While this text was being written, in early 2017 it was out: the test phase has ended. Now Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are available to everyone – instantly. Do I really need the digital assistant? No. But so far it has been a lot of fun and can sometimes even be useful.
- Echo has arrived
Install and set up Amazon Echo. The adventure begins.
- Invitation to purchase
Amazon gives the prospect seven days to make a final decision to buy.
After being invited to order Amazon Echo and / or Amazon Echo Dot, the user has seven days to do so. So be quick.
- Prepare for installation
The protagonists who will be involved in the installation of Amazon Echo and Alexa.
The content is clear.
Inside the box is the loudspeaker, the power supply, the operating instructions and the warranty conditions.
- Instructions for use
The instructions for use, written and illustrated, contain all the information necessary for the initial installation.
- The collection
It makes sense to place the speaker near the sofa or a place that is nearby. This saves shouting loudly when giving orders.
- Micro button
The microphones can be switched off using the microphone button on the top left of the loudspeaker. Another pressure brings Alexa back to life.
I found again and again that although many manufacturers – especially from the smart home segment – advertise their products with: “communicates with Alexa”. In many cases there is not much behind it. Products can then only be switched on and / or off using a voice command via Alexa. Or the manufacturer offers voice commands for Alexa, but they do not work with the commands specified by the manufacturer. As a user, I then search the net to find and test the “right” voice commands. It’s frustrating.
Marketing is one thing – and digital voice assistants like Alexa or Cortana offer many manufacturers the opportunity to reposition their products. But then please put something behind it.
At the end of January 2017 Alexa is in the form of the Echo speaker in my living room.
In order not to make any mistakes, I also brought everything I suspected of needing the installation close to me.
On the living room table were:
Unpacking is quick. The speaker, the power supply and three small pieces of paper. That’s it. A place is also quickly found, since the radius from the socket is limited by the 173 cm long power cable.
Now comes the moment when a new car owner starts the car for the first time. The plug goes into the socket – and the top ring on the loudspeaker begins to glow blue.
After 60 seconds I get nervous. Because now Alexa should greet me for the first time. It takes almost 90 seconds for the circling ring to change from blue to yellow and Alexa speaks to me for the first time with soft background music: “Hello! Your Amazon Echo can now be set up. Just follow the instructions in the Alexa app.”
Said and done. The app for mobile operating systems can be found in the following app shops
The minimum requirements for the mobile operating system for the Alexa app are Android 4.4, iOS 8.0. and Fire OS 3.0. Alternatively, the app can also be reached via the standard browser at https://alexa.amazon.de.
The WiFi integration also takes place via the app. Access is in the left navigation area under “Devices”, “Set up new device”. Then the action button on the top right of the speaker must be pressed for five seconds. The light ring changes color from blue to orange, indicating the connection mode.
“You have connected Echo. Now continue the setup in your Alexa app”, the speaker confirms the positive trend. At this point, Amazon also offers me to save all of my WiFi passwords on Amazon. But we prefer to leave that.
The project is: to control several garden lamps by voice command.
Lessson learned: Always read the compatibility carefully before buying a product. My first generation Echo does not have all radio standards, such as Zigbee. That was also very small in the product description.
For me, this incompatibility unfortunately only turns out after the cables that connect the lamps to each other have already been buried in the garden and the technical installation has started. I therefore decide to make the detour via a Philips Hue Bridge, which of course means additional costs.
The technical installationAfter the garden lamps can be controlled via the Hue Bridge using the Zigbee standard, Amazon’s Echo must still be connected to the Hue Bridge via the app in order to address the lights using Alexa voice control. This works in the Alexa app, as usual, via “Add device.”
The garden lighting can now be controlled either via the Alexa app on the smartphone, via the Alexa voice control or via the Philips Hue app on the smartphone. But what strikes me is that as soon as my Ledvance (formerly Osram) garden lamps are on the power grid, they glow slightly – so draw electricity. The solution: The additional purchase of an external socket to which the lamps are now connected and which can be switched on and off by shouting: “Alexa, switch external socket on / off.”
