This past holiday season I spent some time at a friend's house in Los Angeles. They aren't too technologically savvy so they asked for help setting their Amazon Echo that they've had lying around for over a year.
While I'd heard about the Amazon Echo, I'd never personally used one, so playing with theirs was a first for me. Actually a first using any smart speaker system. I was hooked! Not sure why talking to this speaker was any different than taking to Siri on my iPhone, but it was.
This got me to thinking... Could I get an Amazon Echo and use it in my RV? Will Alexa work in an RV?
I'm talking about bringing Alexa along with me as I boondock in some pretty remote places. No shore power. No generator. Just good old solar power and my rig's 12-volt electrical system
Sure, using Amazon Alexa in an RV when you are hooked up to shore power is no biggie. Or if you've got a whole house inverter that supplies 120-volts to the Echo device (which normally runs on a 120-volt power source). BUT could it be done when you've only got a 12-volt power supply and didn't want to use a plug-in inverter?
To figure this out, I hit Google and did some searching around. There wasn't a whole lot of information on this (shocking!) But I did find a USB power cord on Amazon that allegedly could be used with the Echo Dot (the smallest Amazon Echo device). That's a start!
Choose The Right Echo Smart Speaker
Amazon sells several models of the Echo. I believe that most run on 12-volts of power (via a 120-volt power 'brick' that plugs into a normal wall outlet). So you might think you could run any of these Echo's from your RV's 12-volt electrical system. NOT SO FAST!
The larger an Echo device is, the larger speakers it's going to have. This means that they may sound better than the smaller Echo's, but it also means that they require more power. More amps of 'juice' at 12-volts of power.
I wanted to power my Echo from a USB plug, which is extremely limited as to how much power it can put out. Which means I could only power the smallest Echo device (that uses the least amount of power of all Echo's). So I purchased the Echo Dot (the smallest Echo).
You may be able to find a 12-volt power outlet (the round cigarette lighter style outlet) power adapter that could work with larger Echo's and go that route. I didn't look as this isn't what I wanted to do.
Go forth and investigate if that's what you're interested in. Or stick with using an Echo Dot in your RV. It sounds great! You won't be disappointed. If you are, complain to someone else - I don't want to hear it!
12-Volt Power From A 5-Volt USB Plug
The Amazon Echo Dot comes with a power supply that converts 120-volt power (house wall outlet) to 12-volts at 1.25 amps. In other words, the Echo Dot requires 12-volts of power. Bingo! My RV is 12-volts, so this should be no biggie, right? Um, not so fast.
I wanted to use a USB outlet as the source of power. Even though USB outlets are using an RV's 12-volt electrical system as their power source, they actually output only 5-volts of power. Ooops! The Amazon Echo Spot needs 12-volts. What to do?!?!?
Turns out the USB power cord I found on Amazon converts a USB power outlet's 5-volts of power to 12-volts of power. Through some use of voodoo magic, I'm convinced. Whatever! As long as it works.
But more importantly, since it's the smallest of the Amazon Echo's, it has the smallest power requirement. And can be powered via a USB port (in theory).
On paper it was perfect for my rig. So I ordered a 3rd generation Echo Dot, a cute little 4" diameter (1.7" tall) speaker that weighs well under a pound. In other words, right-sized for my small RV.
Does Alexa Work In An RV?
So does Alexa actually work in an RV? Yes it does!
I've been using Alexa, via my Echo Dot, in my RV for several months now and I love it.
Other than having to order a second USB power cord (the first one didn't supply enough power to the Echo so I went with another brand), I've had no issues.
My Echo Dot has popped out of the wall mount once (and only once over many moves), but that may be because I ran my trailer over something (yikes!) that caused the interior to become a bit in disarray. Oh, the joys of boondocking!
Is 'Alexa' The Same As 'Echo'?
No, Alexa and Echo are not one in the same. One refers to a virtual assistant (software) while the other refers to a smart speaker system (hardware).
Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant, whereas Echo is the smart speaker device. Think Siri and iPhone. Echo is the hardware (iPhone) and Alexa is the virtual assistant (Siri) that you use to interact with the hardware.
Both Alexa and Echo are products from Amazon. The Echo is Amazon's smart speaker series that includes the several different sizes/versions of the Echo. All Echo smart speakers come equipped with the Alexa virtual assistant.
Alexa is the way you interact with an Echo smart speaker, using your voice to communicate with Alexa (and thus the device).
How I Use Alexa In My RV
I'm not an Alexa power user by any stretch of the imagination. I use it mainly for two things:
- Listening to music
- Setting cooking timers
Yep, that's how exciting things get around my rig! There are many, many, many other things that Alexa is capable of doing. I just haven't used it for anything else as of yet.
I've got Amazon Music (that comes with my Prime subscription) hooked up to Alexa on my Echo Dot, as well as a free trial of Apple Music I've currently got. I also have my SiriusXM streaming account connected to the Echo Dot.
