Alexa on Fire Tablet and VoiceCast

Alexa on Fire Tablet was birthed in October of 2016.  The feature is available on all current shipping Fire Tablets. In addition, an interesting feature called VoiceCast is also available.  If you have another Alexa device like the Amazon Echo, Dot or Tap devices, you can automatically have visual output (like text or images) sent to the Fire Tablet lockscreen through a feature called VoiceCast. 

VoiceCast is a pretty cool functionality not found on any other tablet. We'll take a look at how to use Alexa on the Fire Tablet, then we'll follow up with making the best use of VoiceCast.

Background

Alexa can work on any 5th generation (2015) or newer tablet.   How do you know which generation you have?  On your Fire Tablet go to Settings > Device Info > Device Options and scroll down to "Device Model".  Older models don't have this menu option which probably means your device does not support Alexa. You also want to make sure that you have enabled Alexa on your device.  This is accomplished on the same screen.  Make sure it is enabled.

Note that if you have enabled parental controls on your Fire Tablet, it will automatically disable Alexa.  The only way to add Alexa functionality is to turn off parental controls.  That is clearly a limitation for parents who would like their kids access to Alexa but don't want to give them full control.  

Using Alexa on the Fire Tablet

Alexa on the Fire Tablet is much like Alexa on the Fire TV (or TV Stick) because you do not use a wakeword.  Instead, you tap and hold the Home button, speak your voice command and release.  Alexa on Fire Tablet does not support hands free mode.

Alexa on Fire Tablet is fast.  She has a similar response time to the full size Echo.  She responds to most all the same queries you might give her on the Echo. Although there are slight differences.  I noticed I could not control the volume with voice controls.  

You have access to streaming music services, just like on the Echo.  You can stream from the same music sources.  Many times when Alexa takes out an action you will get a card which gives some additional information about the command that was carried out.  This is similar to how the FireTV displays output.  The Fire Tablet often seems to use much more visually appealing cards, and often times they can be used to control it further.  For example, the card for playing music has a Previous, Pause/Play toggle, and Next links that you can control the playback. 

You also have full control of your home automation setup.  I find it a bit cumbersome to control home automation as the "Button" you use to hold down and provide Alexa commands is a virtual button, and does not have the same experience as a real button.

You can also open Apps on the Fire Tablet, an ability not found on other hardware devices. Say "Open Audible App" and your App will start.  

You can control and enable skills just like on any other Alexa device. 

VoiceCast Features

A great feature of the Fire Tablet is the ability to show images or text related to voice commands carried out on another Alexa device.  To be clear, this voicecast feature works in conjunction with another Alexa device, like an Echo.  If you only have a Fire Tablet, this will not help you. 

This visual image displayed on the Fire Tablet, shows up on the lockscreen.  If you are in the middle of using your tablet, you do not get what could be an interruption.  The functionality must be enabled. 

Go to the Alexa Companion App.  Say "Start the Alexa App" on your Fire Tablet.  You must start the Companion App on the Fire Tablet, as the option does not show if you use the web based version or are on a non-voicecast tablet (i.e. iPad or other Android tablet).  Amazon says the Companion App is automatically installed on the device, but I did not find it.  No problem, if you don't see it, go to the Amazon App Store entry for Alexa App and buy it (it's free).

Choose Settings > Voicecast.  You will now see one option to Enable Voicecast and the other to Enable Automatic Voicecast.  The difference is that Automatic voicecast will cause any Alexa device to automatically send it's visual output to your tablet.  If you just enable the first option to enable Voicecast, content must be 'cast' to your tablet with a voice command, suchy as "Alexa, send that to Paul's Fire Tablet".

So, to try this out, turn off the Fire Tablet (remember, it shows this on the lockscreen).  Go to your Echo device and give a command which may have visual output.  Try "Alexa What's the weather like?"  Here is what I saw.

This was in addition to the voice output Alexa provided from my Echo.  This is especially useful for times when you ask Alexa to look something up on Wikipedia, as she can send the output to the tablet. The VoiceCast feature works both in both portrait (tall) and landscape (wide) modes. 

Some might question how useful this feature really is. I would say it is up to your specific use cases.

There is some discussion going on as to how much of a pure voice experience this is.  Some believe that the Echo devices should be entirely focused around voice.  In fact, it was this thinking that (some say) put Alexa ahead of Siri and others which still lean heavily on the screen.  Yet, there are times some textual output or an image can go a long way to a useful answer.   And what we want in the real world is a useful answer!  

To me, having any related content show up automatically on the Fire Tablet is pretty awesome.  Additionally, the ability to send output to different tablets is pretty handy.  I sure wish that could be done like this with tablets manufactured by other companies.

As a final thought, with the low price point of the Fire Tablet, it might be useful to mount one next to your Echo, either in a picture frame or on the wall.

Some Downsides

I do not like the fact that you cannot remove the built-in Amazon Apps.  This is common on tablets and the iPhone/iPad suffered this way until the release of iOS 10.  The work-around is to create a folder and move Apps you don't want to the new folder.

One of the ways Amazon is able to keep the price of the Fire Tablet low is through Amazon Advertisements that show up on the lock screen.  The ads are not intrusive, although you do notice them.  You can pay extra to stop these "sponsored messages".  

Summary

The Fire Tablet is an incredibly high value product.  For as little as $50 for the seven inch version, you have access to a wonderful little device for playing games, doing social media, watching videos, listening to music and (now) using the Alexa voice assistant.  If you have interest in this device, I would highly recommend it. 

Some people might wonder how it compares to an Apple iPad.   My answer is that it does not.  The iPad is an amazing device that will cost much more than a Fire Tablet.  If you want to get the best value for your money, and you are already in the Amazon infrastructure (Prime, music, movies, etc.) the Fire Tablet is a great device to consider.  The Alexa integration is pretty complete, and much more robust then the support shown on certain other devices.   

 

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
2 + 7 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.