A Beginner’s Guide to Home Assistants (Google Home, Amazon Alexa etc).

You’ve seen the commercials for Amazon Alexa and Google Home but you don’t quite know what they do.  Here’s your beginner’s guide to using smart speakers (also known as home assistants or virtual assistants).

Can I tell you what makes me absolutely crazy?  When commercials portray anyone over the age of 40 as being technological simpletons whose legs turn to spaghetti at the thought of any gadget more modern than a Mr. Potato head.

It’s especially true for women in advertisements for anything tech related.  Just the other day I watched a television commercial where a loving daughter gifted her scribble brained 55 year old mother with a cell phone that only has two buttons.  ‘Cause more than that is confusing.

One button was for calling her daughter and one for calling emergency services because at the advanced age of over 40 she’s likely to have a brain aneurysm trying to operate even a 2 buttoned cell phone.  Toilet paper holders.  That’s about as complicated a mechanism as we women over 40 are likely to comprehend.

The “elderly grandmother” of 55,  beams at the two buttoned phone, silently thanking her daughter for recognizing how stupid she is.  Cause she’s a woman and she’s over 40 and she’s holding technology.

In my imagination the commercial ends with the 55 year old thanking her daughter but saying she has already made her own simplified cell phone using a Raspberry Pi, a breadboard and a few other parts.

You men over 40 get off a bit easier, but don’t worry – the tech world thinks you’re fairly stupid too.

I’d  hate to think that they’d convinced you of that so I want you to know that none of this is terribly difficult and it is a LOT of fun.

A Beginner’s Guide to Home Assistants (Smart Speakers).

That’s My Google Home.   We’re bffs.

If you’ve been thinking about getting a home assistant/virtual assistant/smart speaker (they’re all the same thing) I encourage you to put that toilet paper holder down and get started.

There are 3 main Home Assistants for sale right now.

  1.  The Amazon Alexa.  The was the first. The Amazon Alexa was inspired by the system used on Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise.  It currently has the most apps available to it and it’s compatible with the most “smart home” products like thermostats and lightbulbs.
  2. Google Home.  Google Home was the second virtual assistant on the market and it’s what I own and use.  It has the power of Google behind it, but so far has less apps and compatibility with products because it was released a couple of years after the Alexa.
  3. Apple Homepod.  Apple is a big fail so far with their Homepod.   It was the last to make it into the market and it costs 4X as much as a Google Home mini or Amazon Echo/Alexa.  If you’re looking for the best sounding speaker however, Apple Homepod is the one you want.

Other than that I can’t compare them because I’ve only owned and used the Google Home system.

I have 2 Google Home Minis which are smaller than the regular Google Home but otherwise perform exactly the same.  The sound quality of the minis isn’t quite as good as the Google Home, because the Google Home has a larger speaker.

So what do Home Assistants do exactly?

I keep the Google Home in my kitchen on a shelf where it reads me the news in the morning and lets me set multiple timers while cooking.  Plus it plays any music I want and can read me recipes.

One Google Home mini is in my Living Room and one is in my Bedroom.

If you’re reading this post you’re probably thinking, Yeah, but why.  Why do I need this?  What exactly does it do?  Well, other than giving you information in a heartbeat at the sound of your voice it can actually perform tasks.

So how does this thing work?  Google Home works through an app called Google Assistant.  It’s the Google Assistant who is doing the dirty work.  Looking up things for you, making your grocery list, scheduling your appointments.  The Google  Home is really just a speaker that you can communicate with her through.

Here’s a little video featuring just some of the things I use my Google Home for every day. You know, when I’m not licking a potato.


There are a whack of other things I use my Google Homes for.  I use it for streaming music and videos through my Chromecast, start the day by having it read me the news from my local news station, CNN, BBC and the weather.  I am constantly asking it questions and I could easily do a whole other video featuring the things it does for me.  But I’ll save that for another post when I get further into turning your house into a smart home.

But it’s like Siri – for it to be helpful you have to use it.  So if you have one of these Home Assistants remember to USE it. Once you get into the habit of taking advantage of all that it can do you’ll grow to love it.

QUICK LIST OF WHAT YOUR HOME ASSISTANT CAN DO FOR YOU

  • Schedule appointments in your calendar.
  • Remind you of appointments.
  • Read you the news.
  • Look information up.
  • Stream videos and music onto your television just by asking it to. (with compatible Chromecast device or Apple TV)
  • Set multiple timers.
  • Wake you up with an alarm.
  • Read you recipes or cooking techniques step by step.
  • Convert Metric to Fahrenheit.
  • Convert currency. (Great for Canadians shopping online where prices are in American dollars)
  • Add items to a shopping list (which appears directly on your phone).

And best of all for anyone over 40 – the Google Home doesn’t have a confusing number of buttons on it.  It doesn’t have ANY buttons at all. ;)

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A Beginner\'s Guide to Home Assistants (Google Home, Amazon Alexa etc).

