Ever since the Amazon Echo got smart home capabilities back in 2015, I’ve been advising people to buy one along with a smart bulb or outlet so they can start living a life of greater convenience. For those curious about the smart home, the combo offers a simple installation and immediate payoff for a relatively low price.
But once someone tries that combo and decides they want to delve deeper in to the smart home, things can get confusing. Which is why Amazon has created a service where it will send employees to customers’ homes to advise them on what devices to buy, as well as how to set up their Echo products. This week, I spent $50 on an hour-long consultation to see what I could learn.
Booking the appointment was easy; I simply selected the appointment option on Amazon’s site and chose a date and time that worked for me. The slots offered were roughly a week out, which wasn’t a terribly long wait. I received an email confirming my purchase and then, the day before my appointment was scheduled, a text reminding me that someone would be by the next day.
That notification included the tech’s name and a picture. I also received a text from the tech himself the day of, confirming the appointment. When he showed up (two minutes early!), he identified himself, and then proceeded to look around. I was impressed that he was able to identify such a huge number of the devices in my home. He even identified the Logitech Harmony Hub by nothing more than by the IR receiver poking through my cabinet!
I didn’t tell him I would be writing up his visit, but I did say that I review connected devices for a living to make clear why I had so many of them. I asked him about his experience in the tech support realm and if he was an Amazon employee. He confirmed that he was, and that prior to working at Amazon he had worked at an Apple Store Genius Bar.
He asked what my goal was for his visit, and I told him I wanted to get a few nagging problems with my Echo implementation solved. Specifically, I wanted a better naming scheme, because sometimes she gets confused about the particular device I mean; I wanted to solve a connection issue with my Wink hub; and I wanted to create a few routines for a movie night setting, a conversations setting, and an away setting.
Since I already had all of the devices I needed (and then some), the tech didn’t have to recommend or install anything. However, if someone wants them to, Amazon techs will both suggest and install products. This particular tech said he recommended the Lutron lights I have in my set-up “because they work,” and the Wink 2 Hub I have for the same reason. (Amazon does include the Wink 2 Hub in its security package, so his comment seemed on brand to me.)
We started with naming. He recommended that I give everything in a single room the same name. So in my living room, I named the lights “living room bulbs 1-4.” And we changed the fan’s name from “big fan” to “living room fan” in order to stop Alexa from constantly asking me to specify which fan I mean when I ask her to turn it on.
I had avoided naming everything in the living room with some version of that name because not only had it confused Alexa in the early days, but because my Google Home seemed confused by it, too. The tech said I could re-name devices in either the original app or in the Alexa app, but warned that if I changed it in the Alexa app, it would not automatically change in the original app at the same time.
Since I wanted to avoid having my living room fan be named “big fan” in Google and “living room fan” in Alexa, I changed its name in the original app. We made the switch, discovered new devices, and boom, my nomenclature problem was solved.
Next up, we tried to solve my Wink connection issue, which was that only some of my Wink devices would show up for Alexa, although at one point they were all there (except my Chamberlain garage door opener). What I really wanted was to be able to control my blinds, which were on the Wink as a Z-wave device. Unfortunately none of my Wink Z-wave devices were showing up in the Alexa app any longer, so the tech disabled the Wink skill and re-enabled it, hoping for a change. It didn’t work.
Here’s where I wanted the Amazon tech to pull out his own device, tap a few buttons, and then diagnose the problem. That didn’t happen. His suggestion was to call Wink. So that’s now on my to-do list.
My final request was for someone else to do the tedious work of programming routines into the app so I didn’t have to. We started with a movie time routine, for which he showed me how to add grouped devices so as to avoid adding them one by one, a trick that will save me a lot of time. But we hit a roadblock with the lack of Wink support. From there we went off the rails a bit trying to troubleshoot the Wink connection. So now I have a partially programmed movie time routine, but in the process, I forgot about the other routines I had wanted programmed.
We spent about 30 minutes solving my problems and the rest of the time trying various integrations. I showed off my Alexa-enabled faucet (he was impressed), and we played around with the Brilliant light switch to see what it could do. I enjoyed having someone in the house who didn’t think I was insane for being so obsessed with connected devices and who seemed to have fun trying them out with me. But it also felt a little weird, so after 10 minutes I decided that we’d probably covered everything I needed.
Before he left, he told me I could text him if I had future questions. And I actually did text him a question a day or two later, and he answered really quickly. So, while I may not have gotten everything I wanted out of the experience, I do think that the person Amazon sent me could help most people choose the right gadgets for their needs, install and set up those gadgets, and then help them to create scenes, routines, and just generally learn how to use their Amazon Echoes.
It sounded like more of this particular tech’s time was currently being spent focusing on builders as opposed to individuals. (Amazon has a big partnership with Lennar, and Lennar has several communities near Austin.) Even so, I’d recommend the service to people who have so far only dipped a toe into the smart home and want to figure out their next steps. Doing so would probably require two consults: the first to figure out what to buy, and the second to have the tech come and install it and set up the Echo.
I also discovered if this newsletter and podcast don’t work out, I could probably score a career as an Amazon Smart Home tech.
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