What Is A “Smart Speaker”?
A smart speaker is a small device, usually shaped like a pillar candle or a hockey puck, that connects to your Wi-Fi and interacts between you, the Internet, and apps on your other devices. It allows you to use the Internet and your devices with voice commands to your smart speaker.
- Do you want to know when the next Brewers game is? Just ask the smart speaker and it will tell you.
- Do you want to know what the weather will be like? Again, ask your smart speaker.
- Do you feel like listening to music on Pandora or Spotify. Just tell your smart speaker what you want to hear.
- Do you want to turn smart lights on or off or turn your smart thermostat up or down? Tell your smart speaker.
You get the picture! You tell your smart speaker what you want and it either accesses the Internet or communicates with other connected devices in your home to fulfill your request.
A smart speaker can also be used to talk with other smart speakers– both in and outside of your home! You can connect multiple smart speakers in your home and talk through them like an intercom to tell the kids supper is ready or when it’s time to leave, etc. You can also make Internet voice and video calls to other smart speakers — like at your parent’s or grandparent’s house! You just have to know the name of their smart speaker and they have to be home to accept your call.
Each brand of smart speaker allows you some connectivity to their own company features — such as Amazon for shopping or Google for Google Apps. This is where you have to be a little careful, which we will cover later.
Where to Buy a Smart Speaker?
You can usually buy smart speakers anywhere you can get laptops, cell phones, and other smart devices (smart TV’s, smart speakers, etc.) They range in price from about $30 to $100, depending on the features and (sound) quality you desire. Two top options are the Amazon Echo (“Alexa”) and the Google Home (“Ok, Google”). Each has a few choices in size/features.
Setting Up a Smart Speaker
Your smart speaker should include some basic instructions which will including plugging it into an electrical outlet, downloading the app to your mobile device or going to a designated website and setting up your device. Setup has two parts: (1) creating a user account and (2) connecting your smart speaker to your Wi-Fi. Since smart speakers don’t have mice or keyboards, you do all of this through another device like a smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Once your smart speaker is connected to your Wi-Fi and you have an app downloaded and set up, you might want to add more “skills” from time to time. A skill is a game, online radio station, smart device, or anything that you want your smart speaker to do that it doesn’t already have in its software. For example, to work with a smart thermostat, you will need to install that brand’s thermostat “skill”. Usually it’s as simple as saying “Alexa, install nest thermostat skill” or “Ok Google, install iHeart Radio skill” so you can start using that feature. Usually the device or specific game/music you want to add will tell you how to add them to your smart speaker. Visit their website or google how to do it if you need assistance.
Tips for Using a Smart Speaker
The smart speaker comes with a default name that it responds to. For example, Amazon Echoes respond when you start with “Alexa”. Our suggestion is to change the name of the device to something more unique that will not be said casually by people in the house or on TV or on the radio. We’ve heard of cases where a person’s smart speaker took and action, or made a purchase online, based on a command a radio DJ or someone on TV said. Your smart speaker won’t know (or care) if it was commanded by someone physically there or not!
That brings us to another tip regarding purchases. If you use (or plan to use) Amazon for purchases, please don’t save your login and password and credit card information in such a way that your browser can fill it in automatically. You don’t want purchases to go through unabated from your smart speaker to your computer to Amazon. You want that process to be interrupted to type in a password or credit card number.
Can Your Smart Speaker Spy On You?
Your smart speaker is always on and always listening for you to give it a command. Whether it is listening to other conversations such as mentions of brands and products, usernames and passwords, phone numbers and email addresses, or other information…. it is not supposed to do that. But if you do not trust your smart speaker, just unplug the power cord to your smart speaker whenever you want. That way, you can still enjoy the benefits of a smart speaker but you don’t have to worry if it’s over-stepping its reach.
More Things You Can Do
There are so many things you can do with your smart speaker and it seems to increase every day. Here is a list of twenty things we thought of:
1. Get the weather.
“Alexa, what’s the weather today?”
You’ll get a verbal report of today’s weather for your area. You can also include a different city if you are traveling and want a different weather report.
2. Look up a phone number
“Alexa, what’s the phone number for Tri-County Communications in Strum, Wisconsin?”
This is really helpful when you need to contact a business. Instead of going on your phone, tablet, or computer and searching for the business to find their phone number, just ask your smart assistant and it will fetch it for you in a snap! Along with the phone number, you can ask your assistant for store hours, location and more!
3. Find out who sings that song or is in that TV show
“Alexa who sings…?”
Have you ever had that where you can’t think of who sings a song or is in that movie or TV show? Instead of taking the time to find a device and typing in your request, just call out to your personal assistant and it will tell you!
