As Amazon prepares to launch its Sidewalk network on Tuesday, privacy and tech experts are discussing whether customers should be worried about their Alexa devices being linked to those owned by neighbors.
“It’s only a matter of time before personal information is leaked from these devices,” Eric Null, US policy manager and global policy counsel of Access Now, told Insider on Friday.
The Sidewalk network will connect eligible Alexa and Ring devices to others nearby, including those owned by strangers. The connections will expand home-broadband networks and strengthen connectivity, Amazon said.
If one WiFi network slows down, a neighboring network might help boost its speed. Amazon said it would encrypt data sent between devices.
After Amazon announced Sidewalk in 2019, the company faced a backlash from some in the tech world who were concerned about customer data and privacy. Over the last few months, Amazon has been notifying customers, giving them the option to opt out of the network before its June 8 launch in the US.
Users who don’t opt out will be able to do so after the launch. New customers will be asked whether they want to turn on Sidewalk as they set up their Echo or Ring devices.
Some privacy experts said the network wouldn’t raise new concerns for customers who were happy with the privacy settings on their Alexa devices.
“If you’re already comfortable with the Amazon Ring and Echo systems, there’s no additional privacy loss,” said Jon Callas, director of technology projects at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “Their work on the security and privacy is pretty good.”
Others said they were concerned about the newest and largely untested Sidewalk features, which were sure to be targeted by hackers as they rolled out around the US.
Device owners linked into the Sidewalk network won’t be able to control the security settings on neighboring networks or devices, even as their personal data runs through them, said Lourdes M. Turrecha, a professor at Santa Clara University and founder of The Rise of Privacy Tech.
“To be fair, Amazon has stated that the data will be encrypted. That said, given the fight over encryption backdoors, Amazon Sidewalk poses increased surveillance threats, and is another monumental step in surveillance capitalism,” Turrecha said.
Amazon’s roadmap for Sidewalk would likely include new business opportunities for the tech giant, said Ben Wood, chief analyst at CCS Insight, in an emailed press statement.
Amazon has also announced a Sidewalk Developer Service, inviting manufacturers to build devices that would work on the Sidewalk network.
“I anticipate that we’ll see a flurry of innovative use cases for Sidewalk over the next 12 to 18 months as a growing number of third-party companies embrace it to offer micro-tracking and more,” Wood said.
Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, told Insider that Sidewalk was “just Amazon’s latest move to solidify and entrench their ever-growing surveillance empire.”
Greer added: “They envision a world awash in Amazon devices that constantly watch us, listen to us, monitor our heartbeats, analyze our emotions and record our movements. Sidewalk is an attempt to lay the foundation for that dystopia.”
The company published a white paper and launched a website with details about the tech behind Sidewalk.
Customers who are linked in to Sidewalk would “contribute a small portion of their internet bandwidth” to the network, according to Amazon. The network would then use Bluetooth and other frequencies to expand customer networks.
“But of course, there has been a history of similar insecure technologies like WEP encryption and Bluetooth,” said Null. “Amazon will be opening up millions of new vulnerable spots in the network by automatically enrolling so many Amazon devices into the network.”
Callas said Sidewalk may also increase worries about location tracking. Amazon’s partnership with Tile has led to concerns about stalking, although the company has said it’s working to fix issues, he said. “We’ll have to see how good it is,” he said.
When Sidewalk was announced, much of the concern was about its launch as an opt-out feature. Those concerns haven’t gone away.
“The right way to go about this would’ve been to build the case for the mesh network, allow people to join via opt-in, and then build on the project from there,” Null told Insider. “That option is of course more difficult, which is why Amazon went with the option that benefits it the most, but that’s no excuse for taking such an irresponsible action.”
An Amazon spokesperson declined an interview request ahead of the launch.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyEcho (4th Gen) (small)
Amazon’s popular Echo speaker has finally gotten a makeover.
Nearly six years after Amazon quietly unveiled the original Echo, the company has completely changed the speaker’s look, marking a big departure from the glowing cylinder that we’ve come to associate with the Echo since late 2014.
But the latest Echo is far more than just a cosmetic upgrade. Amazon’s most recent entrant to the smart speaker space also features a boost in sound quality, its own dedicated Amazon-designed processor that should make Alexa more responsive, and other extras, like a temperature sensor and a built-in smart home hub.
Taken together, the improvements represent the most significant upgrade to the standard Echo we’ve seen in years, helping it stand out in Amazon’s lineup. It’s a much more notable update than 2019’s third-generation Echo, which didn’t add much to the speaker other than improved sound quality.
