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8 common Amazon Echo problems and how to fix them

Amazon's Echo, Tap and Dot speakers are feature-packed and constantly improving, but they're not perfect. Here are some common problems with the connected speakers and how to fix them.

When they work as intended, Amazon's Echo, Dot and Tap speakers are quite impressive and save the hassle of having to whip out a phone to change the color of smart lights or the temperature setting of the thermostat.

But things don't always go as planned and Amazon didn't create a truly flawless product. Alexa has issues of its own. Here are some of the most common Alexa problems and how to fix them.

Editor's note: Originally published July 28, 2016, this article is regularly updated to include new information and fixes for problems that may arise.

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Understanding the light ring

The vast majority of the time, Alexa sits around completely dormant until called upon. But the ring around the top of the Echo and Echo Dot lights up in seven colors, which can alert you if there is a problem.

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  • Red means the mic switch on top of the speaker has been pressed and the speaker will not listen to your requests.
  • Orange means the device is trying to connect to the wireless network.
  • Violet appears when a problem occurs during Wi-Fi setup.

The status indicator is a little different on the Amazon Tap. It comes in the form of five tiny LEDs along the top-front edge of the speaker.

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  • Pulsing red lights mean Alexa could not complete or process your command.
  • Pulsing amber lights from left to right mean the speaker is in setup mode, waiting for you to pair it with a network using the Alexa app.
  • Pulsing blue lights mean the speaker is in Bluetooth pairing mode.

That's not all the light ring is for, however. It can tell you if someone is calling you, if your Amazon order is out for delivery, the volume of the speaker and more. Read our guide on the Amazon Echo light ring to learn what all it can do.

Problems with Alexa

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In my time with the Amazon Echo, I've had very few problems, most of which were very easily resolved with a power cycle and a few simple tweaks or adjustments. Here are some solutions to problems you may encounter.

1. Alexa can't find your smart-home devices

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If you are trying to add smart-home devices to your Alexa speaker, first check to make sure the device you want to add is natively supported. That list is constantly growing, including devices like the Ecobee3 and lines from companies such as Honeywell, Insteon, Lifx, Nest, Philips Hue and Wink. However, far more devices have added official Alexa support by way of Skills.

To add a new device, open the Alexa app, navigate to Smart Home and tap Discover devices under the Your Devices section. Even if your devices aren't natively supported and don't have Skills, you're not entirely out of luck. Alexa has an official IFTTT channel and also integrates with Yonomi, both of which have an extensive list of supported smart-home devices.

If you've already added your devices but Alexa cannot seem to connect to them, there are at least two possible solutions.

  • Check the command you're using, aka your invocation. The commands vary a lot between different devices, Skills and a connected service like IFTTT. They can be oddly specific commands, and small differences in the phrasing or names of the devices can throw Alexa for a loop.
  • Some smart-home devices have trouble staying connected due to software problems, crowded networks, being always on or other issues. My Lifx bulbs go offline every few days, rendering any commands I issue to Alexa useless. A simple power cycle of the connected devices (in my case, a flip of the light switch) will usually fix any connectivity problems you're having.

If that doesn't fix the issue, try rebooting the speaker as well as removing the device and adding it once more from scratch.

2. Alexa disconnects from Wi-Fi

If the Echo, Echo Dot or Tap isn't staying connected to your network consistently enough, there are a few guidelines you can follow to try and improve connectivity.

First, power-cycle everything -- the router, modem and Alexa speaker. After that, try streaming audio for a few minutes to see if the issue arises again. If so, attempt to move the speaker away from other devices, preferably closer to the router, and try switching the speaker to a 5GHz channel to decrease interference.

3. Alexa doesn't hear you very well

Over time, you might notice that the Alexa speakers seem not to hear you as well as they once did.

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Try not to crowd the speakers. Leave at least 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) of space around them.

Again, a great place to start is turning the speaker off and on again. If this doesn't fix the issue, try moving the speaker away from obstructions and at least 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) from the wall.

