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Consumer Reports: Make the most of your new digital assistant

Get an Amazon Echo or Google Home for Christmas and you're not sure exactly what to do with it? Consumer Reports can help you get your digital home assistant out of the box. (Photo credit: MGN / SlashLeaks)

Get an Amazon Echo or Google Home for Christmas and you're not sure exactly what to do with it? Consumer Reports can help you get your digital home assistant out of the box.

Whether it's making shopping lists or converting cups to ounces, a voice assistant can help in ways you've never imagined. But first, you have to set it up. When you get a voice assistant or smart speaker, you need to download the app that goes with it. And, from there, it will walk you through how to set the device up.

Once that's done, the possibilities are endless. But you might have to enable things called "skills" for the Echo and "actions" for Google Home. Think of them as added features that make your assistant even smarter. You can have it tell you what the weather is or have it read your calendar for the day. You can also get the latest sports scores or even play trivia games.

Are you ready to let your assistant really show its stuff? With high-tech add-ons like smart light bulbs, thermostats, door locks and plugs, you've got an instant smart home. If you have a smart plug, you can use the digital assistant to turn on and off whatever you happen to have plugged into it, whether it's a lamp or, in my case, a Christmas tree. What it lets you do is get things done without having to open an app or, in this case, crawl behind the couch and unplug the tree.

Another tip from Consumer Reports? Practice patience as you get to know your assistant and what it can do. It's important to remember that Rome wasn't built in a day and that you're going to buy things to connect to the device and add skills and apps. It's something you construct over time.

Consumer Reports says its testing shows these assistants don't have the best sound quality when it comes to playing music. In that category, the original Amazon Echo earned a "good" rating, the Google Home, a "fair." But the new Google Home Max, the Sonos One with Alexa built in and the upcoming Apple Home Pod all promise to raise the bar on sound quality for home assistants.

All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2017 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit consumer.org.

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