So you just got a smart speaker as a holiday present. Congratulations. Now what to do with them?
You’ve come to the right place. We’re happy to help.
While the Amazon Echo, Google Nest Audio and Nest Mini and Apple HomePod have different characteristics and features, all can do these same basic functions:
On command, by saying “Hey Siri,” for the HomePod, “Hey Google” for the Nest Audio or “Alexa,” on Echo speakers, you can instruct them to play music of your choice, either via a subscription service, or more generically, as part of a themed radio station via the Pandora service. Amazon’s speakers play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and iHeartRadio, while Apple plays just from Apple Music and Pandora. Google’s speakers play YouTube Music, Pandora, Apple Music and Spotify.
Ask for a weather update, schedule news briefings that can start your day, set timers, play games such as “Jeopardy” on Echo speakers and control your smart home. All three devices let you turn on and off your lights by voice, lock the doors and more, depending upon which smart home units you own.
If you have two of the same branded speakers, they can double as an intercom. With Google, the command is called “Broadcast,” while it’s “Announce” for Echo speakers and “intercom” with HomePods. For instance, “Hey Siri, intercom ‘It’s time to wake up.’ At my house, we’re fans of the “Alexa, announce that dinner’s ready.”
One of my favorite features with the speakers is setting them up to ditch the soundbar and use as left and right TV speakers. (This is best if you have two speakers.) Advantage: no wires or dangling with the back of the TV. And they sound great. But you’ll need an extra accessory. For the HomePods, you need to also own the Apple TV streaming box (which sells for $149 or $179) to pair the speakers with your TV. Amazon speakers have a more affordable way to do it. You’ll need the Fire TV Stick streaming device, which starts at $17.99, or the Fire TV Cube, which is a combo streaming player and unit to do voice control of your TV, hands free. That sells for $99.99. (If you have an Amazon branded TV, it won’t work. Sorry folks.) With the streaming players plugged in, you go to the audio section menu on your TV and pair the speakers.
For the Echo speakers, go to the Alexa app to set this up. Select the Devices tab at the bottom of the screen.
Select the + tab on tap and then “Set up Audio System,” at the bottom of the page, then “Home Theater.”
You are then asked to select your Fire TV device (Streaming Stick, Cube) and then the two “compatible” Echo speakers you want to pair and associate as the TV speakers.
Perhaps you got one of the video display versions of Amazon’s Echo or Google’s Nest Hub Max. These let you do all the utility, smart home and music features we spoke about, as well as watch video clips from your favorite YouTube star, or even cable TV networks on the Nest Hub, if you subscribe to YouTubeTV or Sling TV.
One new feature for 2020 is the ability to do Zoom calls on the devices, but fine print alert: Google introduced it, but only to a select preview audience, so you won’t be to do this until 2021 sometime. Amazon just added it, but only for the Echo Show 8, one of three Echo devices currently available. To join in the fun, say “Alexa, join a meeting,” and then announce the ID and/or password. Better, sync your calendar in the Alexa app, and you won’t have to announce those pesky IDs.
Another option: Facebook’s Portal, originally designed as a unit for family video calling, now works with Zoom as well. Units start at $120 with the Portal Mini.
For more tips, the companies offer various tools here:
Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter