Amazon Fire TV For Dummies
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Whatever Fire TV device you own, if you’re like most people, you probably think that what Fire TV brings to your home is an easily configured and navigable streaming media device. That’s certainly true, but Fire TV comes with a “bonus” feature that lots of people miss: It turns your TV into a smart speaker, which means it can listen for, understand, and carry out your voice instructions or questions. The magic behind this wondrous capability is Alexa, Amazon’s powerful and popular voice assistant.

All Fire TV devices are Alexa-friendly, which means you get access to the world of voice control of Fire TV devices without needing to buy anything extra. Even better, you can also use your Alexa-enabled Fire TV device to dive into the fascinating realm of smart-home automation, which enables you to use voice instructions to control lights, turn devices on and off, and much more.

Unless you’re under 5 years old, you probably grew up in a home that was, well, dumb. You turned on lamps with a switch (or perhaps a clap), the thermostat told you only the current temperature, and the only task you could automate was setting your alarm clock. All that seemed perfectly normal at the time, but that dumb home is starting to look quaint when placed next to the modern idea of a smart home.

What, exactly, do people mean when they add the smart adjective to the word home? The simple — and not all that helpful — definition of a smart home is a home that contains one or more devices that enhance your home life in some way. That word enhance is vague, I know, but it’s really the key to everything. How does a smart-home device enhance your home life? It comes down to three things:

  • Convenience: You operate most dumb-home devices manually, meaning you have to walk up to the device and then flip a switch or adjust a dial. If someone’s at the door, the only way to see who’s there is to open the door or peek through the peephole. By contrast, you operate smart-home devices from a distance using an app or a voice assistant such as Alexa. If someone’s at the door, your smart security camera lets you see who’s there using an app or an Alexa device with a screen.
  • Information: Dumb-home devices tell you either nothing about themselves or just the bare minimum. A dumb dimmer tells you nothing about the current light level, while a dumb thermostat shows only the current temperature. By contrast, smart-home devices are bristling with information — such as current settings, status indicators, and power usage — that gets relayed to an app or device for easy reference.
  • Automation: Dumb-home devices just sit there until you do something. A dumb lamp goes on when you flip the switch and will stay on until you flip the switch back. A dumb thermostat will keep the house at the temperature you set, no matter what the time of day. By contrast, smart-home devices can be programmed. You can program a smart lamp to turn on and off automatically at specified times. You can program a smart thermostat to use your preferred temperature during the day, and to use an energy-saving lower or higher temperature overnight.
Yes, some smart-home stuff is a solution in search of a problem. A smart water bottle that tells you when it’s time to take a drink and a smart hairbrush that lets you know when you’re not brushing correctly are among the dumber smart devices. On the other hand, even something as basic (in the smart-home world, anyway) as programming when your lights go on and off can both save you money by reducing energy costs and extending bulb life, and make your home more secure by making it look occupied even when you’re not there.

Installing a Wi-Fi smart-home device

If your smart-home device is Wi-Fi-friendly, go to your mobile device app store and install the manufacturer’s app. Then follow these steps to get your Wi-Fi smart-home device set up in the app:
  1. Plug in and, if required, turn on the smart-home device.
  2. Open the smart-home device manufacturer’s app.
  3. Initiate the procedure for setting up a new device. Look for a request named Add or Add [manufacturer] Device (where manufacturer is the name of the company), or just a big plus sign (+). The setup routine will tell the device to broadcast its Wi-Fi network.
  4. Open your mobile device’s Wi-Fi settings and look for the device’s Wi-Fi network. The figure shows a collection of Wi-Fi networks that includes WeMo.Insight.03C, which is a network broadcast by a WeMo Insight smart switch.

