Amazon Echo

The Best Apps to Use With Automatic Pro

Automatic Pro is a powerful app and OBD-II adapter that lets you monitor your car from afar, log your trips, and even get assistance in an accident. Best of all, you can expand its capabilities by connecting it to third-party apps and services designed to enhance what Automatic Pro already does. Some of them are pretty niche, but these are the ones that are probably worth your time.

Ask Alexa About Your Car

Automatic Pro has its own Amazon Echo skill that lets you find out information about your car from any Alexa-enabled product in your home. The Alexa skill isn’t super robust, but it offers a few key voice commands that are handy from inside your home:

  • Say “Alexa, ask Automatic where my car is,” to find out where your car is currently located. This is particularly handy if you’ve installed Automatic Pro in your kids’ car to monitor their driving.
  • Say ““Alexa, ask Automatic how much gas I have,” to find out if you’ll need to fill up the next time you leave the house.
  • Say ““Alexa, ask Automatic how far I drove last week,” to get a brief report on how much time you’ve spent in your car recently. You can also ask for how much you drove in the last month or year.

If you have an Amazon Echo in your home, this is the essential app to set up. You can enable the Automatic Pro Alexa skill here, or find it in the Automatic Pro app gallery.

Get Your Home’s Temperature Ready With Nest

Your Nest can already detect when you’re away from home and turn itself off automatically, but out of the box it can only tell when it needs to turn back on once you’re already home. It could learn your habits over time, or you could just tell it when you’re leaving work directly. Automatic Pro’s Nest app can help with this. Automatic’s Nest app has a special feature that allows you to precondition your house on the drive home so it’s ready by the time you get there, using your location at work and traffic data to gauge how long it will take you to get home.

The Automatic Nest app also has some special tools that give you a bit more control than the regular Nest app. For example, you can schedule your Nest to start warming up the house when you leave work between 4PM and 8PM. This means that when you leave the office at noon to get lunch, Nest won’t assume you’re on your way home and turn on the air conditioner. You can connect to the Nest app for Automatic Pro here.

Use IFTTT and Stringify to Connect Your Car to the Rest of Your Digital Life

IFTTT

How to Put Together Your First Smarthome (Without Getting Overwhelmed)

If you want to make your home a little smarter, but aren’t sure where exactly to start, we’ve got you covered. Here are the best starter smarthome gadgets, and how to find ones that will work well together in your house (or apartment).

Smarthome is more accessible than ever. Once upon a time, you either needed to install a complex X10 system, or you needed an expensive, dealer-installed whole-house system like Savant or URC. And while all of those are still options, most people are opting for a more user-friendly, wallet-friendly piecemeal approach: buying individual smarthome gadgets from tech companies like Amazon, Google, and Samsung, and integrating them together. That’s what we’ll be talking about today.

Ask Yourself: What Do You Want to Do?

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Before you start completely decking out your house with all sorts of smarthome gear, it’s important to establish why you want a smart home in the first place. Is it for convenience? Then you might want devices that support voice control through something like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Do you wish everything was automated? Then you’ll probably narrow down products with good automation features or IFTTT support. Do you want good home security? Then you’ll want a line of products with sensors and sirens. Maybe you want a bit of everything.

Once you’ve answered those questions, you’ll have a better idea of what kind of things to look for as you shop. Not every smarthome product works with other smarthome products, so as you build your home, you’ll want to pick ones that support the devices and services you want.

For example, if you want voice control for everything, then the Amazon Echo is the “glue” that holds your entire smarthome together, and you’ll want to only pick products that work with the Echo. Or, if you’re an automation nut, search for products that support IFTTT. If everyone in your house is an iPhone user, and you want to control all of your devices with Siri (or through the Home app), you’ll want to make sure as many products as possible are compatible with HomeKit.

Luckily, it’s easy to narrow down products by which standard they support. Not only can you look for the proper badge on the packaging, or look at its website for compatibility, but many devices and services have pages with official lists of products they support, which can instantly narrow down your search:

Once you decide which services will be central to your smarthome experience, it’ll be a lot easier to decide which products to buy.

