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You talkin' to me? Home automation with Amazon

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BRIAN KOCH
  • Brian Koch
Ever get the feeling you are being listened in on? I'm referring to home automation and devices like Amazon's Alexa technology. Amazon's platform has multiple home automation devices that can play music, offer up entertainment, local weather forecasts, news and much more when given voice commands. The devices are known as Echo products and can also be controlled by a cell phone, tablet, or another Internet-connected device.

I bought into Amazon's offering of Echo and the Echo Dot, a smaller version, last year, and glad I did — even though I find it a stretch on claims you can save you money over time, more on that in bit.

One of the favorite features is the vast music libraries that are available, and being able to play any music you can think of by asking the device. The original Amazon Echo has a built in speaker, but if you want to rock the house, as they say, you're better off getting the cheaper Dot and connecting your own speakers.

Having dabbled with music services like Pandora, I ended up with Amazon's Unlimited package based on price and usage. It comes in a bit cheaper if you're an Amazon Prime member, but there are other options to suit what you're looking for. As of 6/23/17, Amazon is now offering the option to stream your Sirius audio subscription right to your Echo for you "Stern" lovers. All-in-all music features are a driving force behind home automation's growing popularity, and I can see why.

I have found, though, that you end up spending more money on necessary additions to take full advantage of Amazon's home automation features. For example, I had to upgrade my thermostat to be able to change the temperature in the house with the system, same goes with the lights — separate devices are needed for each lamp, or you go a little more expensive with a hub covering an area of your home.

There are some great add-on devices that can control your home security, ceiling fans and more. Add-ons for lighting are probably the most diverse and fun to play with, with options ranging from standard overhead light to colored track lighting controlled with simple commands. I run with the TP Link bulbs (cheaper) as they handle my basic lighting needs. The TP Link is a modest but more affordable way to turn on anything plugged into it, like a lamp you want to turn on and off. The lighting features and remote control options are great when you're controlling lights from afar.

Lastly, unless you're living in a smaller home or apartment, you will want more than one Echo device, or at least a portable accessory so you don't have to shout your requests and can hear the output — another extra cost.

Amazon is rolling out a video version of its home automation system called Echo Show in summer 2017. Echo Show displays a video screen showing video messages, photos, security cameras, and and more, according to the Amazon website. It sounds intriguing, and perhaps a necessary product given growing competition in home automation systems. Google's offering, Google Home, which provides many of the same features, adds the ability to do simple searches on queries similar to using their search engine, a feature that needs more attention in Amazon's system.

My overall take on Amazon's Echo and the whole home automation movement is that it's coming your way, and if you can afford to make the plunge, it's a prime time to do it.

Brian Koch is an avid techie who's worked in the tech field for dozens of years with Compaq/HP, his own pc business Techpertise, outdoor photography, and more. He has lived with his wife Stacy in Colorado for over 16 years. E-mail questions, comments, suggestions to Brian: info@techpertise.com and follow him on Twitter @Techpertise.

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