Once upon a time, talking to an electronic device that could understand and execute commands was reserved for Star Trek and other sci-fi movies. Now? We have Alexa. Named for the library of Alexandria, Alexa is Amazon’s voice command system. Using one of the many Alexa-enabled smart speakers, including Amazon’s popular Echo series, users can ask Alexa to do a whole host of things. But we know you’re an intelligent consumer, so you’ve got some questions. Here is our review of Alexa, so you can make the right decision for your home.
What is Alexa?
Amazon built a language processing system designed to understand your questions and commands through incredibly sensitive microphones in their speaker devices and deliver quickly on a range of actionable cues. Creating grocery lists, turning music on and off, or finding quick-cooking conversions are all easy, as the device sends your voice command into the Amazon Cloud to be analyzed. If you’re looking for information, a female voice will reply with your cooking conversion or weather report. If you ask Alexa to add something to your grocery list, she will confirm that she has done so. Simply say the “wake up” word (which is automatically set to be “Alexa” but could be “Echo” or “Computer” if you’d prefer) and use the proper command string.
How can I use Alexa in my home?
It truly seems like the possibilities are endless. First and foremost, you can set up Alexa in your new home by installing Amazon’s Echo or Dot speakers in the rooms where you want command abilities and sound. Even if you are only using Alexa for the most basic tasks like playing music, who doesn’t want a smart speaker in the office and the Man Cave? By putting in the time to set up your Alexa system and give each of your speakers a location-based name (Alexa, turn on the Man Cave!), you can turn on the TV and find the game before you even finish putting together your snacks.
If you are utilizing smart home technology like lighting dimmers, thermostats, as well as a number of smart home hubs, you can control the temperature, security features, and lighting of your home without even pulling out your phone. With the addition of compatible devices, you can add an entirely new set of Alexa “skills”, and the list of companies providing compatibility keeps growing.
You can also use Alexa to set up routines. Have her turn off the house lights except for the outdoor illumination, set your alarm for the morning, and turn down the thermostat — all by activating the “goodnight” routine from your Alexa Dot.
Customize your Alexa experience
As technology continues to improve, Alexa has developed the ability to recognize individual voices (complete a series of prompts), as well as “learn” new skills if you use an Alexa Blueprint. At the time of writing this review of Alexa, Amazon reports that the system has 80,000 skills worldwide — so why not add a few more? Using the Alexa Skill Blueprints on Amazon you could set up a quiz, leave instructions for the babysitter, or create a personal trainer to keep you accountable.
Alexa does have her limits
Just like everything else, Alexa isn’t perfect. It will take a little time for you to learn all of the correct commands necessary to navigate the system smoothly, and likely a little longer to get everything customized to your exact preferences. A fair number of the commands require premium subscriptions, like Amazon Prime or Spotify Premium, to be available for use — and Amazon’s voice shopping is only available on Prime-eligible items. You will be asked for your four-digit security code to confirm your purchase, too — a feature that was added to prevent your kids or strangers from making purchases on your behalf.
Once you’ve linked all of your smart devices to your Alexa system, it can be a bit of a headache to move Alexa to another WiFi network. There are a few workaround hacks to make the process a little quicker, but you’ll basically need to set all of your devices up all over again.
Lastly, although Alexa has a pretty wide range of knowledge she is no substitute for a good old fashioned Google search, and may not be able to answer your more factual or historical questions. If you’re looking for your voice technology to be like a virtual encyclopedia in your home office, Alexa may come up short.
However you decide to use Alexa, voice command technology has changed the face of basic home tasks forever. Alexa, save this as ‘Alexa Review’.