I've been messing around and using home automation products for quite some time now, including smart switches, a program called home assistant and of course the Amazing Amazon Alexa - Alexa Echo Dot in my case. We now have 3 of these excellent devices in our household, one in the office, one in the lounge and one in the bedroom. Even if you don't have any smart plugs, the tips in this article will help you get started with things like finding the optimal location, making calls, getting the news and waking up!
At the time of writing this article, December 2019, the Echo Dot is in its 3rd generation; this one is much louder than its predecessor, a little larger, and seems to have improved hearing - a problem we encountered with the earlier devices was if the television was on too loud she wouldn't always hear you unless you spoke extra loud over the top of other noise.
I've been increasingly asked to setup and install these devices for clients; including in some cases creating an Amazon account to link the device to. I am expecting I'll be doing a few more of these, so these articles are really for those people who might enjoy a few tips from yours truly in order to get the best out of their devices. There will be a series of tips, this is going to be the first, and I will try an publish up to 4 per month (but at least 2) from now on, until I run out of steam. Some of the articles may also refer to YouTube videos on my channel, so don't forget to subscribe to that too. You can find the subscribe button under my logo on this page, why not check us out on Facebook too.
Tip 1 - Optimal location for your Echo
To get the best out of your echo device, don't place it right next to any equipment in your house that creates a lot of noise such as your television. Ideally if you can place it somewhere centrally, or just behind where you would usually sit. To test for your optimal location, turn on your TV and set the volume to your normal level. Try speaking the wake up work 'Alexa' in just your normal voice (don't sit on top of the device, sit where you would usually!) - for brevity just ask her the time; 'Alexa Time'. If she can't hear you (ie. she doesn't respond, try repositioning her and try again).
Tip 2 - Give your Echo a meaningful name
By default your echo device will be called something like 'Mark's Echo Dot' - Mark is my name, so there'll probably be your name. It's much better to give them meaningful names, so you can refer to each one (especially when you have more than one, you might only have one to start with, but I expect that'll change!) - I've named mine Lounge, Office and Bedroom. You can easily rename them in the Alexa app on your phone, or logging into Alexa through your web browser on the computer. Here's both methods below:
Using your web browser
- Go to the website alexa.amazon.co.uk and login with your Amazon username and password.
- Go to settings which should be in the list down the left of your screen.
- You'll now see any devices setup for you, you should see your echo device, click on it.
- Look for the device name, you'll see an 'Edit' link, click that and you can now change its name.
On the Alexa App on your phone or tablet
- Open the Alexa App (see video on this page!)
- Go to the side menu (three lines) and select settings.
- Select the device you are interested in.
- Scroll down until you see the device name.
- Click the edit link, and rename..
- Don't forget to Save when you're done.
Tip 3 - Making calls using your Echo
In order for this to work you must either have the people you want to call stored in your mobile phone contacts application or add them in the Alexa app or from the Alexa Website - I advise you not to add them via. the Alexa app - if you have an Android phone you should save to your Google Contacts. Your echo device will check to see if the number you are dialling is associated with Amazon Alexa (phone numbers are registered when one of your contacts adds the Alexa app to their phone) - if it's a known number then you'll be given the option of calling them on their device, if not the number will be dialled.
As far as I can make out, calls to the UK are free, as are calls to America, Canada and Mexico. If the call isn't a free one Alexa tries to use Skype, so if you have a Skype account associated, and have credit, you will be able to do that.
- Alexa, call Mark van Bellen
- Alexa, call 6 3 4 3 4 3 9 0 5
- Alexa Call Donald Trump's Echo.
- Call Jeremy Corbyn's mobile.
- Call Dad on his home phone.
- Call Claire at work.
- Can't find your phone? Why not Alexa, call my phone.
Note that you will have to include the full dialling code when dialling by number (for international 00 44 for the UK and omit the leading zero, for Spain 00 34 -> this will depend on your mobile phone whether it is British or Spanish)
Tip 4 - News of the day - Adding a skill
You can extend the capability of Alexa by enabling a whole range of skills, one of my favourites is the BBC News skill. From your Alexa app:
- Go to Skills & Games
- Click magnifying glass
- Type BBC and then the magnifying glass icon on your on screen keyboard
- Find and click on BBC News, select Enable Skill, once that's done...
- Alexa, what's my flash briefing
Watch out for one of my later tips on incorporating this into a routine!
Tip 5 - Setting a wakeup alarm
You can set alarms for a whole variety of things, probably the most common, a wakeup alarm. Or perhaps a reminder to do something at a certain time?
- Alexa, wake me up at 7.30 am
- Alexa, remind me to turn the light on before I go at 8pm. (Alexa will respond with, on what day - you just say today, or give a date!)
- Alexa, set reminder. [what for]. To turn the light on before I go out. [what time] 8pm [on what day] today.
I hope you've enjoyed these tips. If you have please share them with your friends. If you would like me to help you setup and get the best out of your Alexa, drop me a line. Don't forget to signup for my newsletter on the homepage to get notified of new things from All Tech Plus, and The Shirt Shed! Check back Christmas Day 2019 for my next set of tips!