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Alexa Will Be Home for Christmas: Buying a Smart Speaker Device
Like last year, many people will be getting and gifting smart speakers for the holidays. I’m all in on these smart home devices that let you play music, check weather, ask trivia questions and control other smart devices. Before you buy, consider…
- Can you buy integrated products instead of stand-alone devices?
I have, I don’t know, 10? 12? devices in my house, and almost all of them stand on their own. You can avoid having gadgets be your primary home decor pieces by buying other devices that have the functionality built in.Sonos speakers now come with Alexa, and you can get alarm clocks with either Google Assistant or Alexa.
Alexa Products on Amazon
Google Products at Target (since Amazon doesn’t sell Google Assistant stuff)
- Are you ready for privacy concerns?
The other day I got to visit my cousin Bailey at his new home. I was surprised to see an Echo Show in the bedroom. The Echo Show has a video screen and supports two-way video calls.”Bailey, that’s weird,” I said. “The camera is pointed straight at your bed.””I don’t use it for the video,” he said. “It’s no big deal.
After I left his house, I opened my Alexa app, found his name in my contacts and pressed the call button. A very surprised-looking Bailey answered the device in his bedroom.
“See?” I asked Bailey with a superior-cousin voice. “It’s a big deal.”
The point: if you’re giving one of these devices as a gift, make sure the recipient understands that the device can “hear” everything that happens and archives every command and request a user makes. Some people are very much against these smart speakers.
If you’re buying one for yourself, adjust the settings so that contacts can’t just drop in. And adjust the angle on any video cameras so they capture what you want to show, not everything that’s going on in a room.
- Can the devices hook up with your other smart home accessories?
Here’s another mistake I made that you can avoid.
When I bought some of my smart home stuff, I was pushing “add to cart” right and left for all the shiny new objects. I didn’t stop to think how well all the technologies would play together. So I have to have multiple smart “hubs” that connect different systems. For example, I have a Phillips Hue hub that I need to run my Phillips Hue smart bulbs so I can control them. It’s an extra device that has to be set up and configured. And then I have another system for some smart plugs I bought. Again, that’s a device I have to plug in and connect to wifi and then connect to the devices.
One of my newest smart speaker purchases will at least partially fix this problem. You can get an Echo Plus device that has a built-in hub for products that use Zigbee hub features. A whole, whole, whole bunch of products use Zigbee, and this will make setting up your smart home much easier.
- Does the device fit in with your other platforms?
Should you go with Alexa or Google or Apple or….?
That’s a tough question right now because these three competitors level the playing field daily. Alexa is quite family-friendly and serves as a clever home companion. Google’s device seems to answer questions better (especially complicated ones), but isn’t quite as ubiquitous. And Apple? Well, their machine is just too dang expensive and isn’t as connected to other devices as the others. Facebook just launched one as well, but I’d give it a little while before we see if it’s a success.
So the choice of a first device is almost a toss up, in my opinion. Just remember that whichever you choose, you’ll have to buy compatible devices and other smart speakers in that brand going forward.