4. Make your grocery list on your smartphone.
“Alexa, add eggs to my grocery list.”
It’s really nice that you can create shopping lists on your smartphone but it’s cumbersome to have to type all the items into your list. That’s where your Echo or Google Home comes in! No more typing, just ask your smart assistant to add the items for you while you browse through your refrigerator and cupboards — just like having someone writing it down for you!
5. Set a quick timer while you’re cooking or exercising.
“Alexa, set a timer for 5 minutes.”
In the kitchen, it’s nice to have an easy-to-use timer to keep track of the things you have on the stove or in the oven. While your stove usually has a timer, it probably has just one. With your Google Home or Echo, you can not only set a single timer quickly and easily but you can set multiple timers at the same time. So if you want to set a 7 minute timer for your pasta and a 12 minute timer for broccoli, your smart home device can manage them both at the same time!
And if you’re exercising, the last thing you want to do is keep playing with a timer, setting it and resetting it, while you do your exercises. Instead, just call out to your assistant “Alexa set a timer for 2 minutes” or “Hey Google, set a timer for 4 minutes”
6. Get the scores or find out when your favorite team is playing next.
“Alexa, when do the Brewers play next?”
7. Play music
“Alexa, play 70’s soft rock channel on Pandora”
Your smart speaker can play a variety of music from your smartphone or tablet, online radio, Pandora, iHeart, Sirius XM, YouTube, and more! Just tell it what app you want it to access and the name of the channel, artist, or song!
8. “Dinner’s ready!”
If you have more than one Echo or Google product in your home, you can tell one smart assistant to communicate to people in your house through the other smart assistants like a “whole house intercom.” This means you don’t have to yell or find everyone to spread a message. Have your home assistant tell everyone for you!
9. Get a “fact of the day” (or more!) from Curiosity.com.
Impress your friends or coworkers or just take pride in yourself for learning something each day.
10. Get step-by-step instructions for getting out certain stains or cooking certain foods.
“Alexa, access Tide to get out chocolate stains” or “Alexa, access All Recipes for how to roast red potatoes”
Cleaning companies and cooking/recipe companies setup their databases to be accessible through virtual assistants who will give you verbal steps for cleaning/cooking your request.
11. Create a “choose your own adventure” story using Earplay
“Alexa start Earplay”
Do you remember those “choose your own adventure” books where at the end of each chapter you could decide where the story would go next? Well, you can experience that again through your Echo or Google Home using apps (skills) like Earplay!
12. Play “Trivia Hero” quiz game
Whether you just want to challenge yourself or make a game of it with friends, it’s fun and easy to play trivia games through your Echo or Google Home device. With Trivia Hero, it will call out the questions and you shout back the answers!
13. Find recipes, send them to your tablet/phone and even hear step-by-step instructions.
“Alexa how do I make a pizza crust?”
Your home assistant can access a large library of recipe websites and databases to help you in the kitchen. While you ask for a general recipe or request one from a particular source, your home assistant is a great go-to! Not only do you get the recipes, but your assistant will verbally communicate the steps or even send them to your phone or tablet so you can read them.
14. Create a routine triggered by a phrase.
You can “layer” your commands so by saying one command, you can have your home assistant do multiple things. For example, you can setup “Alexa Bedtime” to turn off certain lights (smart lights/outlets), turn on a preset alarm, lock your smart door lock, and turn down your smart thermostat.
15. Make long distance calls to other Echo users.
If a friend or family member has an Amazon Echo, you can place “calls” to their Echo and you can talk back and forth like you are on a phone for free over your Wi-Fi. Since it’s a speaker/speakerphone, several people can join you in the conversation.
16. Set timed reminders for yourself.
It may seem basic, but little reminders during the day can really help! From remembering to record a show to remembering to pick up a family member.
17. Change a (smart) thermostat by voice command.
“Alexa turn the Nest thermostat to seventy”
If you are at home and you have a smart thermostat, you don’t have to find or turn on your phone or tablet — just ask Alexa to change your smart thermostat!
18. Turn your (smart) lights on or off by voice command.
In the same way you can control a smart thermostat with your voice through Alexa, you can do the same with any smart devices including lights, outlets, appliances, and security devices.
19. Control your Amazon Firestick.
“Alexa open Netflix on Amazon Firestick; play MacGyver”
Having an Amazon Echo in your house gives you instant voice control of your Amazon Firestick! No more “typing” by finding letters on the screen– just say what you want to open and what you want to watch.
20. Easter Eggs
“Alexa, surely you can’t be serious”
Easter Eggs are lines from movies, TV shows, and songs pre-programmed into Echoes for a bit of fun. Look online for “alexa easter eggs” or try to guess them by telling Alexa popular lines from movies and songs.