Q: We received a smart speaker as a gift during the holidays but aren’t sure where to get started. What can we do with the device, and can we use it to help us save energy?
A: Smart speakers are definitely popular holiday gifts, and they continue to pop up in homes across the country. The Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod — there is no shortage of options these days.
At their most basic level, smart speakers are speakers. But thanks to their voice control and brand-specific assistants (like Alexa or Siri), they can do a whole lot more, from telling you the weather and sports scores, to providing appointment or grocery list reminders, to answering trivia questions. You can even string together a bunch of tasks into a larger routine.
While the exact setup instructions for your smart speaker will depend on what kind you have, all typically have the same basic requirements: a power source, a Wi-Fi connection, a mobile device such as a smartphone or tablet, and the smart speaker’s dedicated app. After that, you can ask it questions or give it commands and get going.
The main benefit of smart speakers is certainly their convenience, as they give you a hands-free way to perform and customize a variety of actions. But they also have the potential to help you save energy and money.
By connecting them to other smart home devices in your mobile app — think smart thermostats, lights and plugs — smart speakers give you more control over your energy-consuming appliances, helping you use them only when needed. One thing to research before diving in, though, is compatibility. Some smart home technologies pair more seamlessly with certain smart speakers than others.
Here are a few of the more common options:
- Smart lighting comes in a few forms. Basic smart bulbs, color-changing bulbs and smart light switches give you additional flexibility in your lighting options (switches may require a licensed electrician for installation). For added security, many smart lights can be set up on a vacation mode to make it seem like someone’s at home when you’re out of town.
- Smart plugs easily connect to a traditional outlet and can then be used to power a device. From there, you can use the plugs’ dedicated app or sync them up to your smart speaker for voice control. These can also be set on a schedule or timer.
- Smart thermostats like the Nest and Ecobee make it easier to adjust your home’s temperature for different times of day, schedules or occupancy levels, and connecting them to your smart speaker adds another level of versatility.
Smart speaker features can be a particularly big perk for an aging population. For example, they can be used to get reminders for medication or to shut off lights or change the temperature via voice command, which is especially helpful for those with mobility, dexterity, memory or vision issues. And at a more basic level, they can offer companionship and a great way to keep in touch with friends and family.
A common concern people have about smart speakers is privacy, specifically through eavesdropping or recording. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to enhance your confidentiality and limit what data your speaker can obtain, including muting your device and updating settings in your app.
Smart speakers provide many exciting ways to make your everyday life a little bit easier and potentially cheaper, so have fun setting yours up and enjoy what it has to offer!
This article was originally published in Carolina Country Magazine.