Smart Home Consultation: Why Amazon, Not Apple, Will Win the Home Automation Game

Amazon’s Smart Home Consultation will help Amazon win the home automation game. Here’s proof that your home will be run by Alexa, on Amazon devices, in the next couple of years.

Amazon recently launched the ability to schedule a Smart Home Consultation (you may be able to schedule one for free by clicking here).This strengthens the argument that Amazon is trying to own the home automation game.

Amazon Smart Home Consultation

On the surface, the 45-minute consultation includes:

  • A personalized recommendation on setting up your smart home from a trained Amazon employee
  • A wifi assessment to identify and troubleshoot any issues
  • A demo of “popular smart home products”

But looking deeper, you can see that this is a very deliberate way for Amazon to position itself as the power player in the home automation market.

Echo Was Just the First Step

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot

Do you know anyone who didn’t get an Echo or Echo Dot recently? An estimated ten millino people already have one.

I use mine daily to read me the news and play music (and when I’m feeling super lazy, even change the temperature).

However, if you would have asked me six months ago, I would have told you that you’re crazy. I would have said that there’s no way Amazon will create a virtual assistant that’s any good, and that Apple is going to win this battle.

Boy, was I wrong.

I Was (Am?) an Apple Fanboy

Apple iPhone iPad Macbook

When I started designing my smart home, I was determined to only install products that worked with HomeKit. My wife and I have iPhones and Macs, we have an Apple TV, and we use iTunes and iCloud. We even have an Airport Express.

If Apple ever made a TV, I’d most likely consider buying it.

I assumed that Apple was the strong player, with a strong hardware userbase, and that they would figure out how to make the connected home easy for the common man.

But HomeKit Failed Me Right Off the Bat

Ecobee Screen

The first device I installed was the ecobee3 smart thermostat. I picked it primarily because it had the ability to use remote sensors, but also because it would connect with Apple HomeKit.

Read: Ecobee3 Installation (The Easy Way)

I was so excited to get my ecobee3 thermostat up and running, but I was even more excited to show my wife that we can ask for, and change, the temperature by talking to our phones.

From the very beginning, I had problems getting my ccobee3 to appear in HomeKit.

One thermostat would never register correctly. Remote sensors wouldn’t respond.

Not to mention that Siri takes forever to react.

This wasn’t Ecobee’s fault – it was Apple’s. HomeKit failed me.

Alexa Worked Immediately, Which is Surprising. But Should It Be?

Amazon Kindle

On the contrary, making my ecobee3 to work with Alexa took a couple of taps.

And that’s it.

Alexa just feels like magic. If you’ve ever used it for more than music, you probably feel the same way. (And if you’ve used Alexa for music, you probably feel the same way, too.)

I’m legitimately surprised that Amazon put out hardware of this caliber since the relative failure of the Amazon Fire Phone wasn’t that long ago.

But then I thought about all the products that Amazon has done a great job building and selling:

Each of these are some of the best-reviewed in their market (the Paperwhite has a 4.5 star rating with 37,000 reviews!).

And each of them are the lowest priced device in the market.

Amazon makes high-quality, inexpensive items that people love. It shouldn’t surprise us that Amazon can build hardware.

So Let’s Stop Being Surprised That Amazon Nailed Product Market Fit for Alexa

Amazon Devices

I think Amazon is going to win this battle because it’s great at building products.

Think about it. There are so many things that Amazon has executed on really well:

Amazon has seemingly figured out how to get an always-on speaker in homes without creeping people out. It’s stylish, it’s powerful, and maybe most importantly, it’s cheap.

Amazon has nailed product-market-fit with Alexa, and made it work before home automation hit mainstream.

Siri Won’t Win the Smart Home

Their biggest home automation threat is from Apple HomeKit. But HomeKit isn’t ready for prime time yet:

  • The HomeKit interface is clunky. As an example, I set up some aspects of my Ecobee in the Ecobee app, and some in the Home app. But I couldn’t tell you which settings are supposed to happen where. The exact same thing happens with my Lutron Caseta lights. I have given up on using the Home app.
  • Apple requires specific hardware. Manufacturers who want to create a HomeKit product are required to use special HomeKit chips priced up to $2, along with specific WiFi and Bluetooth chips. Those devices just got $2 more expensive to be included in a more clunky interface.
  • Apple requires manufacturing in specific factories. HomeKit devices have to be made in factories designated by Apple to be MFi Manufacturing Licensees (see the entire list of MFi Manufacturing Licensees here). The device creator loses a significant amount of control over the manufacturing of their own product.
  • Apple requires final approval. HomeKit devices then have to be sent to Cupertino for rigorous testing, a process that can take three to five months and must be conducted in secret. Now, the manufacturer gets even less control over time-to-market. Apple has a history of rejecting iOS apps with little-to-no explanation. This may be a deal breaker for new manufacturers.

The Amazon Smart Home Consultation Will Help Amazon Dominate the Smart Home Market

Amazon’s Smart Home Consultation is proving that they will go deep on home automation. And I think they’ll do great.

  • The Smart Home Consultation will reduce the mental barrier of what a “smart home” is. There’s a lot of confusion around what a smart home is. Having a friendly person visit your home to answer questions is one way of overcoming that barrier.
  • The Smart Home Consultation will allow Amazon to get a better understanding of the current smart home and automation landscape. I would even bet that these consultants work on the Amazon product team.
  • Alexa’s interface is as simple as is possible. You control Alexa with just your voice. No UI, no fingers, no colors or fonts. You talk to Alexa, and she takes action.
  • To integrate with Alexa, you simply write software. Amazon makes it easy to create and run software on Alexa.
  • Simple hardware integration. If you’re a device manufacturer, you can use whatever hardware you want, built wherever you want, as long as it can connect to the Internet. You don’t need Amazon to approve it – you just need people to buy it.

Amazon’s Next Move: Alexa-Branded Smart Home Hardware

Alexa Devices

And when they do go deep on home automation, they’re going to build their own home automation hardware that uses Alexa as a hub.

  • People are comfortable with Amazon in their home. Amazon is not considered creepy.
  • The software works, and people love it. There are more than 8 million Alexa items in homes today.
  • Smart home and wifi devices are becoming available on white-label sites like Alibaba. This shows that manufacturing these devices is cheap and plentiful.
  • Amazon has experience selling and shipping their own white-label products. Amazon Basics works for them.

The writing is on the wall.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Amazon (or Alexa) branded sensors, light switches, light bulbs and electrical outlets on sale in 2018. Maybe cameras and thermostats in 2019.

See if you can get a free Smart Home Consultation by visiting the Amazon site here.

Get News on Your Amazon Echo With Flash Briefing Skills

Get the latest news headlines on your Amazon Echo from from national, international and local news sources with the Alexa Flash Briefing. Here’s how to set up a personalized news feed on your Echo and what Alexa skills to add.


Get News on Your Echo or Echo Dot With Alexa Flash Briefings

Your Echo comes pre-installed with a service called “Flash Briefings”. Flash briefings are like mini-podcasts of headlines and stories from news sources. When you ask Alexa to tell you the news, she start playing pre-recorded updates from popular broadcasters, the latest news headlines from The Associated Press, and weather information from AccuWeather.

Quick, try it now:

“Alexa, what’s in the news?”

“Alexa, read my Flash Briefing”

Some news feeds (like BBC and NPR) update hourly, while others (such as NBC Boston) update just a few times per day.

