Okay I know I’m late to the party but I am getting my first Amazon Echo for Father’s Day I have read through the threads in a lot of things seem out of date or new things out. What is everybodys must have or must do with an Amazon Echo when they first get it or for new people getting one
AskAlexa. Plain and simple, hands down it will evolve your experience.
And the integration of askAlexa and CoRE have brought ST into the next level of HA.
It helps to understand that there are three different approaches to using Alexa, mostly depending on whether you’re willing to do more technical work in order to get more features.
One) Use the IFTTT “trigger” method which uses Alexa’s own IFTTT channel as the “if” and the smartthings channel and/or the harnony channel as the “that.”
Pros: extremely easy to set up, very reliable, lets you use custom phrasing like “Alexa, trigger open the front door,” works with anything (including smartthings) that has an IFTTT channel, works easily with device classes that Echo does not yet recognize like locks.
Cons: you have to use the “trigger…” Format which some people don’t like. If you want to use virtual switches you will have to create your own in smart things. And IFTTT can introduce additional lag.
Extra features: you are limited to the standard echo features except that you can easily control device classes that echo doesn’t recognize during its usual “discover devices” process.
Two) Use the official SmartThings/echo integration.
Pros: many of your smartthings devices will be listed in your echo app, which allows you to group them for direct echo voice control; you don’t have to use the “trigger” format, but instead can use “Alexa, movie night on.” (Where "movie night is the name of a group or switch.)
Cons: this breaks relatively often (since it was introduced in August, it has broken at least four times, and maybe more). Some of the breaks are relatively minor, like echo telling you that the device isn’t available but actually doing the control you requested anyway. (That one had to do with a timeout failure in the smartthings response to echo.) some have been more significant, like a class of devices that used to work with echo now not working for a while. Also, you are limited to the standard device classes that echo officially recognizes meaning you can’t control locks this way unless you use a virtual switch as a stand-in.
Extra features: none, you are limited to the standard echo features.
- Ask Home and Ask Alexa. To use this, you set up your own AWS account and run custom code which allows you to query SmartThings and Play the answers through Alexa. This is an unofficial implementation built by community members. It is very popular among the kind of people who run their own servers. It is much too technical for many other people.
Pros: it let you query Echo for things like “which doors are open?” And adds additional two-way features
Cons: setup is complex even for those with significant technical skill; it is only as reliable as SmartThings; requires an Amazon developers account and a way to host your AWS code
Extra features: adds many significant features to echo.
You can also use both methods one and two which will let you put SmartThings – controlled devices from device classes that Echo officially recognizes into echo groups while not relying solely on SmartThings for control of third-party devices like Phillips Hues or harmony. And getting easy Echo control of the device classes that echo does not recognize like locks.
Most people seem to be either using the official method (2 above) or a combination of IFTTT and the official method (1 and 2 above), with power users who have a significant technical background using the Alexa skill method (3 above).
You will find forum discussions on all three methods, which I’m sure it can get confusing.
I myself now use a combination of one and two. I am quadriparetic, so voice control is really important to me, and I am willing to trade a couple of extra seconds for the improved reliability and simplicity of method one. But everybody’s needs are different. Other people want the absolute fastest response time, and go with method two. And people who are programmers tend to love method three which gives them a lot of features that echo doesn’t have out-of-the-box.
I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion.
As far as your original question, which is what are people using echo for, in our house Echo is now the main method for controlling lights.
One of the great things about echo is that you can put a device into as many different groups as you want.
So you can say “Alexa, sink light on” which at our house turns on a light over the kitchen sink.
Or you can say “Alexa, kitchen lights on” which at our House turns on the light over the kitchen sink +2 other lights.
Or you can say “Alexa, bedtime on” which at our house turns on one of the other kitchen lights which is actually a hallway light on the way to the bedroom, one of the living room lights, and one of the bedroom lights, so it creates a pathway of lights from the living room to the bedroom.
Or you can say “Alexa, turn off all lights” which at our house turns off all the lights in the house except The lights in my housemate’s bedroom which he will turn off for himself when he’s ready.
We have a lot of people coming through our house. Three housemates who live here, plus all our various friends and family, plus home health workers for me.
Everybody likes voice control of the lights. We have a sign on the wall by the entry that tells you what the voice commands are for the rooms just as a reminder. But it’s pretty intuitive. It works for everyone whether they have a smart phone or not. And we set up functional groups like “bedtime” which can have lights from different rooms under one voice command.
Honestly, just light control in groups would be enough to justify the price of the echo at our house.
I also use it for voice control of our harmony universal remote, which gives me voice control of the television, something I didn’t have before. It’s great for just on, off, and switching to a different input like Netflix. It’s pretty clunky for volume control or channel surfing, so my housemates just use the regular button remote for those activities.
I also use the echo all the time to play music, sports results, news briefing, and the weather. Stuff like “Alexa, when do the Giants play next?” Is really nice.
Personally, I don’t use echo for most information searches other than sports schedules. But that’s just me.
Correction. You do NOT require your own server to run either of these.
AskHome is definitely not for the non technical non programming type of user. It takes a lot of skill to program. This is a great option, but very few will be able to accomplish it easily.
AskAlexa is becoming more user friendly by the day. The documentation is outstanding and the features continue to grow. Initial set can seem daunting, but the documentation lays it out fairly simple. Just follow the steps and most are good to go on the first try.
Again though, you do not need to run your own server. Everything is done in groovy on the ST servers and in the Amazon developer environment.
Thanks for the correction, I fixed my post.
WOW Guys this is alot of information and can not wait until I can “open” my alexa on sunday when my kids give it to me for fathers day.