It’s not enough to talk to Siri, Google Assistant, and Cortana. These days, the audio assistant of choice seems to be Alexa, the technology inside the Amazon Echo , the smaller Echo Dot, and the portable Amazon Tap, not to mention a few other select products like the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick media hubs and the third-party Invoxia Triby speaker for mounting on kitchen appliances.
But it’s the Echo line of sleek, cylindrical speakers that really showcase Alexa’s capabilities. Echo is a standalone, kickass wireless speaker that needs nothing more than a power connection. Echo Dot can stand alone, but shines brightest when plugged into a bigger speaker. Tap is the only one you have to push a button to activate (rather than just say “Alexa”) as it’s a portable battery-powered unit meant to go with you on the road, to the beach, by the pool, etc. They all have their differences, but when it comes to setup, they’re essentially identical.
1. Download the Amazon Alexa App
It’s available free for iOS or Android and of course for Fire OS on Amazon’s own tablets—in fact, newer Fire tablets should probably have it already. (It’s not supported on first- or second-generation Kindle Fire.)
If you’re not into smartphones, there is a Web app that will also handle the setup, and some people find it easier.
2. Pick a Device to Set Up
You have to have an Amazon account to use Alexa, but you don’t need Amazon Prime. Sign in on the app. Then click Settings, then “Setup a new device” (or click the link). You’re immediately presented with the three Amazon-provided Alexa options: Echo, Tap, or Echo Dot. Choose your device.
You’ll have to pick a language (English for the US or UK or German are the only options right now).
3. Enter Setup Mode
For setup, the Echo/Dot/Tap’s light ring (or the five lights on top of the Tap) will be orange. If it’s a brand-new setup, it should come up after you plug in. If you don’t see orange, press and hold the Action button on top for five seconds—that’s the one with the single dot in the middle. On the Tap, no orange means you should hold the Wi-Fi/Bluetooth button on the back (below). Eventually, Alexa will perk up and tell you she’s “Now in setup mode.”
4. Connect Smartphone or PC
Connect the app to the Wi-Fi network now being served up by the Echo/Dot/Tap. It’ll be called something like “Amazon-2Q3” but the last three digits are always different.
Once you connect, Alexa says “You’ve connected to Echo. Go ahead and finish the setup in the Alexa app.”
5. Set Up Home Wi-Fi
Back in the app, you’ll see a list of all the Wi-Fi networks available; pick your home Wi-Fi. Enter the Wi-Fi password when asked, if you have one. (You should really put a password on the Wi-Fi.) Once all the info has been sent to the device, Alexa will say “Your Echo is ready,” and the orange lights go out.
Note, if you set up an Amazon device at home, you may have already saved the Wi-Fi password. Wi-Fi password-saving works across tablets and Kindle ebook readers as well. Here’s more on what Amazon does with saved Wi-Fi passwords.
6. Say ‘Alexa’
As the final stage of setup, the Alexa app pulls up a video to walk you through some basics of using the Echo/Dot/Tap. Of course, that’s just the start. Now go into the app to change the wake word (call her “Echo” or “Amazon” instead of “Alexa”), connect to music services like Spotify and Pandora, connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth for audio playback, sync with your Google Calendar, set up future news briefings from your favorite sources, set up Alexa to control your smart home, play audio books from Audible, and so much more.
Amazon is adding options to Alexa all the time, so keep an eye out for the newsletter that comes with owning an Echo—it shows lots of new options all the time. Also check out the skills and other tricks Alexa has in store for you. You’ll be chatting with her like old friends (or yelling when she doesn’t hear you) in no time.
If you got the Echo’s rival, Google Home this holiday season, here’s how to set that up.