Can Echo Buttons Make Your Home More Secure?By - 03/26/2019
[Jeopardy! theme plays] “These puck-shaped buttons take game nights with Alexa to a new level of fun and excitement.”
“What are Echo Buttons”?
Amazon markets Echo Buttons for play. Namely, for use in multiplayer Alexa game skills. But when I took a couple of Echo Buttons for a spin, I wasn’t so concerned with entertainment. Instead, I tested them in an attempt to improve my home’s security and boost my smart home.
Setting Up Your Echo Buttons
Amazon sells Echo Buttons in packs of two for $20. They’re cheap and easy to set up. First, make sure they are within 15 feet of your Echo device. Second, pull out the battery tab. Third, say, “Alexa, set up my Echo Buttons,” while pressing and holding your buttons for ten seconds or until they glow orange. The orange glow indicates that they are in pairing mode. Once paired, they will glow blue and then turn off.
Using Echo Buttons To Amp Up Your Home Security
In 2018, over a year after the original release date of Echo Buttons, Amazon added a new feature: the ability to trigger Routines. Routines let you create automation scenes activated by a trigger event of your choice. One of the trigger options is the Echo Button. Setting your Button up to trigger a Routine is the most basic way to use it for home security.
Creating A Routine
To set up a Routine, you will first access the Routine feature via the Amazon Alexa smartphone app. From the app, tap the hamburger button (top left) and select “Routines.” Doing so will take you to the Routines tab where you can see your existing Routines and Routines featured by Alexa.
To create a new Routine, simply tap the “+” button (top right). A recipe is comprised of a trigger and actions. Tap the “+” button beside the “When this happens” field to select a trigger event. The options include Voice (when you say a specific phrase to Alexa), Schedule, Device (when an Alexa-connected device does something), Arrive or Leave (when your smartphone arrives at or leaves a specific location), and Echo Button. Choose Echo Button as a trigger and then press the specific button you want to use.
Once the Echo Button is added as a trigger, you can set up conditions. This allows you to restrict the activation of the Routine to only when the button is pressed on certain days and between specific times. You can also set up a cooldown period between 1 minute and 12 hours during which the Routine won’t activate again even if triggered again. Think of this as a cooldown or retrigger period. Adding a condition is optional. Without one, the Routine will trigger anytime and every time you press your Echo Button.
The last step is setting an action or actions. In this step, you simply need to choose what you want Alexa to do when you press your Echo Button. Your options include:
- Alexa Says – Triggers Alexa to say something. You can choose from pre-recorded phrases or create a custom phrase.
- Calendar – Triggers Alexa to tell you the events in today’s or tomorrow’s calendar. You can also choose for Alexa to provide details regarding the next event in your calendar.
- Device Settings – Controls your Echo device. It can stop the device’s audio, adjust the volume to a custom level, or activate Do Not Disturb.
- Messaging – Triggers Alexa to send a notification to your Alexa smartphone app or announce a custom message to all of your Echo devices.
- Music – Triggers Alexa to play music from the selected music provider (Amazon Music, Spotify, etc.). You can specify a song, artist, or playlist and set how long you want it to play music.
- News – Triggers Alexa to play the news via your Flash Briefing. You can add news channels to your Flash Briefing by going to the Alexa app’s settings and tapping “Flash Briefing” under “Alexa Preferences.”
- Smart Home – Triggers Alexa to control a specific device or groups of devices connected to Alexa. Only devices that appear in your Alexa Smart Home dashboard can be controlled.
- Traffic – Triggers Alexa to report the traffic conditions in your area.
- Weather – Triggers Alexa to report the weather in your area.
- Wait – You can add a wait duration to delay other actions. You can set a delay of up to 4 hours. Other actions will only trigger once the wait period is over.
You can create a wide variety of Routines to amp up your home security or make your smart home even smarter using Echo Buttons. Here are some ideas to name a few.
Echo Button as a Smart Doorbell
Let’s start with a simple one. You can use your Echo Button as a smart doorbell that announces guests (from an Echo device) and notifies your smartphone when pressed. This is a cheap smart doorbell solution for homeowners who don’t want to shell out hundreds of dollars for a video doorbell. It’s also a great use of Echo Buttons for renters.
To use this Routine, you need an Echo Button securely mounted outside your door. I recommend using permanent mounting tape. You’ll also need an Echo device and a smartphone with the Alexa app installed.
First, set up an action that triggers your Echo device to make a sound when the Echo Button is pressed. This will serve as your chime. You can use the Alexa Says, Messaging, or Music action. Use Alexa Says if you want Alexa to speak a custom message. For example, she can say “Someone’s at the door.” Take note that this option will play the message on one Echo device as does the Music action. If you want all of your Echo devices to play a custom phrase, use the Messaging > Announcement action.
Next, add an action that sends your smartphone a notification if the Echo Button is pressed so you’ll be notified of guests even if you’re not home. To do this, add a Messaging > Notification action. Enter a custom message (e.g., “You have a visitor”) and click Save.
Full Security Lockdown During Bedtime
Instead of walking around your home to make sure all is well before tucking in at night, you can set your Button to help you out.
