You've probably heard of or seen the Echo, Amazon's fairly long, cylindrical voice-controlled smart speaker. But it isn't the only Alexa-based digital voice assistant from the company. Amazon also offers a pint-sized option: The Echo dot. Currently in its fourth generation, this versatile smart speaker is better than ever, which is why we've put together an in-depth guide on how to use the Echo Dot and get the most out of it.
What is the Echo Dot?
The Amazon Echo Dot, as the name suggests, is a small smart speaker that works as an all-in-one digital assistant when connected to your Wi-Fi network. Past generations have resembled a hockey puck, but Amazon went for a redesign; the current model sports a spherical look, available in white, black and kid-friendly "tiger".
The Amazon Echo Dot can be controlled by voice commands and the Alexa app. But it also has physical power, volume and mute controls on top.
How to Set Up the Amazon Echo Dot
- Download the Amazon Alexa app (iOS or Android) on your smartphone or tablet.
- Open the Alexa app. In the lower right corner, select Devices.
- Click the Plus Sign at the top right corner. Alternatively, you can click the Hamburger Menu (the three horizontal lines) in the upper left corner.
- Select Add Device.
- Click the Amazon Echo icon, then the Echo Dot icon that appears on the next screen. Click on the image of the relevant Echo Dot generation.
- Plug it in using the included power adapter. The ring at the top should turn blue then orange to indicate the device is in Setup Mode.
- Wait for the Echo Dot to be visible on your phone, then select it.
- You'll be prompted to your Wi-Fi Settings, where you should select the network called "Amazon XXX". Then, return to the Alexa app.
- Choose the Wi-Fi network you want the Echo Dot to connect to. You might have to enter your password if necessary.
- Choose the External Speaker the Echo Dot will be using. Skip this step if your device won't be connecting to an external speaker.
- Choose the Room where you'll have the Echo Dot, or create a new room.
When that's done, you've successfully set up your Echo Dot! Now you're ready to start talking to your new digital home assistant and companion, perhaps.
Customizing with Alexa App
Now that your Echo Dot is fully set up, it's time to tweak it to your personal needs and preferences to get you going. Remember to start every command or question with "Alexa". Here are a couple of things we recommend adjusting.
- Default music service: Every Echo speaker defaults to Amazon music, a perfectly fine service with a pretty robust free music offering for Prime members. However, if you've already committed to another music service, such as Spotify, iHeartRadio or Pandora, you can set it as your default music player. Go to Settings > Music & Podcasts > Link New Service in the Alexa app.
- Calendar or Email integration: Amazon doesn't have its own calendar service, but it lets you connect accounts from Google, Apple, Microsoft and Outlook. Find Settings > Calendar & Email, then follow the instructions to add the respective accounts so that you can find out from Alexa what appointments you have for the day.
- Family profiles: You can also create personal accounts for your household so that everyone has access to their personal content library, calendar, flash briefing, etc. Go to Settings > Account Settings > Guest Connect, then sign in. To switch from one account to the other, say "Alexa, switch accounts".
- Edit your history: Echo Dot starts listening and recording as soon as you say "Alexa". Go to Settings > History to find what Alexa has stored, and you can delete them one by one. For a bulk clean-up, go to Settings > Alexa Privacy. You can also set how long you'd want Alexa to retain the recordings.
- Adjust flash briefing: Alexa can play up-to-date news from almost all major news sources. To find the preferred options, go to Settings >Flash Briefing >Add Content.
What Can the Echo Dot Do?
1. Home Assistant and Entertainment
The best part about smart home devices is how easily they perform menial tasks that usually require you to pull out your phone. Echo devices are no exception, allowing you to keep your hands free and still get things going in your home. All you have to do is just ask Alexa.
You can use Alexa on the Echo dot to set reminders and dates in your calendar quickly. This includes checking your appointments or even checking the weather when you wake up. Plus, Alexa can also answer questions for you by searching online.
Maybe you want to listen to your favorite tune? You can easily ask Alexa to play music from your preferred music app. More so, if you have an Alexa-enabled smart TV connected to the same network, Alexa can come in handy as a voice remote to control your TV.
2. Controlling Your Smart Devices
Any Echo device with Alexa allows you to control virtually all the smart devices in your home. This extends from just pulling up something to watch on Netflix. You can also control your smart locks, Bluetooth lights in your home and even the thermostat with just a voice command. It almost feels like Sci-Fi the first time you use the virtual assistant.
3. Home Intercom System
If you have a couple of Echo devices in your home, you can use the Echo Dot as part of an intercom system. This is particularly useful if you live in a large, multi-bedroom house.
You can "call" a specific Alexa device in the house, say from "The kitchen" to "Irene's bedroom", to reach a family member and convey whatever message you had. It takes away the need to yell across the house and is fairly cheaper than having an actual intercom system.
