Post Updated: 11/19/18 – There will be MANY more new owners of Alexa-powered devices by the end of this month and most of them will have questions about their Alexa devices and the Alexa service. So today I’m kicking off a series of informational posts to help out with that. First up, it’s Alexa FAQ Part 1: Alexa Basics.
Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.
Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this writing, on 12/21/17, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.
1. Be sure to de-register any Alexa devices you’ve purchased as gifts from your own Amazon account.
Unless you checked that little “this is a gift” box when you ordered it, that Alexa device may have been pre-registered to your Amazon account. If it’s still registered to your Amazon account, the recipient of your gift won’t be able to register it to their own account. Of course, if you’re intending to run the device for the recipient (e.g., an aging or disabled person), then you’ll want to keep it registered to your own account. Otherwise:
Go to Amazon > Your Account > Manage Your Content and Devices > Devices tab, and look for the new Alexa device(s) there. To de-register a device, click it to select and in its detail panel, click the deregister link.
Note that this is a crucial step to know about giving or buying a second-hand Alexa device: the person who originally owned the device must de-register it from their own Amazon account before passing it on, or the new owner won’t be able to use it.
2. Reassure the recipient there’s no Alexa service to sign up for, and no monthly subscription or service fees—beyond what the recipient is already paying for their existing WiFi connection. Also reassure them that it is not necessary to have an Amazon Prime or Music Unlimited account to use Alexa devices.
This is a common misconception among people who don’t already own Alexa-enabled devices: that some kind of subscription or fee-based service is required to make the device work.
3. When you get tired of answering the recipient’s questions about Alexa and the device, send ’em here!
Specifically, use the email sharing link at the bottom of this post to send them a link to this post. Direct them to the Alexa Help Desk page (prominently linked in the site sidebar) and the The Basics post archive (prominently linked in the site menu bar). If they like to have fun with Alexa, tell ’em to check out the Easter Eggs archive too (also linked in the menu bar): that’s where all the past Things To Ask Alexa posts are stored.
If they can’t find the information they’re seeking on the site, while I can’t help with individual troubleshooting and setup scenarios (for that they need to call Amazon, see #3 in the Alexa Recipients section below), and while I can’t say what Amazon’s future plans are for Alexa and Alexa devices (they don’t make that information public), I do answer other questions via email. They can use the site Contact Form to shoot me an email.
1. Be sure to read the Getting Started insert that comes with the device: it’s short, and provides an up-to-date overview of basic Alexa functionality.
Alexa is an impressive piece of high tech wizardry, and you’ll get much more and better use of her if you start by getting the lay of the land.
2. Having trouble with Alexa mobile app installation? Use the web app in a browser instead.
The Alexa device instructions will tell you to install the Alexa mobile app and use it to set up your device, but you can also go to the web browser version (https://alexa.amazon.com) of the Alexa app and complete setup there. Note to international readers: alter the “amazon.com” part of that URL to match the correct version for the Amazon site you shop from, e.g., amazon.co.uk, amazon.ca, etc.
There are some Alexa features that require use of the Alexa mobile app for setup, such as Alexa calling and messaging, but adding an Alexa device to your network can be done in the web version of the app. Note that you’ll be prompted to login to your Amazon account in the Alexa web app, just the same as if you’d used the mobile app, but it’s safe because the web app is an Amazon site.
3. Having trouble with setup and connection to WiFi? The Amazon Alexa/Echo Tech Support line is open and available at 1-877-375-9365. Yes, they will be there, even on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve.
Better still, during periods when Amazon expects there be a lot of new device owners or digital service users—Christmas week, for example—they staff up those support departments to ensure no one will be left hanging on hold for hours.
This same number remains in operation throughout the year, but outside of peak sales periods I’ve found it can be difficult to get connected sometimes. In that case, you can go through the usual Help pages on the Amazon site and select the Contact Us > Call Me option to get someone from Alexa tech support to immediately call you.
4. You don’t have to be a Prime member or have a paid subscription to any particular streaming music service to listen to music on your Alexa device.
There are numerous free services, and free versions of services, Alexa supports by default. Check out these LME posts for sources of free music, and instructions on how to make your own digital music library accessible to Alexa.
5. Alexa can interact with MANY smart home devices, and most of them do not require purchase of any sort of hub or “middleware” products anymore.
When the first Alexa devices were introduced, most available smart home devices like bulbs and electrical outlets required installation of a smart home hub to run the system. This is no longer true. There are numerous smart outlets and light bulbs that work just fine with any Alexa device as-is, with no special hub or additional hardware or software requirements. The Echo Plus comes with a hub built in for support of many devices that do require a hub, such as ZigBee lights, locks, plugs, and in-wall switches from brands like Philips Hue, GE, and Yale.
Click here to view Amazon’s page of available Alexa-compatible smart home devices on their US site.
Click here to view Amazon’s page of available Alexa-compatible smart home devices on their UK site.