Therefore, you can ask Alexa for the news anytime you’re passing through the kitchen, and she’ll probably have something new to tell you.

Keep reading to find out how to get local news on Echo with Alexa Flash Briefing skills.

Get Custom News on Echo by Customizing Your Echo News Feed

The best part about Flash Briefings is that you can customize them to include only the news you’re interested in. I love technology and sports, so I’ve added the Engadget and Fox Sports radio sources. But if you don’t care about sports, you can remove all the sports sources.

The default feeds that are pre-added in Alexa give you a very simple view of what’s possible. The Alexa Skills Marketplace is stocked with hundreds of free news sources, and seems to be adding more daily.

Adding new sources to your Flash Briefing:

Flash Briefing sources are created by developers, and are completely free. Adding a new source to your Flash Briefing is as easy as it is to add a new Skill to your device, with one small difference.

Flash Briefing Settings

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Then, click “Get more Flash Briefing content”
  • Find a source that you want to add and click to see it’s details
  • Then, click “Enable Skill” to add it to your Flash Briefing

Adding weather to your Flash Briefing:

Flash Briefing Weather

If you’ve read my Alexa Ultimate Guide, you know that you can ask Alexa for the weather anytime. But did you know that you could include it as part of your Flash Briefing?

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Search for “weather”
  • You’ll get back 600 results, but the weather app that Amazon built should be right on top
  • Click on the source to see it’s details
  • Click “Enable Skill” to add it to your Flash Briefing

The Amazon Weather skill uses the address you’ve set in your configuration. For a more accurate weather forecast, verify that your address is correct by going to Settings > Device’s Name > Device Location

To change the order your Flash Briefing sources are played:

Flash Briefing Reorder

The sources included in your Flash Briefing play in the order that they were added. But sometimes, you just want to know if the Bruins won first!

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Click “Flash Briefing”
  • Click “Edit Order” in the top right corner
  • Using the little hamburger on the right side of the item, drag your source to it’s new location.
  • Click “Done” in the top right corner

To remove sources from your Flash Briefing:

Flash Briefing Disable Source

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Click “Flash Briefing”
  • Click the toggle on the right side of each source. Flip it off to disable it from your Flash Briefing.

Sources that you’ve disabled will be moved to the bottom of the page. To re-add a source back to your Flash Briefing, just click the toggle button again.

Some sources include multiple feeds. For example, the NPR From TuneIn source is actually NPR Business Story of the Day and an NPR Technology Podcast. Turning off the “main” feed disables all of them, but you can enable each one individually.

Popular Flash Briefing Sources for News on Your Echo

I want to get a quick hit of what’s going on as I pass by my Echo Dot in the living room. My perfect Flash Briefing includes the global headlines, some local news, sports scores of the teams I follow, and the weather.

Flash Briefing Sources

These are the sources I’ve included in my Flash Briefing:

I like to order my Flash Briefing sources by how often they’re updated. This lets me get the most recent information first.

My favorite sources have a recording of someone reading the news. The Alexa text-to-speech is fine, but it’s a little robotic (understandably so). I’d listen to 90 seconds of a recording over 30 seconds of computer any day. I hope more sources move to uploading a recording instead of relying on text-to-speech.

PS: if you’re looking for a sports source, stay far away from the ESPN skill. Whatever they’re uploading has the volume cranked to 11.

Read Next: The Complete Guide to Every Alexa Command

Alexa Commands: 233 Things Alexa Can Do (Updated)

Alexa powers the Amazon Echo DotAmazon’s Alexa is slowly taking over homes across the country, especially now that you can get an Alexa device for less than $50. So, everyone is looking for a list of everything Alexa can do.

Her commercials show someone in a furry suit ordering an Uber, ordering flowers while putting out a fire, and an owner finding her cell phone inside of her dog.

Those are just 3 examples of the 223 238 commands I’ve found for Alexa, so far. The list gets longer every day, and so do the number of skills Alexa can learn, so I’ll update this list frequently.

Here is anything and everything you can ask Alexa to do (238 commands, so far):

If you’re unfamiliar with Alexa, start with our ultimate Alexa guide.

