FAQs about using Amazon Echo and Alexa

As soon as Alexa gets here, she does what she wants. It almost feels like the language assistant is giving pleasure to confuse inexperienced users of Amazon Echo devices. With a few tricks, however, the misunderstandings between man and machine can be easily avoided. We answer the most frequently asked questions about the efficient use of Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Co.

What is Alexa?

In a very sober way, Alexa is a voice service from Amazon that enables remote control of many devices and apps due to its cloud connection. Amazon’s own Echo Speakers (e.g. Echo Dot 3), Amazon Displays (e.g. Echo Show 2) and Amazon Fire Tablets bring the Alexa voice software with them and some of them are already available in the third generation. In addition, more and more third-party manufacturers are integrating Alexa into their devices. We present some of them in our overview of the Amazon Echo alternatives.

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Who is Alexa? Is there a real person behind it?

For the first version of Alexa, which was initially only available in the USA, Amazon had a professional voiceover artist in Gdansk, Poland, create a recording according to media information. According to insiders, a professional human spokeswoman in Germany also uses Alexa’s announcements. Her identity, however, has not yet been confirmed by Amazon.

It is very likely, however, that the company will strive to create its artificial intelligence as humanly as possible in the near future, as we explained some time ago in our article on Alexa robots with legs and “brains”.

What can Alexa do?

Alexa can now do almost any job in the household or garden. No matter if it’s about opening the shutters and making coffee in the morning, starting the dishwasher and mowing the lawn at noon or locking the front door with an electronic door lock in the evening – Alexa compatible devices are available for (almost) every application. This is made possible by Alexa Skills, which are additional functions that can be activated online. Almost all of these are free of charge and can be activated in the Amazon Skill Store or, in some cases, directly by voice command. You can find out which of them are particularly useful or entertaining in the following expert guides:

Amazon Echo: These are the most important Alexa voice commands
Alexa Questions: Top list of funny Alexa Easter eggs and sayings

Existing devices can also be retrofitted using WLAN sockets. These are already available from 10 euros and are suitable for voice control of coffee machines, toasters or floor lamps, for example.

But even users who do not want to purchase Alexa-compatible devices can benefit from the smart voice assistant. Thus for example also without auxiliary devices by voice command dates can be administered, purchase lists provided, radio stations be played back or calls be transacted. Beyond that in the Amazon Skill Store thousands Entertainment Alexa Skills are available to quizzen, play, audio books streamen and for much more.

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What do I need for Alexa?

The installation of an Alexa loudspeaker is also easy for newcomers to technology. All you have to do is connect the power supply unit to the mains, connect the echo to the WLAN and install the Alexa App. It is available for Fire OS 3.0, Android 4.4 or iOS 8.0 and higher and can be downloaded as Amazon-Alexa-App, Google Playstore Alexa-App as well as iTunes Alexa-App. Further information on the technical background can be found here: Alexa: Construction and functions simply explained.

Can I use Echo without Prime?

A Prime account is not necessary for Alexa use. Basically, you don’t even need an echo speaker. Instead, the Alexa software can even be tested in a browser. But for an efficient use it makes sense to link Alexa at least with a normal Amazon account.

Does Alexa also play music without Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited Account?

As already mentioned, Alexa can play many internet radio stations without paying subscriptions or additional devices. Here, too, the following applies: If you want to use certain playlists or streaming services, you have to open an account with the respective providers and pay any additional fees. Our guide shows alternatives to Amazon Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited: Alexa-compatible streaming services.

Can I use skills without installation?

A language assistant, whose skills have to be searched for individually in the network and activated in the Alexa App first, is quite impractical. Amazon has also noticed this in the meantime and excluded the detour via the Amazon Skill Store. In the meantime, all skills that do not require personal user data can be installed using the command “Open Alexa [skill name]”. Only skills with their own login, which for example are linked to a bank account (delivery command etc.), still have to be activated via the Alexa App. If you don’t feel like clicking your way through more than 15,000 available skills, you can also take inspiration from our article Top Alexa-Skills.

Do echo speakers always have to be connected to the Internet?

The answer in this case is definitely yes. Because without a cloud connection, Alexa has no way of processing voice commands. So she can’t execute skills, retrieve requested information, or control smart home devices.

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Can Alexa be used without an echo?

Yes, that works. There are several ways to do this. On the one hand, many other manufacturers besides Amazon already offer loudspeakers with Alexa. Besides Amazon’s echoes, there are also smart loudspeakers from Medion, Sonos or Ultimate Ears. We present eight of them in our overview of alternative Alexa loudspeakers.

On the other hand, Alexa functions can also be tried out for free via the Alexa app for smartphones or the reverb app. If you want to accept phone calls with Alexa, you don’t necessarily need your own echo device. The installation of the Alexa App is sufficient if necessary.

