By now you’ve probably seen videos or heard of a few of the popular smart home voice assistants out there, the Amazon Echo range, Google Home, Apple’s Siri integrated HomePod are all big competitors in the market. The Amazon Echo seems to be leading the pack in terms of functionality, speed and compatibility with third party products so I wanted to try one out. The issue is, I do not live in the United States. I managed to get one anyway and here’s my experience with the Amazon Echo and its functionality outside of the US.
How Do You Buy An Echo?
The main sales channel for the Amazon Echo range is through Amazon’s online store and while they’re been making an increasing effort to make their products available to the international market, you’ll see that if you choose a delivery location outside of the US, you’ll get a message saying that the product does not ship to locations outside of the US.
These are the most popular models available online from Amazon:
Amazon Echo (2nd Gen) -Buy Here
Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Gen) – Buy Here
Amazon Echo Spot – Buy Here
To get around the shipping issue, we used a US based forwarding service, more specifically MyUS. They essentially give you a US based address to ship your online purchases to and when the products arrive at the address, they forward them to your chosen international address and simply charge you a handling fee and the courier services fees. Its reasonably affordable and the service which they provided was fast and efficient. This is the first time I’ve used a package forwarding service so I don’t really have anything to compare it to but I was quite impressed with the service provided by MyUS and I’d probably use them again if required.
My Echo dots (I ordered two just in case) arrived in just over a week from the date of ordering them from Amazon. This is quite impressive considering they had to be sent to the forwarder and then a further 18000 km (11000 miles) to my house.
Does It Work Outside Of The US?
If you’ve come here looking for a quick answer, in summary, yes it does work. Is it worthwhile getting? Definitely. Are you able to use all of the functionality and applications advertised? No, but almost all of the apps which do not require third party or location based services seem to work quite well.
To be more specific, the apps which do not work are those which have location based regulations such as some music and radio services (although these can be worked around by using a VPN) and those which require third party services such as food delivery, goods delivery and transport services.
While these apps don’t work and certainly do limit the functionality of the Echo a bit, there is still a lot that can be done with the Echo without these apps and services, especially from a smart home point of view.
I’ve been using the Echo for around three months now and I’ve found it to be quite useful for a couple of things we’ll get into a bit later.
Some Problems I Experienced And How I Solved Them
The Supplied US Plug
While the Echo supports voltages from 110VAC to 220VAC, the plug on the power adapter is a US plug. You can solve this problem by either using a local power adapter with the correct plug from your own country or by using a cheap plug converter from US to your local plug.
The Echo Dot is powered through a USB cables and comes with a USB power converter which also has a US plug. Again, you can either use your own USB power converter or use a cheap plug converter to plug the supplied adapter into your local plugs.
This USB travel adaptor works well for USB devices in different plugs around the world.
You Won’t Find The Alexa App
Because Amazon don’t sell the Echo outside of a few select countries, the Alexa app is only available in the App Store or Google Play Store in those countries. Being outside of one of these countries, I had to log out of my local App Store account and sign in to my US App Store account in order to download the app.
There are a number of guides available on the internet for opening US accounts for the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Work through one of these and you’ll soon be able to download the app.
Note that on an iPhone you only need to log into the US store to download the app, you can then log back into your local store and the app will remain on your phone and function correctly.
If you don’t want to use your phone or open US stores, you can also set your Alexa up from your laptop.
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What Works Well With The Echo Outside Of The US
Let’s start off with some of the basics I’ve found useful. I’m not going to list all of the things you can do with your Alexa, once you get one, Amazon will be sure to fill your mailbox with bi-weekly Alexa mails suggesting phrases and apps to “ask Alexa”.
I’ve been using the Echo for around 3 months and these are some of the things I use it for on a daily basis and some thing I’ve simply found to be entertaining.
Alexa, what is the weather today? You’ll get a summary weather report for your current location. Once you’ve set your location in your Alexa app, this seems to work for almost any location where weather services are available around the world.
Alexa, do I have any meetings tomorrow? You’ll be informed of any meetings or appointment scheduled in your calendar for the next day. This can be expanded to the week or a particular day as you need to.
Alexa, what can I make with mince? The recipes functionality is quite useful if you’re stuck for ideas for dinner, can’t find a recipe for a particular dish or you’re looking for something to make with a particular ingredient. You can get the recipe read out to you or sent to your phone to make it easier to follow.
Alexa, how many steps have I taken today? Requires linking to your Fitbit app but provides an easy summary for your daily activity.
Alexa, who is leading the US Masters? This seems to work for most popular sports games, you can get real-time scores for most games.
Alexa, who is the current minister of finance? Who is questions work quite well and are location based. So if you ask who the current president is and you’re in Germany, you’ll get a different answer to the US.
Alexa, pair to my phone. You can pair your Echo to your phone using bluetooth and then play music stored on your phone using your Echo as a Bluetooth speaker. This is a useful stand in for not being able to us Amazon or Apple music directly through the Echo.
Alexa, turn on the living lights. The Echo pairs well with the Philip Hue bridge to provide easy voice activated lighting. Turn lights on and off, dimmer or brighter and set scenes or moods using your voice. I’ve gone into this in a bit more detail later one.
Alexa, I want to watch TV. I’ve paired my Echo to a smart universal remote (see next section). This allows me to set routines such as this one. Telling Alexa I want to watch TV automatically dims the living room and dining room lights, turns the TV on and turns the audio system on. I can also say “I’m done watching TV” and the Echo will reverse these steps, turning the appliances off and the lights back to being bright.
Alexa, tell me a joke. You can also ask for a joke about cars, work, computers etc.
Alexa, give me a quote. You can also ask for a quote by a particular person.
Alexa, can you beat box?
Alexa, can you sing?
Alexa, can you rap?
Alexa, where are you?
Echo Compatible Smart Home Devices
One of the more exciting aspects of a smart home voice assistant is its ability to control your smart home devices. Along with the Echo, I ordered a Philips Hue starter kit, some extra Hue light bulbs and an RM Mini 3 smart universal remote to control my TV and audio system.
These are the products I bought:
The Philips hue bulbs are quite pricey but once you’ve got them installed in your home, you’ll love them. They really make life a lot more convenient, especially when you’re away from home or you have pets. They enable you to set timers, use day/night functionality, arrival and leaving lighting and remotely operate your lights from your phone. I don’t really like the idea of having coloured lighting in my home so I saved quite a bit by simply ordering the Philips Hue white bulbs, they’re significantly cheaper than the coloured ones and still offer the smart and dimming functionality.
The RM Mini 3 universal remote is a small black cylinder which you mount somewhere in line of site of your TV and anything else you’d like to control. You can then copy your existing remote controls to the device through the app and use it to switch the devices on or off through your phone or through your Echo. The RM Mini 3 is quite a challenge to get up and running as there are two apps for it in the store and it’s not clear in the instructions which one to use for the Echo compatibility. Once I got it working, it’s easy to use and hasn’t required any further input to maintain.
These are just two of a huge range of smart home devices which are compatible with the Amazon Echo range and I’ve been really impressed with them. They work reliably and have survived power cuts and internet downtime without needing to be set up again.
Overall I’d definitely suggest the Amazon Echo, its a really reliable and well built voice assistant which has definitely been useful in our daily lives. If you’re not planning on using it for music then the Echo Dot is a great and affordable device that offers the same functionality as the Echo but without the powerful speaker. If you’re looking for a speaker and voice assistant then the Echo is definitely the way to go.
Have you used the Echo or any other smart home voice assistant? Let us know what you use them for in the comments section below.
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