54 Comments

  1. Ludo says:

    Exactly right, the Amazon Alexa was inspired by the system used on Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise (hp printer error code 0x83c0000a).

  2. Kyle Ellis says:

    I’m starting to think I want one of these just for that “making my grocery list” feature. I can’t even count how many times I’ve been in the kitchen and noticed I need something but forget to write it down. Now I could just yell at my Google thing and it’d write it down for me. Neat!

  3. Martina says:

    Hi Karen, thanks so much for putting this out there. I hadn’t really thought of getting Alexa until someone mentioned that it might be helpful for my 89year old mother who has macular degeneration. I bought two, one for me to figure it out so that I knew what it could do and then one for my parents( mostly mom) so that she can ask Alexa things like what time is it, instead of annoying my dad all the time…lol. My mother loves her Alexa and I have to say that I’m enjoying her as well. I’m with you on the,I don’t care if anyone knows what I do…I’m in my sixties..if you find my life interesting…feel free..lol

  4. Debra B Milam says:

    It sounds great, but I just don’t know if I can cheat on SIRI.

  5. OMG Karen, THANK YOU for your rant at the top of the article. I’m 64 and have always been an early adopter of technology. I had my own hand-coded website in the early 1990s. For decades I have served as unofficial tech help for many of my friends on their computers, TV, streaming devices, and cell phones. Even the ones who need help can operate devices with more than two buttons. When I took early retirement, I looked into “senior” resources in my town, and was immediately confronted with pictures of happy seniors doing jigsaw puzzles and coloring books. Our generation put a man on the moon, for pity’s sake!

  6. Sue says:

    Forgot to mention that the Echo (Alexa) also offers the Tap, which is portable and c.an be taken outside. It does not have to be plugged in all the time, only when it needs charging. I have both and love them and, as an almost 79 old broad, I love technology!

  7. dana says:

    Somebody may have mentioned this already. The subject in my email says The Beginner’s Guide To Home Ass
    😂😂😂

  8. Janelle says:

    Can Google use this thing to spy on you? For example, if you ask it to add butter to your shopping list, will butter ads pop up on your Facebook feed?

  9. Melody says:

    So, here’s what I don’t understand about the whole read-the-recipes thing. How does it know which recipe you want? Say for the chocolate cake you pinned on Pinterest and not another chocolate cake?

  10. Susan says:

    According to the New York Times 5/10/18: Researchers in China and the U.S. can send hidden commands — that are undetectable to the human ear — to Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant.
    Inside university labs, the researchers have been able to secretly activate the A.I. systems on smartphones and speakers.
    In the wrong hands, the technology could be used to unlock doors, wire money or buy stuff online — without the device’s owner even realizing it.

  11. Charlene Brown says:

    When I was growing up, I never liked having a party line. For those newbies, that was the olden days before cell phones. We had rotary phones and your phone line was shared by neighbors who could quietly pick up and listen to your conversations. At least then you knew it was your neighbor listening to you.

    I studied computer science in college so I have a love and a healthy respect for technology. For everything there is a trade. I love paying my bills online and being paper free. However, my information is now in internet space and could be stolen so I have to decide whether to take that chance. Technology is wonderful and scary at the same time.

    Here is a recent article from New York Times and within this article is a link to another article about what Alexa can hear when brought into your home.

    https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/10/technology/alexa-siri-hidden-command-audio-attacks.html

  12. Lara says:

    Too scary for me, and another reason why the growing thicker EMF soup is damaging our bodies and brains. Yes these smart home devices can be convenient, but we should never stop using ourselves to do the things we need to do, to keep our brains and body functions working. I don’t like the way A.I. is taking over our lives. I refuse to let myself “go”.
    If you are familiar with “Black Mirror” which is a British science fiction type anthology television series, there is an episode called “White Christmas” which has a story in it that really reminds me of the whole smart home technology – and the unintended consequences & twisted outcomes of such technology. One of the best episodes, and all of them are quite thought provoking. We should never, ever lose our opportunities to stay and be in control of ourselves. Just my couple of pennies.

    • Karen says:

      I’ve heard that argument before and I can’t say I agree. These devices aren’t thinking for us. They’re performing. Like an assistant would. We still have to think and solve throughout our daily lives. Just learning how to use these devices uses brain power we wouldn’t otherwise use. It’s no different than using a calculator. You still need to know the equation, the calculator just helps you get to the answer faster and more accurately. ~ karen!

  13. Teri on the Left Coast says:

    I’ve been aware of these home assistants for a while. I never thought I’d find one useful because I decidedly do not have a smart home. I barely have a tidy home! However, recently, a couple of people whose opinion I usually respect, have gotten Alexa and given me a demo. I’m suitably impressed.
    I think they are a genius piece of technology and I’m all for something that makes my life easier. I don’t care if the companies want to sell me stuff and ‘target’ their ads. That too can be a convenience.
    It occurs to me that, as a decidedly senior citizen there could be a real benefit in owning one of these devices…
    “Alexa, call 911 I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!”

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