Keeping Your Home Safe with Amazon EchoBy - 10/06/2017
Amazon Echo and I have been roomies for a couple of years. At first, I was obsessed. But now, as is typical with roommate situations, I find her slightly annoying but also slightly fun. Opinions aside, I purchased Echo for one reason and one reason only: to answer the unavoidable question, “Can it really improve my home’s security?”
Using Alexa for Home Security is a Three Step Process
Although you might think of Alexa, Amazon Echo’s persona, as little more than a voice added to a Bluetooth speaker, the technology can help improve your home’s security. To get started, you will need to follow three simple steps:
- Select Your Alexa-Enabled Device
- Select Your Home Security Device
- Activate the Appropriate Alexa Skill
Step 1: Select an Alexa-Enabled Device
First things first, you will need to select an Alexa-enabled device. Initially, Alexa was accessible only through Amazon Echo. But now you can access Alexa through Echo Gen 2,Echo Dot, Amazon Tap, Amazon Fire TV, Echo Look, Echo Show, Echo Spot, Echo Plus and even third-party devices. For home security, I recommend Echo Dot, as it offers all features for a smaller price tag, Tap, as it offers all features plus a battery, or Plus as it can reduce the number of smart home hubs required. For access to home security cameras, Show and Spot are interesting choices.
|Amazon Echo (Gen 2)||Echo Plus||Amazon Dot||Amazon Tap||Echo Show||Echo Spot|
|Home Security Integrations||All offer the same integrations.||Also works with Amcrest, Arlo, August Doorbell, EZVIZ, Logi Circle, Nest Cam, and Ring||Also works with Amcrest, Arlo, August Doorbell, EZVIZ, Logi Circle, Nest Cam, and Ring|
|Smart Home Integrations||All offer the same integrations.|
|Music Integrations||All offer the same integrations.|
|3.5mm Audio Cable||Bluetooth Only|
|Other Alexa Skills||All offer the same integrations.|
|Special Feature||Balance Between Audio Quality and Price||Includes a Built-in Smart Home Hub (Zigbee) + a Hue Bulb||Smaller Size and Price||Battery Power Option||7″ Touchscreen + Camera, Video Calls, Camera Streaming||2.5″ Touchscreen + Camera, Video Calls, Camera Streaming|
|Best For Home Security||Good||Better||Best||Best||Better||Best|
|Where to Buy||Visit Site||Visit Site||Visit Site||Visit Site||Visit Site||Visit Site|
|Amazon Echo (Gen 2)||Echo Plus||Amazon Dot||Amazon Tap||Echo Show||Echo Spot|
Echo (2nd Generation) and Echo Plus
Echo Gen 2 launches with just enough changes to make it interesting. As compared to Gen 1:
- It’s smaller and shorter.
- The volume dial was removed and replaced by more buttons.
- It offers new shell fabrics and colors.
- It has a better speaker including Dolby Digital support.
- It has a new and improved far-field microphone that should improve voice command accuracy.
- It’s cheaper.
If you already own Echo Gen 1, I don’t think you should run out and buy Gen 2. Sure, colors are cool, and it sounds better, but it has all the same features as your current model. On the other hand, Echo Plus includes a built-in Zigbee hub so that it can directly connect to certain smart home devices. Instead of connecting skills, you can simply ask Echo Plus to discover your devices. According to Amazon, Plus works with “ZigBee lights, locks, and plugs from leading brands such as Philips Hue, GE, Kwikset, and more.”
Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation)
Shrink Echo to 1.5″ and you’ll have Echo Dot. Echo Dot is a smaller, less expensive version of Amazon Echo, but just as smart. If Echo can do it, Echo Dot can do it too.
But why is it so much cheaper? Depends on what you are comparing it to. If comparing to the original Amazon Echo or even Tap, the catch is that Dot loses the omnidirectional speaker that gives Echo an extra special sound. Echo Dot’s speaker is only slightly better than the sound that comes from your cell phone. The good news is that you can hook it up to a Bluetooth speaker or your existing stereo system using an audio cable (sold separately). If you need help finding a compatible speaker, Amazon keeps a list of Bluetooth speakers that work with Dot here. The list includes Amazon Tap (more on that later).
When comparing Echo Dot Gen 2 to Gen 1, you’ll find that it’s also cheaper, but there’s no catch. In fact, you gain several features.
- The new Dot no longer includes an audio cable. It is now sold separately for $4.
- Color – Black or White
- Replaced volume control with + – buttons.
