Building an Alexa Smart Home in 2020
Setting up an Alexa smart home in 2020 is a whole lot easier than it was just a couple years back. Why is that? Well, you really don’t get much by the way of compatibility issues these days. The impressive Works with Alexa program means these days it’s surprising to see something that doesn’t work with Alexa. Another prime benefit in of Alexa in 2020 is the huge choice of smart speakers and smart displays you have at your disposal. So, today we’ll walk you through the logistics of creating an Alexa-powered smart home the easy way and it’s got to start with that Echo device…

Choose Your Smart Speaker or Smart Display

The Echo bench continues to widen and deepen. The recent launch of several new models along with some retooled models means there’s never been a better time to invest in an Echo. Choose from the following options:

Echo

The original smart speaker debuted Alexa in 2016 and this new and improved second-generation comes with overhauled audio and a facelifted design. As with all Echo devices, you’ll get a vehicle for hands-free control of your smart home. If you’re looking to bring Alexa out to play and you want serviceable audio, the classic Echo still makes a valid choice in 2020. Pick from 3 colorways and opt for a multipack if you want even better value and you need multiple smart speakers in your home. From hands-free home automation to entertainment, organization, and voice calls or messages, Echo delivers exceptional value for money.

Echo Plus

If you’ve got a more fluid budget and you like the idea of a Zigbee radio onboard your smart speaker, Echo Plus is the obvious solution. This works as de facto home hub affording you voice control of selected compatible devices without needing a third-party gateway. Beyond this neat property, Echo Plus delivers a crisp, immersive soundscape. You can pair Echo devices for stereo sound. You can also manipulate the settings in-app to personalize your listening experience. With 3 subtle designs to choose from, Echo Plus will blend in rather than standing out while Alexa will streamline your life wonderfully.

Echo Dot

All-new Echo Dot comes with the time displayed making it better than ever as a bedside smart device. Measuring just 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.7 inches, this tiny disc will sit neatly on your dresser and allow you to launch into your day the smart way. While you’ll need to make some compromises on the audio front, you won’t lose out on any of Alexa’s smarts. Echo Dot also comes in a colorful kids’ edition. The price of Echo Dot is firmly in budget territory so there’s no reason not to invite Alexa into your home even if you’re on a tight budget.

Echo Spot

Now being slowly phased out, if you act quickly, you could still pick up an Echo Spot, Amazon’s first attempt at a small smart display. The diminutive 2 ½-inch screen gives a visual edge to search and music without eating up too much space on the counter. As with every Echo device, Echo Spot comes with the inimitable Alexa onboard and ready for action.

Echo Studio

As we regularly point out, most smart speakers are certainly plenty smart but they typically underperform on the audio front. This is perhaps not surprising since the primary use case for most smart speakers is hands-free control of other tech. That said, Amazon redress the balance with the upscale Echo Studio now flying off the shelves after its recent launch. Echo Studio is bulky and weighty with no less than 5 speakers crammed inside. You won’t begrudge that extra weight when you ask Alexa to fire up your favorite playlist. The sound is powerful yet balanced. Echo Studio also automatically self-optimizes for the dimensions of your room for an even stronger sound. As an added bonus, you’ll also get the Zigbee hub previously only seen on Echo Plus.

Echo Flex

Do you have areas in your house where you’d like to take Alexa but you can’t accommodate a regular Echo device? For stairs, hallways and attics or basements, Echo Flex is an all-new solution from the innovative Bezos stable. A plug-in smart speaker, Echo Flex boasts a USB port to maximize functionality by giving you an extra charging station while preserving power outlets. There’s also space for optional accessories. At the time of writing shortly after launch, a motion sensor and night light are available. We’re confident Amazon will build out more devices to capitalize on this port. From dropping in on other Echo devices to performing all your home automation, you really can take Alexa anywhere in 2020.

Echo Show

In the second iteration of the original smart display, Echo Show has an expansive 10.1-inch screen along with revamped sound giving you a greater experience than ever before. With smart displays, the screen adds a great layer to your entertainment by opening up music videos, visual search and video calling. You’ll also be able to follow the lyrics of your favorite tracks on screen. The display comes in handy in the kitchen where Alexa can give you plenty of help with ingredients, recipes, and timing. As you’d fully expect, Alexa is primed for action across the whole home, too. What do you do if the full-size Echo Show is just a bit big for comfort? Well, you’ve now got the option of a pair of smart displays with smaller screens so which one will it be?

