With the next great platform war set to take place in the world of voice-activated assistants like Google Home and Apple’s new Siri-powered Home app, many Canadian early adopters are gazing jealously at our U.S. counterparts and Amazon’s surprisingly capable Echo.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Getting your hands on an always-listening Amazon Echo in Canada as well as using the voice-activated device, is a viable option for those not willing to wait for Amazon to finally release its voice-activated assistant north of the wall.
While the Echo initially seemed like a joke when it was first revealed, the voice-activated device has slowly evolved into the centre of many people’s smart homes, acting as a hub between disparate devices like the Ecobee and Philips Hue, which actually likely encouraged Apple to open up Siri’s API to third-party developers.
Where to buy it
By far the easiest way to buy the Amazon Echo is on a trip to the United States. The Echo is sold in Office Depot, The Home Depot and Best Buy, stores that can easily be found in most cities across the country.
If that isn’t an option for you, your next best bet is eBay, though you’ll need to be willing to shell out the typical exchange rate cost, which amounts to approximately $233 CAD, plus an additional $40 to $60 in most cases (the Amazon Echo is priced at $179 in the U.S.).
A few readers reached out to let us know that the Amazon Echo is also available at B&H photo for $175 USD (about $228 CAD) plus the cost of shipping.
Check the weather
You got your hands on an Amazon Echo, but now what can you actually do with it in Canada? Surprisingly, most of the device’s functionality works up here in the great white north.
The ability to check weather, which can be done by saying, “Alexa, what’s the weather like today?,” or similar weather related questions, will show results for the U.S. city you have set as your “home” through Alexa’s desktop app.
Unfortunately, there’s no way to change the Echo’s default setting to a Canadian city, but what you can do is ask Alexa for weather in a specific region of Canada. So instead of saying, “Alexa, what’s the weather like today in my city,” get a little more specific and state, “Alexa, what’s the weather like in Toronto?” Also, though the toggle is buried in the settings, under the weather tab it is possible to change Alexa’s temperature reading from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
Listen to Spotify
Despite what other stories claim, a Canadian Spotify account can actually be linked with the Echo, allowing users to say, “Alexa play Blink 182 on Spotify,” to instantly play music through the device’s built in speaker.
It is possible to create a U.S. Spotify account through the power of VPN or DNS switching, but that extra step really isn’t necessary since standard Canadian Spotify accounts also work with Amazon’s voice-activated assistant.
If Spotify functionality isn’t working for you, turn the Echo off and back on again, then leave the device idle overnight. This will push through an update that adds Spotify playback to the Echo. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a way to prompt the update manually.
Control your smart home
One of the Echo’s hidden abilities is the fact that it acts as a central hub for a variety of different smart home products.
If you have a device like a Toronto-based Ecobee 3 thermostat hooked up, you’ll be able to change the thermostat’s temperature with basic voice commands.
The same goes for Philips’ Hue lightbulbs. In fact, I would even go far as to say that when paired with the Echo and Alexa, using Hue lightbulbs is actually easier and more convienent than a traditional light switch. As long as you identify the room the lightbulb is set up in, with Amazon’s Echo, you’ll be able to state commands like, “Alexa, turn on the bedroom light,” or, “Alexa, dim the living room lights to 30%,” to create the perfect ambiance for Netflix and chill.
What doesn’t work
Disappointingly, the ability to purchase products on Amazon with Alexa voice commands isn’t possible with the Echo in Canada due to shipping issues. Any item that can be used with the Echo’s heavily touted voice ordering functionality, can’t be shipped to Canada.
Also, Amazon Music won’t work either in Canada, unless you set your router to a U.S. DNS address and create a U.S. account, though, Spotify is a vastly superior service anyway. You also won’t be able to download the Android or iOS Amazon Echo app without a bit of tinkering. Getting your hands on the iOS Amazon Echo app requires a U.S. iTunes account, but downloading the Android version only requires installing the app’s .apk.
While I didn’t find many of the Echo’s more obscure third-party apps useful, there are a variety out there from developers like Fitbit, The 7-Minute Workout, Bartending and my personal favourite, “Yo Momma Jokes.” You can, however, also find Wikipedia random facts by saying, “Alexa, Wikipedia potatoes,” annoying everyone in the room around you with inane searches.
Source: Amazon Canada