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How smart speakers and voice assistants can help make life easier

If you find tapping your way through the many screens and keyboards of modern devices tiresome, a smart speaker may be the solution you’ve been looking for.

Smart speakers and their in-built voice assistants allow you to perform many everyday tasks without having to find options in a menu, figure out which icons do what, or know where to tap on a screen.

All you need to do is speak clearly using plain English. You can simply ask a question or give a command and the voice assistant will listen and respond.

Where to find smart speakers

You can buy a smart speaker such as the Google Nest, Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod (among many others) at electronics outlets such as JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Officeworks, etc.

How to set up a smart speaker

Once you’ve purchased your smart speaker, you’ll need to link it to your home Wi-Fi network, as the smart speaker needs access to the internet to work.

This is done using an app that you download to your mobile device. With Google Home, for example, you’ll need to access the Google Home app and follow the instructions to set up your device. For Amazon, it’s the Alexa app.

You can find instructions for setting up the most common devices at the following links:

If you find that you are stumbling with the set-up process, feel free to ask a more tech-savvy relative or friend to help you set up the device.

How does a voice assistant know you are talking to it?

Smart speakers come with built-in microphones that allow it to hear what you’re saying. While the mic is always on, the voice assistant won’t do anything unless it hears an activation phrase from you.

The three most common activation phrases are: 

  • Google: Okay Google! / Hey Google!
  • Amazon Alexa: Alexa!
  • Apple: Hey Siri!

Remember, your smart speaker won’t listen to what you are saying unless you use the relevant activation phrase. Once you’ve activated it, the recording begins, your words are sent over the internet, and a response is sent back to you via the speaker – all in real-time.

While the microphone is always on (after all, it needs to be ready to hear your activation phrase to begin working), most speakers also have a switch at the back that allows you to turn off the microphone altogether. Just make sure to turn it back on when you want to start talking to your voice assistant again!

What activities can you do with a voice assistant?

There are loads of things you can do with a voice assistant. In this example we’ll use the Google voice assistant, but it applies the same to all smart speakers – you’ll just need to use the relevant activation phrase.

Overall, you can ask to do a web search for anything at all – just like when you’re using the Google search bar on the internet.

You can ask it to check the weather by saying something like: “Okay Google, what is the weather today?”

You can also ask the more general question: “Okay Google, how’s my day?” and it will give you loads of general information such as the time, date, a quick weather report, and even an ABC news briefing of the day’s headlines.

You can ask it to play music from the internet. For example, if you say, “Okay Google, play The Beatles,” the speaker will respond. “Playing The Beatles on YouTube Music.” (YouTube music is a free streaming app that Google uses by default). You can also be more specific, asking for certain albums or certain songs.

If you want the music to be louder, say “Okay Google, volume up.” Quieter? “Okay Google, volume down.” You can also use commands such as “volume 50%” or “volume 80%” to adjust things more accurately. And if you want the music to stop, just say, “Okay google, stop playing music.”

In truth, just like using the internet on a smartphone, tablet or computer, there is an endless array of things you can do using the voice assistant and smart speaker. Feel free to experiment and ask questions, and you’ll be able to automate many parts of your day that previously took more time.