The Amazon Echo has found its way into our home (and it's clearly staying here). Even though it can be dumb as rocks sometimes, there are a few things (turning on and off the lighting, basic math, weather) that have provided a level of incremental convenience we've rapidly become used to.
That said, in my quest to learn more about what we could do with the rat rod of Pringles cans, I've found some interesting tips and tricks that you might find useful as well.
1. How to stop the Amazon Echo from listening for its wake word
Despite some wacky articles humorously linking Amazon's always-listening Echo to the NSA or any other 3-letter government agencies, the device doesn't respond until it hears its wake word (in most cases, that's "Alexa").
But if you want the device to go completely radio silent and respond to absolutely nothing, even by accident, there's a mute button on the top of the can. Press it and a red ring will highlight and Alexa will stay mute until you press the button again. I use this when I go into important meetings or do webcasts, because I don't want Alexa to start spouting off right in the middle of a serious discussion.
2. How to force a software update for the Amazon Echo
Like all modern digital devices, the Echo has a CPU at its core, and that means it's running software. That, in turn, means it needs updating (hey, even my light bulbs need updates these days).
Amazon tells me that Alexa looks for updates every night, but if you want to force an update (for example, my unit came unable to control home devices), just hit that same mute button we discussed earlier, let it sit that way for at least 30 minutes, and you'll have your update.
3. How to access the Amazon Echo from the Web
Even though you need to do the original Echo setup from an iOS or Android app (mostly so it finds your WiFi network), you can also access many of the Echo's settings and its completely worthless todo and shopping lists from the Web. Just point your browser to http://echo.amazon.com.
4. How to link your family Prime accounts into the Amazon Echo
This, too, is available from echo.amazon.com. What you'll need to do is go to Settings, scroll down the page, and set up your Household. It helps if the people you're linking to are both either Prime members or share Prime membership.
The shared member will also have to download the Echo app to his or her smartphone and agree to join the household.
5. How to control the Amazon Echo from a different Amazon account
As I mentioned in my Echo review, I don't have any music in my Amazon account. Our entire digitized CD collection is in my wife's account. So if we want to listen to her collection, or otherwise access her settings, we need to switch profiles.
To find out what profile you're currently using, say "Alexa, which profile am I using". To switch profiles, say either "Alexa, switch profile" and it will move to the next profile or "Alexa, switch to David's profile" and it will switch to the profile you just named.
6. How to control different devices (or use different device names) based on one Amazon Echo profile
Each profile will recognize devices connected to the Amazon Echo. But if you want to set up profile groups (for example "Desk lights" turns on and off three lamps), you'll have to set up the groups and group names for each profile.
Here's a quick tip within a tip: can't remember to call them "desk lights" instead of "desk lamps"? Set up two groups, one with each name, controlling the same devices.
This works well with profiles. For example, one user could define "my lights" as one set of lamp devices while another user could define the same "my lights" group to turn on a different set of lights.
Let the switch profile battles begin!
7. How to torture your family from another room using the Amazon Echo
I have to credit this to the anonymous (because he begged me not to use his name) but excellent Amazon support person I spoke to a few days before getting my Echo.
When I asked him his favorite use of the device, he told me he liked to speak into the remote control from another room and have his Echo say fun things to his kids. He claims his kids still think the Echo is talking to them.
To make Echo say whatever you want (well, almost), use the command "Alexa, Simon says..." followed by what you want it to say. Unfortunately, if you use profanity, it will merely beep. Yes, I tried.
8. How to find some fun Amazon Echo Easter eggs
Echo responds to a wide number of fun Easter eggs (for example, "Alexa: Tea. Earl Grey. Hot"). You can just go ahead and try as many fun phrases as you want (my favorite, although I'm not sure I believe it, is Alexa's answer to "Are you Skynet?").
If you'd like a great list, point your browser to this great Reddit link. Don't just read the list. Go down the comments. A winner in the comment list is "Alexa, do you know the muffin man?"
And, if you want to hear a completely self-serving reply, try "Alexa, tell me a story."
9. How to use the Amazon Echo for simple math
As I mentioned in my review, I found that Echo was quite helpful with simple math. You can ask Alexa to "add two and four" or "what is two plus four". Echo understands floating point values, so you can also ask it "divide 496.3 by 322.1" and it will calculate it out pretty well.
Of course, trying to get Echo to divide by zero doesn't work. But that's not Alexa's fault. I blame Newton. To be fair, I've blamed Newton for many things since my very first 8:00am calculus class, but that's another rant for another day. Leibniz fans, just keep it to yourself. We know.
10. How to get the Amazon Echo to repeat an answer
If you don't record the answer to your question quickly enough, Alexa is happy to repeat it. Simply say "Alexa, can you repeat that?" and it will. I've found that "repeat that" alone doesn't seem to work reliably, but "can you repeat that" seems to always work.
11. How to use the Amazon Echo to do date calculations
Echo handles rudimentary date calculations. For example, while Alexa seems to fall down flat computing days between two arbitrary dates, you can ask "How many days until September 1" and you'll get a response. It understands holidays like Halloween and Christmas, but it won't tell you how many days until the Super Bowl.
12. How to speak to a human to get help with the Amazon Echo
Believe it or not, there are actual real humans out there who will answer questions about your Amazon Echo. Just visit http://echo.amazon.com/#help/call, type in your number, and someone will call you back. At least for now, the people I've spoken to even seem to have a clue.
So there you go. A dozen good tips for getting the most out of your Echo. Stay tuned. In a future article, I'll share with you a really odd productivity hack I've set up with my Echo. I'm just waiting on some bulbs, colored gels, and a light stand.