- “Better processor”. Amazon doesn’t specify how it’s better, but that’s what they claim in the description.
- Size: Gen 1’s height is 1.5 mm. Gen 2’s is only 1.3.
- Weight: Gen 1 is 8.7oz. Gen 2 is only 5.7.
- Power indicator light is gone.
- Warranty: Gen 1 has 1 year warranty. Gen 2 only has 90 days.
- Echo Spatial Perception- Only the Echo closest to you will respond to your request.
(Side note: You can purchase a battery for Dot. I haven’t tested it yet, but it was recommended by reader George Jones.)
If you want to stick the power of Alexa in your pocket and carry her wherever you go, Amazon Tap was made for you. While it’s too big to literally fit in your pocket, it is portable. With a $129.99 price tag, it hosts a Bluetooth speaker with audio quality that is comparable to the original Amazon Echo. But unlike Echo and Echo Dot, Amazon Tap is battery-powered and totally wireless. Amazon claims that Tap can stream music for nine hours when fully charged and can last up to three weeks on standby. When you’re ready to charge it, simply set it in the included charging cradle.
Tap was named tap because you initially had to tap the device to wake it up. Post an over-the-air update, that’s no longer true. You now have the option of tapping to wake the device, which conserves battery, or you can use a wake word, just like Echo and Dot.
Echo Show and Spot
Echo Show is an Alexa device with a 7″ Touchscreen while Spot is its smaller, cheaper version. The screen allows the device to provide audio and visual feedback to your queries including showing you live footage from compatible security cameras. For now the list of compatible cameras is small but it includes big names like Arlo, Ring, and August.
Another nifty new feature offered by Echo Show and Spot is video calling. Using this feature, you can video call other Show or Spot users and family members who have the Alexa app on their phone. You can also initiate voice calls between different Echo devices, even those without a screen.
Finally, like the original Echo, Echo Show features far-field microphones; however, its speakers are forward-facing, unlike Echo’s speakers which are multi-directional. Spot has a smaller, forward facing speaker but you can connect to a larger speaker using its built-in 3.5mm stereo cable.
Step 2: Select a Home Security or Smart Home Device
Of course, no matter which device you choose, Alexa can’t protect your home on her own. You must connect your Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Spot, Show, or Tap to other systems, and there are plenty of options. When connected to other devices, Alexa can add voice control to devices that would otherwise lack this feature. If you feel threatened by someone or something, Alexa can help. A voice command can signal your panic alarm, your security camera, or possibly call for help.
Scout, Abode, SmartThings, iSmartAlarm, and Other Smart Hubs
Scout was the first home security system to integrate with Echo. Instead of controlling your security system from a phone or tablet, you can issue a voice command to make things happen.
Abode is similar to Scout and it also works with Alexa. Using the Abode skill, you can integrate with any Alexa-enabled device for free. Using the skill, you can swap modes, lock your doors, and more.
Echo also works with SmartThings. The SmartThings hub and app allow you to control various aspects of your connected home. However, from a home security perspective, the duo is still rather limited. For example, Echo won’t connect to my door/window sensors, so I can’t ask her if my door is open or closed. It also can’t connect to my motion sensor. For now, the most useful feature is connected lighting.
SmartThings and abode integrate with Echo for free, whereas Scout charges for integration. All three systems allow you to add professional monitoring without a contract, furthering your home’s protection. If you prefer another system, Echo can also connect to Wink and Insteon.
Finally, iSmartAlarm also has an Alexa skill. The skill can be used to arm your system, disarm it, and swap modes.
To me, one the biggest home security winners is connecting Echo’s free IFTTT channel. What makes me nervous about suggesting IFTTT for home security is that it hasn’t been entirely bug free in my experience. For example, just yesterday I asked Alexa to “trigger find my phone,” and nothing happened. I finally found my phone, no thanks to IFTTT or Alexa, and was surprised to see that I hadn’t missed a call at all. One hour later, I received a phone call from IFTTT via the “find my phone” trigger. I’m not sure who’s to blame, but the communication was seriously delayed. Also, on occasion, a channel will disconnect without warning. For example, I went to troubleshoot a connection to my security system and found that the channel was no longer connected – hence the problem. If I had needed the security system or tried to use a voice command, I would have been in trouble. In an emergency situation, delays are frightening and so are technology glitches.
On the bright side, I can see the potential. Echo can connect with tons of other internet connected devices through IFTTT including home security cameras like Homeboy, Camio Software, Oco, Netatmo, Withings, and more.
