Amazon updates Alexa with important new smart home powers – CNET

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The Amazon Echo is now a more capable smart home assistant. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Alexa has long been a favorite of ours in the smart home. Over the weekend, Amazon rolled out an update to the company’s popular digital assistant, which makes the Alexa app a more intuitive tool for controlling your connected devices.

Alexa is a voice assistant built into smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo. With a command, you can ask Alexa to play music, set a reminder, search the internet, or control your smart home devices. The latest update includes three new features that allow you to do much more than control a single device with your voice:

  • Routines lets you create customized commands to control multiple devices at once.
  • Room awareness lets you group a certain smart speaker with specific devices, so it can be contextually aware of which connected devices it’s near.
  • Schedules lets you program automations in the future.

My favorite of the new features, routines, lets you control multiple devices at once with a single command such as “Alexa, good night.” Similar to scenes on Apple‘s HomeKit smart home platform, one command can turn off your lights, set the temperature of your thermostat and turn on the fan by your bed.

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You can now use the Alexa app to create custom commands that control multiple devices. 

Screenshots by Ry Crist/CNET

Alexa could previously initiate scenes set up in another app. For example, you could set up a scene involving the compatible Philips Hue bulbs in the Philips Hue app, and Alexa could import that scene so you could initiate it with a voice command. Now, you can set up routines in the Alexa app directly, and use devices from multiple companies — so one command will trigger your Philips bulbs and your Belkin switches. Better yet, you can create your own command, so you don’t have to pick from a predefined list.

The update also includes room awareness, and the ability to schedule automations. The Alexa app has always let you add devices to a group. Put a bunch of bulbs into a group and name it something like “Living room lights.” You can then control them simultaneously by saying “Alexa, turn on the living room lights.” With this update, you can add an Alexa-enabled device such as the Amazon Echo to that group. Now, when you’re near that Echo you can tell Alexa to turn off the lights, and it’ll know you mean the living room group.

Finally, scheduling automations is what you’d expect — with the Alexa app, you can program routines to activate at a certain time.

This update launched just in time for the arrival of the Amazon Echo Plus, which adds extra smart home functionality to the original Echo. While testing the Plus, we found that while room awareness and scheduling worked as expected, what you could do with routines was more limited than we’d hoped. You can’t trigger a playlist as part of a routine or access the advanced features of most of your devices.

Now Playing: Watch this: The Amazon Echo Plus feels underdeveloped

Still, we expect routines to improve over time, and all three additions to the Alexa app are welcome changes that should help Alexa keep its lead as our smart-home assistant of choice.

Smart Home Matrix: Want to know what will work best with your smart home? Start here.

9 things Alexa can’t yet do: Our wishlist of features Amazon needs to add to its smart assistant.

CNET Smart Home

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