But the new Echo also launched as Google and Apple have been investing more heavily in their own smart home speakers. Just days after Amazon unveiled the new Echo in September 2020, Google introduced its $100 Nest Audio. Apple, meanwhile, announced a smaller and less expensive version of its HomePod smart speaker for $100 called the HomePod Mini.
Here’s a closer look at what it’s been like to use the new Echo.
Amazon Echo 2020 specifications
Amazon Echo 2020
5.7 inches x 5.7 inches x 5.2 inches
Charcoal, white, and blue
3-inch woofer and dual 0.8-inch front-facing tweeters
3.5mm line in/out
Integrated smart home hub, temperature sensor
To say the new Amazon Echo looks different than its predecessor would be an understatement. Gone is the cylindrical shape that’s been a hallmark of the smart speaker series so far. Instead, the new Echo takes the form of a compact, fabric-laden orb that glows at its base when Alexa is listening.
The new Echo looks less like a traditional speaker than its predecessor, and that’s a good thing. It has more of a standout look that differentiates it from rivals, like the Nest Audio, and the spherical shape enables it to fit more naturally into my home decor. The placement of the glowing ring at the bottom of the speaker rather than at the top also feels less distracting.
But unlike the Nest Audio, which comes in black, white, green, pink, and blue, the Echo is only available in three colors: charcoal, white, and blue. For a device that most people will be prominently displaying in the living room or kitchen, it would have been nice to see a broader range of color options like those offered by Google.
Amazon’s new Echo has received a big boost when it comes to its most important job: serving as a home speaker. Amazon says its new speaker can now detect the acoustics of the room it’s in and adjust the audio accordingly, just like the $200 Echo Studio.
The new shape also gives the Echo better sound projection and richer bass thanks to its surface area to volume ratio, the company says.
The upgrade is certainly noticeable when compared alongside the third-generation Echo. Across the board, music sounds louder and much more open and full-bodied compared to its predecessor, with better bass as well.
The older Echo sounds a bit shallow in comparison, and isn’t able to fill the room with audio nearly as well as its successor. This is true whether I listen to pop, rock, or hip-hop on the new Echo.
It’s not quite as loud and clear as the $200 Sonos One, but it certainly comes a lot closer than the standard Echo ever has before.
Smart home hub
If controlling smart home devices is one of the primary reasons you’re interested in Amazon’s smart speaker, the new Echo will feel like a step up.
Amazon has built a smart home hub into the device much like it did with the Echo Plus speaker it introduced in 2017. That means you can quickly set up devices that use Bluetooth low energy or the ZigBee protocol – one of the major protocols that allows smart home devices to communicate with one another – without requiring a separate hub or bridge. It will also support Amazon’s long-range Wi-Fi network called Sidewalk when the feature launches on June 8.
Getting a Philips Hue light bulb up and running with the new Echo requires virtually no set up since it’s compatible with Zigbee. I simply screwed the light bulb into my bedroom lamp and asked Alexa to discover new devices.
After a few short moments, Alexa confirmed that my Echo had discovered the new light and added it to the “My devices” section of the Alexa app.
The third-generation Echo, on the other hand, requires a bridge in order to connect to the same Philips Hue light bulb. The Echo also has a leg up over Google in this regard since Google devices don’t offer voice setup for smart home devices and require you to connect through the company’s app.
The Echo series may be nearly six years old, but Amazon is only just introducing its own custom processor for its smart speaker line. Amazon’s new AZ1 processor promises to make Alexa faster and more responsive when processing requests. This functionality wasn’t available at launch but has since begun rolling out to the fourth-generation Echo and Echo Show 10.
However, the fourth-generation Echo is only slightly faster than the third-generation Echo at answering basic questions in my experience, often only beating it by less than a second.
The new Echo also comes with another unexpected addition: a temperature sensor. This makes it possible to not only ask Alexa for the weather outside, but also the temperature indoors.
For many, the decision to side with an Echo device or Google Nest device will largely depend on what ecosystem best suits your needs.
Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant can both handle many of the same tasks, but also offer their respective perks. Alexa, for example, supports a wider variety of smart home devices, as the company says there are more than 140,000 gadgets that work with Alexa. Google, on the other hand, supports more than 50,000 internet-of-things devices.