    Wi-Fi settings Open your Wi-Fi settings and look for the smart-home device’s Wi-Fi network.
  5. Tap the device network to connect to it.
  6. When the connection is complete, return to the device app. The app automatically detects the new network and uses the connection to set up the device. This usually involves giving the device a name. You’ll often have to set up an account with the manufacturer, as well.
  7. The app will usually ask for your Wi-Fi credentials, which enable the device to connect to and operate over your network. Having the device on your network is also how Alexa discovers and operates the device, so this step is important.
  8. If you see a notice asking whether you want to upgrade the smart-home device firmware, by all means tap Yes or Allow or Update or whatever button answers in the affirmative. The firmware is internal software that runs the device. Keeping all your smart-home devices updated with the latest firmware is highly recommended because new versions of the software are often needed to patch security holes and improve performance.

How to make automatic network connections with Wi-Fi Simple Setup

The steps I outline in the preceding section mostly deal with getting a Wi-Fi-enabled smart-home device on your home network. The step where you need to connect your smartphone or tablet to the device’s temporary network always bothers me because it seems like an imposition. The Amazon engineers must have felt the same way, because they came up with a way to avoid that annoying extra step. It’s called Wi-Fi Simple Setup, and it requires two things:
  • An Echo device compatible with Wi-Fi Simple Setup — that is, a second-generation or later Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot, or Echo Show — that’s already connected to your Wi-Fi network
  • The password to your Wi-Fi network saved to Amazon
If you’ve checked off both items, then setting up a new device that’s compatible with Wi-Fi Simple Setup — such as the Amazon Smart Plug or the AmazonBasics Microwave — is either easy or ridiculously easy.

The ridiculously easy setup comes your way if you purchased your Wi-Fi Simple Setup device from Amazon. In that case, Amazon automatically associates the device with your Amazon account, which means that when you plug in the device, it will connect to your network automatically using your saved Wi-Fi password. Now that’s ridiculously easy!

If you purchased the Wi-Fi Simple Setup device from a retailer other than Amazon, then the device won’t be associated with your Amazon account, so it can’t connect to your network automatically. That’s okay, though, because you can still use the Alexa app to add the device: Choose Devices-->Add (+)-->Add Device.

Discovering smart-home devices using an Alexa skill

If you’re not using an Alexa device that includes a smart-home hub (such as the Echo Plus and second-generation Echo Show), then you usually need to upgrade Alexa to work with your smart-home device. You upgrade Alexa by enabling the device manufacturer’s Alexa skill. This not only lets Alexa discover the device, but also upgrades Alexa with the voice requests that let you operate the device.

Alexa can locate and connect to some smart-home devices without requiring a skill. For example, Alexa can work with a Philips Hue Bridge to control lights without needing a skill. Say, “Discover devices,” and then press the button on top of the Hue Bridge to put it into pairing mode.

Follow these steps to enable the manufacturer’s Alexa skill and discover the manufacturer’s smart-home device:
  1. Install the manufacturer’s app and use it to get your smart-home device on your Wi-Fi network.
  2. In the Alexa app, tap Devices.
  3. Tap the Add button (+) that appears in the upper-right corner.
  4. Tap Add Device. The Alexa app displays icons for some popular brands and some device categories.
  5. Tap the category that fits your device, and then tap the manufacturer. The Alexa app prompts you to perform the duties I outline in Step 1. You’ve done all that, so proceed.
  6. Tap Continue. The Alexa app opens the information page for the manufacturer’s Alexa skill.
  7. Tap Enable. At this point, what happens next depends on the skill, but you’ll usually have to perform one or both of the following:
    • Use the smart-home device app to give Alexa permission to access the device.
    • Link Alexa to the user account associated with the smart-home device.
  8. When you’re done, tap Close (X) to return to the skill page.
  9. Tap Discover Devices. The Alexa app uses the manufacturer’s Alexa skill to search for available devices.
  10. Tap Done.
With a manufacturer’s Alexa skill enabled, you can discover new devices by following Steps 1 through 5 and then tapping Discover Devices, or you can ask Alexa to run the following voice request:
“Discover my devices.”
With your smart-home devices plugged in, turned on, and connected to Alexa, you’re ready to reap the harvest of all that labor: controlling those devices through Alexa using voice requests. Don’t let all that power go to your head!

