When you think about the future of smart homes, you probably think about controlling appliances and devices with voice instruction: “Dim the lights.” “Start the dishwasher.” “Turn on the air conditioning.” But this futuristic vision isn’t just a dream. Smart home voice control is possible today, thanks to the Amazon Echo.
Labeled as a hands-free speaker, Echo goes beyond playing music — it serves as your smart home’s butler. With seven microphones, beam-forming technology, enhanced noise cancellation, and far-field voice recognition, you can ask Echo a question from anywhere in the room, even when music is playing. Just say the wake word, and Echo will light up and respond to your request.
Echo is one of the easiest smart devices to set up and use. Plug Echo in, connect to the Internet with the app, and start giving Alexa — Echo’s brain and voice — questions or requests. Combined with its simple setup is a nearly endless list of abilities and options.
A Growing, Adapting Brain
Amazon built Alexa in the Cloud, so the program continuously updates its database of answers and abilities. You can ask technical questions as you would on Google, check the score of a sports game, request the weather forecast, find out movie show times, and more. Alexa adapts to your speech patterns and preferences, so the more you use Echo, the more it can anticipate your needs. You can also enable special skills within the app, such as requesting an Uber ride or ordering a pizza.
One downside to the Echo is that conversational or natural requests don’t always yield the desired result. If you’re looking for information that would be found on Wikipedia, you’d have to say, “Alexa, Wikipedia Leo Tolstoy,” as opposed to the more fluid, “Alexa, who is Leo Tolstoy?” However, as Echo is constantly updating, there could be a solution to this in the future.
Smart Device Connectivity
As impressive as Alexa is, the Echo’s connectivity with numerous programs and smart devices is what makes it one of the best smart devices on the market. In addition to streaming music from iTunes, Amazon Music, Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, you can listen to audiobooks from Audible, reorder items from Amazon.com, and more.
Echo also connects to several popular smart devices. With Wink, WeMo, SmartThings, and Insteon, you can connect Echo with various smart home products, including electrical outlets, light switches, and fans. When connected with Philips Hue, Echo can dim or change the color of your smart lightbulbs. If you have Automatic, you can even ask Alexa how much gas is left in your car’s tank. The more smart devices you connect with Echo, the more control you’ll have over your home automation network.
The only thing that could possibly top Echo’s native integration with other smart devices is its compatibility with IFTTT (If This Then That). IFTTT is a platform that sets up functions and triggers between multiple devices and applications. Even if a device doesn’t natively connect with Echo, you can still accomplish dozens of automations. All you have to do is create a trigger phrase within IFTTT, and Echo will initiate your desired action on command.
Through IFTTT, you can connect the Amazon Alexa Channel to 197 other channels. You can use a predesigned recipe or create your own to trigger different events with Alexa prompts. Some of the IFTTT recipes for Amazon Echo include:
Add your Echo To-Do List to your Google Calendar or Evernote
Automatically maintain a Google Spreadsheet of the songs you listen to on Echo
Make your phone ring when your Echo Alarm goes off
Change the color of your smart lights each time a new song plays on Echo
Make your Hue lights blink when Echo’s timer hits zero
Change the temperature of your Nest or ecobee thermostat
Amazon Echo makes controlling your home and smart devices easy by seamlessly integrating and managing them through one central command system. And with free shipping for Prime members, it’s a worthwhile investment.
Written by Hillary Johnston
A proud mother of four, Hillary is passionate about safety education. She holds a degree in Public Health and Disaster Management. Learn more