Alexa also has some extra skills, including the ability to detect sounds, like breaking glass and alarms, when you’re not home. Google requires a Nest Aware subscription for this, whereas Amazon offers these features as part of the free tier of its Alexa Guard service. And of course, Alexa makes it incredibly easy to shop on Amazon via your voice.
The Google Assistant, however, has generally performed better when it comes to answering general knowledge questions, which should come as no surprise considering it has the world’s most popular search engine at its disposal.
In a 2019 test conducted by Loup Ventures that involved asking the Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple’s Siri 800 questions, Google answered 93% of those queries correctly. Alexa answered 80% of them correctly while Siri correctly responded to 83%.
Google’s smart speakers also have extra features, like an interpreter mode that translates full conversations into another language, which is more sophisticated than Alexa’s ability to translate individual phrases and words.
Privacy is also crucial for a microphone-equipped device meant to sit in your living room or bedroom. Amazon, Google, and Apple have all come under scrutiny in the past over their previous policies when it comes to sharing saved recordings with human annotators for the purposes of improving their voice assistants.
Both the new Echo and Google’s Nest Audio include a physical button for turning off the microphone.
But unlike Google and Apple, you must opt out if you don’t want your voice recordings to be used by Amazon to help improve Alexa’s functionality. You can do this from the Alexa app under the Alexa Privacy section in the settings menu.
Google doesn’t retain audio by default, and announced last September that users would have to opt in to a setting that enables the search giant to share recordings with human reviewers to improve the Google Assistant.
That said, both Amazon and Google have announced privacy updates over the course of the past year. Amazon now allows you to choose to automatically delete your voice recordings after Alexa has processed your request.
You can also delete all of your previously saved voice recordings just by asking Alexa, or you can ask Alexa to send you a link to privacy settings for your device in the Alexa app.
Google also launched new features earlier this year for telling its voice assistant to forget an utterance that was detected by accident and asking the Google Assistant for more information about Google’s data collection policies.
Google recently announced a Guest Mode for the Google Assistant as well, which, like Incognito Mode, prevents Google from saving queries to your account or offering personalized responses.
The bottom line
With improved sound, a sleek new design, and a built-in hub for setting up smart home devices, the new Echo feels like a significant upgrade for Amazon’s smart speaker.
The standard Echo model has inherited some features from its more premium predecessors, such as the $200 Echo Studio’s ability to adjust audio to match a room’s acoustics, and the integrated smart home hub that debuted on the $150 Echo Plus from 2017.
As a result, the new Echo feels like the right balance of quality audio and convenience for most people in need of a basic smart home speaker that’s not quite as high-end as the Studio, but more powerful than the $50 Echo Dot.
That could make it more difficult for rivals, like Apple and Sonos, that specialize in offering superior sound quality to compete with Amazon’s latest Echo. It also feels like an execution of the vision that Amazon has been working toward for a while when it comes to the Echo: a home speaker that doesn’t make big compromises when it comes to audio quality or smart home features.
If you have a third-generation Echo, you probably don’t need to upgrade immediately. But if you have an older model or were thinking about purchasing a second Echo anyway, you’ll certainly appreciate the upgrades.
Pros: Improved sound, attractive new design, built-in smart home hub makes it easy to set up devices
Cons: Not as much choice when it comes to color selection compared to Google, Amazon still saves and uses your voice recordings by default
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former President Donald Trump have never exactly seen eye-to-eye. And while Trump’s animosity toward Bezos was more public, it appears that Bezos, too, poked fun at Trump behind closed doors.
According to Stone, Bezos demoed a prototype Echo Show on multiple occasions and would ask Alexa to play videos that mocked Trump: “Alexa, show me the video, ‘Donald Trump says “China,'” and “Alexa, play Stephen Colbert’s monologue from last night.”
A vice president who was at the demos told Stone that Bezos would then “laugh like there’s no tomorrow.”
‘I’m an inexperienced trash talker but I’m willing to learn. :)’
Bezos’ and Trump’s animus toward one another extends at least a year earlier, to the winter of 2015, when Trump began tweeting about the Washington Post, which Bezos purchased for $250 million in 2013. Trump tweeted that Bezos only owned the paper to keep “taxes down at his no profit company, @amazon,” adding in a follow-up tweet that the Post is a tax shelter. (There’s no evidence to support these claims, and Bezos’ ownership of the post is separate from his role at Amazon.)
According to Stone, Bezos emailed his senior vice president of corporate affairs, Jay Carney, later that morning with the subject line: “Trump trash talk.”
