Controlling Philips Hue with Alexa
After my previous attempts at using voice controls to boss my smart lighting around with Siri & Cortana gave mixed results, I was keen to see if Alexa on our Amazon Echo Dot faired any better. Thankfully, Alexa seems much more capable. Read on to learn more.
As per my previous post 'Amazon Echo Dot unboxing & setup', we now have an Amazon Echo Dot in our home. The device is fairly natural to interact with, given it's just 'there' for you to talk to at anytime. No buttons to press, no device to wake up. I'll write up a more complete post on the topic soon, but for now I wanted to focus on using Alexa on our Echo Dot to control our Philips Hue smart lighting.
As you'll have seen with my previous posts 'Controlling Philips Hue with Siri' and 'Controlling Philips Hue with Cortana', I've had mixed results with voice control so far. Siri uses Apple's 'HomeKit' system, which doesn't incorporate a full discovery of all the scenes inside Hue. Cortana faired better with scenes, but we needed to use a third party app, and the voice commands had to be ultra specific, or just failed to work.
How does Echo fair? Well, first we had to get everything setup. That means initially 'discovering' your smart devices. For Hue, that means enabling the Philips Hue skill, running the discovery process inside the Alexa app, and then simply pushing the button on the Hue hub.
Alexa then discovers everything for you. That includes lights, rooms and all your scenes. Things were looking good.
Commands are natural and can be issued in a variety of ways. So, we can simply say 'Alexa, Lounge on', and it works. Or, we can be more complicated and say 'Alexa, turn on Savannah Sunset in the Lounge' - and that works too. Scenes, light colour changes, brightness adjustments. It all works well.
About the only thing you can't do is tell your Echo dot which room it's in so that you don't actually have to specify a room to run lights on and off. It is nice to be able to ask Alexa to turn lights on in other rooms though, so that they're already lit before you walk in.
Alexa has another trick up her sleeve that actually goes beyond what you can do in the native Hue app. Alexa lets you create 'groups', which let you pull together devices and rooms. So, I've setup a group called 'downstairs'. Now I can say 'Alexa, turn on the downstairs lights' - and both the living room and kitchen lights come on. I can't do that in Hue natively because everything is based around individual rooms. It doesn't let you group rooms together, or configure scenes that span more than one room. Alexa overcomes this limitation.
As mentioned above, I'll write more about our Echo Dot experiences so far soon, but I must say, we've taken to using it a lot more than we have to using voice assistants on smart phones. Somehow it just feels more natural.
As we grow our system to incorporate other smart home devices, I'm hopeful that Alexa will continue to offer ways to boss our smart home around, and I'm feeling more confident in putting more Echo devices around the home.