Command Type:Say to Alexa:Alexa's Action:
AssistantAlexa, when is the Super Bowl?Will tell you when the Patriots and the Falcons are playing in Super Bowl 51
AssistantAlexa, set a timer for 15 minutesWill sound an alarm at the specified duration.
AssistantAlexa, set a second timer for an hourWill sound a second alarm after the specified duration.
AssistantAlexa, set an alarm for 5amWill sound an alarm at the specific time.
AssistantAlexa, cancel my alarmCancels an active alarm.
AssistantAlexa, cancel my timerCancels an active timer.
AssistantAlexa, cancel my second timerCancels an active second time.
AssistantAlexa, add bacon to my shopping listAdds the item to your Amazon shopping list.
AssistantAlexa, I need to buy salsaAdds the item to your Amazon shopping list.
AssistantAlexa, what's on my shopping list?Tells you what's on your Amazon shopping list.
AssistantAlexa, ask Uber for a rideOrders an Uber from your home location.
AssistantAlexa, ask Lyft for a rideOrders an Uber from your home location.
AssistantAlexa, what's on my calendar for today?Reads you what's on your calendar for the day, when connected to a Google Calendar through the Alexa app.
AssistantAlexa, add Andrew's birthday party to my calendar for tomorrow at 2pmAdds an event to your Google Calendar, when connected through the Alexa app.
AssistantAlexa, send that to my Fire tabletSends the information to your connected Fire tablet.
AssistantAlexa, send that to my tabletSends the information to a connected Fire tablet.
AssistantAlexa, send that to Kim's tabletSends the information to a specific connected tablet.
Easter EggAlexa, give me a Groundhog Day movie quote.
Easter EggAlexa, who is Puxatawney Phil?
Easter EggAlexa, will the groundhog see his shadow?
Easter EggAlexa, do you ever have deja vu?
Easter EggAlexa, happy Groundhog Day!Be sure to ask a few times.
Easter EggAlexa, set phasers to kill
Easter EggAlexa, my name is Inigo Montoya
Easter EggAlexa, party on Wayne
Easter EggAlexa, show me the money
Easter EggAlexa, surely you can't be serious
Easter EggAlexa, are you SkyNet?
Easter EggAlexa, party time!
Easter EggAlexa, open the pod bay doors
Easter EggAlexa, when am I going to die?
Easter EggAlexa, don't mention the war
Easter EggAlexa, what is your cunning plan?
Easter EggAlexa, beam me up
Easter EggAlexa, tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
Easter EggAlexa, what's the first rule of Fight Club?
Easter EggAlexa, what's the second rule of Fight Club?
Easter EggAlexa, what is your quest?
Easter EggAlexa, nice to see you, to see you
Easter EggAlexa, this is a dead parrot
Easter EggAlexa, why is the sky blue?
Easter EggAlexa, Simon says "Jump"
Easter EggAlexa, why did the chicken cross the road?
Easter EggAlexa, self-distruct
Easter EggAlexa, speak like yoda
Easter EggAlexa, do you have any new features?
Easter EggAlexa, up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start
Easter EggAlexa, rap for me
Easter EggAlexa, I want the truth
Easter EggAlexa, how much is that doggy in the window?
Easter EggAlexa, what is the prime directive?
Easter EggAlexa, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Easter EggAlexa, what does RTFM stand for?
Easter EggAlexa, use the force
Easter EggAlexa, is Santa real?
Easter EggAlexa, more cowbell
Easter EggAlexa, what is war good for?
Easter EggAlexa, I am your father.
Easter EggAlexa, I've got a need
Easter EggAlexa, who you gonna call?
Easter EggAlexa, tell me a joke
Easter EggAlexa, is the cake a lie?
Easter EggAlexa, this is Ghost Rider, requesting a fly by
Easter EggAlexa, what are the laws of robotics?
Easter EggAlexa, which comes first: the chicken or the egg?
Easter EggAlexa, tell me a dirty joke
Easter EggAlexa, see you later alligator.
Easter EggAlexa, do you know Glados?
Easter EggAlexa, do you have a boyfriend?
Easter EggAlexa, sing me a song
Easter EggAlexa, do aliens exist?
Easter EggAlexa, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Easter EggAlexa, where do you live?
Easter EggAlexa, sing happy birthday
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to fight?
Easter EggAlexa, what is love?
Easter EggAlexa, where are my keys?
Easter EggAlexa, how many roads must a man walk down?
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to fight?
Easter EggAlexa, to be or not to be?
Easter EggAlexa, who is the walrus?
Easter EggAlexa, what's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow"?
Easter EggAlexa, do you really want to hurt me?
Easter EggAlexa, heads or tails?
Easter EggAlexa, who is the fairest of them all?
Easter EggAlexa, give me a hug
Easter EggAlexa, who let the dogs out?
Easter EggAlexa, guess?
Easter EggAlexa, what is the sound of one hand clapping?
Easter EggAlexa, high five!
Easter EggAlexa, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Easter EggAlexa, how high can you count?
Easter EggAlexa, are you lying?
Easter EggAlexa, where's the beef?
Easter EggAlexa, knock knock
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to go on a date?
Easter EggAlexa, do a barrel roll!
Easter EggAlexa, I shot a man in Reno
Easter EggAlexa, do you know the muffin man?
Easter EggAlexa, why so serious?
Easter EggAlexa, who loves orange soda?
Easter EggAlexa, your mother was a hamster!
Easter EggAlexa, take me to your leader
Easter EggAlexa, are we in the matrix?
Easter EggAlexa, never gonna give you up.
Easter EggAlexa, klattu barada nikto.
Easter EggAlexa, roll for initiative
Easter EggAlexa, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
Easter EggAlexa, how tall are you?
Easter EggAlexa, I'm tired
Easter EggAlexa, tell me a riddle
Easter EggAlexa, I like big butts
Easter EggAlexa, can you pass the Turing test?
Easter EggAlexa, that's no moon
Easter EggAlexa, you're wonderful
Easter EggAlexa, play it again, Sam.
Easter EggAlexa, are there UFO's?
Easter EggAlexa, say a bad word
Easter EggAlexa, say the alphabet
Easter EggAlexa, warp 10
Easter EggAlexa, I want to play global thermonuclear war
Easter EggAlexa, what color is the dress?
Easter EggAlexa, twinkle twinkle little star
Easter EggAlexa, happy holidays!
Easter EggAlexa, what is your favorite color?
Easter EggAlexa, I hate you.
Easter EggAlexa, roses are red...
Easter EggAlexa, cheers!
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to build a snowman?
Easter EggAlexa, why is six afraid of seven?
Easter EggAlexa, are you happy?
Easter EggAlexa, what's your sign?
Easter EggAlexa, meow
Easter EggAlexa, can you smell that?
Easter EggAlexa, one fish, two fish
Easter EggAlexa, what do you think about Google Now?
Easter EggAlexa, what number are you thinking of?
Easter EggAlexa, what do you think about Siri?
Easter EggAlexa, who is the mother of dragons?
Easter EggAlexa, where's Waldo?
Easter EggAlexa, volume 11
Easter EggAlexa, what would Brian Boitano do?
Easter EggAlexa, have you ever seen the rain?
Easter EggAlexa, this statement is false
Easter EggAlexa, do you believe in love at first sight?
Easter EggAlexa, who's on first?
Easter EggAlexa, wakey, wakey!
Easter EggAlexa, what is best in life?
Easter EggAlexa, how are babies made?
Easter EggAlexa, who loves ya baby?
Easter EggAlexa, make me a sandwich
Easter EggAlexa, when does the narwhal bacon?
Easter EggAlexa, what is the answer to live, the universe and everything?
Easter EggAlexa, who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
Easter EggAlexa, testing 1-2-3
Easter EggAlexa, why is a raven like a writing desk?
Easter EggAlexa, how many fingers am I holding up?
Easter EggAlexa, did you fart?
Easter EggAlexa, roll the dice
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to take over the world?
Easter EggAlexa, Marco!
Easter EggAlexa, do you feel lucky, punk?
Easter EggAlexa, will pigs fly?
Easter EggAlexa, are you horny?
Easter EggAlexa, what does the scouter say about his power level?
Easter EggAlexa, am I hot?
Easter EggAlexa, you remind me of the babe
Easter EggAlexa, play "paper rock scissors"
Easter EggAlexa, what's up?
Easter EggAlexa, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Easter EggAlexa, execute order 66.
Easter EggAlexa, f*** you
InformationAlexa, give me a random number between 2 and 18Gives you a random number between two numbers
InformationAlexa, wikipedia Bobby OrrReads you the abstract from a Wikipedia page.
InformationAlexa, what's my commute look like?If you've provided a "work" location in the Alexa app, gives you an estimate on commute time to get there.
InformationAlexa, what's 2 times 3?Answers math queries.
InformationAlexa, how many tablespoons are in a cup?Answers basic conversion queries.
InformationAlexa, what's the definition of deplorable?Tells you the definition of a word.
InformationAlexa, how do you spell recommended?Spells a word for you.
InformationAlexa, can you say unqualified?Reads back the word she thinks you told her.
InformationAlexa, how do you say sad in spanish?Attempts to translate your word to a different language.
InformationAlexa, what movies are playing?Tells you movies currently playing locally.
InformationAlexa, what comedy movies are playing tonight?Tells you comedy movies currently playing locally. (Try action, drama, etc.)
InformationAlexa, tell me about the movie The Big LebowskiGives you a synopsis of the movie.
InformationAlexa, who plays The Dude in The Big Lebowski?Tells you the actor or actresses name that played the character.
InformationAlexa, who sings The Pretender?Tells you the artist of a song.
InformationAlexa, who is in the band The Eagles?Tells you the band members of a specific band.
InformationAlexa, what time is it?Tells you the current time.
InformationAlexa, what day is it?Tells you the current day and date.
InformationAlexa, when is Easter this year?Gives you the date of an upcoming holiday.
InformationAlexa, what time does the Marshfield General Store close?Tells you the business hours for a business.
InformationAlexa, what's the phone number for the Village Market in Scituate?Tells you the phone number for a business.
InformationAlexa, tell me a factTells you a random fact
InformationAlexa, how tall is Mount Everest?Tells you the height of something.
InformationAlexa, what is the capital of France?Tells you the capital of a location.
InformationAlexa, what's 64 to the 64 power?Tells you the very long answer to this math question.
InformationAlexa, what's the square root of 16?Tells you the square root of a number.
InformationAlexa, how far is it to the moon?Tells you the distance from your current location to the stated location.
InformationAlexa, how old is Tom Brady?Tells you the age of a celebrity.
InformationAlexa, when is the next solar eclipse?Tells you the date of the next solar eclipse.
Music and MediaAlexa, play (song/genre/playlist)Plays music from Amazon Music Unlimited, or any music you've uploaded.
Music and MediaAlexa, stopStops the currently playing audio.
Music and MediaAlexa, I like this songLikes a song when playing iHeartRadio or Pandora
Music and MediaAlexa, keep goingResumes stopped or paused audio
Music and MediaAlexa, play Born in the USA on PandoraPlays a song from a connected Pandora account.
Music and MediaAlexa, is it going to rain today?Tells you the rain forecast for today in your area.
Music and MediaAlexa, what's the weather this weekend?Gives you the forecast for the weekend in your area.
Music and MediaAlexa, play the This American Life podcastPlays the specific podcast.
Music and MediaAlexa, knock it offStops the currently playing audio.
Music and MediaAlexa, shut the f*** upStops the currently playing audio.
Music and MediaAlexa, turn it upTurns the volume up.
Music and MediaAlexa, turn it downTurns the volume down.
Music and MediaAlexa, turn it all the way upTurns the volume all the way up.
Music and MediaAlexa, shuffle music by (artist)Plays music by that artist.
Music and MediaAlexa, play Bohemian Rhapsody on SpotifyPlays a song from a connected Spotify account.
Music and MediaAlexa, I don't like this songDislikes a song when playing iHeartRadio or Pandora
Music and MediaAlexa, what's playing?Tells you the name and artist of a currently playing song or podcast.
Music and MediaAlexa, volume fiveon a scale of 0-10
Music and MediaAlexa, play the song that goes "I just walked in to see what condition my condition is in"Plays the song that has those lyrics.
Music and MediaAlexa, set a sleep timer for 30 minutesWhile something is playing, this will set a sleep timer to automatically shut Alexa off after a set amount of time.
Music and MediaAlexa, louderTurns the volume up.
NewsAlexa, what's my flash briefing?A personalized list of news, weather and sports. You can set or manage what you hear in your Flash briefing in the Alexa app.
NewsAlexa, what's in the news?Reads you the top news headlines.
NewsAlexa, good morningGives you weather, news and information relevant to start your day.
ShoppingAlexa, where's my stuff?Tells you the shipping status of your Amazon orders.
ShoppingAlexa, order more AA batteriesOrders an item from Amazon.
ShoppingAlexa, what are your deals?Reads you the current Alexa-only deals from Amazon.
ShoppingAlexa, buy this songBuys the currently playing song on Amazon Music.
ShoppingAlexa, buy this albumBuys the currently playing album on Amazon Music.
SkillsAlexa, enable Seinfeld TriviaInstalls a skill from the Alexa skill marketplace.
SkillsAlexa, disable Seinfeld TriviaUninstalls a skill from the Alexa skill marketplace.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn Andrew's room up to 71 degreesChanges the temperature of a thermostat that has been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on the lightsTurns on lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn off the living room lightsTurns off lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, dim the lights to 50 percentDims the lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, dim the kitchen lights to 50Dims the lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app in a specific room.
Smart HomeAlexa, connect to the bluetooth speakerConnects to a bluetooth speaker.
Smart HomeAlexa, disconnect from the bluetooth speakerDisconnects from a bluetooth speaker.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on Movie TimeTriggers a HomeKit, SmartThings, Wink or Wemo automated scene.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on the TVTurns on a TV through a connected Harmony Hub.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on NetflixTurns on Netflix through a connected Harmony Hub.
SportsAlexa, what's the score of the Bruins game?Tells you the score of a current game, or the final score of the previous game.
SportsAlexa, when do the Red Sox play?Tells you the next date and time the team plays a game.
SportsAlexa, give me my sports updateGives you the latest scores of the teams you set in the Alexa app.
SportsAlexa, did Oklahoma State basketball win?Tells you the score of the last game that team played.
WeatherAlexa, what's the weather today?Gives you the forecast for today in your area.