The Best Products to Start You Off

When you begin to finally buy your first products, things can feel overwhelming—where do you even start? Here are some of our favorite smarthome products perfect for beginners:

How to Call and Message Friends Using Your Amazon Echo

Amazon released a big new feature for its Echo devices, giving users the ability to call and message each other using their Echos or the Alexa app. Here’s how it works and how to set it up.

How to Set It Up

First, you’ll need to update the Alexa app to the latest version, so if you haven’t already, head to the app store on your phone and get the update. The version you’ll need is 2.0.2429, but anything newer than that will work as well.

Next, open up the Alexa app, and you’ll be greeted with an introduction to the new calling and messaging feature. Tap on “Get Started” at the bottom to continue.

On the next screen, select your name.

Confirm your name and then hit “Continue” at the bottom.

You’ll now need to give the Alexa app permission to access your phone’s contacts. This is how you’ll call and message other people using your Echo. Tap on “Allow” to continue.

Next, enter in your phone number to associate with your Echo and then tap “Continue”. Whenever someone from your phone’s contacts also sets up this feature on their Echo, they’ll automatically appear in the contacts list in the Alexa app.

After you enter in your phone number, you’ll be sent a verification code. Enter in that code on the next screen and hit “Continue”.

Once that’s done, you’ll be taken to the Conversations screen in the Alexa app. This is where all of your messages will appear,…

With free Alexa calling, the Amazon Echo is now a home phone replacement

The Amazon Echo can do way more than a home phone.
The Amazon Echo can do way more than a home phone.

Every single time I go back to my parents’ home I try to get them to cancel their home phone line. And every time I fail.

I don’t know how much they pay for their phone bill off the top of my head, but whatever it is, it’s too much — especially since they rarely use it, and they have smartphones which I generously pay for.

According to a recently published U.S. Health Department finding, 50.8 percent of American homes don’t have a landline and have a cellphone instead.

Naturally, as cellphones have become ubiquitous, the number of landlines in homes have declined and will continue to fall. There’s simply no need to have a home phone and cellphone — it’s an unnecessary duplication.

Most of the concerns for keeping a landline around (I’ve heard them all, thank you very much dad) usually involve “It’s got better call quality and calls almost never drop” and “I still need it for international calls.” These are just excuses for people who don’t want to break old habits and dump the ol’ telephone.

But hey, who am I to try to save you money. It’s your money and you can spend it paying your telephone company if you want to.

Seriously though, if you want to stop paying for a home phone line, but still want a reliable fixed calling device at home, the Echo/Echo Dot’s new Alexa calling and messaging features makes for a good alternative. It’s basically VoIP.

I just tested the new Alexa calling feature using an Echo Dot and an iPhone with the newly updated Alexa app and it works as advertised. After granting the Alexa app access to my contacts, it showed which of them have the Alexa app installed on their phones or have Echo devices set up. These are the only people you’ll be able to call and send voice messages to through Alexa.

Right off the bat, I noticed the call quality was good. Like really good. My colleague Brett said it sounded just as clear as a regular phone call, which is great because if I’m ever to convince my parents to get rid…

Why the next Amazon Echo and Dot will have a screen

2017 is already going down in history as the year that voice computing went mainstream.

Amazon leads the pack, selling well over eight million Echos and Dots in just two years, and leveraging their Amazon Voice Services (AVS) platform to get Alexa into everything from refrigerators to dancing robots to Ford F-150’s (the #1 selling vehicle in the US for 40 years).

Combined with other voice computing products like Google Home and the potential launch of an Apple Siri speaker this summer, it’s not out of the question that over 25 million more voice devices will ship this year. Despite this growth, voice computing is already showing some core problems in user retention and discovery. According to a new study by Voice Labs, new skills/actions will lose 97% of their users in just two weeks, while less than a third of the 10,000 Alexa skills have more than one review. But this isn’t because voice computing is failing. It’s because voice is only a part of the coming ambient computing revolution.

“Ambient computing” refers to making the capabilities of a place, such as a home, directly accessible to anyone present, without the need for an intermediate device like a mobile phone or computer. If you have ever stood in your kitchen and asked Alexa to play music or turn on the lights, you’ve used ambient computing. (Incidentally, these are the two most common uses of Alexa, each comprising 30% or more of Alexa requests). If you’ve ever had lights with motion sensors turn off when you aren’t in the room, or armed your security system using a wall keypad, you have also used ambient computing. Voice computing is just one of many ways that you can interact directly with your environment.

