Amazon’s Alexa and products like the Echo are always advertised as being great for creating the ultimate smart home. And in concept, a lot of the time, they are great! However, especially as of late, Alexa can also present some hassle.
Let’s face it, sometimes Alexa gets on our last nerve! Between misunderstanding, acting like she can’t hear us (a specialty of my own Echos!), or just not doing anything at all – it gets frustrating! So what in the world is going on with Alexa?
What is Amazon’s Alexa?
Alexa is Amazon’s own AI assistant that typically speaks in a female voice. Alexa is the brains behind the Alexa app, Amazon’s line of Echo smart speakers, as well as their Fire TVs, and select other Amazon devices. Alexa is responsible for helping you carry out the Routines you have set up in the app, as well as performing a variety of other functions.
She can play your music, turn the TV on and off, open specific apps on your Fire TV, turn your lights on and off – and so much more! Alexa is truly a useful and intuitive AI assistant. If you set up voice profiles, she can even learn your voice from other family members.
Many people with smart homes typically use Alexa via the Amazon Echo to control their various smart home devices. These devices include, but are not limited to smart lights, thermostats, door locks, and cameras.
The Echo itself comes in many different versions, such as the compact Echo Show 5, as well as the more common Echo Dot.
There’s also the kid-friendly Echo Dot Kids, and the more advanced Echo Show 8 & 10. The Echo Show is a notch above the Echo Dot, as the Show has a screen where you can see things such as news videos and camera feed from your smart home cameras. All you have to do is utter a simple command, i.e. “Alexa, show me the Front Door”.
You’ll need a Wi-Fi connection in order to use Alexa, as she needs the internet in order to communicate with the Alexa app, as well as all of your connected smart home devices.
As great as Alexa can be, however, there are still flaws – as there is with most technology. Unfortunately, some of these flaws seem to be getting worst! So what’s going on?
Problems With Alexa – And How to Fix Them
If you use Alexa via the app or even the Echo, you no doubt run into a variety of issues where she’s just not doing what she’s supposed to be doing. This can get frustrating, especially if you’re in a rush!
You might wonder, is it just me? And are there any solutions to these problems?
Problem #1: Alexa Doesn’t Hear You
This problem is a specialty in my house! You ask Alexa to do something, the blue light comes on to show she’s listening – but then nothing happens. To be noted, this is a problem many reported particularly with the Echo Show 5. Many describe the Echo Dot as a far better ‘listener’ – but not without some issues. So what do you do besides yell at your Echo like a crazy person?
First, check your internet connection. Sometimes spotty internet can cause issues in how Alexa/Echo responds. If the internet is fine, just say “cancel” or wait for the blue light to stop going back and forth as it waits for you to say something.
Once the blue light is off, try your request again. This time speak more slowly and annunciate your words. Sometimes we speak too quickly, or not clearly enough, so Alexa doesn’t know what we said, and so… does nothing. Sometimes it may be the speaker itself, and you may have to swap it out for a newer or different Echo.
Distance from the Echo can also be a contributing factor. If you’re too far from the Echo, it may not hear you properly. If you own more than one Echo and they’re in close proximity to each other, they can at times get confused, and so they do nothing.
For example, if you say “Alexa”, and then your command, both may start to respond, but because they’re both trying to respond, they end up doing nothing. One remedy to this is to give Echos that are close together, two different wake words. One could respond to “Alexa”, while the other responds to “Echo.” This can help with any confusion the two are having.
Problem #2: Alexa Misunderstands You
Another frequent problem is Alexa misunderstanding what you said or want. For example, you say “Alexa, open Peloton on FireTV.” Now, every morning Alexa does it flawlessly, but for some reason, on this particular morning, Alexa doesn’t do it. So you repeat yourself, and instead of opening the app, she says “Here’s what I found” and guides you to movies. Insert facepalm here.