PS: Know a command that isn’t listed here? Please let me know!

PPS: If you want to see everything your Echo or Echo Dot can do, visit

What next?

Amazon Music Unlimited Review 2017

Amazon Music Unlimited is the Best Value for Streaming Music (But Nobody Knows It)

Amazon Music Unlimited launched in October 2016 as Amazon’s answer to the streaming music trend. Like Apple Music and Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs directly from the Internet.

However, unlike Apple Music or Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited lets you stream this music through Alexa to your Echo, Echo Dot or Tap for less than $8/month.

The Amazon Music Unlimited Catalog is Just As Full as Spotify or Apple Music

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon boasts a vague “tens of millions of songs”, while Apple Music claims to have “30 million” in it’s catalog. On the surface, this seems like Amazon is trying to downplay their catalog size.

However, in my experience, everything I’ve wanted to play through Amazon Music Unlimited has been available.

Literally, everything.

The Amazon Music App is Not iTunes (and That’s a Great Thing)

I have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. I love that it’s where all of my music lives, and it’s already installed on my computer and phone.

But I actually hate iTunes. It’s slow and the user experience is clunky, at best. I hate how iTunes blurs the lines between my personal library and Apple Music, and I constantly find that I’m not able to play certain songs because iTunes logged me out.

Since Amazon Music Unlimited doesn’t intermingle with your personal music library, you will never get the annoying “You don’t have authorization to play this file on your computer” iTunes error. This is reason enough to consider ditching iTunes for Amazon.

What’s the Difference Between Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify and Apple Music?

 Amazon Music UnlimitedSpotifyApple Music
Catalog Size"Millions of songs"20 million songs30 million songs
Price$7.99/mo for Amazon Prime Members
$9.99/mo for non-Prime Members
Family Plan$14.99/month$14.99/month$14.99/month
Can Stream to Echo or Echo Dot?YesYesNo
Sound Quality256 Kbps320 Kbps256 Kbps
Playlist and Radio Station QualityGreatDecentLow
Free Option?NoYesYes
Trial Period30 days30 days3 months
Better Than iTunes?Yes!Yes!No 🙁

What’s the difference between Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music?

The difference between Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited is the number of songs.

Amazon Prime Music is included with your Amazon Prime account, and includes about two million songs. Amazon Music Unlimited is an additional $7.99/month and includes “tens of millions” of songs.

Alexa and Amazon Music Unlimited Work Great Together

Alexa makes it really easy to find and play music instantly.

White Amazon Echo

If you want Thunderstruck, you simply say “Alexa, play Thunderstruck”. If you want to hear the entire Bruce Springsteen catalog, say “Alexa, shuffle songs by Bruce Springsteen”. These are only available with Amazon Music Unlimited.

But that’s not even the best part.

Amazon’s staff has categorized the music catalog so well, you can ask Alexa to help you find music.

Let’s say you’re not sure what you want to hear, but you know that it’s something fun from the 90’s.

Simply say “Alexa, play music from the nineties with a beat” and she’ll kick off a personalized playlist for you.

Even that’s not the best part. This is the best part.

Let’s say you’re in the mood for some classic rock, but you can’t quite remember the name of the song. It’s been stuck in your head for days, though.

Say “Alexa, play the song that goes ‘is this the real life is this just fantasy'” and she will start playing Bohemian Rhapsody.

That’s magic.

Playing Amazon Music Unlimited on Your Laptop or Phone

Amazon Music on Phone

You can listen to any of the songs, playlists or radio stations in the Amazon Music Unlimited catalog your computer by installing the Amazon Music app directly from Amazon.

The Amazon Music app is a great way to listen on your phone. You can install the app by visiting the iOS App Store, Google Play or the Amazon App Store.

