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January 12, 2018

Amazon Alexa and Echo speakers in Canada: Everything you need to know!

by John_A

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The Amazon Echo and Alexa is officially available to Canadians! Here’s everything you need to know!

Now that the Amazon Echo is officially available in Canada, Amazon has some pretty good deals for Canadians looking to fill their home with smart speakers. While the Echo line of products continues to expand in the U.S., Amazon launched Alexa in Canada along with its three signature Echo Speakers: The Amazon Echo (2nd Gen.), Echo Plus, and Echo Dot (2nd Gen.).

Amazon Echo (2nd Gen.)

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The new Echo speaker is shorter and more fashionable with fabric finish options to directly compete with the Google Home for a cozier-looking smart speaker that doesn’t look so obelisk-like. Available for $130, this is the mid-range speaker that maintains the great sound of the original Echo speaker in a compact body. There are touch controls for volume and mute on top, and an Auxiliary Out port around back for connecting to a pair of speakers.

See at Amazon

Amazon Echo Plus

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The Amazon Echo Plus looks almost identical to the first-generation Echo speaker, but there are a few significant upgrades included. Most notably is the built-in smart home hub by Zigbee, which lets you easily connect compatible smart home devices to Alexa. The sound is also a bit better on the bigger Echo speaker, and the dial for volume control around the ring light is still a brilliant bit of design.

If you’re just getting into setting Alexa up in your home, I would definitely recommend the Amazon Echo Plus as your starting point. Available for $200, It’s a little more expensive than the standard Echo speaker, but the included Zigbee hub allows for simple setup of smart home devices so you can easily connect and add Philips Hue lights or an Ecobee Smart WiFi Thermostat to Alexa without dealing with additional hubs or apps. The Echo Plus is available in black, silver.

See at Amazon

Amazon Echo Dot

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The Echo Dot is the smallest and most affordable Echo speaker. These are best placed in bedrooms, on end tables, or in any parts of your house where you’d like to add Alexa support but don’t require high-end sound. About the size of a hockey puck, the Dot features all the functionality of the other two speakers (excluding the hub built into the Echo Plus), most importantly the AUX-out port for connecting to a more substantial set of speakers. It’s available for $70 and is your best bet for filling out your home with the power of Alexa.

See at Amazon

What about the old Echo speakers?

It’s tough luck for any early adopters who imported a first generation Amazon Echo or Echo Dot speakers, as Amazon has announced that those along with the Echo Spot and Echo Tap accessories will not support Canadian English and Canadian Skills. In my experience, I was still able to use the first gen Echo speaker just fine but that’s because I set my Alexa app up using Amazon.com. It still works as well as the other two speakers in my house.

If you did set up a first-generation Echo and switched your country to the United States to bypass the block in Canada, you’ll need to go into your account settings and switch that back to Canadian English before setting up your new speakers.

How to set up an account with Alexa

If you’ve got an Amazon account, you’re well on your way to setting up Alexa. The first thing you need to do is download the Alexa app which will guide you through the setup process.

To avoid headaches down the road, be sure to use your Amazon.ca account to set up and not Amazon.com. The majority of Canadian-specific content can only be found in the Amazon.ca Alexa Skills store, such as local news from CBC. Once you’ve logged into the app, it’s time to plug in your speaker for the first time and continue with setup.

Amazon Echo connects to your WiFi network, but first, it needs to connect to your phone. You’ll know your Echo is ready to connect when you see an orange ring light up. You’ll then be asked to choose the WiFi network you want Alexa to connect to and then its a matter of further customizing your Alexa profile within the app.

What are the best skills for Canada?

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Here’s another point that early adopters know all too well — finding Skills that are actually worth using on a day-to-day basis is still a chore. Alexa in Canada is still a work in progress as many popular skills and functions are not yet available to Canadians. We’ve rounded up some of the best skills that are available for Canadians and worth checking out.

Canadian news skills:

  • CBC News: The World This Hour — The national broadcaster has probably the best news skill for Canadians. Updated hourly, you’ll get a quick look at the national and international stories making headlines. CBC also offers local news reports, but only through Amazon.ca.
  • Global News — The Corus Network offers multiple regional skills that deliver local news coverage from its Global News brand, although the news reports seem to be sourced from the local Corus radio affiliate.
  • CTV News — Updated throughout the day, this Flash Briefing from CTV News brings you the latest breaking news and headlines from Canada and around the world.
  • National Post — Listen to a selection of the latest political commentary pieces from the Full Comment section of the National Post.
  • The Globe and Mail — Because you can never have too many news sources, you can add The Globe and Mail to your flash briefing for the latest Canadian national and political news, including the latest from the Canadian Press.
  • TSN Flash Briefing — A must-have for any sports fans. Stay up to date on all the most popular sports stories in Canada and around the world.
  • TheScore — It’s kind of ironic that the format for TheScore’s skill has changed from giving you the latest sports scores to a quick commentary on one of the biggest stories of the day. Still worth checking out but likely not a replacement for TSN.

