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If you take a quick look at the publishing date of this feature, you?ll see that Christmas is just around the corner as I write. That means a lot of things, but in the context of this feature, it means that a considerable number of Amazon Echo devices will be getting opened in a couple of days. Other members of the Robode team and I go into plenty of detail on advanced tips and tricks for Echo owners throughout the site. However, if you?ve just opened up a brand new one and you?ve never owned one before, it makes sense to get to grips with the basics.

1. Find the Best Place in Your Home for Your New Amazon Echo

Unless you?ve been particularly good this year and caught Santa?s eye, your first Echo is your only Echo. That won?t be the case for long, as they?re fantastic devices that you?ll want in just about every room in your home. For now, however, positioning is everything.

We?ve covered positioning in more depth elsewhere on the site. I don?t want to go into too much detail here for the sake of a snappy article, but you should consider the following:

  • Choose a room where you spend plenty of time. Once you get a handle on the basics, you?ll want to use your new Amazon Echo for all sorts of reasons. Whether you?ve got a Dot, Show or any other model, they?re all great at picking up what you say, but they?re unlikely to hear you from another room. If you want to get the most out of your device, you need to be nearby. At the most simplistic level, consider which room you spend most of your time in and go from there.
  • When you?ve chosen a room, position the Echo as close to the centre of the room as possible. A single Echo does not produce stereo sound, although you can pair two Echoes together to achieve that. Instead, it fires sound around it, so central placement ensures the best possible sound in all directions.
  • Stay away from windows. If the weather is good, you probably want to open your windows unless you have a fantastic air conditioning system. Alexa learns from those that speak to her the most but will function with commands from just about anyone. If your Echo is near a window, pranksters can mess with your smart system and add to your shopping list, and you shouldn?t be na?ve enough to think that more malicious operators would miss out on this kind of opportunity.

2. Sort Out the Basics Straight Away

You?ve opened the box and got your shiny new Amazon Echo in your hand, so what?s next? There?s a bit of housekeeping to do before you?re ready to get the most out of your new device. First on your list should be downloading the Alexa app. The Amazon Fire Phone didn?t exactly set the world alight, but the company has always been good at supporting just about anything. Head to the app store on your phone or tablet, and you?ll find the free Alexa app with a quick search.

With the app installed and launched, the process is pretty self-explanatory. Alexa will even talk you through it, and it doesn?t get much easier than that.

From there, you should make an early decision about some settings. Don?t worry too much about them, as you can change them at any time. First up are voice profiles, and it is a good idea to set one up for everyone likely to use the device with any regularity. In doing so, Alexa will start to learn about each individual?s preferences and adapt based on their voice. This covers news, music and other features.

You can also decide at this point whether you want to enable voice purchases. If you?ve seen Echo?s used on TV, you?ll have noticed that Alexa can add items to your shopping list or even place orders for things you?ve ordered previously. Fortunately, you have quite a bit of control over this and can also disable it altogether if you or someone else in the household is a raging shopaholic!

3. Try Out Some Voice Commands

Fair warning, you might feel a bit odd speaking to a lump of plastic for the first time. However, you should get used to it as soon as possible as you?re severely limiting your Echo?s usefulness if you opt against it. There?s lots to explore and even more when you get into the habit of downloading skills, but that?s for another time. For now, try asking a few simple questions about the news, weather and sports scores.

If you can?t wait to test out the speakers on your new Amazon Echo, ask Alexa to play a song. Your device will automatically link to whatever tier of Amazon Music or Prime Music you have on the primary account. You can also add virtually every other major music service once you?re comfortable with the basics.

4. Link Up Your Smart Home

I bought my first Amazon Echo purely for the novelty of playing whatever songs I asked for. Since then, my home has become so smart that a good friend of mine calls it the Starship Enterprise. I?m not even convinced he?s ever seen a single episode of Star Trek, but he has a point.

Since Alexa entered my home, I?ve used it to control Hue lights, two different robot vacuums and a robot mop, Hive heating and a Ring doorbell. Rest assured, I have plenty more plans for it, but let?s talk about you. If you have anything in your home that works with an app, the chances are you can control it with your voice too.

I could attempt to list every single brand with Alexa support here, but we?d both be here for weeks. However, if you?ve got wi-fi devices from any of the following brands, there?s every chance your new Amazon Echo will introduce voice control into your home:

  • iRobot Roomba
  • Philips Hue
  • Eufy
  • Ring
  • Hive
  • Sonos
  • Ecobee
  • First Alert
  • Nest
  • Fitbit

So, there?s plenty to smarten up your home with if you don?t already have the requisite kit. If you do, you can choose one or two items to add to Alexa right away before you explore further.

5. Make and Receive Calls

The conversation doesn?t only need to be between you and Alexa. Your Echo is also a full-fledged communications device. If you have Echoes in multiple rooms, you can use them as a home intercom for two-way conversations between users. Beyond the home, you can also use Alexa just like your mobile, especially if you give the app access to your phone book.

You can also use Alexa Outbound Calling just like any other phone and at no additional cost. Like most VoIP services, the only limitation is that the service cannot be used for calls to the emergency services. Extending the contact options even further is the fact that you can link Skype to your new Amazon Echo to reach contacts around the world that may not be in your traditional phonebook.

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