“Feel like I should have a witty retort. Don’t want to let it go past,” Bezos wrote, according to emails obtained by Stone. “Useful opportunity (patriotic duty) to do my part to deflate this guy who would be a scary prez. I’m an inexperienced trash talker but I’m willing to learn. :)”
Carney recommended that Bezos say nothing back, but Bezos still wanted to engage with Trump, eventually responding with a tweet that offered to reserve Trump a seat on a Blue Origin rocket, also owned by Bezos, and included the hashtag “#sendDonaldtospace.”
A spokesperson for Amazon declined to comment on Bezos and Trump’s relationship.
Trump and Bezos clashed several more times during Trump’s presidency
The squabble would play a role behind the scenes during several high-profile incidents in Bezos’ personal and professional lives.
In January 2019, Bezos announced his divorce from his wife of 25 years, MacKenzie – soon after, his affair with TV host and helicopter pilot Lauren Sanchez was outed by the National Enquirer. The ensuing tabloid scandal led to speculation that there were political motivations behind publishing the story: David Pecker, then the publisher of Enquirer-owner AMI, is a longtime Trump ally.
Trump later became involved in the competition between Amazon, Oracle, Microsoft, and others to secure a lucrative Department of Defense contract known as JEDI. Trump spoke publicly about complaints he was hearing about Amazon, and Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., called Amazon “shady and potentially corrupt” in a tweet about the situation.
Microsoft ultimately won the $10 billion contract in 2019, and Amazon has publicly stated that it believes Trump’s “repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks” against Amazon and Bezos are the reason it wasn’t awarded the contract.
Amazon quietly laid the groundwork to eventually leapfrog Google and Apple in the virtual-assistant race by secretly collecting data on speech patterns from thousands of unsuspecting workers, a new book reveals.
When the idea behind the Amazon Echo was first pitched in 2011, executives expressed doubt.
“Internal testing with Amazon employees was too limited,” Stone wrote. “They would need to massively expand the Alexa beta while somehow still keeping it a secret from the outside world.”
In 2013, the team tasked with developing the Amazon Echo launched a data-collection program in partnership with the outside firm Appen, Stone reports. Appen rented out homes and apartments in Boston and filled the rooms with different kinds of electronics, from microphones and TVs to tablets and gaming consoles, according to the book.
Meanwhile, they hid around twenty early versions of the Amazon Echo throughout the rooms. A spokesperson for Appen was not immediately available for comment.
Temporary contract workers were then paid to walk through the rooms, reading scripted questions from tablets. Stone said the scripts asked participants to ask “open-ended requests.” The Echo speakers were off, so Alexa did not respond to the requests, but collected the data and sent it back to a team of Amazon employees who broke the requests down into specific queries that Alexa could easily understand.
The process was repeated six days a week for six months, according to Stone. The data-collection process was so successful that Amazon expanded into 10 other cities.
“It was a mushroom-cloud explosion of data about device placement, acoustic environments, background noise, regional accents, and all the gloriously random ways a human being might phrase a simple request to hear the weather, for example, or play a Justin Timberlake hit,” Stone wrote.
The program was not without its struggles. Stone said neighbors at the various locations would often get suspicious of the people going in and out of the residential locations. At one point, a neighbor in Boston called the cops concerned that the residence was being used as a drug-dealing or prostitution ring. The police were shown around the house and the location was quickly shut down after they left, according to Stone.
Some of the contract workers themselves were even suspicious of the program, he reported. There were often instances when the workers would refuse the job immediately after seeing the setup of the rooms. Others mocked the program.
“One Amazon employee who was annotating transcripts later recalled hearing a temp worker interrupt a session and whisper to whoever he suspected was listening: ‘This is dumb. The company behind this should be embarrassed,'” Stone wrote.
Through Alexa’s savvy, the company was able to overtake Apple and Google in the virtual assistant space, even though Siri was released three years before the Amazon Echo. In 2019, the Amazon Echo accounted for the largest portion of the global smart speaker market share at 31.7%, according to consumer electronics research expert Lionel Sujay Vailshery.
An Amazon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, is compatible with a wide range of smart devices.
You can control Alexa-supported devices with voice commands or automate them with routines.
Look for the “Works with Alexa” logo to find devices certified by Amazon for reliability.
Voice recognition has improved in leaps and bounds in recent years and voice assistants have been integrated into more and more products. A huge number of popular smart home brands include Amazon Alexa compatibility as a standard in their devices now.
