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Do a Google search for "hottest holiday gifts," and you'll inevitably run into the Amazon Echo. It has been a huge seller all year, and sales are expected to ramp up between now and the end of the giving season.
On the surface, it's a nifty hands-free speaker. But with Alexa, its voice-controlled assistant, it'll deliver information, news, sports scores, weather and more, as well as playing music. All you have to do is ask.
Homeowners are discovering that Echo is also a major first step toward home automation. Alexa can provide voice control for compatible smart-home products to let you control not just your home security system, but also thermostat, locks, lights, and even video cameras.
It normally costs $180, but MONI is offering a free Echo with any interactive system purchased by Jan. 13, 2017. You can find out more here.
Echo does a lot on its own, but MONI's mobile app extends Alexa's smart-home capability to home security and smart-home technology through compatible equipment.
Whether you get a free Echo as part of a MONI interactive system or already have one sitting in your living room, here are some ideas that will help Alexa make your life a little easier in 2017.
Lights are possibly the easiest way to get started on the path to a smart home with Echo. Alexa comes with the ability to control bulbs from Philips, TP-Link, Lutron and Insteon, among other companies.
Lights are probably the least expensive and easiest smart-home devices to set up, and they're incredibly useful. They're a perfect gift for anyone who has gone to bed upstairs only to forget that the kitchen light is still on downstairs.
Echo also is compatible with plugs and switches from WeMo, TP-Link, Insteon and other brands. It's a great way to control lamps, space heaters, fans and other small appliances. Some plugs require an external hub, while some are controlled directly through Echo, so check before you buy.
Smart plugs are also affordable, with some devices starting at $30 during holiday sales. They might not be at the top of an Echo owner's holiday wish list, but it'll be fun to explore the possibilities.
The smart thermostat domain used to be controlled by Nest, with its learning capabilities and sleek design. The playing field has gotten considerably wider, with offerings from Honeywell, Ecobee, Sensi and other manufacturers that can all be controlled through Echo. Prices during the holidays start at around $100 and range upwards of $250.
While that seems expensive, consider the potential for energy savings. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates savings of between 5% to 15% a year with efficient heating and cooling.
Alexa is starting to make her way out of the house and on to the highway. She'll soon be able to interact with Ford's SYNC and Hyundai's Blue Link car apps, starting the car, adjusting the temperature or checking the fuel level from the comfort of the living room. Ford says its functionality will work both ways: Drivers will be able to control smart home devices from the car.
There are a number of reasons why Echo has been a hot-selling item, not just during the holidays but the rest of the year as well. More "skills" are being added all the time, and MONI is keeping up with the pace by increasing smart-home interaction between Echo and our mobile app.
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MONI Smart Security (formerly Monitronics) received the highest numerical score among 6 brands in the J.D. Power 2016 Home Security Satisfaction Report, based on 2,282 total responses, measuring the opinions of customers who purchased a home security system in the previous 12 months, surveyed August-September 2016. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com†