August Smart Lock
August is the first smart lock to integrate with Alexa. With it, you can lock or unlock your door and check the status of your 1st, 2nd (HomeKit-enabled), or 3rd generation (HomeKit-enabled) August Smart Lock. For security reasons, unlocking your door will require a verbal PIN code. That said, you’ll need an August Connect Wi-Fi bridge to make this integration work. If you don’t own an August Connect bridge yet, you can get one here. As an alternative, you can use the August Doorbell Camera as a bridge.
The integration between the two devices is made possible by an Alexa Skill accessed through the Alexa app. Integrating through an Alexa skill is a little different from a direct integration because it requires you to remember a command phrase. In August’s case, you must say “tell August” when starting a command.
Works with Vivint
Amazon Echo works with the professionally monitored Vivint security system. I saw a demo of this at CES 2016 and it works beautifully. Currently, you can arm your system and lock your doors, but you can’t disarm your system or unlock your doors. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Vivint soon implement a security PIN similar to what August uses.
Also at CES 2016, Alarm.com announced their Echo integration. The integration allows the device to work with multiple professionally monitored security systems beyond Vivint. Alarm.com has decided to start with smart lighting voice control. But over time, the partnership could grow into something more useful and fully focused on home security.
I recently tested this feature with my Frontpoint system. I can arm the system in stay mode using the command, “Alexa, ask Alarm.com to arm my security system”. However, I can’t arm it in away mode (increases the risk of false alarms) nor can I disarm it (security risk). Overall, it’s pretty handy, and I’m excited to see how they expand this skill. (Note: There is an official Frontpoint skill now.)
ADT Pulse and Canopy
At CES 2017, ADT announced an ADT Pulse skill. Through the skill, you can not only arm your system and control your smart devices, but you can also disarm it with your voice. Like August, they navigate around the potential security risk by requiring a verbal four-digit passcode.
In addition to a Pulse integration, ADT offers a skill for ADT Canopy. Through Alexa, you can set up scenes using connected smart devices. For example, with a “home from work” scene, you can have your lights dim, temperature adjust, and your favorite music play by speaking one voice command.
Honeywell Smart Home Security System
Honeywell recently launched a security system on IndieGoGo. The system is centered around a Camera Base Station, a hub that doubles as a security camera and a voice assistant speaker. In fact, it’s voice assistant agnostic providing access to Honeywell’s proprietary voice assistant, Amazon Alexa, and soon, Google Home and Siri.
Slowly but surely Echo is adding security cameras, starting with Blink. Using your voice, you can arm the camera, disarm it, and ask Alexa to name your last motion clip:
— Rose Thibodeaux (@Rose_Thibodeaux) October 5, 2016
If you want to disarm Blink with your voice, you will be asked to create a 4-digit pin (for your safety of course).
In digging through the skills, I’ve also found a skill for Butterfleye, another cordless camera. The skill appears to be in Beta but has some working functions. By using the skill, you can ask Alexa to recall recent or past events. There is also a skill for Kuna, an outdoor, all-in-one security light and camera, as well as for Chk-In Cam, Homeboy, SkyBell, and Somfy One.
Finally, coming soon, we should see a skill for iSmartAlarm’s newest camera, the iCamera KEEP Pro. I do not know if the camera will work with Alexa alone or if an iSmart security system will be required.
Echo Show also has five individual compatible cameras of its own. It works directly with all Arlo security cameras, all Nest Cam models, and both of Logitech’s cameras. It also works with Ring Video Doorbell 2, Video Doorbell Pro, Video Doorbell Elite, and Floodlight Cam. It’s also compatible with certain EZVIS cameras as well as indoor and outdoor cameras from Amcrest. Using a voice command, you can stream live video footage from your connected cameras directly to Show’s screen.
Amazon is also expected to launch a feature that would allow users to watch live streaming video from certain camera brands using Fire TV.
Other Echo Safety Features
Calling For Help
Thanks to a reader, I’ve been introduced to a nifty skill that can call for help without the need to buy additional hardware. My Buddy is a free skill that allows you to trigger a phone call to a trusted person using the phrase, “Alexa, Ask My Buddy to Send Help”. I’ve been testing the skill and have found the integration reliable. My only word of caution for those using this skill to keep watch over a loved one is to make sure they memorize and practice the trigger phrase often, but not too often as free accounts are limited to 10 messages per month. In a stressful situation, remembering the above phrase might be tough for some. More details on using Amazon Echo for calls as well as other options beyond Ask My Buddy can be found here.
