The era of intelligent home assistants is well and truly here. Do you want to switch your lights on and off with a voice command? Do you want a particular song played when the mood hits you? Or do you just like showing off fancy tech to your friends? Then you will probably enjoy buying an Alexa from Amazon.
For a long time, I have fiercely resisted buying an Alexa because of the privacy and security concerns. But part of me still wanted to try one out. When my boss here at GroovyPost offered to pay half if I wrote some Alexa articles for him, my resistance finally crumbled. Yes, my willpower is that strong.
Set Up Your Amazon Alexa For The First Time With a Few Easy Clicks
I was very pleasantly surprised by how simple it was to set up Alexa. I imagined it to be hours reading a manual, hunting through the Amazon website, having back-and-forth exchanges with customer support, and so on. In the end, it amounted to going to one page, clicking what I wanted, then talking to it for the first time. Even idiots can use it!
I was a bit taken aback though by the fact that it is not battery-operated like a smartphone or tablet. You must keep the plug in the socket at all times for it to work. If you take the plug out, then it’s dead. Although this is not a big thing for me, it might annoy some people that it has to be continually charging. You also need to find a suitable location for it near a spare plug socket.
Delving Into The Alexa Settings
Let’s take a look at the settings and you will see how absurdly simple it is to set up Alexa for the first time.
Put In The Plug & Watch Alexa Go Orange
Take the Alexa out of the box, put in the cable, then plug it in. The Alexa will immediately start flashing blue. Wait till the blue light disappears and is replaced by an orange flashing light. Orange means it’s ready to go.
Go To The Alexa Settings Page On Amazon
Now go to alexa.amazon.com, which is the settings page. If you have an Amazon account outside the US, going to that page will automatically redirect you to the page version for your own country.
On the page, you will see your registered devices (for example, if you have a Fire stick). My Echo is already registered but I will deregister it so I can show you how to set it up.
First, click on set up a new device.
Choose Your Device
Amazon currently has three Alexa models, as well as a portable wireless speaker. Choose which model which you want to register to your Amazon account.
I have the Echo Dot so I clicked on that one.
If you haven’t switched Alexa on yet, do that then click Continue.
Find The Alexa Wifi Network
The next step is to connect your Alexa to its network. Go to your wifi settings on your computer and look for “Amazon-ATE”. Then choose it. This naturally will disconnect you from your regular wifi network but things will still keep working.
When you have connected to the network, and Amazon says setup is now complete, you can reconnect to your regular wifi network.
Set Up The Various Features
Now that you have Alexa all set up and ready to go, let’s see some of the best features you can now set up.
Have The News Read To You
I am a bit of a news junkie, so this one is especially good for me. You can choose news sources and then say to Alexa, “Alexa, tell me the news”. It will then give you the audio of either a radio station (I have the BBC World Service) or a TV station (if you choose something like CNN).
Don’t choose too many news sources though because you can’t ask for the news from one place only. You can’t say for example “tell me the news from CNN”. It will start with CNN but then it will keep going with the other news sources you chose. In that situation, you would have to say “Alexa, stop the news” to get it to shut up.
Get Woken Up With The Alarm Clock
To set an alarm clock, you can either specify a particular time – “Alexa, wake me at 8:00am”. Or you can say something like “wake me in three hours”. It will give you a confirmation. In the Alexa settings, you can choose what alarm tone you want. There are some really nice ones there.
Be Given Important Reminders
If you have a Swiss cheese memory like I do, you may need someone to prod you with reminders. So say you need to make a phone call later, you could say “Alexa, remind me at 3pm to call my mother.”
Specify a “Do Not Disturb” Period
If you don’t say the wake word (“Alexa”), then you are not very likely to activate the device. Nevertheless, you are able to specify a “Do Not Disturb” period where Alexa is muzzled.
Just click “edit” in the bottom left to change the times.
Tell Alexa To Play You Music
This one is probably the best feature of all, but what sucks is that to use most of the music services, you need to have a Premium subscription. So I went ahead and upgraded to a Spotify Premium subscription. If you have a preferred music service, you can specify it as the default service.
I can now lie in bed, ask Alexa the time, tell it to set an alarm, then finally tell it to play relaxing music.
“Alexa, play relaxing music” for anything general, or you can obviously tell it to play something specific.
On Spotify, if you have a Premium subscription, you can transfer your music playing between devices. This includes Alexa. So if you are listening on your laptop or tablet, you can transfer it over to Alexa.
Ask Alexa For Your Daily Schedule
If you have your Google Calendar, iCloud Calendar or Outlook Calendar attached to Alexa, you can ask it for your schedule. You can also tell it to add a new event to your calendar.
It doesn’t do a very good job of pronouncing foreign words and foreign names though.
Add Your Location & Language
Since Amazon already has your address for sending your orders, you may as well add it to Alexa. Then you can ask it for traffic updates when you need to travel someplace.
Then add your timezone. This is essential for alarms and reminders.
If you want to change your “wake word” (to activate Alexa), then you can do it here as well. But I am inclined to leave it the way it is.
Finally, change the language to the one you want. Since I have a German account, it put it on German, but I want Alexa to be in English. Here’s where things get a bit weird. It told me that if I changed the language on a German account to English, I would have problems ordering things on Amazon if I spoke the order to Alexa.
Best news my wife has ever heard.
Control Your Amazon Fire Stick
If you have an Amazon Fire Stick remote control for Prime (as we do), then you can now use Alexa to play what programmes and movies you want to watch.
I have yet to test this, but it is apparently just a case of saying “Alexa, watch ‘name of programme here'”. We are unlikely to use it because our Fire Stick is already voice-activated.
Ask It Questions
Just like Siri and Google search on your smartphone, you can ask Alexa questions which it will look up for you.
I asked it the start date of the World Cup, the start time of Prince Harry’s wedding, who the current US Secretary of State is, and so on. 100% accuracy.
Have An Audible Audiobook Or Kindle Book Read To You
If you buy a lot of Audible audiobooks or Kindle eBooks, you can now have Alexa read them to you.
Just tell it the title of the book and it will start reading from where you left off before, using its Whispersync technology. Pronunciation is really good.
Ask It For The Weather
Finally, do you want to know if you need to take an umbrella with you when you go out? Then provided you have given Alexa your location, you can ask it for the weather today. Make sure you switch on the settings whether you want Fahrenheit temperatures or Celsius.
I am really impressed with Alexa and I will be writing more Alexa-themed articles during June. If you don’t already have an Alexa, I strongly recommend you buy an Echo Dot. They are only $50. There’s even a Kid’s Edition.