Help me understand the Echo Dot
December 4, 2017 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I would like to buy my husband an Echo Dot for Christmas, but I am technologically challenged and want to make sure I buy the necessary accessories.

1. First of all, I'm a little confused about the difference between Echo and Dot even after looking at the specs on Amazon. We already have Sonos (see below) so speaker quality doesn't matter - is the Dot sufficient? Is one device sufficient for an 800 sq ft house? We can hear each other speaking from anywhere in the house so I assume Alexa could hear us too.

2. We already own a Sonos system with a couple of speakers. The main thing the Echo Dot would be for is voice control of the Sonos setup. Once Dot and Sonos are connected, can we really just say "Play xyz artist on Spotify" or "Play white noise" and that's that?

3. Down the line, we intend to get a smart thermostat - can the Dot talk to that too? Is there a specific thermostat we need?

4. I plan to buy a smart plug (or two or three) too. How do you tell the Echo what the plug does? I see people doing things like telling Alexa to turn on the coffee pot, the Christmas lights, etc - how do you teach it which plug does which thing?

5. Any other can't-miss Alexa accessories? I don't think Hue lighting is for us, and we don't have any other smart home technology at the moment.
posted by raspberrE to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I use a Dot with a Jambox speaker in a 200 sq ft studio apartment. To your point #2, yes, that is exactly how it works. It's quite amazing. Since I also use Spotify to listen to music on my phone while I'm outside the apartment, I can take off my headphones at the door and say "Echo, play Spotify" and it will pick up exactly where my phone left off. It is an extremely satisfying/seamless experience.

That said, I don't know if this is true of the full Echo as well as the Dot (I suspect it has to do with using a separate speaker system?) but when I listen to music at what I consider a reasonable volume it is frequently challenging to get the Dot to recognize my voice commands. Sometimes I have to really shout at it ("Echo! Pause!", or the especially ironic "Echo VOLUME DOWN"). I don't think it would be at all workable in a larger/multiroom home -- I would want to have multiple Dots.
posted by telegraph at 3:54 PM on December 4, 2017

4. I plan to buy a smart plug (or two or three) too. How do you tell the Echo what the plug does? I see people doing things like telling Alexa to turn on the coffee pot, the Christmas lights, etc - how do you teach it which plug does which thing?

I'll take this one since I just did this with a WeMo outlet: I had to turn it on, connect to it with the bluetooth from my phone, use an app to configure it for my wifi network and give the plug a name ("Christmas tree"). Then I went into Alexa and added the WeMo skill (that's what they call each connector - there's a WeMo skill, a Sonos skill, a Spotify skill, an Audible skill etc etc), then the skill saw the app and the Christmas Tree device. That whole process was documented and took about 5 minutes, it seems complex but it wasn't too bad. At that point I could turn Christmas Tree on and off by voice control.

I did then additionally add it to my home automation group because we do have a bunch of Hue lights, so I added it to the "All Lights" group so when I say Alexa, turn off all lights from bed every night, it gets included.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:06 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

As for #1, speaker quality is the difference between the Echo and the Dot. If you're not going to use the onboard speaker anyway, paying extra for the larger model with the nicer speaker would be silly. The Dot can do all of the same stuff.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:13 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

My place is about 600sq ft, and when I'm at my work-desk, Echo Dot is about 20 feet away. It can hear and understand me as long as I'm enunciating (normally I mumble, so it's probably not extra effort for most people) and there's not a lot of ambient sound (TV on, Dot playing music, microwave or range fan on in kitchen nearby, etc.)

One bit of advice I picked up in the green that you'll find helpful is that if Alexa starts blathering while you've got Sonos playing music, you'll want to use the command "Alexa, Nevermind" to get Alexa to put a sock in it. "Alexa, Stop" will likely stop your music. For "Alexa," feel free to substitute your selected wake-word, which you choose in the Alexa app. ("Echo" seems to be a popular one.)

For #5, think about where you want the Dot, and some consequential decisions: will you need a longer USB cable to get power there? (Dot takes a standard Micro-USB cable, and a 2-meter cable is included.) Do you want to mount it on a wall or ceiling? There are numerous mounts, including recessed mounts, surface mounts, weird table-ready mounts which seem to just slightly fancify the Echo. Also, it comes in Black, and in White. As long as you have the choice, take the time to choose.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:24 PM on December 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

3. Just make sure the thermostat works with Alexa.

4. I did my first smart outlet this weekend. It involved downloading an app, running through a few steps in the app, then going through a few screens on the Alexa app and then I could turn my lamp off without leaving bed.
posted by drezdn at 6:32 PM on December 4, 2017

You should buy the Sonos One. It's a Sonos speaker with Amazon Echo technology built in.
posted by gregr at 6:49 PM on December 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Sonos One -- I came in to make sure someone recommended it.
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:16 PM on December 4, 2017

If you already have a Sonos, don't get the Sonos One, it's a waste of money - just get the Echo Dot and install the Sonos skill. The Sonos integration is still a little spotty, or at least it was as of a month ago before my husband made me send the Echos back because he thought it was creepy that Alexa was listening to him all the time. Most of my Sonos listening is on Spotify, so Alexa wasn't smart enough to understand that when I said "play [Artist]" that Spotify was the default, and she would default to Amazon music, which only works if you have the unlimited Amazon music account. It was great for increasing or decreasing the volume if I started the Sonos playing from my phone - especially useful if you are drifting off to sleep because you don't have to pick up your phone to turn the volume down or off.

She integrated reasonably well with my Ecobee thermostat - I could tell her to change the temperature to X degrees but she didn't understand the "away for now" or "home for now" profiles.
posted by matildaben at 7:58 PM on December 4, 2017

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