How to Set Up A Smart Speaker
Step-by-step tips for getting started with Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod or Google Home assistants
En español | OK, so you finally caved and brought one of these so-called smart speakers for your home.
After all, your friends and family have bugged you for months to get one — be it an Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod or Google Home — and you've taken it out of the box and plugged it in.
Now what? This is where you might need a little help.
Setting them up isn't difficult, as you'll see below. But learning how your new personal assistant likes to be talked to might take a little practice, especially if you have an accent.
The following is a step-by-step guide to setting up each of the big three products, and some tips to mastering them in no time.
Before we begin, be aware that for all these products, you'll need two things: power, meaning an AC outlet, and wireless internet, better known as Wi-Fi, in your home.
For these digital assistants to answer your questions like “What's the weather?” or to perform the commands you give them such as “Lower the thermometer by 2 degrees,” they quickly send that request up to their company's super powerful remote computers. The proper response or action is sent back down to your speaker in a split second.
In other words, the speakers themselves don't have any smarts of their own.
The Amazon Echo family consists of several products, each with the Alexa digital assistant at your beck and call. They start with the inexpensive and small Amazon Echo Dot and go up from there in size, audio quality and price.
Some Alexa-powered devices have screens, too, and some non-Amazon products have Alexa built in, too.
No matter what Amazon Echo device you have, setting them up is a similar process.
1. Plug your Amazon Echo into the wall
You'll see a blue ring start circling around the top of the speaker. In about a minute, you'll hear Alexa say “Hello,” and then instruct you to open the Alexa app to complete the setup.
2. Download the Alexa app
If you haven't done so already, download the Alexa app to your smartphone or tablet. It will prompt you to set up your device once you open the app. If you don't get this prompt, tap the Devices icon in the lower right of the app to follow instructions, which includes joining it to your Wi-Fi, which is required only once.
You also can start the setup process from your computer browser at alexa.amazon.com. It's optional, but you can connect your small smart speaker to a larger one if you want better sound. You can do this wirelessly, over Bluetooth in the app's Device Settings area or with an auxiliary cable.
3. Start talking
To use your Alexa device, wake “her” up by saying her name. You'll hear a chime and see the blue ring activated.
Now you can ask a question or give a command.
If you already have a family member or pet with the name Alexa, you can change the “wake word” on your device by choosing another one — such as Amazon, Computer or Echo — in the app's Device Settings. You can talk quickly, but try to talk clearly.
Tap the buttons on top of the Echo to play and pause music or adjust its volume.
4. Train Alexa if needed
This is optional but helpful, especially if you have an accent. In the Alexa app, go to Settings | Accounts | Your Voice. Hit Begin to start the process of training Alexa to learn your voice.
Alexa also can guide you through the steps verbally. What's more, you can guide Alexa on different voices in your household through the app, Settings | Alexa Account | Recognized Voices.
This way, your smart speaker knows it's you and not, say, your partner, and will deliver personalized information such as music, calendar entries and so on.
You don't have to always say, 'Alexa'
In the Alexa app's Device settings, you can enable Follow-up Mode, which means you can ask Alexa follow-up questions without repeating the wake word.
For example, that will allow you to say something like “Alexa, play Michael Bublé,” and later on to say “Stop,” instead of “Alexa, stop.” Or “Alexa, what's the weather like in Miami?” and after you hear the answer, you can ask a follow-up question, such as, “And what about tomorrow?"
Finally, you can start linking your favorite services to Alexa inside the app, such as Spotify for music; add some “Skills,” which are non-Alexa services and games; or have Alexa talk to supported devices like smart lights.
If you don't want Alexa always listening, remember every Amazon Echo has a mute button that has a circle with a slash through it or a microphone icon on top of the speaker. The smart speaker's light ring will turn solid red when the microphone is off, and you can press the mute button again to unmute.
Amazon Echo has Alexa, Google Home speakers have Google Assistant, and Apple's HomePod works with Siri, the digital assistant on your iPhone since 2011.
Yes, just like your iPhone or iPad, you can talk to Siri through a HomePod smart speaker.
To get going:
1. Plug it in. Simply plug the HomePod into the wall and wait a moment.
Colored lights will start swirling on top of the speaker as it boots up. When it's ready to set up, you'll hear a sound emanate from the speaker.
2. Grab your iPhone or iPad. Bring your Apple iOS device near the HomePod. You'll hear a chime and see a photo of the HomePod on your mobile device.