After completing this extensive installation, most of the commands work – including the “scenes” already supplied on the Philips Hue, such as sunset lights or reading lights. However, in this case I decided to control the garden lighting more conveniently via smartphone via the Hue app, because Alexa does not understand all scenes by voice command in the test.
The following amateur video shows the function via Alexa voice command:
Incidentally, it does not make sense for all devices to control them by voice command. An echo loudspeaker standing in the apartment, to which one shouts from the garden: “Alexa – Gartenlampen Abendrot”, could cause surprise in the neighborhood.
I start the first function test with music. Purely in the Alexa app and under Settings, Echo can be connected to the music service Spotify. My first wish for music starts.
In this context, it occurs to me that as a Prime customer I could also access free music offers from Amazon. So I also make this connection. For the next few minutes I let Alexa search for and play music tracks, playlists and radio stations across the border. In the back of my mind, I wonder which service the speaker uses to call up the music if I don’t tell it: “Alexa is playing the playlist XY from Spotify”, but I just want a title without a source. But no matter, the main thing is that it works.
The sound sounds good for a single speaker that, according to the manufacturer, fills the room with a 360-degree sound, and I treat myself to a music evening. Alexa changes the volume on demand with the commands “Alexa: louder” and “quieter” or but with the numbers 0 to 10. If the volume is very high, it also means “Alexa !!” literally yelling to get their attention.
Because of the personalization that has worked well so far, I am continuing to access my audio books at the Amazon subsidiary Audible. Under “Music and Books” in the Alexa app, however, I only find a single book that I had exceptionally loaded years ago not on a PC but on the go using my smartphone.
I still try using a voice command. Here’s the answer:
So I log in to Audible and go to the bottom of the page for the apps. There I find a note about my problem under the Amazon devices: “Why isn’t my audiobook playing on the Echo?”
Danger: It is important to know that Amazon Echo cannot work with old Audible accounts that still log in using username and password. Before doing so, the user must connect their old Audible account to their Amazon account.
Easier said than done. The connection does not work with my accounts. After a few tests, the telephone support team is also at a loss and opens a ticket. Four days later, I try to pair the two accounts again on my own. Now it worked.
All of my audio books are now visible in the app and Alexa reads the audio books I want on command. The Audible system behind it also allows the usual control. With commands such as “forward” and “back”, the software jumps according to the usual Audible steps in the text. When a title is called up again, the loudspeaker continues to play the text from the last stop.
Calling the same music in every room or Alexa from the kitchen for a new entry for my shopping list. These were the reasons to buy two Echo Dots in August 2017. But even if the devices communicate wirelessly with each other, the problem with the power cable still remains – especially in the bathroom. Therefore, two additional batteries were required for the two new speakers.
After the installation, I assign both the large Echo loudspeaker and the two dots the name of the room in which they are located. This also works via the app and is the prerequisite for grouping several speakers.
With the offered since August 2017 Multi-room function Amazon Echo now offers an extension of the listening experience. The user can decide whether he wants to play different music tracks on different speakers. Alternatively, the music can also be played over all speakers of a previously defined one Audio group play.
An audio group can be created via the settings in the Alexa app. There is the menu item “Audio groups” with the sub-item “Multiroom Music”. When asked to create a group, the app shows all speakers that are available. Each dot can only be assigned to one group.
After this function was initially only available for Echo or Echo Dot, other manufacturers are now offering WLAN multiroom speakers for Alexa.
For example, the same music in all rooms works with a group called “Everywhere” to which all speakers have been assigned. The command: Alexa, play music from XXXXX in group Everywhere.
It was foreseeable that the sound quality of the small Echo Dots left a lot to be desired. However, an external speaker or a sound system can be connected via the 3.5 mm audio connection cable via the audio output. The Echo Dot can also be connected to other speakers via Bluetooth. However, only for audio streaming. If Multiroom is activated for a group that is connected to the home system via Bluetooth, the Bluetooth connection is switched off.