4. Multiple Controls
As much as using voice commands is the most preferred way to interact with Alexa devices, it's not the only method. You can control your Echo Dot using the top buttons or from the Alexa app. The top buttons are particularly nifty for the less tech-savvy since they're rather straightforward.
5. Improved Privacy
The Echo lineup has been improving its privacy over the iterations. Nowadays, you can know when the Echo Dot is listening and recording because the light on top will glow.
All interactions with Alexa devices are recorded, but you can delete them from the app or Amazon's site as mentioned earlier. More so, would you really be getting the most out of a smart speaker if you can't say, "Alexa, delete everything I've ever said."?
6. Home Security Device
You can also use your Echo Dot with Amazon's Guard Service as a security device. This Alexa speaker is programmed to detect the sound of a fire alarm or breaking glass and promptly sending you a message alert. In fact, you can also ask for help in an emergency with Amazon Guard. Simply say, "Alexa, call for help."
It's worth noting that Amazon Guard is a subscription service.
7. Connect to a speaker:
Amazon Echo speakers aren't particularly known for top-of-the-line sound quality. However, the Dot features a 3.5mm audio out to connect to other speakers. You can also connect it to a Bluetooth speaker if cables aren't your cup of tea.
Are There Any Downsides to the Echo Dot?
As much as the Amazon Echo Dot lets you know when it's listening, it does start without warning sometimes. Occasionally, the device might pick up a word that sounds like Alexa and activate, which can sometimes feel unnerving.
Amazon lets you control how much information their smart speakers take in. That being said, you'd still be living with a live microphone, posing its own fair share of concerns.
2. Sound Quality
The sound quality on the fourth-generation Echo Dot hasn't lived up to its predecessors. The first three generations delivered 360-degree audio, with the newest featuring a forward-firing speaker. Some consumers have complained that it lacks bass and softer volume. If you plan on using the latest Echo Dot for surround sound in your home, it would be best not to expect premium sound quality.
The older generations also sported a sleek, easy-to-hide, puck-like design. The fourth Amazon Echo generation comes in a snowball-sized round shape, making it slightly harder to hide around rooms and equally fewer places to fit. The design also means you have to reach around the device to access the buttons.
4. Keeping It Clean
Another minor setback is the most recent Dot's cloth covering, which is harder to clean than the earlier plastic. Therefore, if you let dust build up on the speaker for months, you'll have quite a task ahead of you when you're cleaning it off.
Using Alexa Skills
In addition to Alexa's native abilities, the virtual assistant also has more than 10,000 skills or voice-activated apps, as well as tips and tricks. So, if you find yourself thinking that you wish your Echo Dot could do X, there's a high likelihood you'll find a skill for it. There are plenty of nifty Amazon Echo apps on the go, and most of them are just activated by simply saying, "Alexa, enable such and such."
Here are a couple of our favorite Alexa apps:
Getting the motivation to work out can be quite elusive and challenging. As such, you can consider using an exercise app such as 7-Minute Workout, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It guides you through a short workout, allowing you to take breaks as needed.
Check the Weather
BigSky is one of the most popular weather apps. It's a hyperlocal service that informs you what it's like outside in real-time, not just in your city but also on your block. You can also set up your daily Flash Briefing for Alexa to tell you the weather.
Call a Car
Both Uber and Lyft offer Alexa skills, allowing you to request a ride without having to pull out your phone. In addition, Lyft features the added benefit of letting you know how much the particular ride will cost.
Play a Game
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of games you can play with your Amazon Echo Dot, from classics such as 20 Questions to fairly more obscure options like The Magic Door. The latter demonstrates the speaker's potential for real depth, presenting an interactive game that takes you on magic adventures packed with riddles, gnomes and more fantasy creatures in a tropical monkey island.
Level Up Jeopardy
Jeopardy is a spin-off from the classic game. It's updated every weekday, testing you with the "6th" clue in each category from that day's show. Since you already shout your answers at the TV as you watch, you can now do with all the validation that you've been craving.
Make Your Home Smarter
Do you have a smart home? Alexa supports pretty much all hubs or platforms you can think of, including Nest, SmartThings, Lutron, Control4, Insteon and Philips Hue Lights. The Echo Dot allows you to bring your home to life, much like what science fiction books were made of in the past.
Is the Amazon Echo Dot for You?
If you are looking for a virtual assistant smart speaker on a budget, the Echo Dot is undoubtedly an excellent choice. It gets even better if you already have other Alexa-enabled devices in your home.
The Echo Dot is an equally great entry point for first-time smart device users. More so that it comes at a pocket-friendly price with big-budget features.
It's probably not the best choice for people who want a smart speaker with high-quality sound. Audiophiles might probably be better off with the Echo Dot Studio or the Echo Dot with Premium Sound.
Hopefully, we've guided you through the major hoops on how to use Echo Dot, getting the most out of it, and most of all, relishing the immense perks and privileges of having a smart home. Sit back and say "Alexa."