To do this, you will need a Routine triggered by your Echo Button that sets all of your smart devices to their nighttime settings. This might involve locking your door, turning off some lights, and turning off unused appliances. Simply press the Echo Button before you go to sleep and Alexa will ensure everything is set. Unfortunately, arming security systems via Alexa Routines is not yet possible, so you’ll still need to arm your security system manually or by using your voice (for Alexa-compatible systems).
(PRO TIP: To save you a great deal of time and effort, I suggest grouping your Alexa-compatible lights, smart devices, and appliances before creating this Routine. Create two groups; one for the devices that are supposed to be turned off and another for the devices you keep on all night.)
- Start by choosing your Echo Button as the trigger and adding a condition that only allows it to work at night. Adding the condition is optional, but I recommend doing it to prevent the Routine from accidentally being triggered during the day. Doing so also lets you use your Echo Buttons for other Routines, such as the one we’ll talk about next.
- Add an action that locks your door. This only works with select smart lock brands, so be sure to invest in a smart lock that supports locking through Alexa Routines. The action sequence should look like this: Smart Home > Control a Device > Smart Lock > Lock.
- Add an action that turns off all devices that are supposed to be off at night. The sequence should look like this: Smart Home > Control a Group > [Group Name] > Turn Off.
- Add an action that turns on all devices that you keep on all night. Smart Home > Control a Group > [Group Name] > Turn On
What I like about this Routine is that if a device is already in the correct state, triggering the Routine won’t affect it. For example, if a light that’s supposed to be off is already off, it will remain that way even after you trigger the Routine.
Full Security Lockdown Before Leaving
Alexa can also perform a full security check when you leave the house. This Routine is similar to the one above, but you will change the trigger condition to limit its activation to only during the day. Also, feel free to create new groups instead of using the same device groupings. Each smart home device can be added to multiple groups so that won’t be a problem. Finally, if you add a smart lock to this Routine, don’t forget to add a Wait action. You want Alexa to lock the door AFTER you exit the house, so set a 1 or 2 minute delay to give yourself enough time to leave before Alexa performs a lockdown.
I took the liberty of naming this Routine “Flash Grenade.” A flash grenade is an explosive that aims to disorient the target using a bright flash and a loud bang. Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, your Echo Buttons can’t launch flash grenades, but you can create a Routine that can induce a similar effect. You can trigger it when you think someone might have broken into your home. The element of surprise will surely confuse, disorient, or even send the intruder packing. It will also give you enough time to call for help.
To set up this Routine, you’ll need an Echo device and as many smart home devices as you can muster. You’ll also need at least three actions:
- Device Settings > Volume > Set to maximum – If you have multiple Echo devices, pick the loudest smart speaker you. For example, Echo Show is louder than Dot. I also recommend placing this device on the first floor of your house.
- Music > Select Music Provider > Choose a loud song – Make sure that your super loud song will play from the Echo device you’ve programmed in the first action.
- Smart Home > Control Device or Control Group > Turn On – The more, the merrier. Set all of your smart lights and appliances (e.g., TV, radio, or lamps plugged into a smart outlet) to turn on. Repeat the action if necessary to turn on multiple devices at once.
PRO TIP: You can scale this Routine up if you have more smart devices to work with. For example, instead of playing music using an Echo device, you could hook your Echo Dot up to a sound system to amplify the Music action.
Expand Your Echo Button Routines
Alexa Routines are awesome, but they have limitations. For example, Routines can’t arm your security system nor make your cameras record, even if they’re Alexa-compatible. Unfortunately, Routines are the only thing Echo Buttons can control besides Alexa game skills.
IFTTT, Stringify, Yonomi
If you’re up for experimenting, there are apps you could try to use to make your Routines more useful. You might even be able to automate your smart devices that Alexa Routines can’t control. These apps are IFTTT, Stringify, and Yonomi. All three are apps that let you create Routine-like automation recipes, but you’ll have to experiment to see which one works best for your smart home.
To do this, you will need to find a device that is controllable via your Alexa Routine and that can also be used as a trigger via IFTTT, Stringify, or Yonomi. Then, using the device as a trigger, create a recipe using either of the three apps to control the device you can’t control using Alexa Routines.
Let’s use the Lockdown Routine from earlier as an example, and assume your smart lock is an August Smart Lock and your security system is abode. You can’t arm abode using the Routine alone. However, using IFTTT, you can create an automation recipe that arms abode whenever you lock August. When you trigger the Lockdown Routine by pressing the Echo Button, August will lock, essentially triggering the IFTTT recipe that arms your security system.
Fair warning, the more variables you add to your smart home, the greater the chance of something going wrong. An automation recipe triggered by another automation recipe could very easily turn into a recipe for disaster, so always have contingencies in place or at least keep an eye on things, especially something as important as arming your security system.
What more can I say? The $20 Echo Buttons (2-pack) are worth every penny I paid for them. They may not do much, but they are worth an add to your smart home.
You can purchase Echo Buttons on Amazon. They are sold in packs of two, but each Echo device can pair with up to four buttons.