Some you can talk to directly, others can be controlled by issuing voice commands to Alexa through another device, such as a smart speaker or tablet. A few can be automated with routines in the Alexa app.
This guide to the very best Alexa-enabled devices available today is the product of extensive testing bolstered by research into the most trusted brands and reputable reviews. Most of these devices appear in other Insider best-of guides, and they span a wide variety of smart-home categories. What they all have in common is that they work seamlessly with Alexa.
Here are the best Alexa-enabled products that work with your Amazon Echo:
For versatile and reliable smart lighting, the Philips Hue range cannot be beat and responds well to voice commands through Alexa.
Consistently a top pick in our smart-lighting guides, Philips Hue boasts a very wide variety of different bulbs, light strips, and fixtures. The Philips Hue starter kit comes with two white bulbs and the necessary bridge. You can change the color temperature and brightness from the accessible Philips Hue app, and color bulbs support every color you can imagine. Presets called scenes make it easy to achieve the ambience you’re looking for.
Use the Alexa Hue skill and you can control your Philip Hue lights with your smart speaker. You can turn lights on or off or select specific scenes. Alexa can also change the brightness, color, or color temperature. You can also set up an Alexa routine to trigger Hue lights. For example, you might issue the command “Alexa, goodnight” to have all your lights turn off.
While both the Bluetooth and hub-connected Philips Hue lights work with Alexa, there are limitations with the Bluetooth bulbs. They only work with certain Echo smart speakers and displays, and they are slower to respond and less reliable than lights connected to a Hue Bridge. The other big drawback with Philips Hue lighting is the relatively high price.
While most smart thermostats require a smart speaker to work via voice commands, the Ecobee Smart Thermostat with Voice Control has Alexa built in and its very own speaker. This means you can issue voice commands directly to the thermostat to tweak the temperature, control other Alexa-enabled devices in the home, or even have it play music.
The smart sensor inside the Ecobee can take temperature readings and sense occupancy in the room to automatically adjust the heat or AC in your home. You can also set up schedules using the app to turn off the AC at night or have the heat come on just before you wake each morning. It supports dual-band Wi-Fi and works well with most popular home-automation systems. The app also enables you to view and change the temperature remotely.
It’s important to check compatibility before you buy because this Ecobee Smart Thermostat doesn’t work with every HVAC system. We also ran into some issues with remote sensor connections to additional rooms, which you’ll need if there are large temperature variations throughout your home. This is an expensive smart thermostat, but you generally need to pay extra for voice controls and it’s rare to find one with Alexa built in.
Capable of capturing clear and crisp footage, the indoor or outdoor Arlo Pro 3 camera also has a smart alert system and Alexa voice controls.
With a versatile mounting system and IP65 weatherproofing, the Arlo Pro 3 is suitable for indoor or outdoor use. This security camera produces top-quality video footage at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels with HDR to even out contrasts in lighting and ensure that subjects are always clear and recognizable. The configurable smart alert system is accurate and provides swift and informative notifications. There’s also infrared night vision, two-way audio, motion and sound triggers, and a siren.
By adding the Arlo skill to Alexa, you can arm and disarm your camera system with voice commands and stream a live camera view to any Alexa-compatible display. There’s always a bit of a delay when streaming security cameras, but the Arlo Pro 3 is relatively quick compared to others we tested. The Arlo skill doesn’t allow you to review recorded videos through Alexa voice commands, which is something you can do with Ring cameras. But in terms of features and overall performance, the Arlo Pro 3 is the best security camera we’ve tested.
Apart from the limitations of the Arlo Alexa skill, you also need a subscription to unlock the smart features and record video in the cloud. Plans start at $2.99 per month per camera or $9.99 per month for up to five cameras. That gives you 30 days of rolling footage. The Arlo Pro 3 also requires a SmartHub to connect. However, the new Arlo Pro 4 offers all the same functionality as the Pro 3 and connects to Wi-Fi directly without a hub.
Affordable, compact, and easy to use, the Kasa Smart Plug from TP-Link enables you to turn devices on or off with a voice command to Alexa.
Smart plugs or outlets are often a viable alternative to upgrading older devices, as they enable automation, remote control, and voice control. The Kasa Smart Plug features a relatively compact design, so they block adjacent outlets. The Kasa app is simple and straightforward to use. These smart plugs are also surprisingly affordable, so you can pick up a multi-pack and deploy them throughout your home.