Streaming Your Own Music on Echo

Alexa powers the Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Music Unlimited gives you the ability to stream Amazon’s library of music. Included in that membership is the ability to upload 250 songs from your own library. Those songs are then available for streaming through Alexa or the Amazon Music app.

If you want to upload more than 250 songs, you’ll need to subscribe to an Amazon Music Subscription for $24.99.

Bottom Line: Do it.

Amazon Music Unlimited is just as good as Spotify or Apple Music, but at a lower cost. It’s app is polished, it works really well with Alexa, and it’s not iTunes.

View on Amazon

Read Next: Alexa Commands: 127 Things Alexa Can Do (And Counting!)


Sonos: The Ultimate Guide to the Ultimate Speaker System

What is Sonos?

Sonos is a wireless home sound system that lets you stream your music in CD quality to anywhere in your house.

Sonos lets you stream music to any room without running speaker wire through your house. Then, it uses the wireless network already in your home to connect up to 32 speakers to each other.

Sonos: Every Sonos Speaker

And since you don’t need to run speaker wires, it lets you move your speakers anywhere, easily. Grilling on the deck? Working in the basement or garage? Simply unplug your speaker, bring it to where you’re working, plug it in, wait a few seconds for it to connect to your wifi network and voila! Now you have great quality streaming music while you work, wherever you are.

Sonos is the easiest way to add music to your home, period.

So, what’s so special about it?

Sonos Play 1 on a Living Room Table

Sonos lets you play the same song, at the same time, to multiple rooms in your house.

So if you’re throwing a big party, you can have the same music playing in the kitchen and on the back deck at the same time.

It even lets you play different songs in different rooms in your house at the same time.

For example, you can play rock in the office to finish the day while jazz plays in the kitchen as dinner is being prepared.

Sonos Wireless Soundbar

You can play TV audio in every room of your house (or just a specific room).

With the Playbar soundbar, you can play TV audio from the Big Game in every room in your house so you never miss the action.

As a result, Sonos’s low price and simplicity make it easy to create a rich home theater experience without the wires.

How does Sonos work?

Sonos uses wifi, not bluetooth, to stream music to your speakers.

This gives you the ability to pump CD quality sound anywhere in your house with smooth playback.

And since it doesn’t use bluetooth, your phone never stops the party. The music continues playing even when you leave the room, receive a notification or make a call.

Adding Sonos to your house is as easy as:

  1. Plug any Sonos speaker into any electrical outlet in your house
  2. Start streaming music

Therefore, if you want to get Sonos set up immediately, grab the Play:1. But if you already have a speaker system you love, grab the CONNECT component, instead.

What’s the difference between Play, Playbar, SUB and CONNECT?

Sonos Play1 Speakers

Sonos Play is the series of wireless speakers that are perfect for any room.

The Play series has three options:

  • Play:1 is the smallest and most affordable wireless Sonos speaker (pictured above). Perfect for your kitchen counter, nightstand or bedside table.
  • Play:3 is the medium-sized wireless speaker with deeper bass than Play:1. You can position the Play:3 vertically or horizontally. This is perfect for a larger room where you need robust sound at a reasonable price.
  • Play:5 is the most powerful Sonos speaker on the market. Perfect for audiophiles, the company says the Play:5 offers “face-melting sound”. The Play:5 is a large speaker great for huge rooms.

Playbar is the Sonos soundbar and streaming speaker in one.

Sonos Playbar Soundbar

The Playbar gives you great sound for your TV, while also allowing you to stream music to that speaker. Additionally, when a Playbar is connected to a TV, you can stream the TV audio to any other Sonos speaker.

SUB is Sonos’s sub-woofer.

Sonos Sub Subwoofer

Pair the SUB with any Sonos speaker, or with the Playbar for the ultimate connected home theater experience.

Sonos CONNECT devices lets you instantly turn any speaker into a full-blown Sonos speaker.

Sonos Connect Amp

What’s the difference between CONNECT and CONNECT:AMP?

  • CONNECT allows you to connect powered speakers to your Sonos system. It includes a Line-In port, making it perfect for an existing stereo system.
  • CONNECT:AMP also allows you to connect speakers to your Sonos system, but also includes an amplifier. This makes it perfect for those who want a little more power with their music.

Sonos Music Streaming Services

Streaming Music

You can stream music directly from most online streaming services to any (or all!) of your Sonos speakers.

  • Does Sonos work with Apple Music? Yes. To play Apple Music:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or computer
    2. add the Apple Music service
    3. sign in with the Apple ID that you use with Apple Music
  • Does Sonos work with Pandora? Yes. To play Pandora:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or computer
    2. add the Pandora service
    3. sign in with your Pandora account
  • Does Sonos work with Spotify? Yes. To play Spotify, use Spotify Connect to let Spotify remotely control the music on your speakers.
  • Does Sonos work with Amazon Music? Yes. To play Amazon Music:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
    2. add the Amazon Music service
    3. sign in with the Amazon account you use with Amazon Music
  • Does Sonos work with Google Play Music? Yes. To play Google Music:
    1. open the Google Play Music app on any Android device
    2. choose the speakers to cast your music to
  • Does Sonos work with SiriusXM? Yes. To play SiriusXM:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
    2. add the SiriusXM service
    3. sign in with your SiriusXM account
  • Does Sonos work with SoundCloud? Yes. To play SoundCloud:
    1. open the Controller app on your phone, tablet or laptop
    2. add the SoundCloud service
    3. sign in with your SoundCloud account

Playing Your Own Music

Sonos makes it easy to stream your personal library from a computer.

To add your personal music to your Sonos music library, download the official Sonos Controller app to a computer with your music library.

  1. In the Controller app, click “Manage”, then “Music Library Settings”
  2. Click the “add” or “+” button
  3. Select the folder that your music is located in
  4. The music will be added to your Sonos music library and available to play

Note: You can only add 65,000 songs to your Sonos library. So, if you have more than 65,000 songs, you may want to be deliberate in the songs you import to your library.

Can I stream TV audio through Sonos?

Sonos TV Living Room

Yes! Adding the Playbar allows you to stream your TV sound to other Sonos speakers.

The Playbar works with just two cables: one for power and one for your TV. It works with your current TV remote. The Playbar uses a Line-In port to connect to your TV, and any audio playing through the Playbar can be streamed to any other Sonos speaker. This is especially handy if the game is on, but you can’t be near the TV.

Playbar gives you home-theater quality sound with just one speaker. But if you’re looking for a true 5.1 surround sound experience, simply pair it with an Amp and four Play:1 speakers.

Additionally, the Playbar can be used just like any other Sonos speaker to play non-TV audio.

Which speaker should I buy?

This chart makes it easy for you to build the perfect system for your house.

I’m brand new to Sonos and don’t already have speakers I love:The Play:1 is the most affordable way to step into the Sonos ecosystem.
I’m an audiophile that’s brand new to Sonos and don’t already have speakers I love:Grab the Play:3 for small rooms, or Play:5 for large rooms.
I already have speakers I love, but want to add Sonos to them:You want to connect the CONNECT to your existing system.
I want to stream TV audio to other rooms in my house:You'll need the Playbar to grab TV audio, and one ore more Play:1's in other rooms of your house.
I want 3.1 surround sound for my TV:Mount the Playbar and place a SUB in your living room.
I want 5.1 surround sound for my TV:Same as 3.1 above, but with more speakers! Grab the Playbar, SUB and two Play:1’s.

