Focusing on Amazon's Echo (or the smaller Echo Dot) and Google's Home devices, we've put together a few basic tips to help you go beyond the setup menu and get the most from these gadgets:
Location is everything. One of the first things you should figure out is where it's best to place them. The ability to set timers makes them useful in the kitchen. Their function as speakers makes them good for the living room. Being able to set alarms makes them pretty handy on your nightstand. Think carefully about how you think you'll use the home hub in your everyday life and place accordingly.
If, in a couple of days, you find you aren't using the gadget that much, consider moving it to another location where you might get more use from it. You may find it's almost useless by your bed, but becomes incredibly useful once you move it to your kitchen — or vice versa.
(Amazon makes the Echo and Echo Dot; Jeffrey P. Bezos is the chief executive of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post.)
Think about links. While both the Echo and the Google Home are pretty cool on their own, the real magic happens when you start linking them to other devices. For example, you can yell out requests to the Home to turn on your television if you link it to Google's Chromecast streaming device. You can link your Netflix account to Google Home now, as well as YouTube. Many other services including Uber and Domino's Pizza also work with the Home.
The Echo can link with Uber, Domino's Pizza and some music services. It also directly links with your Amazon account, making it possible to ask Echo to add things to your wish list for the site or even order some products. It doubles as a Bluetooth speaker if you want to play your audio through the Echo, but it lacks the video controls that the Home has with Netflix and YouTube.
Both home hubs can link with smart lights and the Nest thermostat, as well as other smart home products. If you've taken the plunge into the smart home, these hubs can prove enormously convenient for turning “the lights off in the bedroom” or bringing your house's temperature down for bedtime.
The bottom line is that if you want to get your money's worth, then you should connect the smart speakers to an Amazon or Google account if you have one. But if you are worried about privacy — particularly your voice history — there is a way to delete queries the home hubs have heard from your device. For Echo, the “Home” feed will display everything you've asked Echo to do; to delete any individual request, tap on the “More” in the lower right-hand corner and hit “Remove card.” On Home, go into your device's settings and scroll down to “My Activity.” From there you will be able to delete requests by hitting the icon that looks like three dots in a vertical line at the top of the screen.
Really dive into those apps. After testing out your smart hub for some time, you may start to wonder, “What am I really going to use this thing for?” It's a good question. Once the novelty of asking your home hub what time it is wears off, you may wonder what it's really capable of. So before you fall out of love, dive into the apps that link your home hub to your phone and dig around for the most useful applications. You may find that you really want daily news briefings, a summary of your schedule for the day or the option to play a round of "Jeopardy!"
On Google Home, head into the settings menu for the hub and tap “More” to get a full list of the things your hub can do and the services with which it can connect. (One of my favorites is to get recipes emailed from the Food Network.) On the Echo's Alexa app — named for the voice assistant — this list is tucked into the “Things to Try” category, which tells you more about the basic operation of your Echo, or head to the “Skills” section to get a long list of the things the Echo can do.