You can name individual Kasa plugs — for example, “hall lamp” or “living room fan” — and then use Alexa voice commands to turn them on and off. You can also create schedules; set timers; or use Alexa groups and routines to group them together with other devices, such as smart lights. They also support IFTTT, so you can have them turn on when a camera detects motion, for example.
The Kasa Smart Plugs may be basic budget smart plugs, but they’re very reliable and work well with Alexa commands. You will need a good Wi-Fi connection, and they only work on the 2.4GHz band. They also lack any built-in surge protection.
The versatile Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer can control, dim, and schedule almost any kind of light and is relatively easy to install.
If you want to add voice controls to your existing lights, you can do it with the Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer. With a direct Wi-Fi connection, there’s no need for hubs. You can also set up schedules and timers in the app. You can dim your lights both from the app and by dragging your finger down the channel in the middle of the switch. The backlight makes it easy to find the switch in the dark, and a special night mode dims the light so it’s easier on your eyes in the dark.
By using voice commands through Alexa, you can turn the switch on or off and change the brightness of your lights. Belkin says it automatically adjusts the dimming range to suit whatever type of bulbs you are using. You can also group the switch with other devices and set up automated routines in the Alexa app.
The Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer has to be wired in. It is relatively straightforward but only works with one-way connection switches and requires a neutral wire. Belkin does offer a WeMo Smart 3-Way Light Switch which also works with Alexa but doesn’t support dimming.
Scoring 4 out of 5 at TechHive and 7.8 out of 10 at CNET, the Belkin WeMo Wi-Fi Dimmer Switch is highly rated.
The best Alexa-enabled smart lock
Designed to provide secure, keyless access to your home, the August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is very easy to install and offers strong smart-home integration.
The August Wi-Fi Smart Lock is designed to work with your existing deadbolt. It replaces the inside portion, so you can still use your original keys. Installation can be completed in less than 15 minutes, but you will need a good Wi-Fi connection on the 2.4 GHz band. Using the app, you can lock and unlock your door from anywhere, track who is coming and going, and get alerts when the door is left ajar. It also supports geofencing, so it can lock and unlock automatically when you leave and return.
Because it supports Alexa voice controls, you can lock or unlock the door and check if the door is locked by asking. Alexa will also alert you when the battery is running low. Short battery life is a definite downside here, and it’s a relatively pricey smart lock.
August has slimmed the design down in this fourth-generation device and continues to roll out new features, such as optional biometric verification using the fingerprint or face unlock on your smartphone. Both Tom’s Guide and PC Mag gave it 4.5 out of 5 ratings.
It’s tough to find a robot vacuum that performs well on carpet and hard floors, but the iRobot Roomba S9+ nails both and even empties itself.
After extensive testing, the iRobot Roomba S9+ claimed the title for best on hardwood floors in our best robot vacuum guide. It also performs well on carpet. Navigation is impressive, and the Roomba S9+ rarely gets stuck. It can also empty itself when it returns to the charging station, which means you don’t have to deal with dust and dirt after every cleaning cycle.
The Alexa skill for iRobot Roombas is excellent. Most robot vacuums with Alexa support are limited to simple commands. With the Roomba S9+, however, you can start, stop, pause, resume, return to home base, check status, locate, schedule, clean by room, and more.
Drawbacks include the high price, the relatively high volume when cleaning, and the middling corner performance. You also have to replace filters every couple of months, the side brush every three months, and the dirt disposal bag every month or so, which adds additional expense. If the S9+ is too expensive, consider the slightly cheaper Roomba i7+, which has the same expansive Alexa options.
Plug the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K directly into an HDMI port, and you can stream a world of content. As the name suggests, this streaming stick supports 4K, but it also enables HDR playback, covering both HDR10+ and the Dolby Vision formats. Provided your TV can handle it and your Wi-Fi connection is fast enough, that means you can watch shows and movies with the highest quality picture that’s currently possible.
The small remote control that comes with the Fire TV Stick 4K has a microphone button that you can press to talk to Alexa. You can ask Alexa to find 4K movies or search for a specific TV show. You can also get the latest weather or bring up a live feed of your security camera.
While it offers the best value for Prime subscribers with easy access to Prime Video, you can install Netflix, YouTube, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max, and many more apps. Prime Video also offers additional subscription channels like Paramount Plus and Cinemax. There are, however, a few apps and services it doesn’t carry, so check before you buy to avoid disappointment.