Alexa: Meaning of the colors on the light ring

The light ring on echo devices should indicate the respective status of the loudspeakers. Depending on the colour, it indicates whether the device is restarting, processing data or has a technical problem. We explain the meaning behind it:

  • Light blue, flashing light: the system is started
  • Echo does not light up at all: the loudspeaker is waiting for voice commands.
  • Speaker is illuminated light blue on one side: Alexa is currently processing a voice command
  • Light ring flashes orange: connection to WLAN is established
  • Alexa light ring is red: microphone is switched off, to switch on press the microphone button on top of the loudspeaker
  • White light ring: the volume is currently being configured
  • Echo Loudspeaker flashes purple: there was an error when connecting to the WLAN.
  • Light ring flashes light blue and then turns purple: “Please do not disturb function is activated”. More about this in the following text paragraph.
  • Echo flashes purple briefly after each voice command: The “Please do not disturb function is activated”.
  • Alexa light ring flashes yellow: A message or notification is ready. It can be retrieved with the voice command “Play my messages” or “What have I missed?
  • Flashing green light: A call or “drop in” is about to arrive.

Can the light ring be switched off?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to switch off the light ring completely and still use the device. There is only the possibility to deactivate the microphone or to block incoming Alexa Drop-ins and calls via the “Do not disturb function”.

How can I enable the “Do not disturb” feature?

This function does not mean that the echo is switched off. Instead, only incoming calls or drop-ins are prevented. This is possible with the following speaker models: Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Echo Plus. While the function can be activated on most of them via “Do not disturb”, it can also be selected on the screen during the Echo Show. To do this, wipe the display with your fingers from bottom to top and click on “Do not disturb”. If you like, you can also time the function for a certain period of time. However, switching off the light ring or the microphone is not completely possible – Alexa still listens to all other requests and voice commands.

Can I completely switch off the microphone at the echo?

On top of the Amazon echo is a button with a microphone icon. If this button is pressed, the button lights up red and indicates that the echo is not active. This is practical, for example, when Alexa commercials are shown on television. To deactivate the ‘Silent Mode’ the same button must be pressed again, because a verbal deactivation is logically not possible.

Can I use the Amazon Echo as an alarm system?

With the Alexa Guard function, the microphones of smart echo loudspeakers can be sensitized to burglary noises such as breaking glass. However, Amazone’s speech assistant is not yet able to detect dangers visually on her own. However, to detect an intruder sneaking silently through the house, there are various smart surveillance and alarm systems that can be networked with Alexa. For example, it is possible to focus certain cameras when leaving the house with a voice command. The Echo Show speakers and Echo Spot are the only echoes with a display that can also display video recordings of a ring doorbell.

What data does Echo record?

A big accusation of the Amazon Echo opponents is that it is not recognizable when the device is listening in. According to the manufacturer, the echo records permanently, but erases the recordings after a few seconds. So the Amazon Echo is able to recognize the “wake-up word” Alexa. The blue light ring on the Amazon Echo signals that verbal requests are being sent to the cloud. Each request is stored in the Alexa app. Here you can see the data sent to the cloud. Via the settings in the Alexa App you can activate an activation tone in the category ‘Sounds’. This short beep sounds every time the echo has recognized the activation word and sends data to the cloud. In addition, you can switch on an end tone, which acoustically signals the end of the transmission.

Editors’ tip: If a stupid saying is inadvertently immortalized in the search history of the Alexa app, it can be deleted in just three steps. Further tips and tricks for the safe handling of your own data can be found in our guidebooks on deleting search history and the Alexa data protection overview.

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How can I use Alexa and still protect my privacy?

There is an alternative to the echo speakers where Alexa doesn’t automatically listen in. If you have installed a Fire TV stick, you can also access information about it or even control your Smart Home.

What accessories are available for the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Co.?

For the Amazon Echo as well as for the Echo Plus, the Echo Dot and many other models there are numerous – more or less practical – accessory products. For example, if you don’t want to place your device on a table or shelf, you can mount it on the wall with a special bracket. If, on the other hand, you prefer to place your smart loudspeaker as an eye-catcher in the middle of the room, you will find protective covers and decorative design adhesive films for every taste in the net. In our Alexa Accessories Overview we introduce some of the coolest mounts, powerbanks & gadgets for Amazon Echo speakers.

Why doesn’t Alexa understand me?

Before we can talk to Alexa, the following basic requirements must be met:

  • The device has been properly installed and is connected to a WLAN network.
  • The integrated microphone is active (if not, the microphone button on the top lights up red and must be pressed again).
  • The loudspeaker is at least 20 cm away from possible sources of interference, such as microwaves or a baby monitor.
  • The device should not stand on the floor, but on a table or shelf.

If your echo speaker still doesn’t work, reduce background noise, speak slowly and clearly, and repeat your voice command several times. It can also be helpful to formulate questions in a more general way.

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What does Alexa cost?

Many technology enthusiasts wonder what it will cost to use Alexa on a regular basis. What does Alexa cost monthly? Basically, the Alexa language software only causes costs for the Internet connection used and does not require a separate subscription with costs. However, if you want to stream music or movies via popular services (e.g. Amazon Music, Spotify or Napster), you will of course need an account with the respective streaming provider and may have to pay subscription fees. The same also applies to skills that can be used to order goods (e.g. delivery command). Ordering via Alexa does not cost anything, the goods or booked services of course do. Since short also In-App purchases are possible after the free activation of Alexa Skills.

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