Home Automation – Part II

In my previous article, I compared the entry level voice interfaces from Amazon & Google in the form of the Echo Dot & the Google Home-Mini and my perceptions of them from the perspective of a new UK user. One of the things that stood out to me while setting these up was the need to utilise a phone or tablet app to complete the set-up process. Voice interface devices are obviously designed to be an enhancement of these services – a short-cut to the process of entering data. So the next logical question is ‘how necessary are they?’

In my country, it’s not unusual for parents to replace their phones from time to time and hand-down their old device to a spouse or child, however last time I upgraded my wife upgraded her phone at the same time and our son had just spent all his birthday money on an iPhone which is significantly better than my old Android. So it sat gathering dust on a shelf for a while until I decided to look into other uses for it. Luckily it’s a model with a headphone socket so the first thing that came to mind was to use it to stream internet radio with the addition of some budget speakers.

Once I had set-up the Echo-dot and the Home-Mini it became apparent that my old phone (which uses Android 4.2) could be recycled into an always-listening voice interpreter, at least for use with Google. So I started to experiment from there which produced some interesting discoveries. For instance, it can be used to play tracks from the free version of Spotify (which the Echo dot seems to be unable to do). Not only that, it will allow me to play music videos on Youtube (which doesn’t seem to be possible on the Google Home-Mini – this may be to encourage users to also buy a Chromecast device).

There are also apps on the Google play store for setting up and using Alexa although it’s not quite the experience which iPhone users get. The Alexa app is geared towards just getting your Echo devices set-up, but it does have very similar home automation features to the iPhone version. I was unable to talk directly to Alexa and upon investigation I found an article which suggested I needed to install the Amazon shopping app to do this. After downloading, I discovered this was able to use Alexa to find products on Amazon, but it wouldn’t answer a simple question like “What time is it?”. I suspect this is some sort of configuration issue or maybe my phone is just too old for the Alexa app to function correctly. Whatever the issue was,  I was unable to resolve it in time to utilise it for this article.

To summarise then, if you are going to use an old Android phone as a cheap alternative to a voice interface it might be best to consider using the Google eco-system. If you were lucky enough to grab a smart socket or other smart device during the holiday sales, you could add control from another location on the cheap using either system and at the same time prevent your old phone ending up in a drawer or landfill. Now the Echo Dot and Home-Mini are back at their pre-sale prices, it might just be worth hanging on to that old phone and giving it a new lease of life.

Hopefully I’ve inspired you enough with these articles to have a go at installing the various voice assistant apps in one form or another. Next week I’ll delve into settings, schedules & routines to automate some home devices on the cheap, and in the following week we’ll take a look at creating our own voice commands.


Posted on

16th January 2018

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