Echo Show 5

The dinky Echo Show 5 is half the size of its big brother so makes a fantastic bedroom device. It also works well in the kitchen or anywhere space is at a premium. As with all new Echo devices, you’ll benefit from multiple and robust layers of privacy. Maybe you like the idea of a smaller Echo Show but this feels a little restrictive. Well, you’re in luck as there’s an 8-inch version available as well…

Echo Show 8

Echo Show 8 is designed to fight head-to-head with Google Nest Hub with its roughly comparable 8-inch screen. This gives you enough screen real estate to watch some music videos or movie trailers while Echo Show 8 remains eminently portable. Priced keenly and currently up for grabs at a steep discount, Echo Show 8 will not disappoint. So… You’ve now got what you need to control your devices with voice commands so how do you get started?

How To Set Up Alexa to Control Your Smart Home

While setting up some smart tech can have you scratching your head, Alexa is straightforward to install even if you’re a complete beginner. First thing’s first, you need to set up your smart devices per manufacturer’s instructions. This typically involves plugging it in then hooking up a third-party hub to your router. Once you’ve done this, install the app the search for your device and enter a passcode. With your devices fired up, open the Alexa app then enable the skill for every device you want to pair with your Echo device. Enabling the skill is as easy as pushing a button. Some devices also call for you to pair smart devices with Echo. Simply command Alexa to “Pair devices” and it’s done for you. She’ll locate your thermostat, smart bulb, or whatever else you want to control with your voice.

Do You Need To Stay Loyal To One Ecosystem?

Here’s the good news… Unlike just a few years back, if you plan to run your smart home with Alexa, you won’t be prevented from mixing and matching devices or brands. There’s no need to remain locked into a single ecosystem. Of course, there’s nothing to stop you from staying loyal to one brand. This can often make your life easier since you’ll be using the same hub and app. This streamlines this nicely. That said, there’s no need to feel that you’re locked in so experiment and get the devices that fit best with your needs. All you need to look out for on the buying trail is that the device “Works with Alexa.” You certainly won’t find yourself short of options! We’ll touch on a bare handful down below when we look at setting up a robust Alexa smart home in 2020. Before that, a swift look at Alexa’s skills. What are they and why should you care?

Alexa Skills for The Smart Home

Alexa comes with many skills. You can think of these as apps although most you only interact with hands-free without setting eyes on. Put simply, these skills tell Alexa what to look for and what the device in question can do. How can you find these skills, then? The most direct approach is to ask Alexa: “Alexa, enable the Nest Learning skill” is the swiftest route to skill-grabbing. Alternatively, use the Alexa app on your smartphone to search for skills. This is not a bad ploy anyway as you’ll need to enter your account details in-app even if you bag the skill using voice commands. All you need to do is this:
  • Open your Alexa app
  • Push the hamburger icon
  • Select Skills
  • Open the category of devices or search by brand for your device
  • Push Enable once you’ve found the skill
  • Punch in your account details
Using skills is pretty intuitive for the most part. Nevertheless, it’s still worth reading through the skill info in case you need to employ specific phrasing. Now you’re almost there but you need to ask your virtual butler to scan for devices.

Command Alexa To Scan For Devices

Now you’ve set up all your smart devices and told Alexa what these devices are, you can now search for them. Luckily, this is a quick and easy process. Either say, “Alexa, scan for devices” or “Alexa, search for devices” and the ever-faithful Alexa will do the rest. You are now fully equipped to control all compatible devices in your connected home hands-free.

Grouping and Routines

If you’re looking to get the most from your smart devices and to streamline control further, you can take charge of multiple devices simultaneously thanks to grouping. Here’s what you need to do for to create groups:
  • Open your Alexa app
  • Press the hamburger menu icon
  • Hit Smart Home then Add Group
  • Choose which devices you’d like included in that group
  • Name the group (ie living room, downstairs, bedroom)
The best use case for grouping is a simple on/off application. Do you want even more automation? If so, with routines you can associate certain actions with trigger phrases. There’s also scope here for incorporating third-party scenes. Here’s what you need to do for to create routines:
  • Open your Alexa app
  • Press the hamburger menu icon
  • Press Routines then tap + so you can add a new routine
  • Choose a phrase or a time for the routine
  • Select your required actions from the categories provided
OK… As with all aspects of creating a connected home, be prepared for a slight learning curve and enjoy experimenting until using Alexa is second-nature. To round out, we’ll look at how you can commission Alexa in a 2020 smart home.

