6 common Amazon Echo problems and how to fix them

Amazon's Echo, Tap and Dot speakers are featured 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.

Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF

How the light ring works

The vast majority of the time, Alexa sits around completely dormant with no status indicators until called upon. But the ring around the top of the Echo and Echo Dot lights up in seven colors, which indicate six different things.

Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Cyan and royal blue are used together. They spin and flash after the wake word is spoken, during your command and throughout Alexa's response. These also appear during the boot process.
  • Red means you've activated the mute switch on top of the speaker.
  • Orange means the device is trying to connect to the wireless network.
  • Violet appears when a problem occurs during Wi-Fi setup.
  • White is used to indicate the volume level when you either manually turn the volume ring or change the volume by voice.
  • Green means you have an unread message or someone is calling you.

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.

Chris Monroe/CNET
  • The lights pulse cyan and blue while powering up.
  • They shine cyan when you press the microphone button and speak a command and pulse while Alexa processes the command.
  • 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.

Problems with Alexa

Close
Drag
Autoplay: ON Autoplay: OFF

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

lifxbulbproductphotos-8.jpg
Chris Monroe/CNET

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.

fd-amazon-echo-2016-promo-pic.jpg

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

echo-dot-alexa-calls-messages-green.jpg
Ry Crist/CNET

Last week, 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.