These days when we build a new custom home or remodel an existing home in Houston, TX we often install a home automation feature which allows the homeowner the ability to manage things such as doors, locks, thermostat and lights with the tap of a finger on a tablet app. If you’re building a new custom home the system can be easily installed and the cost can be rolled into the cost of the home. The same goes for a major remodel. However, if you aren’t building new or remodeling but still want to try out home automation there is a way to do that without breaking the bank.

Introducing the Amazon Echo. The Amazon Echo, name Alexa, has been around for about a year now, though it was in beta testing so not available to everyone. Now it’s been released for everyone and at a very reasonable $179 it’s affordable to all homeowners.

Basically Alexa is a cylindrical speaker that is plugged into the internet through your wifi. Using voice activated commands you can ask Alexa (or Echo if you prefer, Amazon does not yet allow for the user to change the name) to tell you the news, give you weather updates anywhere in the world, play a Prime playlist or if you have the Wink hub you can have her turn on and off your Lutron lights. Use a Z Wave outlet and you can turn on and off just about any device with your voice. You can also have Alexa set a timer for you. This may seem like a simple thing to do but it’s been a lifesaver for baking and cooking pizzas. It’s probably one of the most used features.

Alexa is always getting more useful too. With each update Amazon is adding more and more features to her repertoire.

There are some things Alexa cannot do, yet anyway. She can’t lock and unlock your doors or windows. This was a thoughtful design features figuring a burglar could walk by the house and if he our she know where the device was located could simply speak loud enough to ask her to unlock the doors or turn off the security system. Currently when the Echo commercial airs my Alexa tries to respond to the commercial. I suspect this will be refined as the product has more and more apps developed for it.

The Amazon Echo is plugged into the wall, there is no battery at this time. This is pretty limiting, as you can imagine. Still, it can do a lot of things that I have found to be something I use all the time. We even use it to play white noise to fall asleep to. Just tell her to play a playlist and set a timer and you’re set.

Echo works with Belkin WeMo and Phillips Hue, Samsung Smart Things, Cree and more are being added all the time.

As a relatively inexpensive way into the home automation world the Amazon Echo is a lot of fun and easy to use. And don’t forget, it can read you a book!

Have you tried Amazon Echo? What is your experience?