In addition to Amazon Music and TuneIn, the group function has also worked in conjunction with Spotify since December 2017. This was announced a few weeks after the video above was created.
Even when looking for a new household appliance, I stumbled across Alexa again on the net. A vacuum robot that listens to Alexa and does its job according to her orders. It is not just annoying vacuuming that is history. No, the robot can also be sent from the sofa using a voice command. The video shows how this works.
For people who want to keep an eye on the inside of their apartment / house at any time and place, various manufacturers offer WLAN surveillance cameras. Some of these smart surveillance cameras can also be controlled via the Alexa app. It was worth it to me to test the collaboration between one of these smart home indoor cameras and Alexa.
Installation via smartphone is easy: start the manufacturer’s app on the smartphone and connect the camera to the mains. Then take a picture of the QR code generated in the app on your smartphone and hold it in front of the surveillance camera.
Then search for the operational camera in the Alexa app and add it as a new smart home device. The cooperation between Alexa and the camera is very rudimentary. The only voice command that is possible via Alexa is: “Alexa, switch on the indoor camera”. All other camera features can only be set using the manufacturer’s app.
If you want to save yourself a look at your smartphone in the morning, Alexa can have your appointments read out to you.
The following calendars can be integrated in the Alexa app under “Settings”, “Calendar”:
Enter and query calendar dates:
– Add XXX to my calendar for * day * at * time *.
– When’s my next event?
– What is on my calendar?
– What is tomorrow * time * on my calendar?
– What does * day * mean in my calendar?
Unfortunately, Alexa has so far only responded to requests and lists the appointments in the calendar. So far, there has been no acoustic notification via which the loudspeaker actively informs the user of appointments at a specified time.
However, Alexa plays an alarm tone if either an alarm clock or a timer has been set. With “Alexa, set a timer to 13.40” or “Set a timer to 10 minutes”, the speaker plays the set information tone at the desired time. The user then has to remember why this sound is played back.
I find the shopping list really useful – if the technical requirements are right.
Me: “Alexa, add detergent to my shopping list”
Alexa: “All right, I put detergent on the shopping list.”
Me: “Alexa put milk on my shopping list.”
Alexa: “Ok, I’ve added milk to your grocery list.”
The shopping list is immediately visible on the smartphone app and can also be printed out. Unfortunately, products cannot be deleted from the shopping list by voice command. “To delete your list or remove an entry, go to the Alexa app,” Alexa replies.
Danger: Before shopping for the first time with the Alexa app, the user should check whether there is sufficient data connection in the supermarket they trust. With Edge, Alexa refuses to take part in the shopping tour at all.
Video: Ask Alexa
I find the question “How is the traffic to work?” Useful. Since Amazon already knows my home address, all that was missing in the app was the company’s address. Now Alexa passes the cheapest route, including the current travel time, almost in passing.
The echo ecosystem should grow – and probably as quickly as possible. Therefore, from the second day after installation, when I am on the Internet, the prompt pops up to program a skill myself.
The image leads the user to the Amazon Developer pages, where it is also explained immediately that it is easy and very quick to work through the tutorial offered there. At the end, the first Alexa skill should already be.
You can read about how an Alexa app is developed and what challenges there are in this review.
Amazon Echo does a lot of what I expected it to do before the purchase and installation is really easy. The subsequent fine-tuning to set up the service for personal wishes and needs can, however, take some time in some cases.
Since the Echo system with network and IoT background in its ecosystem lives from the cooperation with other manufacturers and the programming fury of external developers, I am quite confident that in Germany too – similar to the USA, where Amazon Echo has been around since June 2015 – soon there will be more useful applications. I’m looking forward to it.
And now I switch off the seven microphones on one of the two buttons on the loudspeaker and break the contact with Alexa for today.
Incidentally, I would be happy to have an exchange among Amazon Echo owners. Also with reference to useful and functioning skills. Use our comment function below the article.