Your smart speaker can do so much more than you know
Digital voice assistants, a.k.a. “smart speakers” can turn on lights, answer questions, even tell jokes. These wildly popular tools can be found in nearly 1/3 of all U.S. households with high-speed Internet access, but most smart speaker owners have barely scratched the surface when it comes to making use of all these amazing tools can offer.
Consumer Reports compiled a list of smart speaker “superpowers” that may be available in your digital assistant. Of course, features and capabilities differ depending on the type of smart speaker you own, but if any of these features sound appealing, dig deeper to see how you can make your smart speaker work harder for you.
Program custom alarms, featuring music of your choice
Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up to your favorite rock and roll tune versus a menacing beep?
Create an e-grocery list
Create a mobile shopping list by telling your smart speaker which items to add. The speaker works in tandem with an app on your phone to keep you list current and close at hand.
Program your smart speaker with your home and work addresses (or other frequent routes), and ask what the commute will be like before heading out.
Plan a trip
Heading out of town on vacation? Let your smart speaker serve as a virtual travel agent. Provide a destination and ask for information about weather, accommodations, sightseeing and more. Many smart speaker manufacturers have partnered with third party travel apps to help you find what you need. Some will even help you check on flight times and book hotel rooms via voice.
Ask about the calorie count and get nutritional information before diving into that triple cheeseburger or plate of nachos.
Never forget to take your medicine
Give your smart speaker specific information about the day and time you need to take a pill, and never miss a dose.
Some smart speaker manufacturers have partnered with meditation and relaxation apps, white noise and ambient music providers to help you relax or fall asleep. You set up the cues (“help me relax”, “help me sleep”) to start the process.
Get the news
Check on local news, breaking news, the stock market and sports scores, schedules and stats – all from your preferred sources, with very little set up.
See a movie
Get movie times, theater locations, ratings and more just by asking. Some smart speakers have an associated ticket-purchase app that let you purchase tickets by voice.
Need a quick recipe conversion? No need to consult your dog-eared Betty Crocker cookbook – just ask your smart speaker to break it down for you. Try it for changing from Metric to Imperial or vice versa. Use the speaker to walk you through the steps in your recipe and to set timers so that everything is cooked to perfection.
Draw the digital short straw
If you’re faced with a decision that can be decided by a coin toss, put your smart speaker in charge to avoid any hint of bias! Say your wake words, followed by “flip a coin.” The speaker will respond with “heads” or “tails” and you can take it from there.
Find your phone
Ask your smart speaker to ring your phone, rather than wasting time searching for it.
Get help with services like plumbing, HVAC, and more
Some smart speaker manufacturers have teamed with 3rd party companies to provide reviews and ratings in addition to names and phone numbers of local service providers.
Combine commands to create routines
If you follow a similar pattern each day (wake up, start the coffee, listen to the news in the morning; check the next day’s calendar, dim the lights, meditate before bed), think about ways to combine several requests into routines to make your smart speaker more efficient.
Smart Displays can do even more
Many people love the convenience of simply saying what they need or want to know, and getting a spoken reply. Others need to see additional information for context – like a radar map of the upcoming weather, or a picture or video to accompany a news story. You can still use voice commands to control the unit – you just get more than a simple verbal answer.
More considerations for setting up your smart speaker or smart display
If several family members will be using the speaker, and each has different preferences for news, music, etc., check to see if you can set up a voice match for each user.
Depending on the manufacturer, you can change your smart speaker’s speaking voice – often to that of a celebrity or a particular accent. You may also be able to change the preferred language of your speaker to something other than American English.
Smart speakers can be hacked, putting your personal information at stake. If you connect your smart speaker to other devices in your home, there is an added degree of risk to your privacy and security.
The following tips from the FBI can help keep you and your information secure while enjoying the fun and convenience of smart devices in your home:
- Change each smart device’s factory settings from the default password. Check the manufacturer’s information that came with the product, or do an Internet search to learn how to make the change. AARP offers this additional information to help prevent smart speakers from listening in.
- Create a long, unique password for each smart device in your home.
- Many smart devices are supported by mobile apps on your phone that run in the background. Review the permissions for each app and determine the type of personal information they are collecting. Deny access to information that seems unnecessary or doesn’t make sense.
- Use a secure network (e.g. WPA2 encrypted W-Fi network) for your laptop and smart speaker to keep private, sensitive data on a separate system from other smart devices like a refrigerator or fitness tracker.
- If automatic updates are available for software, hardware, and operating systems, turn them on, and pay attention to any email alerts you receive.
Some additional common-sense security considerations include:
- Don’t connect door locks to your smart speaker.
- Don’t share sensitive private information like credit card or social security numbers with your smart speaker.
- Turn off the microphone when you’re not using the speaker.
Smart speakers are incredibly useful and lots of fun, but they carry the added responsibility of looking out for your own privacy and security, and not relying on the manufacturer to do that for you.
Get the most out of your smart speaker or display by trying the suggestions above, but always be smart about the amount and type of information you provide to get the answers or information you seek.