How to Ed­u­cate Your Speaker

Sound & Vision - - ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO SMART SPEAKERS -

As­mart speaker is dumb un­til you con­nect it to your wire­less net­work and use a smart­phone or tablet app for setup.

For ex­am­ple, the Alexa app is a com­pan­ion to your Ama­zon Echo, Tap, Echo Dot, and Echo Show (and other Alex­aen­abled speak­ers) for setup, re­mote con­trol, and en­hanced fea­tures. With the Google Home app, you can set up and con­trol your Google As­sis­tant speak­ers. De­pend­ing on whether you’re us­ing an IOS or An­droid phone or tablet for setup, you down­load a free app from the Ap­ple App Store or Google Play Store. Set­ting up Ap­ple’s Homepod re­quires the Ap­ple Home app, usu­ally found on iphones by de­fault.

From the app, you’ll be able to name the speaker and set de­faults, such as your lo­ca­tion and mu­sic provider, as well as link com­pat­i­ble de­vices like smart lights and ther­mostats. (The Homepod not with­stand­ing, which only works with Ap­ple’s own Ap­ple Mu­sic ser­vice for voice con­trol.)

Be­yond such sim­ple com­mands as ask­ing it to tell you the weather or tune into NPR, a smart speaker can be de­ployed to con­trol con­nected de­vices in your home from what is now thou­sands of op­tions. To bridge the gap be­tween your vo­cal cords and the smart lock on your front door, though, you’ll need to set up what Alexa calls skills and Google As­sis­tant calls ac­tions. Skills and ac­tions add more ca­pa­bil­i­ties, such as or­der­ing a pizza from Domino’s, re­quest­ing a ride from Lyft, track­ing your con­di­tion with Fit­bit, con­trol­ling your Dish or Tivo DVR, turn­ing on a par­tic­u­lar ceil­ing fan, or dim­ming the lights.

When a de­vice is al­ready smart, mean­ing a Wi-fi trans­ceiver is built in, you won’t nec­es­sar­ily need ad­di­tional hard­ware. So, for ex­am­ple, af­ter stat­ing your speaker’s wake word, you can sim­ply say “Tivo skip” to leapfrog a block of com­mer­cials with­out hav­ing to pick up the Tivo re­mote and then ei­ther press its Skip but­ton or hold down its mi­cro­phone but­ton while say­ing “Skip.” In the in­stance of a re­mote-con­trolled fan that wouldn’t know Wi-fi from hi-fi, how­ever, you’d need to plug in a Wi-fi-com­pat­i­ble hub like the Bond to send the ap­pro­pri­ate RF or IR signals to the de­vice you plan to op­er­ate. (See the “App­ti­tude” col­umn in our May is­sue.) Some smart home de­vices might work on other in­dus­try wire­less stan­dards, such as Zig­bee or Z-wave; third-party hubs that can act as in­ter­me­di­ary be­tween your Dot or Google Home Mini are avail­able for these as well. The Alexa-friendly Sam­sung Smart­things Hub opens your home to voice con­trol of Smart­thingscon­nected de­vices.

One of the ben­e­fits of con­trol­ling ap­pli­ances in the smart home us­ing your vo­cal cords is less clut­ter. Once you’ve added a skill or an ac­tion to your speaker, you’ll be able to con­trol a ceil­ing fan with­out its bat­tery­pow­ered re­mote or your smart­phone run­ning a ded­i­cated app. Sim­i­larly, you’ll find your­self reach­ing for your TV re­mote a lot less. Sev­eral of Log­itech’s pop­u­lar Har­mony univer­sal re­motes are now con­trol­lable via Alexa, open­ing up some de­gree of voice con­trol of your home theater sys­tem as well as home au­to­ma­tion. And A/V re­ceiver man­u­fac­tur­ers, in­clud­ing Yamaha and Denon, now of­fer mod­est Alexa con­trol with the ad­di­tion of a smart speaker on the shared net­work to take in the voice com­mands.

Be­yond a just adding a skill or ac­tion is some­thing that both Alexa and Google As­sis­tant call a rou­tine. Think of it as a macro com­mand that strings to­gether a se­ries of or­ders you is­sue to achieve a larger re­sult, typ­i­cally some­thing you do rou­tinely. So, for ex­am­ple, you could cre­ate a “movie night” macro that might in­volve turn­ing on the Blu­ray player or switch­ing the TV to Net­flix, turn­ing on the ex­ter­nal sound sys­tem, clos­ing the mo­tor­ized cur­tains, launch­ing the con­nected cof­fee maker, putting the air con­di­tioner into quiet mode, switch­ing on the ceil­ing fan, and turn­ing down the over­head lights while turn­ing up night lights near the floor lead­ing to the kitchen and bath­room. Un­less you had to get up off the couch to insert a disc, you’d be able to ac­com­plish all these tasks with­out budg­ing. Just an­nounce to your smart speaker that it’s movie night.

By the way, you’re not alone as you teach your speaker to be smarter. Man­u­fac­turer and user fo­rums that fo­cus on the ex­pand­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of voice as­sis­tants and the ease

(or lack thereof) of setup have sprung up all over the in­ter­net. So, do­ing a lit­tle on­line home­work be­fore try­ing to add a skill, an ac­tion, or a rou­tine can save you time and frus­tra­tion later on.—

Sam­sung’s Smart­things Hub

Har­mony Elite Re­mote

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