Of course, Alexa Calling is also a viable option and has some advantages over Ask My Buddy. This feature allows Echo users to initiate voice calls to most phone numbers in the US, Mexico, and Canada. You can also call other Echo devices or you can call your phone contacts by name. Do note that Alexa Calling is only available through Amazon-made Alexa-enabled devices. If you own an Alexa-enabled device made by a third-party manufacturer, you won’t be able to use the feature.
Finally, if you have a landline or a VoIP phone number, you should consider investing in the $35.00 Echo Connect. Connect allows you to make voice calls to your phone contacts or even local businesses. However, what’s intriguing from a home security perspective is that it is currently the ONLY voice AI option that allows you to call 911.
Voice Calling is made even more intelligent via voice recognition. When you ask it to call your mom, for example, it will call your mom and not your spouse’s.
To set up this feature, you need to create a voice profile using the Alexa app and your Echo, Dot, Show, Spot, or Plus device. However, once setup, the feature will also work with Amazon Look and Tap as well as some third-party Alexa-enabled devices. Unfortunately, the feature does not work with touch-to-talk devices such as the Fire TV remote.
Voice recognition allows homes with multiple users to use their Alexa device in a more personal way. For now, it is only available for features such as calling/messaging, flash briefing, shopping, and the Alexa Music Unlimited Family Plan, but more features will be added soon.
In addition to home security integration, Echo works with the Ecobee smart thermostat. Using your voice, you can adjust the temperature in your home. You can also do the same with your Nest thermostat. With Nest, you can ask Alexa to adjust your home’s temperature or even integrate the solution into modes. For example, “Good morning, Alexa” can set your home’s temperature to something cozier, encouraging you to get out of bed.
With Echo, you can control smart switches using your voice. Using a device like Belkin WeMo, you can make sure you’ve turned off your curling iron (or whatever small appliance you are concerned about) by asking Alexa to turn the switch off.
Home Security System Integration: Compatible Devices by Type
Below you will find most of the available skills related to home security and smart homes.
Step 3: Activate the Appropriate Alexa Skill
Finally, once you select an Alexa-enabled device and a home security device, you will need to activate the appropriate skill from within the Alexa app. This is done by navigating to the settings tab on the top left, selecting skills, and then navigating to the appropriate skill.
From there, you will enable the skill. The directions to link a skill will depend on the device, but in general, you usually enter your account credentials. The skill page will also list the trigger phrases you need to speak to use your new skill.
I can’t say that Echo alone will improve your home’s security, but it does add value. Being able to quickly access devices or arm your security system with your voice is more efficient than finding your phone, unlocking it, and opening the appropriate app. In regards to which Echo device is best, my overall pick would be Echo Dot which you can order online or through your existing device by saying, “Alexa, order an Echo Dot”.
Dot provides all of the same home security features as its more expensive counterparts. The only sacrifice is audio quality, and if you’re a music buff, I can promise you that not even the full-sized Echo is going to satisfy your need for sound. Your best bet is to connect the device you choose to a “real” speaker via Bluetooth or an audio cable.
As mentioned above, Tap, Plus, and Spot are also good options for home security. Tap offers battery backup, though you can buy a battery for Dot. Plus offers a built-in smart home hub, and Spot offers video calls and the option to stream footage from several home security cameras yet sells for less than Echo Show.
Alongside the concerns I’ve already shared, I’ll share one more. The hardest part of effectively using Echo is remembering what to say. The more you integrate Alexa into your life, the more phrases you have to remember, and the more complicated it becomes. And trust me, she isn’t always forgiving, which can be frustrating.
Last Updated 10/06/2017
The launch of Echo Plus and Spot. Added voice recognition information.
Read Previous Updates
06/02/2017 iSmartAlarm Skill Launch
05/10/2017 Added Echo Show
04/22/2017 Added Mercedes
02/17/2017 Amazon Tap now accepts wake word.
02/14/2017 ZeroTouch adds Alexa Integration
01/04/2017 ADT adds Alexa Integration
3/4/2016 Updated with Dot, Tap, and Nest
4/1/2016 Updated with a hands-on review of Echo Dot and video.
5/20/2016 Alarm.com features now live and tested.
8/3/2016 Updated August Lock
9/20/2016 Echo Gen 2 Update
10/06/2016 Blink and iSmartAlarm KEEP Pro
12/6/2016 Added Kuna