Amazon Alexa is all-knowing and all-powerful within the four walls of your home, but is it the same force when unplugged and taken out of its natural habitat?
While most Echo owners will keep their smart speaker docked into the same spot in their home, thereâs no reason why you canât also bury the device at the bottom of your backpack or suitcase and bring the voice assistant on your travels.
More help: How to use Alexa in non-supported countries
But with compatibility varying between regions, we decided to take a fresh Amazon Echo Dot on a trip and test whether setup and use is as fluent as youâll find within the home.
Travelling with an Echo device
Naturally, some Echo devices are more adept for travelling than others. If this is something youâre looking into seriously, the only true option is the Echo Dot. It can (just about) fit into your back pocket, whereas the Echo, Echo Show and Echo Plus all take up valuable real estate in your bag and, with that, are also more prone to receiving a bump or bruise along the way.
We chucked our freshly unpackaged Echo Dot into the wrap of a t-shirt and the Micro USB and plug into our backpack side-pocket, and we were on our way to voice assistant freedom. Bar a mini-panic at the security section, when we briefly wondered whether weâd have to dig out the Dot and place it in a tray with a laptop and other objects (we didnât, obviously), the first issue youâll face is the setup.
Unless youâre a travelling amateur, or your plug is already compatible with the country youâre travelling to, youâll already have your plug adapter at the ready for your Echo. Be sure to take a couple â phone charge is paramount when youâre on the road, where youâre often in need of maps and find yourself gobbling up cellular connectivity, and having to split time and go through the whole plug-unplug routine can make the whole experience a little arduous.
Setting up an Echo device on holiday
Depending on where youâre staying, youâre going to need a stable Wi-Fi connection for the Echo device to piggyback off your phone from. That's non-negotiable.
If youâre in a hotel, you can face some very basic Wi-Fi support (saved only for time-limited web browsing, for example), and obviously things are even more hostile if youâre in a hostel (why are you thinking of taking your Echo to a hostel â seek help immediately) or even in an Airbnb in Amsterdam, like we were.
Thankfully, the friendly Dutch couple whose Airbnb flat we shared were too confused by the concept of Alexa to care about it sapping their Wi-Fi, but itâs probably best to clear things up with anyone youâre staying with before they think youâve slipped another guest in through your suitcase. Airbnb hosts are increasingly adding their own smart home tech to properties too, so check before you check in.
Once youâve got that sorted, your Echo will begin booting up and you'll be free to follow the instructions within the Alexa app. Since we were setting up from scratch, we didnât have to change the location or time zone through the app once the device was synced up with Wi-Fi, though we did have to go through language selection. If youâre using an existing device, simply head to the Alexa app > Alexa devices > Device and edit both factors.
Once the usual setup is all completed, youâre good to go. Though, as weâll explore below, you may not be able to activate every bit of functionality from your speaker as you would back home.
Helpful but not perfect
With Alexa now supported in 89 countries, youâre pretty much free to speak to Alexa wherever you travel and even receive local responses â and thatâs only been possible since earlier this year.
It means that the limitations you once faced, such as gaining weather reports relevant to your holiday location, or asking Alexa how many minutes it will take you to walk to the Rijksmuseum, are a thing of the past. You can also ask Alexa for things like "places to drink around here" which should be handy if you're touristing but don't have a list of recommendations.
There are, of course, plenty of regular Alexa commands that come in handy when you're abroad â setting alarms, asking for translations (between supported languages), currency conversions, the time in other countries (e.g. at home) and facts from the web about tourist attractions all work as they do at home.
So we got some good use out of it but, as we say, itâs not all perfect. For example, if youâre an Amazon Music Unlimited subscriber, this is only available in 28 countries, so asking Alexa to connect to the service and play your tunes simply wonât work.
Thereâs also naturally no support if youâre looking to connect or control any smart home devices at your specific vacation destination, though you can control your army of devices living back at home through the app, just in case youâre worried you left your straighteners on or your front door unlocked.
Generally speaking, if you're looking to add the smarts of a third-party services like Spotify through Alexa, you're going to need to check if it's supported in that country first. So for instance, TuneIn didn't work for us in the Netherlands. Your Alexa device won't just act as a gateway to things you wouldn't otherwise be able to access through your phone.
Have you taken Alexa on vacation? Let us know in the comments below.
More Amazon Alexa how-tos
- How to control Sonos with Alexa
- How to play podcasts with Alexa on your Amazon Echo
- How to control Amazon Fire TV using your Echo speaker
- How to use your Amazon Echo with Alexa as the perfect alarm clock
- How to set up and use Alexa Routines for a smarter home
- How to view security camera footage on your Amazon Echo devices
- How to set up and use Alexa Drop In and Calling on your Amazon Echo
- Alexa and Spotify guide: How to connect and use with your Amazon Echo
- Alexa Brief Mode explained: How to turn it on and how it works