Fun and games skills:

  • Would You Rather for Family — This classic game that you probably played as a kid is back as an Alexa skill. This family-friendly version is an absurd time-waster and party game.
  • The Magic Door — This Alexa-powered interactive game is filled with original stories. There are 11 specific storylines to discover and explore.
  • Escape The Room — If you’re a fan of escape rooms, you’re going to love this skill which offers up a series of increasingly difficult virtual escape rooms which you explore using your voice. A highly reviewed Skill worth checking out.
  • Bomb Diffuser — Which wire is it? Red or Blue?! This is a quick and fun game that showcases some of the creative ways you can have fun with Alexa.
  • Hot Potato — This classic children’s game works pretty great for Alexa. Perfect for a bit of kid-friendly fun for all ages.
  • Categories Game — If you enjoy playing Scattegories, you might enjoy this knock-off version for Alexa. Reviews are mixed, and you can expect the game to be occasionally slowed down with bugs, but it’s the best we got for now.
  • Party Game — This is a creative game for adult parties that requires a deck of cards. A great game to play with music once the party is already in full swing.

Relaxation skills:

  • Rain Sounds — The soothing sounds of rain will help you gently fall asleep, or calm your nerves when you can’t get Alexa to play that trivia skill.
  • Guided Meditation: Meditation of the Day — Another nice skill for mindfulness, Guided Meditation delivers daily meditations for relaxation, falling asleep, or starting your day right. Each session is between 5-8 minutes.
  • IFTTT — Having Alexa do more for you should let you relax a bit easy IFTTT (If This, Then That) is a third-party skill that lets you automate all sorts of handy little gestures that work with other services and devices you already use. Fun to play around with and simplify your home life.

What products and services work with Alexa?

Music and Media

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The number one reason you likely bought an Echo speaker is to use your voice to control the music around your home. Fortunately, that’s Alexa’s greatest strength right out of the box. Alexa in Canada supports Amazon Music, Spotify, TuneIn, and SiriusXM, as well as playback on Sonos speakers.

Amazon Prime Music was launched in Canada alongside the Echo and that might be a worthwhile service consider if you’re already an Amazon Prime subscriber and aren’t subscribed to another music streaming service. If Amazon Music doesn’t excite you, you’re best off using Spotify Premium. Spotify works seamlessly with Alexa for playing specific artists, albums, or tracks, and also does a great job picking music base on genres, moods, or activities. While it’s frustrating that you cannot request podcasts from Alexa, she will play them just fine as long as you pre-load them up first in the Spotify app.

Incredibly, there is no support for Audible audiobooks for Alexa, but you can still get Alexa to read any compatible Kindle titles.

Video support is not yet available for Alexa in Canada.

Smart Home

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Useful Alexa Skills are in short supply for Canadians — fortunately, there’s an ever-growing list of smart home products that should work perfectly with Alexa. With an Amazon Echo Plus, you can start adding Philip Hue and other Zigbee-compatible smart home devices easily from within the Alexa app. Other smart home products might not yet be compatible with the Canadian Amazon Echo hardware, or might require a separate hub and the associated app to set up.

You’re able to control multiple Echo speakers from within the Alexa app, including grouping them together as needed for your home.

Best Smart Lights for Amazon Alexa

Best Smart Switches for Amazon Alexa

Best Smart Plugs for Amazon Alexa

What can’t it do yet?

Unfortunately, the list of what Alexa can’t do is still quite long for Canadians. All those cool features like ordering pizzas using your voice, or getting Alexa to read step-by-step instructions for recipes just aren’t available for those of us up north yet. If you use the Amazon.com account as opposed to Amazon.ca, you’ll miss out on the shipment tracking features (and you’d think that Amazon would be able to bridge that gap between its two sites but nope).

Alexa is here in Canada, yes, but in many ways, it feels like we’re lightyears behind where the U.S. version of Alexa is today. We’re sure you’re more than numb to the familiar experience of playing catch up with our neighbours to the south (and not just from the frostbite). We’ll continue to update this guide as Canadian Alexa learns to do more cool skills that you need to know about.

Amazon Echo

  • Tap, Echo or Dot: The ultimate Alexa question
  • All about Alexa Skills
  • Amazon Echo review
  • Echo Dot review
  • Echo Spot review
  • Top Echo Tips & Tricks
  • Amazon Echo vs. Google Home
  • Get the latest Alexa news

See at Amazon

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