Amazon Echo has been arguably the biggest home tech product of the year, and it’s been hurtling off the shelves since Black Friday signalled the beginning of the Christmas shopping period. Or was that Easter?
If you’ve awoken to find one in your stocking, and are now wondering how to set it up and get Alexa, Amazon’s AI assistant working for you, rest easy.
Because firstly, you have come to the right place. And secondly, it’s a piece of piss, frankly.
How to set up your Amazon Echo or Echo Dot
Now, to be honest, if you can’t set up an Echo, I do worry that there might be something wrong with you.
But hey, it’s Christmas, maybe you’ve overdone the egg-nog and are feeling ever so ‘confused’. Don’t worry. It’s fine.
First up, if you’ve got an Echo Dot, you’ll probably want to plug it into an external speaker. It’s got a 3.5mm output, so you will need a suitable 3.5mm to 3.5mm or 3.5mm to phono cable, depending on what kind of speaker or amp you’re using.
If you’ve got an Echo proper, no cable is required or, indeed, even possible, as there’s no audio out.
The next thing you will need to do is unbox your Echo or Echo Dot. This is very important, because it’s ever so hard to plug in whilst still in a cardboard box.
Done that? There you go, told you this was easy.
Download the Alexa app
If you’ve got an iOS or Android device, head to your app store of choice and download the Amazon Alexa app – just search ‘Alexa’.
What’s that? You don’t have an Android or iDevice, because you prefer Windows or Blackberry? Are you nuts? Hopefully, whoever gifted you the Echo kept the receipt, because there’s nothing for your legacy device here. Sorry.
To be honest, Alexa the app is not the most amazing bit of software, but it does the job. First log in with your Amazon ID. Not got an Amazon ID? Well set one up, then.
On the Home page, near the bottom of the menu – which you bring up by tapping the 3 lines, top left, is Settings. I don’t know why it’s near the bottom, rather than at the top, or right at the bottom, where you’d expect it to be; like I say, it’s not a great app.
From Settings, you can set up your red hot new Echo device.
Plug in your Echo or Echo Dot
Alexa will say hi, and start flashing lights at you, like a finely plumed electronic bird who wants to mate with you.
Give your device a minute or so to get ready. Eventually, the light ring on top will turn a firey orangey red. Now is the moment.
If for some reason this process fails and the lights haven’t gone orange, you can press the button on top with a dot on it for five seconds or so, to manually continue the process.
Anyone who’s set up a Wi-Fi smart home device before will now be expecting a world of pain, as it fails to find your home network, or refuses to connect to it.
I’ve found that Echo, however, is brilliantly reliable in this respect. All you have to do is go to your phone or tablet’s Wi-Fi settings, connect to the Amazon Wi-Fi you’ll find there, and wait for Echo to say, “Cheers, thanks, nice one, I’m now in your home, watching you shower,” or words to that effect.
You’ll then have to enter your Wi-Fi password, so hopefully you can remember what that is.
Interestingly, Amazon can also store said password, in a highly secure and encrypted way, so you can setup your next Echo device even more quickly.
If you’re not happy with the possible security implications of that, it’s not obligatory, however.
Let Alexa know what you’re into
Rather amazingly, your device is now setup to an extent where many users – your mum, for instance – will never need to touch the app again. The whole point of Echo is that you talk to it, after all.
However, to make the most of it, you should let Alexa know your location (for weather, news, etc) favoured music services and news outlets.
So in the Music and Books part of the app menu, you should link your Spotify account.
Then in Settings, go through the Account options to choose what your default music service should be – to get the full benefit of Alexa, I strongly recommend Amazon Music Unlimited over Spotify, as it happens, but it’s up to you.
Similarly, you should choose your favourite news outlets for your ‘Flash briefing’ (“Alexa, give me my Flash briefing!”), so if you’re a fan of Radio 4 and The Guardian, you don’t have to be subjected to headlines from the Daily Mail and Telegraph, and vice versa.
You can also link a Google calendar, so Alexa can give you your agenda for the day, and choose your favourite ‘sports teams’ to be updated on.
That is, as long as your favourite ‘sports teams’ are either Premier League football clubs, or American teams called things like ‘New England Revolution’, who I think play ice hockey or something.
Lovers of sports other than football and American things will have to wait for further updates to this service, alas.
Have a chat with Alexa
The best way to get to know Alexa is to talk to her. She doesn’t respond to a huge number of queries and orders but classics include:
Alexa, play… [insert your favourite radio station, podcast, song, album or artiste here]
[Mumford and Sons come on a random playlist] Alexa, skip this track!
Alexa, set a timer for… [number of minutes]
Alexa set an alarm for… [ungodly hour in the morning]
Alexa, what’s the time/temperature/weather?
Alexa, add to my shopping list.
Alexa, add [task] to my to-do list.
Alexa, what’s on my calendar?
‘Skills’ are, in effect, apps for Echo, expanding Alexa’s range of abilities. Again, they can be found in the menu
There are hundreds to browse and quality is wildly variable, but thankfully Amazon users are never shy about rating and reviewing things, so it’s easy to sort the wheat from the chaff.
I can honestly say there is not a single ‘skill’ that I’d describe as an essential download, but they’re free, and easy to install, and things like turning up the heating via Hive, or requesting an Uber to your door are fun, if inessential.