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Speak to Alexa to start your coffee, check calendar, get scores

The Amazon Echo hands-free voice-activated speaker works off the Alexa Voice Service to control smart home features, give weather updates and, much to my delight, give updated sport scores upon command.

When you first plug Echo into a power source, a voice directs you to the app (Fire OS, Android, iOS and desktop browsers) and an easy setup. This includes discovering any smart home devices currently being used, which Echo also can control.

According to Amazon, Echo works with smart home devices (sold separately) from WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Insteon, Nest, ecobee and Wink.

You log into the app with your existing Amazon account, connect it to Wi-Fi and you’re ready for Alexa to control your life.

I used the Echo for a few days and had it turning on and off lights, starting my coffee maker, reading my calendar features to me for the day, adjusting my thermostat and updating me on the news of the day.

Echo comes preloaded as Alexa, meaning all commands are started with “Alexa,” but if someone is named Alexa within your household, you can change the command name in the app settings.

Whenever you want a command to stop, simply say “Alexa, stop.”

It measures 9.25 by 3.27 by 3.27 inches, and a top light indicates when you’ve sent Alexa a command. Other features include Bluetooth enabled, seven noise-cancelling microphones to hear commands from any direction, and great 360-degree sound.

The microphones work so well, Echo even heard my commands while music was playing in the background from a different source.

Every now and then, Alexa got stumped by my commands, but as it got used to me, the device learned voice, speech patterns and what I asked for. www.Amazon.com, $179.99

Brew it up

I used the Belkin home automation WeMo Insight Switch with the Amazon Echo for controlling my coffee maker. On its own, it works like many other smart home plugs with a three-prong pass-through outlet.

It can be used to control lights, electronics and small appliances manually from an app or with a set schedule from anywhere via Wi-Fi.

But what got my attention was a feature on the WeMo app that lets you know how much power is being consumed by the connected device along with how much the energy being used will cost.

You can also set it to alert you to how long something has been on by sending a message to your Android or iOS smartphone. The WeMo app allows you to work with multiple devices simultaneously.

Belkin’s website suggests you can even use it to find out if the kids are playing video games instead of doing homework. I’m grateful my parents didn’t have a device like this when I was a kid. www.belkin.com, $49.99

See the lights

The ilumi app-controlled smart home LED light bulbs light up a room, change colors and have built-in Bluetooth.

They can be controlled to go on or off from an everyday wall switch or remotely through the ilumi app. This allows them to be controlled from anywhere Bluetooth will reach.

The app lets you choose any color to illuminate a room with the touch of a color palette. Lighting can be dimmed for moods, waking up or going to sleep. The smart bulbs are available in standard size ($59.99), and indoor ($59.99) or outdoor ($69.99) flood versions and do not require Wi-Fi or a hub.

A feature called Vacation Security allows the light to turn on or off randomly while you’re away to give the appearance that you’re home.

According to ilumi, their bulbs last up to 20 years and are five times more energy-efficient than a regular bulb.

Email Gregg Ellman at greggellman@mac.com. On Twitter: @greggellman.

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