A beginner’s guide to Alexa devices

From bestreviews.com
Jaime Vazquez

Everyone's talking about Alexa. We give you the rundown on what your options are and how to best harness the technology.

A beginner's guide to Alexa devices

Digital assistants are quickly taking the world by storm: It seems like every time you turn around, there's a new voice-activated device just waiting to bring more convenience to everyday life. But one assistant stands above the rest: Amazon's Echo line of devices have come to dominate the industry by getting manufacturers to include their digital assistant, Alexa, in everything from our TVs to our coffee makers. In fact, there are now more than 20,000 Alexa-compatible devices worldwide, capable of performing more than 50,000 different tasks, ranging from telling you the time to carrying out complex instructions for your home-security system.

Overwhelmed yet? That's OK -- we've got you covered when it comes to getting started with Alexa. Whether you're ready to dip your toe in the water with your first smart assistant, or you're all set to go all-in on building a voice-controlled smart home, here are the basics: The Alexa devices that are easy as pie to set up and add instant value to our lives.

For building a voice-controlled smart home

Building a smart home is a gradual process for most people as they add compatible devices gradually over time. Here are the three best places to start.

Smart door locks. Smart door locks are perfect for both the security-minded and the absent-minded: you can set schedules for when you need to stay secure, so you'll never have to wonder, "Did I remember to lock the front door?" ever again.

Our pick: The third-generation August Smart Lock Pro + Connect is perfect for newbies, because it's got everything you need to get started and still allows you to use your existing keys.

Thermostats. Whether you're looking to shave a few dollars off of your monthly bills or you simply want to be able to use voice commands to change the temperature, an Alexa-enabled thermostat will make it as easy as saying, "Alexa, set the temperature to 70."

Our pick: The ecobee4 smart thermostat is easily the best value on the market -- it's affordable, and it's got a huge, beautiful display, and includes sensors for other rooms (which other manufacturers typically charge extra for).

Lighting. Never fumble around in the dark for a light switch again. Now you can pop on the lights in any room just by saying, "Alexa, lights!" Alexa-enabled light bulbs and light switches are perfect for making sure your lights conform to your lifestyle.

Our pick: Even smart bulbs burn out, so for beginners, a smart bet is TP-Link's Kasa Smart WiFi Light Switch. TP-Link's hardware is reliable and easy to install, and if you're feeling ambitious, you can even try one of their dimmer models.

For getting the most from your music, movies, and TV shows

Alexa was made with entertainment in mind, so it's no surprise that plenty of device manufacturers have made their best electronics Alexa-compatible. Here are our favorite Alexa-friendly entertainment gadgets.

Universal remotes. The only thing better than controlling several remotes with one is controlling several remotes with your voice. If you're ready to turn on all of your home theater components by saying, "Alexa, turn off all my gear," an Alexa-enabled universal remote may be in your future.

Our pick: Logitech's Harmony brand is the biggest name in universal remotes, and the Harmony Hub is one of our favorites. The hub turns your smartphone into a remote control, and translates the commands from their app into signals that remotely control your favorite electronics.

4K Smart TVs. If you're prone to losing remotes -- even universal ones -- an Alexa-enabled TV is a solid choice. Simply say, "Alexa, turn my TV on," and you'll be watching your favorite shows and movies in brilliant 4K before you know it.

Our pick: The LG 55UK6300PUE is a solid 4K TV set at an incredible price point. We love that it's got HDR and built-in apps, but the Alexa support is really the killer feature here.

Portable speakers. Music aficionados love being able to ask for any song they want, without having to spend hours browsing menus to find it. With Alexa, any portable speaker becomes a jukebox.

Our pick: The Bose SoundTouch 10 marries Bose audio quality with the convenience of Alexa -- for incredible music, all you have to do is ask.

For going over the top

If you're ready to go beyond the basics and take full advantage of what Alexa can do, here are the gadgets to start with. These are the devices that will make you say, "I can use Alexa with that?", and within a few months, you'll wonder how you ever lived without Alexa's help.

Air conditioners. When it's painfully humid, even getting up to turn on the AC can be a tall order. With an Alexa-enabled air conditioner, surviving summer is easy: All you have to say is, "Alexa, turn on the AC."

Our pick: Kenmore's Smart Room Air Conditioner can cool a room in no time, and if you need to make adjustments, all you need to do is tell Alexa.

Printers. Having a voice-activated printer may not sound all that impressive, but it can make a huge difference when it comes to printing. Many Alexa-enabled printers have prefabricated templates for printing things like notebook paper or even calendar pages -- and some even work with Alexa's to-do and shopping lists, so you can easily print out copies of your virtual lists.

Our pick: The HP OfficeJet Pro 8710 is a tiny miracle among printers. It prints, copies, scans, and faxes; it's got built-in WiFi for wireless printing from any device; and it's incredibly affordable. The 8710 would be a steal without Alexa, but adding digital assistant support makes this one of the best deals available.

Sprinkler controllers. If you've got sprinklers, you're probably familiar with the terrible interfaces on most sprinkler controllers, which make it incredibly difficult to create and use a sprinkler schedule. With an Alexa-enabled sprinkler controller, that goes away: You can set schedules on your smartphone, or simply say, "Alexa, water the lawn."

Our pick: Rachio's Rainbird series is famous with ranchers and landscapers for its dependability. The Rachio Smart Sprinkler controller brings sprinklers into the digital age, with an intuitive interface and a little help from our favorite smart assistant.

Jaime is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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