Making the Most of Your Smart Home Assistant

As smart home technology becomes more ubiquitous, more homeowners are using assistants like Amazon’s Alexa  and Mountain View’s Google Assistant, two of the most popular devices on the market. These high-tech task tacklers can connect via WiFi with a myriad of other appliances and gadgets, allowing voice activated and remote control of home security, irrigation, heating and cooling, illumination, and appliances.

In addition to serving as a smart home hub, Alexa and Google Assistant offer an endless array of other tasks, services, information, and entertainment.


Communicating with Color

Alexa, in whatever format, be it the Echo Show or Echo Dot, communicates using the light ring or bar. Various light colors alert the user to awaiting notifications or status updates and understanding Alexa’s color code is important.

No Color/Lights: If your speaker is plugged in, no lights indicate Alexa is active and awaiting the wake word.

Blue: Blue and varieties of this color mean Alexa is activated and is processing or responding to a spoken request. Solid blue means the Do Not Disturb function is on.

Orange: Alexa is either connecting to WiFi (spinning orange) or having connectivity issues (solid orange)

Green: Incoming call (pulsing) or on a call (spinning)

Red: Microphone (and camera, if applicable) are off

White: Indicates percentage of volume

Smart Skillset

Alexa is constantly offering new ways to entertain, inform, and assist. Third party “Skills” are available for most everything. You can shop on Amazon, hail an Uber or Lyft, or play music from Spotify. When downloaded to your Alexa app, these Skills can help you locate your lost phone (Find My Phone Skill), get innovative ideas to kickstart meetings (Giant Spoon Skill), or help you decide what movie to see, or what to eat for lunch (Heads or Tails Skills).

There are thousands of Skills with more being added by outside developers and companies daily. To see a complete list, visit and search Alexa Skills or search by most popular Alexa Skills to find those that people find most useful or entertaining.

Did You Know

Alexa isn’t just a pretty face. This Amazon assistant can guard your home using the Alexa Guard application, help you locate items, and can be used in your car.

Alexa Guard: If you don’t have a home security system, or if you simply want an added layer of protection, when you head out, say, “Alexa, I’m leaving” and the device will be on alert for signs of intruders. It will listen for suspicious sounds, such as breaking glass, and will send you an alert should it detect anything unusual. When you arrive home, say, “Alexa, I’m home” and the Guard function will deactivate.

Alexa Remember: Alexa can help keep track of important possessions or information in two ways. The first is, if you initially tell Alexa to, “Remember that I put my car keys in the top kitchen drawer,” and then, when you need that item, you ask, “Alexa, where are my car keys?”, she will offer up the information. This can be very helpful to recall the location of important but not-frequently-used documents and items that are frequently misplaced. The only caveat is: you have to tell Alexa up front where these items are located. If you can’t remember to tell Alexa to remember, you can use RFID devices like Tile®, which when attached to items like keys, can be tracked by Alexa downloading the Tile® Skill. You can also tell Alexa to remember special events, like birthdays, anniversaries, or memories about a person, vacation, or other occasion.

Music: For subscribers to Amazon music, Alexa Cast is a built-in feature that allows you to seamlessly move the music you’re listening to from one compatible speaker to another, to your phone, or to some Amazon Firestick devices.

To play music on multiple speakers at once, create an Alexa speaker group. Once the speaker cohort is created, tell Alexa to, “Play Yacht Rock on Spotify everywhere” or “Alexa, play My Favorites on Amazon Music in the media room” to hear music in stereo in whatever locations you’ve set up.

Customize: You can create specific responses and customized Skills through Amazon Blueprints. For example, if you want Alexa to welcome houseguests with a guide to your home and things in your neighborhood, create and manage checklists, help your babysitter remember specific important information, keep track of whose turn it is to do something, or if you want Alexa to respond in specific ways, Blueprint is here to help.

Google Assistant

Google Smart Home Assistants are less particular with phrasing than Amazon’s Assistants and also has a more comprehensive knowledge search offering. Unlike Alexa, you don’t have to decode color notifications and, a big plus, you can also play YouTube videos. If you ask your Google device, “How do I cut a mango?” it will play a video while Alexa will verbalize instructions. Alexa currently offers more Skills than Google devices but it also forces users to use its specific shopping and music services. Google assistants can also help remember honey-do and shopping lists, assist in recalling the location of items or special memories. Google Assistants can read and reply to messages, unlock your phone by identifying your voice, and help you recall where you parked your car using Google Maps. More Google Home Assistant tips and tricks can be found here.

Smart Home Assistants are helpful, entertaining, and in general, can make life easier and even more fun. There are a number of devices on the market but typically, Amazon and Google gadgets are the most widely used. Each has their pros and cons and it is up to the individual user to determine which option best fits their lifestyle and preferences. Whichever you choose, both are amazingly powerful at managing our lives and homes.

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