Voice computing works well for direct interactions when you know exactly what you want, such as asking for a weather forecast, but is critically lacking in other interactions, such as choosing from a list of options, reviewing information, or discovering what capabilities are available. General purpose ambient computing devices will have a range of interfaces adapted to relevant…

How to Find Out if a Smarthome Device Works with Alexa, Siri, or Google Home and Assistant

Now that voice assistants are becoming extremely popular, many users who want to outfit their living spaces with smarthome products are probably wanting these products to be compatible with their voice assistant, whether it’s Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant (and Google Home). Here’s how to find out whether or not a smarthome device works with these platforms.

Look for the Badge on the Product Box

Perhaps the easiest and quickest way to see if a smarthome device is compatible with the voice assistant of your choice is to take a look at the product’s packaging and look for the badge that says what it supports.

Somewhere on the box you’ll find a small badge that says something like “Works with Apple HomeKit” or “Works with Amazon Alexa”. You may also just see the Amazon Echo logo, which also tells you that it works with Alexa.

However, keep in mind that some product boxes won’t have these badges printed on them even though they fully support Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant. Philips Hue boxes, for instance, only have the HomeKit badge, even though they’re natively supported by Alexa and Google Assistant as well. Because of that, you may want to look for a second source.

Visit the Product’s Website

If the product box doesn’t mention anything about which voice…

How to Connect Automatic Pro to Alexa and Talk to Your Car

Most of us don’t have self-driving cars yet, but we can still live in the future. With an Automatic Pro OBD-II adapter and an Amazon Echo, you can talk to your car from the comfort of your living room. Find out where your car is, whether you need gas, and how far you’ve driven all with your voice.

OBD-II adapters are handy little gadgets that you can use to make your car smarter. If you’re not familiar with them, you can check out our guide here. One of the most impressive ones we’ve tried is Automatic Pro, which can connect to 3G networks for free, locate your car even when it’s away from your phone, and call emergency services if you get in an accident. If you have an Amazon Echo, you can also enable the Automatic skill to talk to your car with Alexa.

To turn on the skill, head to this page on Amazon and click “Enable skill.”

Next, you’ll need to log into your…

Artificial Intelligence, Judging Your Style

Amazon has introduced the new Echo Look. This is a new feature of the Echo and its personal assistant Alexa that looks at you and tells you when your fashion choices are acceptable. And it will sell you better clothing. What could possibly go wrong? For one thing, you might want to never take your clothes off in the same room with the device. And think about how much information Amazon can gather with a full-length picture of you in your home.

This might seem overly speculative or alarmist to some, but Amazon isn’t offering any reassurance that they won’t be doing more with data gathered…

The Amazon Echo Look Gives You Fashion Advice

Amazon has launched another piece of hardware, but this one does something different than the Echo, Tap, and Dot smart speakers. The Amazon Echo Look is an Alexa-powered camera designed to dole out fashion advice to those who need it. Useful? Probably. Narcissistic? Definitely.

It may have started life as an online bookseller, but these days Amazon is so much more than that. Not only does it sell anything you can think of, the company has its own range of hardware. Not content with ebook readers and smart speakers, Amazon has now launched a smart camera too.

Alexa Targets Narcissists

The Amazon Echo Look is another Alexa-enabled smart home device. It can do all of the same things the other Echo devices can do, but the Look is focused on photos and videos rather than audio. There is a small speaker built in, but it’s more for listening to the news and weather.

The Look lets you take photos and short videos…

How to Make Your Amazon Echo Play a Sound When You Say “Alexa”

The Amazon Echo lights up whenever it’s activated, but if yours isn’t within your line of sight, you can enable an audible tone instead. Here’s how.

By default, the Echo doesn’t provide any kind of audio signal before or after you give commands. It’s one of those things that’s really useful, but (for some reason) it’s ever-so-slightly buried within the Alexa app.

Start by opening up the Alexa app on your phone and tap on the menu button in the top-left corner of the screen.

Tap on “Settings”.

Select your Echo at the top of the screen (or if you have multiple Echos, select one…