6. Are there two household members with separate Amazon accounts, and each wants to maintain a separate Alexa profile so Alexa can keep your music libraries, to-do lists, custom settings and so on separate?
See my post about how to set up a second Alexa profile: Yes, You CAN Access Another Household Member’s Music Library On Your Echo. It’s also applicable to other Alexa devices.
7. Alexa does not do open-ended internet searches (and neither do any other digital assistants, regardless of what consumers think), but Alexa can still answer plenty of questions if you know how to ask her.
Alexa can answer plenty of factual questions without any special rules for asking, and when that doesn’t work asking Alexa to “Wikipedia [person, place, thing, event, etc.]” usually will.
There’s a lot Alexa can answer with a plain question, like—say the wake word first—: “how many pints in a gallon”, “what’s the tallest mountain on Earth”, “what’s the temperature on the Moon”, “what’s the population of New York City”, “what’s the current time in [city and country anywhere in the world]”, “when will sunset be on [date, up to one year in advance]”, “when will sunrise be on [date, up to one year in advance]”, and so on.
Among other things, Alexa can do math (e.g., “what’s 2,463 divided by 14”), unit conversions (e.g., “convert 3 miles to kilometers”), tell you the current weather and weather forecast for anywhere in the world, tell you when the next full moon will be, tell you how many days it will be till a certain day (e.g., “how many days till Valentine’s Day”) up to a year in advance, and tell you what day of the week a certain date will fall on (e.g., “what day will June 3 be”) up to a year in advance.
Thanks to Yelp integration, Alexa has local business information too. Try queries like, “is there a supermarket nearby?” “is the post office open?” and so on. Alexa will send phone number and address details to the Alexa app—which, don’t forget, you can also access on the web at https://alexa.amazon.com.
8. Unless you have a photographic memory, resist the urge to enable a bunch of Alexa skills right away.
You need to know the correct command to launch each one, so it’s best to try them out two or three at a time. It’s easy enough to disable those you ultimately decide against, and then you can enable new ones. There are literally thousands of skills available, so expect to take your time exploring the Skills tab in the Alexa mobile and web apps, and the Skills store on Amazon’s site. Click here to check out all the available Love My Echo skills, along with some free skin and game accessory downloads for LME readers.
Once you start using Alexa skills, check out this post about universal Alexa commands, which includes a list of universal skill commands.
9. Get ready for change.
Alexa gets smarter and better with each new software update, but each new software update has the potential to change existing functionality too. Amazon’s Alexa engineers are hard at work making Alexa’s comprehension of plain English better and more flexible and when they update Alexa with a new, simpler version of a command you’re used to using, the old version of the command may not work anymore or may give a different result.
Be prepared to experiment with slightly different wording when a tried and true command suddenly stops working, and know that when it happens, it’s because Alexa’s going through some growing pains—but it also means she’s getting smarter! Click here to read my post about Alexa’s growing pains with respect to smart home devices, which offers some tips to ensure your smart home setup will be only minimally impacted by future Alexa software updates.
10. Subscribe to Love My Echo’s email list to get tips, tricks, Things To Ask Alexa, Alexa news, freebies and more each week.
It’s free, you can unsubscribe at any time, I do not share my subscribers’ information with anyone else, I do my best to be inclusive of international Alexa users, and there’s even the option to subscribe only to a weekly digest that goes out on Saturdays, or to a once-weekly post directed toward those who are interested in topics related to Alexa software development. Click here to subscribe, so you’ll always be up to date with the latest Alexa help and information.
Continuing The Series
I’ll be continuing this series with posts to cover Bluetooth / WiFi connectivity, the basics of Alexa calling and messaging, using Alexa devices as an intercom system, security and privacy concerns, Alexa music playback commands, using Alexa to control video on your TV, a look at the various Alexa devices and gadgets now available as well as the differences among them, the Alexa Flash Briefing, Alexa utilities like reminders, alarms and calendar integration, and a sort of catch-all mailbag FAQ at the end.
Use the ‘click here to subscribe’ link in #10 above to sign up and be notified each time a new post goes up, so you can be sure not to miss any. You’ll also want to bookmark any posts in the series you might need to refer to frequently in the future, and use the handy social media links at the bottom of this post to share with others who’ve received (or you know will be receiving!) Alexa devices.
Click here to read part 2, Six Things To Try With Alexa.
Click here to read part 3, Alexa With WiFi & Bluetooth.
Click here to read part 4, Alexa Privacy and Security.
Click here to read part 5, Alexa Music Commands and Services.
Click here to read part 6, Alexa Calling and Messaging.
Click here to read part 7, An Alexa Intercom System with Alexa Drop-In.
Click here to read part 8, Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers.
Click here to read part 9, Using Alexa To Control Your TV.
Click here to read part 10, Alexa Flash Briefing
Click here to read part 11, Alexa Calendar Integration
Click here to read part 12, Comparing Alexa Devices.
Click here to read part 13, Alexa FAQ Conclusion: Mailbag, Alexa Communities.