6 Ways To Use Alexa in Your Smart Home

It goes unsaid this list is by no means exhaustive. We’re here to save you time, though, and we don’t want to keep you all day with a list of every conceivable Alexa application. We’re sure you’ll agree that with the following half-dozen approaches, you’ve got a solid foundation for a hands-free smart home this year.
  1. Speak To Your Smart Lock
  2. Enjoy Hands-Free Lighting with Philips Hue
  3. Treat Yourself to a 50-Inch Smart TV with Alexa Baked In
  4. The Ultimate Smart Thermostat with Hands-Free Control
  5. Control Dumb Appliances with Voice Commands
  6. Monitor Your Security System with Alexa

1) Speak To Your Smart Lock

As with most smart devices, you’ve got a wealth of options if you’re looking to smarten up your entryway. One of the most impressive smart locks that works well with Alexa is the August Smart Lock Pro. DoorSense differentiates the Pro from a slew of competitors. This nifty feature means you’ll never need to worry about whether or not you’ve locked up again. The Connect bridge you need comes bundled so to enjoy hands-free interaction, all you need to do is add in an Echo device and you’re all set.

2) Enjoy Hands-Free Lighting with Philips Hue

If you’re intending to smarten up your lighting this year, one of the best Alexa-enabled options is the classic Philips Hue Starter Kit. You’ll get 4 white and color ambiance LEDs with this set alongside the Alexa-compatible hub to get the most out of your lighting. There are a huge number of variations on the starter kit so take your time and get the right one for your needs. Hands-free control of your lighting is just minutes away with the super-simple Hue set-up.

3) Treat Yourself to a 50-Inch Smart TV with Alexa Baked In

When you’re taking care of all the essential products in your connected home, it’s easy to forget to make time to enjoy yourself. Insignia’s expansive 50-inch Fire TV Edition gives you the chance to navigate all your media and entertainment with voice control. Alexa is built right in so you won’t even need an Echo device. 4K UHD picture delivers 8 million pixels and ensures all your content looks as great as if you were at the movie theater. Thanks to Fire TV and Alexa, you’ll be free to journey through a half million movies and TV shows hands-free meaning you’ll never say, “There’s nothing on TV” again.

4) The Ultimate Smart Thermostat with Hands-Free Control

If you think about smart thermostats, one of the first names that springs to mind is likely to be Nest. Now rebranded as Google Nest, the classic Learning Thermostat now edges into its third iteration and it’s better than ever before. Unlike many intelligent thermostats, Learning will accustom itself to the temperatures you prefer putting an end to scheduling and programming. If you need to fine-tune heating or cooling, you can do so without even picking up your smartphone as long as you have an Echo device. Save money while making your life easier – what’s not to love?

5) Control Dumb Appliances with Voice Commands

Do you like the idea of lamps but hate contorting yourself to switch them on or off? Well, invest in a pack of mini smart plugs and you can uprate those old, dumb appliances, throw in an Echo device and hit the lights using voice commands. Since these outlets come with WiFi on board, you won’t need a home hub either.

6) Monitor Your Security System with Alexa

One of our favorite home security systems is the iconic Arlo Pro. Why do we like it so much? The wire-free set-up makes this the perfect security solution for homeowners and renters alike. Compatibility is first-class. Arlo plays nicely with Google Assistant, If This, Then That and, of course, Alexa. Grab yourself one of the Echo devices we highlight above and you can check in on your system hands-free.

Final Word

We hope by now you can see that building an Alexa smart home in 2020 is a piece of cake. With a smart speaker or smart display and a handful of smart devices all you need, why not start the year by enjoying some hands-free convenience? If you want even more handy hints on making your life easier, remember to bookmark our blog. Along with plenty of detailed guides like this one, we’ll also bring you the best products and the latest smart home news. As a final incentive today, we’d suggest you also sign up for our email newsletter. Along with more great content, you’ll also benefit from 20% off your first Smarthome order. Why not use that to pick yourself up an Echo device?
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