You don't need to install an app because it's already on your iOS device. If your iPhone or iPad doesn't automatically recognize the speaker, make sure your Bluetooth is on and you're connected to your Wi-Fi network.
3. Tap ‘Set Up’ on iPhone or iPad. Tap the words Set Up and select what room your HomePod is in from the list of options. Tap Continue. You will have the option to sign up for Apple Music, a music streaming service with the first month free. Tap Use Personal Requests if you want your HomePod to read and send messages, make calls, check your calendar and more when your iPhone is nearby.
4. Hover your device over the HomePod. After you agree to the terms and conditions, you'll be prompted to hold your iPhone or iPad over the HomePod, and you'll hear some chimes.
After a short while, you'll hear Siri telling you the HomePod is all set up and good to go.
5. Optimize the sound. Place your HomePod on a solid surface, anywhere in the room.
Make sure it's 6 to 12 inches away from any wall or corner with at least 6 inches of space around it, Apple suggests. HomePod senses where it is placed and automatically analyzes the acoustics in the room, steering music in the optimal direction.
6. Talk to HomePod. Say “Hey, Siri,” whenever you want to wake up your smart speaker, followed by a question or command.
This is very similar to the Amazon and Google experience, and you don't need your iOS device to be present to use Siri to ask questions, control your home or play music. Like Amazon and Google, tap the top of the HomePod to play, pause or adjust the volume.
You also can use the Home app or the Control Center on an iOS device or Mac computer to tweak the HomePod settings, including voice recognition for multiple users, or to control music playback.
Note: The top of the HomePod has no mute button, but you can temporarily disable it through the app or say, “Hey, Siri, stop listening.” Tap the one button on top and say, “Hey, Siri, start listening,” to make the HomePod all ears again.
Just as Amazon Echo has a few different smart speakers, Google also has a family of Google Home devices.
Setting one up is super easy:
1. Plug it in. Just like all other smart speakers, you will need power and Wi-Fi. Plug the Google Home speaker into the wall and wait a moment for it to boot up and say “Hello” to you. You'll also see some white dots move around on the speaker. That voice you hear is your Google Assistant.
2. Download the app. If you haven't done so already, you'll now download the Google Home app on a smartphone or tablet from the Apple App Store if you have an iPhone or iPad or from the Google Play store for Android devices.
3. Open the app. Inside the app, tap the words Set up on the device found in the Discover tab.
Tap Yes to set up the device and follow the instructions. Just in case you have more than one of these in your home, Google will play a test sound to ensure it is connected to the right speaker.
If you hear the tone, tap Yes.
4. Choose the room. Select the name of the room your speaker is in, such as Bedroom, Family Room or Kitchen. Or name it something else.
And finish the setup, such as confirming the Wi-Fi network you want to connect your speaker to.
5. Start talking! The best way to train your Google Home speaker is to start talking to it.
The wake phrase is “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google,” followed by whatever you want your speaker to do for you — such as turn on the porch lights, or tell you when your favorite football team is playing next.
When listening to music, tap the top of Google Home to play, pause or adjust the volume.
6. Make some tweaks. Inside the Google Home app are several smart speaker options on the Account page.
Tap Settings, followed by Assistant. You can choose a different language if you prefer; how you'd like to hear your assistant, perhaps as a male U.S. voice or a female with a British accent; or whether you want to enable Continued Conversations to ask follow-up questions without having to say “Hey, Google” again.
Finally, tap Voice Match if you want to teach your assistant to better understand you, a sort of a voice walkthrough, or to add other voices to train Google for personalized requests.
Inside the Google Home app, you also can start connecting to your favorite accounts, selecting the news or music sources you like; or link Google Home to supported devices such as smart lights to control them with your voice, also in the Settings area.
If you don't want Google to listen all the time, all Google Home devices have a mute button. The Mini's mute button is next to the power cord, and the regular and Max have one on the back. Each button has a microphone icon on it.
The speaker displays four orange dots on top when its microphone is off, and four white dots when it is ready to listen to you.
Marc Saltzman has been a freelance technology journalist for 25 years. His podcast Tech It Out aims to break down geek speak into street speak.
What's with the lights on top?
Each of the three brands of smart speakers has LED lights on top to give you a clue to what it's doing. Here are links to the companies’ pages that decipher the meanings of the colors and the pulses.