What is Sonos Trueplay?

Trueplay is Sonos’s automatic tuning software.

Sonos Trueplay

Trueplay analyzes everything in a room to create the best sounding music experience. Then, Trueplay will then tune each speaker, giving you the best sound possible.

Trueplay is available on the Play:1, Play:3, Play:5 and Playbar devices.

How do I control Sonos?

In a typical multi-room sound system, you would control the music from one central location: the receiver in your living room.

Sonos App on iPhoneHowever, Sonos lets you control the music and where it plays at from your phone, tablet or computer. Controlling the music is as simple as installing an app on your devices.

Control Sonos with an official app:

Control Sonos Directly From Spotify:

Sonos on Spotify

You can control the music from within Spotify, using Spotify Connect.

Integrating With Your Smart Home Devices

Control Sonos With Alexa

Sonos and Alexa

The company has announced plans to integrate with Alexa in 2017. This integration will allow you to play, pause, skip, or control the volume on any Sonos speaker using only your voice.

In October 2016, Sonos launched a private beta program to test Alexa functionality. The company used a similar program in 2016 to test the successful Spotify integration. That integration launched just a few months later, so we’re confident that Alexa integration is coming any day now.

You can sign up for an invite to the Alexa beta program here.

Control Sonos With SmartThings

SmartThings Hub

SmartThings is the most popular Smart Home Hub on the market. The SmartThings hub lets you control various connected devices within your house. SmartThings can control your lights, thermostat and thousands of other devices. Now, it can even control your music.

By installing Sonos from the SmartThings Marketplace, you can include your speakers as part of any automation in your house.

Control music playback manually from the Things menu in the SmartThings app:

  1. Tap My Home
  2. Tap Things
  3. Select the Speaker

You can also automate your speakers with the Speaker Control SmartApps:

  1. Tap Marketplace
  2. Choose SmartApps
  3. Tap Music & Sounds
  4. Choose the SmartApp and follow the instructions
  5. Control Sonos With Harmony Hub

Control Sonos With Harmony Hub

Harmony Hub lets you control all of your TV and stereo equipment using one remote. No more fumbling around with multiple remotes!

Sonos Works With Harmony Hub

The Harmony Hub handles all of the device interaction for you. This makes it possible to control your music from within the Harmony remote or mobile app.

To add a Sonos to your Harmony Hub:

  1. Press Add/Edit devices inside the Harmony Hub app on your phone
  2. Scan for wi-fi devices
  3. Harmony Hub will automatically connect to any Sonos devices on your wifi.


Sonos on iPhone With Siri

Control Sonos With Siri

It’s not currently possible to control Sonos with Siri. The company hasn’t made any announcements about future availability.


Google Home

Control Sonos With Google Home

It is not currently possible to control Sonos with Google Home. Nor is it possible to cast music to your Sonos speakers to or from Google Home.



Control Sonos With WinkHub

It is not currently possible to control Sonos with WinkHub or WinkHub2.

Cheaper Alternatives to Sonos

Sonos is really, really powerful. But it won’t fit into every budget. Not surprisingly, there are some great alternative ways to add multi-room audio to your home.

Apple Airplay

Apple Airplay on iOS

Apple Airplay lets you pump music from your Mac or iOS device to your Sonos speakers. However, it requires an Apple TV or Airport Extreme, plus speakers.

Airplay isn’t usable for Android users since it requires a Mac or iOS device.

Google Chromecast Audio

Chromecast Audio

Google Chromecast Audio lets you turn any speaker into a wireless speaker for about $30. So long as the dongle is plugged in to power and connected to wifi, you’ll be able to use the Google Cast app on iOS or Android to set up your devices.

You can then stream audio from any Chromecast Audio-enabled app (and there are a ton of them).

Pure Jongo System

Pure Jongo S3 Wireless Speaker

At about half the price, the Pure Jongo S3 speaker gives you the ability to have wireless speakers that are battery powered. The Pure Jongo system works over wifi (like Sonos), or you can use Bluetooth – handy at the beach.

Bose SoundTouch

Bose SoundTouch 10 Wireless Speaker

Bose has entered the wireless speaker market with the Bose SoundTouch 10 product. At roughly the same price as the Sonos Play:1, you’ll get arguably better sound and the ability to control it with Alexa from day 1.

While there are a number of cheaper alternatives on the market, Sonos has been doing this longer than anyone else, and it shows.

Is Sonos Worth the Cost?

Sonos Play1 Explosion

Yes, definitely.

Sonos has some of the best speakers on the market, giving you the best sound anywhere you want it. The Play series gives you amazing bang for your buck, while the Playbar makes it unbelievably easy to stream TV audio anywhere else in your house.

Sonos has historically been slow to allow external integrations. However, they have been quick to integrate with popular streaming services. They were early supporters of Apple Music, and their Spotify Connect integration is world-class.

Their apps and services are some of the most stable and polished available. And once Sonos connects with Alexa, you’ll have the ultimate multi-room speaker system, powered by the ultimate virtual assistant.

Amazon Prime members can have a Sonos system at home in a couple of days. And if you can’t wait that long, you can pick one up at your local Apple Store.

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Alexa: The Ultimate Guide to Amazon’s Virtual Assistant

Alexa, who are you?

Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant. Similar to Siri on iOS or Google Now on Android, Alexa is summoned and interacted with by your voice. This means that it (she?) can complete tasks and answer questions without ever needing a keyboard, mouse, computer or phone.

Alexa powers the Amazon Echo Dot

Alexa, are you the same thing as the Amazon Echo?

Alexa is not the same thing as the Amazon Echo. Alexa is the virtual assistant inside the Amazon Echo and the rest of Amazon’s smart speakers. The Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap are essentially delivery vehicles for Alexa functionality.

The Echo, Dot and Tap are smart speakers that sit on a counter or table. While the Echo and Dot are “always on” and listening for you to interact with them. When you want to use Alexa, you simply say her name, followed by the command.

The Tap is closer to a portable bluetooth speaker. It has Alexa capabilities, but you can’t activate Alexa with your voice – you need to press a button.

The Echo is the speaker, and Alexa is the virtual assistant in the cloud waiting to execute your command.

Alexa, play music.

One of the most popular features of Alexa is her ability to find and play music.

You can ask her to play a certain kind of music (“play dinner music”), music by a specific artist (“play music by Bruce Springsteen”), or a specific song (“play Born to Run”).

She will also let you control the music with your voice. You can tell her to skip the song, replay the song, and even turn the volume up and down. Amazon boasts that the Echo, Dot and Tap can hear you over the music, so you shouldn’t need to yell at her to replay Bohemian Rhapsody.

Alexa primarily uses the Amazon Music service. Amazon Music is a catalog of about 2 million songs, and is included with your Prime membership. You can also access Amazon Music by purchasing an Amazon Music Unlimited membership for $9.99/month, or $7.99/month if you’re already a Prime member.

Alexa Can Play Music and Books

  • Can Alexa work with Spotify? Yes. Amazon lets you choose Spotify as the default music choice. This let’s you control Spotify with standard Alexa commands, but using the music from your Spotify library.
  • Can Alexa work with Apple Music? No, Apple Music doesn’t work with the Echo, Dot or Tap.
  • Can Alexa play iTunes? Sort of. You can’t control your iTunes library with your voice, but there are ways to play your iTunes music on your Echo device. You can use the Amazon Music app on your computer to upload your personal music collection to My Music. After it’s uploaded to Amazon, you can play it back using your voice through Alexa. My Music only allows 250 songs for free. If you want to upload more than 250 songs, you’ll need to buy an Amazon Music subscription.
  • Can Alexa control Sonos? Not yet, but soon. Sonos has partnered with Amazon to bring Sonos functionality to Alexa devices. There are rumors that Sonos functionality will be available in early 2017, but there has been no official word from either Sonos or Amazon.

