this might be a good one to start with. It has upgraded speakers and sound quality. It also fits in nicely with your home decor in that you get to choose from 6 different finishes.
Honestly, I think it kind of looks like an essential oil diffuser - but you be the judge.
The Amazon Echo Dot - 2nd Generation
The Amazon Echo Dot is a small round disk, sort of like the top two-thirds were cut off of the second gen Echo.
It also costs less than the 2nd Generation Echo - but although it does have a small built in speaker, it is not nearly as robust as the speaker in the larger 2nd Generation Echo.
The advantage of the Echo Dot is that it is more affordable, especially if you want to place one in many rooms in your house. You may choose a more expensive model like the Echo Show for a busy room like your kitchen, and then choose the Dot to put in the kids bedrooms.
The Amazon Echo Show
The Amazon Echo Show is the wave of the future.
It combines the features of a standard Echo and Alexa with a screen.
You can use it to make video calls, see lyrics with Amazon Music, watch Prime Video, connect to the internet and more.
You can truly have a smart home with this device - however, you will need some accessories and other compatible devices to make it happen.
Special offer on the Echo Show:
The Amazon Echo Spot
It is a smaller and less robust version of the Show but encased in a cute circular frame, with a circular screen.
I think the whole circular thing makes it really unique.
In my opinion, I probably would use it supplement an Echo Show, but not instead of one.
The Echo Spot has some fun features where you can set it as a normal clock face and the device actually looks like a regular alarm clock.
The Amazon Echo Plus
The Amazon Echo Plus is an Echo with a built in smart home hub.
In order to use the smart home functions that Alexa offers, you need to purchase some accessories. One of these items is a smart home hub.
Because the Echo Plus has a hub built in, in theory you would not need to buy a separate hub.
HOWEVER, this may not be the case due to compatibility issues between different brands of equipment.
If you are considering purchasing the Echo Plus, I encourage you to read through the questions and comments on Amazon, before you make your decision.
The Amazon Tap
So, the Amazon Tap is a portable Alexa-enabled bluetooth speaker.
It is not truly an Echo.
You activate Tap by tapping it - not with your voice like Echo.
But the Amazon Tap is battery powered so you can use it as a bluetooth speaker on the go - and when it is connected to wifi you can use the Alexa functions.
The Amazon Tap only comes in black but has an optional sling carrying case in some fun colors.
What Does the Amazon Echo Do?
To get a full understanding of everything that the Amazon Echo and Alexa can do for you - it is probably best to view this guide on Amazon.
But here are some of the more basic functions and what additional accessories you might need to make it happen.
First: Download the Alexa App
Before you even get started with the Echo - it seems that a logical first step would be to download the Alexa App for your smartphone - especially if you plan to use the Echo to make calls.
Use the Amazon Echo to Listen to Music
Alexa connects to many popular music streaming services like Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more.
Personally, this gave me pause because I have Apple Music - which does not work natively with Alexa. However, I believe you can stream Apple Music to an Echo via bluetooth - though I would check on this yourself to be certain.
Use the Amazon Echo to Make Calls
You can use your Echo to make phone calls from your cellular device (including Apple iPhone or Android) as well as your home phone (coming in December 2017).
To connect your cell phone you just need the free Alexa App.
But your home phone you will need this Echo Connect device which you can pre-order now (release date is December 13, 2017).
How to Create a Smart Home With Amazon Echo
One of the beautiful things about the Echo is that you can use it to create a smart home environment.
But keep in mind that this doesn't work right out of the box.
You will need many Alexa enabled accessories to transform your home and make it smart.
And it is an investment.
With Alexa you have the potential to
- turn your lights on and off
- control your thermostat
- work as a baby monitor
- see who is at your front door
- control your garage doors and your sprinkler systems.
How Does Alexa Communicate with Your Lights and Appliances?
It took me a while to wrap my head around the idea of a smart home hub and how it integrates with the Echo.
The logic is this - by themselves, your appliances and lights are not smart. You need to turn them on and off physically.
In order to work with Alexa, you must somehow get the lights, the thermostat, the coffee maker - whatever to connect to the internet or directly to the Echo.
Some newer appliances are designed to work with Alexa and are ready to go right out of the box.
But for others, my understanding is that you use a smart home hub like this one to connect all the devices you want to be "smart" like lights, thermostats, etc to the internet.
Or you use a smart outlet like this one that does not require a hub.
Then you can pair this hub or outlet with Alexa and use your Echo to voice control your connected devices.
Why Use a Smart Home Hub?
If your goal is to connect lots of different appliances etc to your Echo system - then it seems like a hub would be a good option.
The thing to keep in mind is compatibility.
Smart home hubs are not manufactured by Amazon - so different brands may only be compatible with certain appliances or accessories.
You want to set up a system that will work with your specific equipment.
Here are some options in smart home hubs:
How to Turn Your Lights On and Off With Alexa
There are many ways to use Alexa to control the lights in your home.
You could use a smart home hub or a smart plug.
Or you can buy smart light bulbs like these that don't require a hub or a special plug.
How to Use Amazon Echo as a Baby Monitor?
Take advantage of this special deal:
Again, you will need an accessory - namely an Alexa enabled camera like this one to put in the nursery so that you can properly watch over your precious baby.
How to Use Alexa to Control Your Thermostats
Similar to the baby monitor, you would need an Alexa enabled thermostat to be able to control it with your Echo.
One of the more popular and well-known models is the Nest thermostat, although there are a few others available.
How to Use Alexa as Your Doorbell
Alexa even works with some electronic doorbells like the Ring.
With the Ring you can see, hear, and speak to whomever is at your door.
More Is Yet To Come
As you can see the Amazon Echo is just the beginning of creating a true smart home.
With one unit you can ask Alexa to check the weather, turn on music, make calls, get an Uber, or order a pizza.
With two units, you can communicate with people in other rooms of your home - like an intercom system.
And once you start adding Alexa enabled smart hubs, outlets, and appliances - the sky is the limit.
But keep in mind that technology is never flawless - you must consider compatibility issues and also the cost of all the various components.
As the popularity of the Amazon Echo grows so will the list of features and compatible devices.