Many people experience similar, where Alexa, for some reason, either doesn’t understand you or won’t do what she normally does. Is there a fix for this? Perhaps.
First, you’ll want to check what Alexa thought she heard. You’ll do this by going into your Alexa app, then clicking on the three lines at the bottom right of the screen. On the next screen, tap “Activity”.
On the next screen, you’ll see Voice History. There you can arrange it by day to see what Alexa thinks you said. If you have more than one voice profile, Alexa will even divide it into who said what.
Fixing this would mean you probably have to speak more slowly and annunciate your words so that Alexa understands what you said. It may also involve speaking louder to your Echo. Cue the yelling.
Problem #3: Alexa Does the Wrong Thing
This is yet another common problem and often goes hand in hand with Alexa misunderstanding you. You ask Alexa to make the kitchen light yellow…and she changes the color of the light alright, but you have no idea what that color is – but it isn’t yellow. Or you ask Alexa to open a specific app on your TV, and she instead searches for movies. And all you can think is…what?!
When it comes to the color of your light, sometimes this is due to the app that your smart lights are associated with. For example, if you’ve adjusted the hue or sharpness in your smart light’s app, Alexa sometimes can’t adjust that. So she’ll adjust to whatever point of the color wheel she needs to, but the hue is still wrong. In this case, it’s not Alexa’s fault. You’ll have to go into your smart light’s app and make the necessary adjustments.
Despite their best efforts, a lot of Alexa and Echo users have become just plain fed up. Complaints to Amazon and the Alexa team have fallen on deaf ears, and they just don’t know what to do next.
Some of these issues come about via automatic updates to Alexa’s software. Things may be working perfectly fine – until an update. Since these updates are automatic, and 9 times out of 10 we’re unaware of when they’re happening, it’s almost impossible to stop them.
Because of these issues, many people have given up on the Amazon Echo. But what about your smart home automation, how do you get all of your lights, cameras, and other smart home devices to work together? Especially if you have a lot?
Fortunately, in this digital age, there are other options for smart home hubs.
Alternative Smart Home Hubs/Smart Speakers
There are a few good smart home hubs available. Which one you choose depends on your preferences and the brands of devices you have.
One popular, as well as one of the best alternatives, is Samsung SmartThings.
This smart home hub is compatible with the same devices that you can use with your Amazon Echo – and more! It’s compatible with Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and even Z-Wave. Alexa isn’t compatible with Z-Wave, so with Samsung SmartThings, the range of devices you can use expands.
Another alternative is the Nest range by Google.
This one is a bit limited, as it’s not compatible with as many devices as Alexa or Samsung Smart Things. Many people have even had trouble using it with common devices such as Ring. Still, it’s an alternative to Alexa, especially if you’re mainly a Google product user. Some users do run into issues with the Nest Hub, but most say they aren’t as common as with Alexa.
Home Assistant is a DIY type of system and requires a bit of tech-savviness in order to operate and create smart home automations. Because of its open-source format, it’s compatible with a wide variety of smart home manufacturers such as Ring, Nanoleaf, and Yale. It can also be used with Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Z-Wave. Home Assistant is mainly based on automations, so if you want to use voice control, you’ll need to add on a voice assistant service.
Apple HomeKit, like many of Apple’s products, is more exclusive in terms of what you can use with it. Some products that are compatible with Apple HomeKit are Nanoleaf, Yale, Philips Hue, and Logitech. It can also work with other products such as Ring, but will require a Ring plug-in. Apple’s AI assistant, Siri, is the brains behind Apple HomeKit, and you can use it with the HomePod and HomePod Mini as well.
Time to get it together Alexa
While Alexa in concept is great, in reality, it has a lot of kinks that Amazon needs to work out. Not being able to do the very thing it was designed to do is a big problem! Aside from living with it, or talking to Alexa as if she were…well, a machine, you have other options.
Alternative smart home hubs and speakers such as Apple HomePod and Google Home are other ways you can achieve smart home automation without Alexa.