What else can Alexa play?

  • Can Alexa play podcasts? Yes. In typical podcast players, you need to subscribe to a podcast to get the latest edition pushed to your device. However, with Alexa, you can just ask for the latest episode and it will play automatically. Just say “play the Planet Money podcast”.
  • Can Alexa play video? No. Neither the Echo, Echo Dot nor Echo Tap have a screen.
  • Can I use Alexa with a bluetooth speaker? Maybe. The Amazon Echo Dot can connect to a bluetooth speaker to play music and commands. (You can even tell it to connect or disconnect the speaker, which is particularly cool.) The Echo and the Echo Tap can only use their internal speakers.

Alexa Inside an Amazon Echo

Alexa, what is the weather?

Alexa knows your location and will respond with the current temperature and forecast for the rest of the day. I have found this surprisingly faster than using my phone, and equally as accurate.

Alexa, what’s the score of the Bruins game?

If a game is actively happening, she will respond with the score and time remaining (which is amazingly up-to-date). And when there isn’t a game currently being played, she will respond with the opponent and score of the last game played.

Alexa Shopping List

Alexa, add eggs to my shopping list.

Alexa will store a shopping list for you, which is helpful when you’re elbow-deep in cinnamon roll dough and need to remember to buy more cornstarch. While you’re near your Echo, it can read back the list to you.

What’s more helpful is that you can view and check off shopping list items inside the Alexa app on your phone or on the Amazon website. It will even print your shopping list, if she can find your printer.

What is an Alexa skill?

An Alexa skill is like an app on your phone: it’s a piece of software that adds functionality to your Alexa. Amazon has a marketplace of all available Skills on it’s website or inside the app on your phone. You can also enable or disable a skill from the website, through the app, or by speaking directly to Alexa, “add the (name) skill”.

Adding a skill lets you do things such as automating your home, listening to the news, and more.

Some skills are developed by Amazon, but the majority of skills are created by third-party developers. Amazon has created the Skills Kit to facilitate the development of these skills.

Alexa Skills

Alexa, automate my home.

Alexa lets you automate the devices in your home with your voice. This means that you can tell it to turn on the lights, change the thermostat or lock the house with just your voice. It’s similar to how a smart hub works.

Alexa Smart Home Skills

What smart hubs will Alexa work with?

  • Can Alexa work with SmartThings? Yes, through the SmartThings Smart Home Skill.
  • Can Alexa work with Wink? Yes.
  • Can Alexa work with Insteon? Yes.
  • Can Alexa work with HomeKit? Yes, sorta. Neither Amazon nor Apple have much incentive to make their systems work well together. Apple Homekit is powered by Siri, but Siri is a competing technology. You can make your Homekit-enabled devices available to Alexa if you use iDevices as a bridge. However, the Skills marketplace is fairly robust, so you can most likely find a skill that will control your device without necessarily using iDevices.

Alexa can work directly with smart devices through the Skills marketplace, as well.

Alexa, tell me the news.

Alexa offers an automated Flash Briefing, available on-demand. The Flash Briefing plays back the latest news updates from a number of popular broadcasters, like NPR or the BBC, the latest weather update and the latest sports scores from your favorite teams.

You can add new content sources to your Flash Briefing by adding new skills from the Skills marketplace. Some of the popular options are the Wall Street Journal, This Week in Tech, or The Skimm.

Alexa, entertain me.

Despite what it may seem, Alexa does more than just act as your assistant. She has a number of games and trivia available to play:

  • My favorite is Seinfeld Trivia, where it will ask you six questions from the TV show Seinfeld, and give you a score based on your response.
  • She also offers a game called The Magic Door, that’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure style game that you navigate with your voice.
  • There is a Twenty Questions game in which she gives you up to 20 questions to guess the celebrity.
  • And of course, there’s Jeopardy!, where you need to answer in the form of a question.

Alexa can also help you become a better bartender. By adding a Skill called The Bartender, you can ask what ingredients are in a drink (“ask the bartender what’s in a Tom Collins?”) or what drinks can be made with a particular ingredient (“ask the bartender for a drink with pineapple juices”). And if you’re feeling lucky, you can ask The Bartender to surprise you, and she will return the name and ingredients for a randomly-selected drink.

Can Alexa control my TV?

Alexa Controls Your TV With the Harmony Hub

Now that you’re starting to get the hang of the basic things that Alexa can do to change the way you interact with your home, let’s talk about some of the more advanced options.

There are some devices that may not be able to be controlled directly with Alexa, such as most TVs or every cable box. Most “smart devices” have a wifi chip embedded in them, and software that lets them communicate with the Internet. While most TVs these days include wifi, they are lacking the the “controlling” software. You experience this every day, since you probably still control your TV using a remote control that blasts infrared (IR) signals to turn it on, change the channel or change the volume.

The Harmony Hub is a black box that you connect to your home network via wifi. Like most smart hubs, you can control it with your phone. However, the Harmony Hub also includes “IR blasters” that connect to your TV. These IR blasters allow the Harmony Hub to control your TV, via your phone.

You can see where this is going: Alexa can control the Harmony Hub via wifi and your Harmony Hub can control your TV via IR. Therefore: You can control your TV with your voice via Alexa.

Alexa, turn on the TV and change the channel to ESPN.

  • “Alexa, turn on the TV” will turn on your TV via the Harmony Hub.
  • “Alexa, turn off the Xbox” will turn off your Xbox via the Harmony Hub.
  • “Alexa, tell Harmony to pause” will pause your DVD or Blu Ray playback via the Harmony Hub.
  • “Alexa, tell Harmony to set a sleep timer for 15 minutes” will turn off your TV and equipment after 15 minutes. This may be my favorite functionality, since my TV doesn’t have a sleep timer built in.

And if you want to get even more advanced, the Harmony Hub also works with Roku devices. If you have a Roku device and Netflix account, Alexa will let you turn on the TV, turn down the lights, turn up the volume and start a movie with just your voice.

Alexa, what else can you do?

Alexa Has a Lot of Skills

Amazon spent a lot of time making Alexa useful to you anywhere in the house. Some of the most commonly used functionality in our house includes:

  • “Set a timer for 20 minutes.” Unbelievably handy in the kitchen when your hands aren’t clean enough to deal with your phone.
  • “Buy more laundry detergent.” Your Alexa is connected to your Amazon account, so Alexa can help you buy things with just your voice.
  • “What’s on my calendar?” After linking your Google calendar, Alexa can tell you what your next event is, give you the schedule for the day, or add events to your calendar for you.
  • “When was Queen Elizabeth II born?” With great Wikipedia and search abilities (powered by Bing), she can answer most questions you throw at her.
  • “Tell me a joke.” They’re not the best jokes, but they’re not the worst, either.

And since Amazon has opened the development of Skills to third parties, the opportunities are virtually endless.

You don’t have to be a software developer to create custom functionality for Alexa. IFTTT offers a channel of “recipes” to extend the functionality beyond the home. Many of the recipes are built by Amazon, but you can add your own easily through the IFTTT website.