Amazon revamped the exterior of its fourth-generation Amazon Echo speaker, opting for a spherical design floating atop a ring that lights up blue when you talk to Alexa. This is more than a cosmetic upgrade, but a new speaker setup inside ensures a deeper bass and a much richer sound than previous Echo speakers. Now it can fill a room with music.
Amazon developed the AZ1 Neural Edge processor inside to boost Alexa’s responsiveness. Whether you’re asking the speaker to play a podcast, read the news, or update you on your latest orders, you’ll get a swift answer. Alexa can also listen for sounds, like breaking glass or alarms, and alert you.
The Amazon Echo can’t compete with speakers like the Sonos One on sound quality, but it’s half the price. As a smart speaker, it performs admirably and even has a temperature sensor and smart-home hub built in. Some privacy concerns are addressed by a mic-off button. You have to opt out of certain settings to ensure your voice recordings aren’t used by Amazon or to avoid Amazon’s Wi-Fi sharing program, Sidewalk.
The Sonos Beam speaker brings powerful sound to your home theater and works seamlessly with Alexa.
Even the best TVs struggle to do justice to cinematic soundtracks, which is why additional speakers are an essential part of any home theater setup. Perhaps the easiest way to boost your audio quality is to add a soundbar beneath the TV. The Sonos Beam is a great choice. It boasts rich sound and the versatility to handle music and podcasts when the TV is off. You can also add two Sonos One speakers to achieve a surround-sound setup.
Another selling point is the presence of Alexa, enabling you to search for and control music and podcasts, change the volume, and ask questions. There are five far-field microphones in the Sonos Beam, so Alexa always hears you. There’s also a button to turn the microphone off when you want privacy.
It’s an obvious pick if you already have Sonos speakers, as it will sync seamlessly. However, the Sonos Beam is quite pricey, and it lacks Bluetooth streaming and support for another sound format, DTS.
Here’s a brief explainer on some of the things to be aware of when shopping for Alexa-enabled devices.
Works with Alexa: The first thing to look for when buying an Alexa-compatible device is the “Works with Alexa” logo. This is Amazon’s official certification program, designed to give you confidence that the product in question works with Alexa and is responsive and reliable.
Alexa built-in: Just because a device works with Alexa doesn’t necessarily mean that you can talk to it directly. Look for an “Alexa built-in” logo to find devices with Alexa inside. While smart speakers have microphones to pick up your voice commands, most Alexa-compatible products require another device to issue commands through. A smart speaker or smart display is best, though you can also enable Alexa on a phone or tablet via the Alexa app.
Alexa skills: The individual programs that allow Alexa to work with various devices are known as skills. You have to add skills to Alexa to integrate devices. It’s a good idea to investigate the skill for the device you’re considering, so you can learn precisely what it’s capable of. User reviews can also reveal highlights or weak points.
Internet connectivity: Smart-home devices require a strong internet connection for Alexa to work well. Think about where in your home the device will live and whether it can get a good wired or Wi-Fi connection in that spot.
What else we considered
Here are a few devices that missed out on a place in our guide but may still be worth considering if our top picks don’t grab you.
Wyze Bulb: Wyze offers a basic white smart bulb that’s very affordable and works well with Alexa. You can ask Alexa to turn bulbs on or off, tweak the brightness, and change the color temperature.
Google Nest Thermostat: This affordable smart thermostat offers remote control of your HVAC system, geofencing, and support for Alexa.
Wyze Cam v3: Perhaps the most affordable camera on the market, the Wyze Cam v3 offers full-color 1080p footage and has an IP65 rating, two-way audio, and night vision. You can also turn it on or off and access a live feed with an Alexa command. Read our Wyze Cam v3 review for more.
Wyze Smart Home Plug: This compact smart plug offers remote control, scheduling, and automation. You can also turn it on or off by asking Alexa.
C by GE Smart Dimmer Switch: This versatile smart light switch brings remote control to your regular lights and enables you to change the brightness from an app or with a voice command to Alexa. The functionality is good, but the design simply isn’t as attractive as our top pick.
Schlage Encode Smart WiFi Deadbolt: You can remotely lock and unlock this smart lock and it has a number pad for setting up to 100 access codes. There’s also good Alexa integration for voice commands to lock or unlock and check status, and Alexa will warn you when the battery is low.
Roborock S6: This was the best performing robot vacuum in our testing and it’s a lot cheaper than the Roomba S9+, but the Alexa integration is very basic. You can only start or stop cleaning with voice commands. Read our Roborock S6 review for more.
