When it comes to controlling a smart home with an Amazon Echo, the first thought is to use Alexa. Besides being the voice of the Echo, the Alexa platform includes support for an absurd amount of smart home hardware. If it’s connected, chances are it’s connected to Alexa.
However, using Alexa is not the only way. On some models, such as the current Amazon Echo (4th Gen), you have an alternative via Zigbee. This is a wireless protocol that allows compatible hardware to link directly to your Amazon Echo, without the need for Wi-Fi connectivity, companion apps, or the cloud.
Not all Amazon Echoes have a built-in Zigbee hub, but for those that do, it gives you the freedom to create a more locally focused smart home. But you still get the benefit of Alexa routines, integrations, and voice control if you want to. Here’s how to set everything up.
What is Zigbee?
Zigbee is based on the IEEE 802.15.4 personal-area network standard. What does that actually mean? In simpler terms, Zigbee is a local network alternative to Wi-Fi and other connection standards like Bluetooth. It does not rely on a point-to-point connection. Instead, it works with a low-power mesh network, which is why it’s so useful for smart home devices.
Its low power makes it perfect for small devices, such as sensors. The fact that it is a common standard also means that hardware from different manufacturers can communicate with each other. For example, the Amazon-made Echo can talk to a Sonoff Zigbee-compatible temperature sensor.
Zigbee is a pretty old standard and may soon be overshadowed by Matter, but it’s still useful. Using Zigbee can help reduce the number of hubs and dedicated controllers in your smart home and reduce the overall load on your home Wi-Fi network.
Which Amazon Echoes have a built-in Zigbee hub?
The Zigbee hub is a feature you won’t find in every different version of the Amazon Echo. These are the models you need, past and present:
The Echo Plus isn’t currently offered new, but if you already own one or find a used one, the Zigbee hub is built-in. The Amazon Echo (4th generation) and Echo Show 10 (3rd generation) are both on sale now.
How to Link Zigbee Devices to the Amazon Echo
With the right Amazon Echo at home, you’re ready to connect some Zigbee smart home devices. The good news is that it is very simple. Just follow these steps:
- Make sure your Echo is turned on and you have the Alexa app on your smartphone, logged into your Amazon account.
- Tap Devices on the navigation bar.
- Tap the + button in the top right corner.
- Choose Add device.
- Select the type of device you are adding. In this example we are linking a motion sensor. If you can’t find the device type you want, just choose another one.
- Make sure that your Zigbee hardware is turned on and that all steps to make it discoverable have been followed.
- Tap Discover devices in the Alexa app.
It can take up to 45 seconds for the new device to be discovered, and it’s a good idea to have it close to the Echo for this, especially if you don’t have an existing Zigbee mesh network in your home. Once the device has been found, you are ready to go. You can add it to rooms, groups, and routines like any other Alexa-connected device.
A word of warning, however. While the hardware connects to the Zigbee hub on the Echo, in some cases you’ll need to enable an Alexa skill to make sure it stays that way. For example, I have a Sonoff temperature sensor that you can use with a companion app and the company’s own hub, or with the Echo like I have. After the first connection, the device would stop responding within about half an hour. Enabling the company’s Alexa ability seemed to solve the problem without requiring further interaction.
However, that’s all. If you plan on having some small sensors and energy efficient devices in your home, using Zigbee over Wi-Fi has its advantages. With a compatible Amazon Echo you don’t need extra hubs or controllers, you can connect right away. And as a bonus, you have the best smart speaker out there.
The Amazon Echo is for most people the best all-round smart speaker with a beautiful design, great sound and the immense power of the Alexa ecosystem at its disposal.