Today we are diving into the Amazon Alexa and more specifically we are looking at the Echo’s best compatible devices that you can connect up to this device in order to exponentially increase the value of both Alexa and the other smart home device. It has recently been announced by John Lewis that demand for smart home products is soaring, with a 670% year on year increase in searches on the JohnLewis.com website for smart home products and a 202% growth in actual sales.
Amazon Alexa sits at the forefront of this revolution and is now getting dedicated television advertising in the U.K from Amazon directly and John Lewis in-directly. In fact, John Lewis are performing in store demonstrations of Alexa to showcase the devices capabilities to baying crowds of folks who would not have otherwise ever thought of buying one. Once people see the device in action though, it becomes compelling and you know a device is going mainstream when my parents, now in their early 60s, decide to whimsically take the plunge. That means that I have just got back from a weekend of properly playing with this device, rather than just testing it, and it actually is really quite astounding.
What immediately struck me about Alexa compared to say Apple’s Siri is that its range of data-points is [right now at least] nowhere near as comprehensive as Apple’s. The range of stuff that you can ask, and get answered, by Siri is streets ahead, especially when it comes to the processing of natural language queries. However, Alexa is far more adept at picking up what you’re asking, from my elderly, frail and thus very quietly spoken grandma through to my booming aunty – Alexa could pick everybody up. She may not always [by any means] have the answer, but she nearly always knew what the question was. The lack of depth in her current understanding of questions and the different ways that different folks ask them is not an undue concern – that is a simple software and data point challenge which is relatively easy to overcome.
The other thing that struck me immediately about the Amazon Alexa is the quality of its speaker. The guys in the John Lewis store told my parents that its worth the £150 fee just for the speaker alone, even if you rarely use the audio prompting. However it has certainly not taken my parents long to start barking song orders at the device, and they are finding it an incredibly good buy already. However what really brings Alexa to life is when you start hooking the device up with other compatible smart home devices – and when you do, things get very interesting very quickly.
Amazon Alexa and Phillips Hue
Phillips Hue is the smart lighting solution from Phillips, which enables you to command your homes lighting through a simple to use application. You can change the colour of the lights, you can make the lights ‘dance’ to the beat of the music, you can set mood lighting, you can use it as a smarter dimmer switch and you can programme (or remotely control) the lights when you’re not at home – mimicking the feel that somebody is in the house and thus adding a smarter security element. This is all really cool, but thanks to Amazon Alexa, you can now do all of this with your voice.
Lets think about some use cases. You have just picked the movie that you want to watch and now you need to turn down the lights. You simple ask ‘Alexa, dim the hue lights by 60%’ and the device will respond – providing the perfect movie ambience. When you come to leave the room, you just should ‘alexa, turn off the lights’ or maybe more usefully, having been sitting in the living room reading for an hour and finding the room is suddenly getting dark around you – you just ask ‘Alexa, turn on the spot light’ and voila, you’re back in light without lifting a finger or losing your page.
It should also be pointed out that there around around a dozen smart lighting solutions that work with Alexa, and you can find them all here
The Belkin Smart switches and Alexa
We have been big fans of Belkin and the series of smart switches for a while, namely because of their ease of use and the fact that unlike so many other smart home devices – they do not require a smart home hub. For the less familiar, the smart home hub is the connective tissue intended to connect together the entire smart home, and it is being used as a way for key manufacturers, like Samsung for example, to get their tentacles deeply into ‘owning’ your home [or at least the smart home products that you want to put in to it]. So Belkin has a comparably independent feel to it, which we like here at HometechStar.com.
The Belkin WeMo smart switch gives you a light switch which brings smart functionality (like remote control to it) without having to instal the entire Phillips Hue solution or alternatives. Hue brings the benefits of dimming capabilities and the chance to change the colours of the lighting with the flick of the switch – but if the appealing parts of the smart lighting are the ability to voice control turning lights on and off, Belkin can do that at a much cheaper price for you. They also have the Belkin switch, which is really like an old school timer socket, which you use a bridge between the power socket and any devices (e.g a spotlights) own power plug. This effectively acts as a much smarter version of the older humble timer switch, letting you use Amazon Alexa voice control to control whatever you have plugged into that Belkin smart socket. Its a simple and pretty elegant solution
Amazon Alexa and Nest – Google’s smart learning thermostat
We have spoken extensively about the benefits of Nest – and we have compared it to British Gas’s Hive solution for those of you here in the UK. Nest is now into its third generation and has saved over 4 billion KWs of energy globally since its introduction.
For us, it is a no brainer to connect Nest up with Amazon Alexa, which brings a whole new component to the Nest solution. Nest is radically more useful when you can shout at Alexa to turn the heating up a few degrees compared to having to fumble for your smartphone in order to then find the Nest app and then make the change. I think that fumbling element meant that many people considered Nest to be little more than a slightly better looking home thermostat, whereas once you add Alexa in, it becomes genuinely much more useful.
Going back to that Phillips Hue use case from earlier, when we were sat in the living room reading our book. We have asked Alexa to turn on a light to save us losing our page, and now we can also ask Alexa to turn the heating on to take the chill out of the air. Adding this feature to the already impressive learning capabilities that Nest has, as well as its ability to save you money, and its a no-brainer to connect these two devices together.