“Hello, Echo!” Getting to know Amazon’s Alexa

“Hello, Echo!” Getting to know Amazon’s Alexa

If you are one of the likely millions of people getting your first Alexa-enabled device this holiday season, welcome to a new world!

Well, maybe more accurately, welcome to a new way to interact with the world!

In this post, I’m going to give you some guidance on how to get to know Alexa…an introduction, of sorts, to a new friend. 😉

First, how do you know if you have Alexa?

You might have received one of the Echo family of devices as a gift:

If you got one of these, you’ll know you have Alexa…that’s their main purpose. Oh, you could use the Echo or Tap as speakers without using Alexa…but you wouldn’t. 😉 Since the Dot doesn’t have a very good speaker on its own (to me, it sounds like an old 1960s transistor radio), it really just exists to give you a way to talk to Alexa.

Alexa also exists on a number of other devices. The most common ones are the Fire TV devices, including

and the Fire tablets, such as the

Fire, 7″ Display, Wi-Fi, 8 GB – Includes Special Offers, Black (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

However, non-Amazon devices may also have Alexa. That’s becoming more common (Amazon made the decision to license the “Alexa Voice Service” to other manufacturers). The box will likely say it is “with Amazon Alexa”. Those devices have Alexa onboard, which means they’ll have a microphone so they can hear you and a speaker so you can hear Alexa. That’s different from “works with Amazon Alexa”. Those devices can react to instructions you give to Alexa and then Alexa gives to them. Here’s a search I did at Amazon.com for devices “with Amazon Alexa”:

devices with Amazon Alexa at Amazon.com (at AmazonSmile*)

Okay, so now that you know Alexa is “in the house”, what is it (or she, as many people come to think of Alexa)?

It’s really an interface between you and other devices/media. That makes it kind of like a keyboard and a mouse so you can use a computer connected to the internet, but nowadays, it will feel more like a smartphone to most people (although you can’t make phone calls with an Echo device at this time). Instead of using your hands, though, you use your voice. You talk to Alexa…and she’ll respond.

Alexa isn’t like a computer, where you store information right there. An Alexa device must be connected to Wi-Fi to be able to do pretty much anything. My Tap, which I use primarily at work, can’t even tell me what time it is without being connected to Wi-Fi). In modern parlance, it all happens in the cloud.

Looking at it, then, you might be thinking: if it can’t work without the internet, how do I connect it to the internet?

You use your phone or a computer. With your phone, you download the Alexa app (you can get it from the Apple Appstore, Google play, or Amazon’s own Appstore). With your computer, you go to

http://www.amazon.com/alexa

Once you get it online, the phone or computer aren’t giving your Alexa device the network…it is a Wi-Fi enabled device by itself.

You can now connect to Alexa itself, and you can connect it to other services you use…one of the main reasons I use it is for information about what’s on my Google calendar, for example.

In addition to connecting to Alexa and through her to other services you use, there are also “skills”. Skills are basically what we would call apps on a phone, and there are now over 5,000 of them. You can “enable” them directly from your device (even verbally), but you may find it easier to explore the options on your computer or phone at

Alexa skills (at AmazonSmile*)

The skills are one of two things that will really make your Alexa experience fun and useful (just as is the case with the apps on your phone). The other thing is the settings. Let’s go through those two at a high level.

You can get to your settings either through the Alexa app or at that Alexa site on your computer.

In the app on Android, for instance, you tap the three horizontal lines which identify the menu, then tap Settings.

You’ll first see a list of your devices, and you can do things like changing the name of that device, the default location of it (so it can give you local weather, among other things), and so on. I use metric measurements myself, but my Significant Other doesn’t…some of our devices have metric turned on, some don’t.

Below the devices, you’ll see the Account settings:

  • Music & Media
  • Flash Briefing
  • Sports Update
  • Traffic
  • Calendar
  • Lists
  • Voice Purchasing
  • Household Profile

Definitely explore all of these options when you get a chance.

Combining the settings with the skills will be what makes Alexa work for you, and investing the time in setting them up will be worth it going forward. Getting started can be a lot simpler than that: once you have Alexa online, you can just say, “Alexa, nice to meet you.” 🙂

A few other important notes:

  • There are no monthly charges to use Alexa, and currently apps don’t cost anything. She may connect you to something for which you pay…if you use Alexa to get you an Uber (which it can do if you enable the Uber app and connect it to your account), you’ll still pay for it
  • You have to enable a skill before you can use it. You might wonder why apps aren’t just enable by default, since they don’t cost anything and there is no limit to the number you can have (they aren’t stored locally on your device, so memory isn’t an issue). It’s primarily so it isn’t confusing for you…you know, the same reason most people don’t put out three forks at the dinner table. 😉 The other thing is that some skills do need to be set-up, like that Uber skill
  • Alexa is in her infancy, and abilities will change quickly! Right now, it’s like having a TV in 1948. Well, maybe more like in 1950. 😉 Besides my own blogs, I recommend author (and Alexa Skill publisher/creator) April F. Hamilton’s Love My Echo (no relation to my I Love My Kindle blog)

If you have questions, feel free to ask!

There’s your introduction to Alexa…and I hope this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard !

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project! Join the TMCGTT Timeblazers!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) By the way, it’s been interesting lately to see Amazon remind me to “start at AmazonSmile” if I check a link on the original Amazon site. I do buy from AmazonSmile, but I have a lot of stored links I use to check for things.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Advertisements

2 Responses to ““Hello, Echo!” Getting to know Amazon’s Alexa”

  1. “What do I do with this thing?” Learning to love a new tech | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] “Hello, Echo!” Getting to know Amazon’s Alexa […]

  2. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Will Alexa be called as a “witness” in a murder trial? http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/12/28/507230487/as-we-leave-more-digital-tracks-amazon-echo-factors-in-murder-investigation

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: