5 mistakes everyone makes with Amazon Echo smart speakers

How to ensure you're getting the most from your Amazon Echo Dot or 4th Generation Echo

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
(Image credit: Amazon)

When it comes to value for money, Amazon's Echo devices are among the best smart speakers you can buy – and the 4th Generation Echo and its siblings are impressive bits of technology too. But I know a lot of people who have Echo smart speakers, and in many cases they aren't getting the most from their devices. Sometimes that's because of simple mistakes, and sometimes it's because they don't realise what their devices can do. So here are five common mistakes I think everybody makes with Amazon Echo smart speakers.

1. Not using Skills

Alexa Skills are brilliant things. They're essentially little connectors between your Echo speakers and various services, enabling your Alexa to learn new things from playing soothing sounds to tuning in to particular radio stations or controlling your smart home kit. Admittedly some are completely pointless or childish, but others enable you to get the latest news on your favourite sports or teams, play games or (in the US) even turn your Echo system into a simple home security system. That latter one is Alexa Guard, which can detect the sound of smoke alarms or breaking glass and notify you on your phone.

2. Muffling the mic

The microphones in your Echo devices are very good, but they can't work miracles – so if your Alexa is situated somewhere with a lot of ambient noise or with a lot of obstructions between you and it then it's going to struggle to hear you and you're going to struggle to hear it. That massively reduces the accuracy of the voice recognition.

3. Not creating Alexa Routines

I love Alexa Routines. They're in the Alexa app and they enable you to create commands that occur when specific things happen, such as a voice command – so you might want to turn off all your smart bulbs when you say "goodnight" or get a warm welcome when you say "Alexa, I'm home!"

In addition to voice commands you can also create routines based on schedules or routines based on input from sensors such as motion detectors. It's really simple to use, it works really well and it's a great way of experimenting with smart home automation.

4. Changing the music source

You don't have to use Amazon Music if you don't want to; I've noticed there are some gaps in the catalogue compared to Spotify or Apple Music. And that's fine, because it's easy to change the streaming music service on your Echo speaker. In the Alexa app go into Settings and then look for the Music & Podcasts option, where you can switch your Echos to whichever service you have a subscription to. 

5. Putting up with unwanted suggestions

In late 2021, my Echos started going out of their way to annoy me. When I asked Alexa what the weather was, she'd tell me and then say "By the way..." and try to tell me about great deals from local retailers or great ideas for fancy dress parties. The suggestions were never remotely related to what I was actually asking Alexa for, and it turned out that turning them off wasn't exactly straightforward. But I found a way, and my Alexas no longer finish the news report by asking me something irrelevant. In the app, go into More > Settings > Notifications and turn off Things To Try; you can also put Alexa into Brief Mode by going into More > Settings > Voice Responses and toggling on Brief Mode.

It's also a good idea to go into More > Settings > Notifications and turn off anything you don't want; I turned off Amazon Shopping because I didn't need the notifications; in addition to those you can adjust settings for things such as sports result notifications, announcements from elsewhere in your home and calendar events.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com).