Amazon Fire TV Cube: With support for 4K and HDR content, the Cube is similar to the Fire Stick 4K in terms of functionality. The advantage is that it acts more like an Echo speaker, so you can say “Alexa” and issue commands or ask questions without having to press the mic button on the remote.
Sonos One: For such a small speaker, the Sonos One offers a fantastically rich sound and can get very loud when you need it to. It also has Alexa built in for questions, commands, calls, and more.
Yamaha YAS-209: This soundbar is a bit cheaper than the Sonos Beam and also supports Alexa, making it a good alternative if you want DTS or Bluetooth.
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The Sonos Roam is the company’s new portable, waterproof speaker.
The compact speaker features up to 10 hours of playback and includes voice assistant support.
You can preorder the Sonos Roam now for $169, and first shipments are set to arrive by April 20.
After giving portable speakers a go with the impressive but rather hefty Sonos Move in 2019, Sonos is back with a lighter, waterproof, and much more compact model called the Sonos Roam.
The size of the Sonos Roam is similar to a water bottle, making it an ideal fit for mobile listening. And, despite its small footprint, the speaker is designed to pack a punch with up to 10 hours of playback and a drop-resistant body.
The Sonos Roam also comes with Sonos’ Trueplay feature, meaning it’s keen on its surroundings and adjusts its sound to match the scene. The model is waterproof as well, so you can submerge it in up to three feet for 30 minutes. Sonos also continues its dedication to quality sound via the speaker’s two Class-H digital amps, mid-woofer, and tweeter.
It also lets you use voice assistants such as Google Assistant and Alexa. The Sonos Roam can connect to your Wi-Fi at home, and when you get out of range it can pair via Bluetooth to your phone. The speaker is simple to charge, as well, as you can simply place it on top of a Qi wireless charger.
You can find full price, preorder, and specification details for the Sonos Roam below.
Sonos Roam price
Sonos will release the Sonos Roam on April 20. You can preorder the speaker right now for $169.
When you buy products through Sonos, you can set up a monthly financing plan to spread out your payments. The purchase comes with free shipping across the US and, if you’re not a fan, you can return the Sonos Roam within 45 days.
You can buy either the matte black or matte white version, and deliveries are expected to arrive to customers by April 20. We’ll update this article with additional retailer options once they’re available.
Google Assistant is a virtual assistant, similar to Siri and Alexa, that is fueled by artificial intelligence to perform various tasks. The company calls it “your own personal Google” – the artificial intelligence component, much like its search engine, brings the internet to you and answers your questions.
You can ask Google Assistant to play music, look up sports scores, search for directions, and even control your home through its smart devices. Google Assistant is available on many “smart” platforms, including smartphones, Google Home speakers, tablets, and displays.
Real-time translation is among its many features and is particularly helpful when traveling abroad and navigating conversations with language barriers. After getting Google Assistant’s attention (just say “Hey Google”), command it to be your translator in any language. Interpreter Mode will automatically be activated.
We’ll show you how to both use this feature and troubleshoot potential problems.
How to translate conversations with Google Assistant
Google Assistant for phones and tablets has a few more language options than the version for smart speakers and displays, one being Urdu, the official national language of Pakistan.
1. If you’re using an iPhone, you’ll need to download the Google Assistant app from the App Store. (It’s already included in the operating system on Androids.)
2. Open the app and say “Hey Google” or hit the microphone icon. The AI is now listening.
3. Say something like “Be my French interpreter,” “Interpret from English to French,” or “Turn on Interpreter Mode.”
4. Google Assistant will ask you what languages you want to be translated if you haven’t yet specified. Depending on your settings, it can also detect the language according to your location.
5. You’ll hear a tone when translation mode is on. Just start talking. The AI will know which language is being spoken.
6. You can also set it so that the keyboard types out the translations instead of speaking them.
7. Swipe from left to right to turn off interpreter mode, or say “Stop.”
How to fix potential issues with Google Assistant
Artificial intelligence-powered technology isn’t always perfect, so there’s a chance you may run into issues while using Google Assistant.
Google Assistant won’t recognize every command. The following will not activate Interpreter Mode:
“Speak French” (or any language).
“Can you speak French?” (or any language).
Remember to wait for the tone before speaking or Google Assistant may not catch everything you say. Also, double check that your device is compatible with Interpreter Mode.
Remain close to your device while speaking, speak clearly, and make sure your pronunciation is correct. Otherwise, Google Assistant may translate you incorrectly.