The sections that follow outline the Alexa voice requests that are generally available for each type of device. Keep in mind, however, that the ways you can control a smart-home device through Alexa are almost always only a subset of what you can do using the manufacturer’s app. With a smart plug, for example, Alexa can only turn the device on or off, but the manufacturer’s app will usually let you schedule on/off times, turn the plug off automatically after a set time, and more.

Controlling a smart-home device with Alexa

Before getting to the meat of this section, you should know that there are actually three methods you can use to control a smart-home device:
  • Voice requests: This is how you’ll operate most of your smart-home devices. The rest of this section takes you through the most common voice requests for a selection of smart-home devices.
  • Alexa app: If you have your Alexa device microphone turned off, you can still use the Alexa app to control your smart-home devices. Tap Devices, tap the device type (or All Devices), and then tap the device you want to mess with. The screen that appears contains the controls you can use. For example, the figure shows the device screen for a smart lightbulb, which includes two controls: a button for turning the device on and off and a slider for setting the brightness.
smart lightbulb control The device control screen for a smart lightbulb.
  • Alexa device with a screen: Swipe down from the top of the screen to open the status bar, and then tap the icon for the device type (such as a bulb icon for your smart lights, plugs, and switches). Note, too, that after you issue a smart-home-device-related request to an Alexa device with a screen, you see some device controls on the screen for a few seconds.

How to turn smart plugs on and off

If you’re curious about smart-home technology, but you don’t want to spend a ton of money or time, a smart outlet — most often called a smart plug — is the way to go. A smart plug is an electrical outlet that you can control with voice requests. The smart outlet plugs into a regular electrical outlet for power, and then you plug a non-smart device — such as a lamp or coffeemaker — into the smart outlet. Voilà! You now have voice control over the dumb device.

Do you have a bunch of nearby dumb devices that you want to control via Alexa? In that case, instead of getting multiple smart plugs, buy a single smart power strip.

Note, however, that “control” here just means turning the device on and off using the following voice requests:
  • “Turn [device name] on.”
  • “Turn [device name] off.”
Replace device name with the name you gave to the smart plug using either the manufacturer’s app or the Alexa app.

How to work with smart lights

Another easy and relatively inexpensive way to get your smart-home feet wet is with a smart lightbulb or two. You can buy a smart lightbulb for less than $20, and installing it is as easy as changing any regular lightbulb. You can also get smart lightbulbs that change brightness without a separate dimmer switch and that can display different colors.

What if you have a large collection of lights in, say, your kitchen or living room? Swapping out all those dumb bulbs for smart versions would cost a fortune, so a better choice is a smart light switch that you can turn on and off with Alexa. For more control, you can get a smart dimmer switch that enables you to control the brightness with voice requests.

Although a smart lightbulb is easy to install, a smart light switch is another matter because it needs to be wired to your home’s electrical system. Unless you really know what you’re doing, hire an electrician to do the installation for you.

Here are the voice requests to use to turn a smart lightbulb or light switch on or off:
  • “Turn [device name] on.”
  • “Turn [device name] off.”
For dimmable smart lights (or smart dimmer switches), use any of the following voice requests:
  • “Brighten [device name].”
  • “Dim [device name].”
  • “Set [device name] brightness to [number] percent.”
For smart lights that support different colors, use these voice requests:
  • “Set [device name] to warm white.”
  • “Set [device name] to cool white.”
  • “Set [device name] to [color].” (For example, “Set Chill Room to blue.”)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Paul McFedries is a technical writer who has been authoring computer books since 1991 and has over 100 books to his credit. These books include Alexa For Dummies, Amazon Fire TV For Dummies, and Cord Cutting For Dummies. You can visit Paul on the web at

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