In recent months, I've noticed that my Echo has more and more trouble hearing me than it did when I first bought it. Then it dawned on me. I bought the Echo when it was still winter. We're now moving into summer and my air conditioning is running constantly. It's loud and significantly raises the ambient noise level in the room. Before I moved it, the Echo was also positioned near the cold air return, and when the AC was on, I had to project my voice for the speaker to hear the wake word. When the AC was off or I moved it away from the vent, I found Alexa had no trouble hearing me speak normally from nearly 20 feet (6 meters) away.

In other words, if you have any noisy appliances, move the Alexa speaker away from those to reduce the ambient noise level.

Additionally, you can use Voice Training, which is under Settings in the Alexa app. You'll read 25 phrases aloud in a "typical voice from a typical distance" so Alexa can better understand you.

4. Accidental activation

If you're a fan of the television show "Mr. Robot," you likely caught the Amazon Echo mentions in episode 3 of the second season. If your speaker is anywhere near your television, watching this episode, or anything with lines that sound similar to the default wake word, may activate your speaker.

It's harmless, but it's still a nuisance when Alexa starts speaking unwanted responses over the TV show you're trying to watch. There are three things you can do to minimize this:

  • Move the speaker farther from the television.
  • Press the mute switch on top while watching TV.
  • Change the wake word from the default "Alexa" to either "Echo" or "Amazon."

Voice activation is an area where Amazon could stand to make some general improvements, such as learning a specific person's voice (a la Motorola's Trusted Voice feature) or permitting custom wake words.

5. Receiving unwanted calls

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Back in May, Amazon rolled out a new Alexa calling feature for Echo devices. Unfortunately, Amazon didn't include any means of managing your Alexa Contacts or who is able to call or message you using Alexa. Anyone who has the phone number you link to Alexa calling will be able to contact you.

Amazon's official answer to blocking someone from calling you through Alexa calling is to disable the feature entirely, or to put your Alexa speaker in Do Not Disturb mode, both of which prevent anyone from calling you. Amazon plans on releasing a fix in the coming weeks.

However, there is a clever way to sidestep the problem: set up Alexa calling with a different number. For instance, you could create a number with Google Voice and set up Alexa calling with a number no one knows. Share that number only with those you don't mind calling you. If you have a contact's number in your phone and they've enabled Alexa calling, you will still be able to call them using Alexa, but they will not see you in their Alexa contacts.

6. Alarms and notifications are too loud

You may have noticed when timers or alarms go off, the sound is much louder (or maybe quieter) than the playback volume of Alexa. That's because alarm and timer volume is controlled separately within the Alexa app.

To set the alarm, timer and notification volume, open the Alexa app on Android or iOS and go to Settings > [your device name] > Sounds and drag the slider to the volume level you want.

7. Issues streaming with Spotify

Amazon's Alexa speakers are capable of streaming music from third-party services like Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and Pandora. Of those, Spotify seems to have more hiccups than the other services, with music randomly stopping mid-stream for no good reason and sometimes not playing at all.

There is no definitive fix for the errors, but a good start to troubleshooting the problem is to reboot the speaker. Then unlink your Spotify account and sign in again. To unlink Spotify, open the Amazon Alexa app and go to Settings > Music & Media > Spotify. Tap Unlink account from Alexa and confirm by tapping Unlink. Next, tap Link account on Spotify.com and follow the instructions to log in to your account again.

Another answer to the problem could lie with your Spotify account. Unlike Google Home, which allows Spotify free users to stream, Alexa still requires Spotify Premium accounts for streaming.

8. Trouble playing music on the proper speaker

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With Multi-Room Audio, which rolled out earlier this week, you can now control music playback on Echo speakers with a different Echo. The feature works with the Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Show, and it lets you play music throughout the house, a la Sonos.

However, if you don't have your Echo devices properly named, you'll run into a snag trying to play music on other speakers. While you can name the speakers whatever you like, it will be easier to queue up music and remember which speaker is where if you name each speaker after the room it's in or its location in the house.

For instance, if you have one Echo speaker named Taylor's Echo Dot, you'll have to say, "Alexa, play Fleet Foxes on Taylor's Echo Dot." While that's not very difficult to say, it's certainly easier and more natural to say, "Alexa, play Fleet Foxes in the kitchen."