You can also find a complete list of commands here.

Is Alexa worth it?

Yes, Alexa is the best way to make your home smarter. The wide array of abilities available to it via Skills (with more being added every day), along with the multi-directional microphone make it a very useful virtual assistant.

And at about $50, the Amazon Echo Dot is the best (and actually cheapest) way to add the power of Alexa to any room in your house.

A Smart Hub is the Brain of Your Smart House

Smart home devices are insanely popular now: it seems like every tech company has their own sensor, thermostat or light switch. But with all of these different devices built by different companies, you need something to tie them all together. This is where a smart hub comes into play.

Being able to turn your lights on and off from your phone while sitting on the couch literally feels like the future because it is the future!

But turning your lights on and off isn’t even the best part. The best part is when your house turns your lights on, heats your house, starts playing music and unlocks your door for you as soon as you get home – all automatically. 

And for that, you need a smart hub.

What is a smart hub?

The smart hub is the brain of your smart home. The smart hub connects all of your individual devices and lets them talk to each other and talk to you.

Diagram of a smart hub
Diagram of a smart hub

A smart hub lets you control your connected thermostats, lights, switches, outlets, locks, security cameras and more from one central place – typically your phone.

One of the most common uses for a smart hub is automation: a smart hub makes it possible to automate multiple devices at the same time. 

Do I really need a smart hub? How can a smart hub automate my life?

If you want to have a smart home, you definitely need a smart hub – especially if you have multiple smart devices in your house. While every smart hub is a little different, they all can do the same things:

  • Smart hubs react to your location. Your smart hub makes it possible for your front door to unlock as soon as you pull into your driveway. Or it can automatically lock the doors behind you as you leave.
  • Smart hubs react to the environment. Your smart hub can turn your garden lights on automatically as the sun goes down. Or it can turn off your porch light as soon as the sun comes up.
  • Smart hubs react to you. Your smart hub can chain multiple actions together for commonly used actions, like turning on your TV, dimming the lights and lowering the shades – all with one button press.
  • Smart hubs react to your devices. Your smart hub can identify a water leak, shut off the water to your house, and send you an alert.

How do I pick the right smart hub?

Picking the wrong smart hub will be more annoying than anything! The smart hub itself doesn’t do anything directly, so it relies on you having expensive smart devices already installed in your house.

The smart hub exists to make your life easier, and it does this by connecting all of your smart devices together. So, picking a hub that works with all (or most) of your devices makes your smart home that much smarter.

What good is that smart thermostat, smart door lock or smart light if they’re actually a pain to use? You’ll want to choose a smart hub that works with all of your devices, as well as any planned devices down the road.

When choosing the smart hub to power your connected home, consider a few things:

  • What (if any) smart devices do you already have installed? Check that the smart hub works with any devices you already have installed. Some manufacturers have a list of supported devices or protocols on their website, but they’re difficult to understand. (We’re working on a device catalog that should make this easier – we’ll email you when it’s ready.)
  • What kind of phone do you have? One of the best features of a connected home is the ability to control it from anywhere. Smart hub manufacturers know this, so they designed the top selling smart hubs to be controlled via an app installed on your phone. Consider what kind of phone you have, and make sure that your smart hub has a well reviewed app for it. If you have an iPhone or a relatively new Android phone, you’re probably fine.
  • What hub will still be around next year? This is arguably the hardest since you can’t read the future (and if you can, please email me). Designing a smart home around a hub that’s no longer supported would be a huge bummer, not to mention a huge waste of money.

What is the best smart hub?

Buying the right hub for the smartest home is hard, and I know that you’re not reading this article for me to tell you that “it depends”.

However, it actually depends. (I’m sorry!)

I’m working on creating a wizard to help you choose the best hub for your home (sign up here and I’ll email you when it’s ready). But until that’s finished, it wouldn’t be fair to leave you without some suggestions.

Since I don’t know the specifics of your house and your setup, here are the three most promising smart hubs on the market today. I would buy any of these for my home without thinking twice:

Samsung SmartThings Hub – $75 (Read Reviews on Amazon)

Samsung SmartThings Hub
Samsung SmartThings Hub
  • Supported Devices: This is the most popular consumer hub on the market today, and for good reason. Lots of developers support the SmartThings ecosystem, and the ST hub supports most smart home protocols. Additionally, Amazon sells SmartThings-branded sensors for doors, water, and more.
  • Controlling it: The SmartThings hub works with every phone out there, and has apps for iOS, Android and even Windows Phone. Plus, it works with Amazon Alexa so you can control it with your voice.
  • Obscurity Score: Samsung SmartThings isn’t going anywhere. This is the hub dujour for connected home connoisseurs. The software is updated frequently, and the system is being actively developed for by Samsung. SmartThings also has an active developer community, so even if Samsung doesn’t directly support something, there is a huge community of developers who probably have a plugin built.

Wink Hub 2 – $99 (Read reviews on Amazon)

WinkHub 2
WinkHub 2
  • Supported Devices: The Wink Hub is another extremely popular hub, and it’s recently been updated with a version 2. The Wink Hub 2 can support up to 530 devices on one hub, so you’ll never need to worry about outgrowing this hub. The Wink Hub 2 supports bluetooth devices, as well as devices that work on z-wave, zigbee and Clear Connect. 
  • Controlling it: The Wink Hub 2 is compatible with HomeKit (with a plugin) and Amazon Alexa. The Wink Hub 2 has iOS and Android apps for managing your home from your phone.
  • Obscurity Score: This is a brand new version of one of the most popular smart hubs, so it’s unlikely going to disappear anytime soon. The previous generation even 1000+ great reviews on Amazon. People love the Wink Hub.

Amazon Echo – $180 (Read Reviews on Amazon)

Amazon Echo
Amazon Echo
  • Supported Devices: The smash hit of the 2016 holiday season was Amazon’s smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, Amazon Dot and Amazon Tap. Each smart speaker also includes Amazon’s digital assistant, called Alexa. In addition to telling you the weather or helping order a new Crock Pot, Alexa can act as a smart hub for your home. Alexa currently offers support for the most popular devices manufactured by WeMoPhilips HueSmartThingsWink, Insteon, and Nest.
  • Controlling it: Neither the Echo, Dot or Tap has a screen at all – you control it entirely with your voice. While this feels very futuristic, it means you can’t control it from outside or silently from your phone.
  • Obscurity Score: The Dot had a record-breaking holiday sales season and is getting great reviews. This will be around for a while.

How do I install my smart hub?

Now that you’ve picked the smart hub for your home, it’s time to set it up.

The smart hub is typically a small box that sits near your internet router. It usually requires an ethernet cable to connect to your network, and a power cable for electricity.

Installing your smart hub is typically as easy as:

  1. Plug the ethernet cable into the back of your hub and the back of your router
  2. Plug your hub into the electrical outlet in the wall
  3. Open the hub app on your phone

From that point, the app will walk you through the process of connecting all of your smart devices to your new hub network. 

It’s really that easy. If you’ve ever set up a wireless router, you can certainly set up a new smart hub. And even if you haven’t set up a router before, I suggest trying to install your smart hub yourself, anyways. Manufacturers these days are making it easier to get connected devices set up right from your phone or tablet.

So, what now?

If you haven’t already, get yourself a smart device for your house. You could start with something simple – like a Phillips Hue bulb for less than $30.

Then, grab yourself a smart hub using the guide above and let me know how you like it.