You can also use other music services such as Pandora or Spotify. Most of the mainstream streaming music services will have an Alexa 'skill', which is what Amazon calls the apps that run on Echo devices. You just activate the skill and connect your streaming account to your Echo (via the smartphone app) and you are good to go.
Connect To Your Rig's Stereo Via Bluetooth
I've connected my Echo Dot to my RV's stereo via Bluetooth. Whenever I want to listen to music at a higher volume than the Echo can put out, I simply say "Alexa, connect" and the Echo Dot will connect, via Bluetooth, to my stereo.
All of Alexa's sounds (including the music I'm playing) will now come out of the stereo speakers. It's really that easy.
You can learn how I did this by seeing the Bluetooth Adapter section below.
As mentioned above, I also use it to set cooking timers. It is much easier to use Alexa for this than it is my iPhone, and Alexa allows you to have multiple timers running at once. You can even name the timers, so when they go off, you know what it is for. Fancy!
What I like About Using An Echo In An RV
For starters, Alexa seems to 'listen' better than Siri on my iPhone. Half the time when I say "Hey, Siri" the phone doesn't 'hear' me. Alexa responds far more frequently, it's always nice to be listened to! (Even if it's only by some electronic device.)
My rig is fairly small. The living space is under 20 feet in length, for a total of just under 175 square feet. It doesn't matter where in the rig I am (like there's a lot of places to go!), I can talk to Alexa and she responds.
With such a small rig, the Echo Dot's sound output is more than acceptable. In normal use I only use volume levels 3 or 4 (out of 10). I rarely use the higher volume levels.
The sound quality is amazingly good for the size of the device (4" diameter). Apparently the sound quality greatly improved with the 3rd generation. It definitely fills my approximate 175 square feet of living space.
If I do want to listen to music louder, I'll usually just tell Alexa to connect (via Bluetooth) to my rig's stereo system and use those much larger and better speakers.
If you've got a larger rig where Alexa may have a hard time 'hearing' you depending on your location, you can always buy multiple Echo Dots. They will 'talk' to each other so, in theory, you can have a network of them that gives you full coverage in even the largest RV.
For me, even if I'm laying in bed, Alexa will listen and respond to my voice commands. This isn't some great feat as the distance is maybe 15 feet. I definitely have no need for multiple Amazon Echo's in my RV.
Internet Connection Required
The Echo is a smart speaker system, which means it needs a constant Internet connection to work. It communicates with Amazon's servers to interpret what you are asking of it. It also needs the Internet in order to stream music, etc.
If Alexa cannot communicate with the Internet, she will not work for you. I have my Echo Dot connected to my AT&T hotspot, which has unlimited data. No problems so far!
There really isn't anything I don't like about using an Echo in my RV. I guess the fact that Amazon is listening to you could wig you out, but it doesn't bother me.
You do need to have an Internet connection in order for Alexa to work.
Pros and Cons of Using Alexa in an RV (Echo Dot):
If You've Been Curious About Alexa, Just Do It!
If you've wanted to have an Alexa system in your RV but weren't sure it was possible, now you know it is!
I was able to purchase my Echo Dot on sale around the end of the year, so it was 40% off. But they aren't that expensive to start with.
In other words, for not too much outlay you can have Alexa in your RV. As long as you have a constant Internet connection for Alexa to use (WiFi or cellular data will work), it will function just fine.
Read on to see what I ordered to bring Alexa to my RV and run it off 12-volts via a USB plug.
What I Ordered To Have Alexa In My RV
Here is exactly what I ordered in order to run Amazon Alexa (via an Echo Dot smart speaker) in my RV and have it be powered by a 12-volt power source. The power source I used was a 5-volt USB plug.
Amazon Echo Dot
I purchased the Amazon Echo Dot which (as of this writing) is in its 3rd generation. With the below power cord, it works perfectly being powered from a 2.1 amp (5-volt) USB power outlet in my Lance travel trailer. (Most all USB ports are 5-volt.)
The 3rd generation Amazon Echo Dot is available in three different colors, though none of which will match the hideous decor of most RVs.
USB 5-Volt to 12-Volt Cable
There are a couple of different USB power cables on Amazon that will work to convert your USB's 5-volts output to the 12-volts that the Amazon Echo Dot requires. The first one I ordered didn't have enough power to handle higher volume levels.
The first USB power cord I ordered would cut power at anything above volume level 3 (out of 10). I ordered the one below and it's been working like a champ! It is able to power the Echo Dot at full volume with no issues so far.
The one below can power the 3rd Generation Amazon Echo Dot (that's the current one as of the publish date of this blog post).
Please note that this particular cable ships directly from Hong Kong, but I received mine in a handful of days, so don't let the country of origin scare you off.
This USB power cable is available in either black or white color.
The USB plug that you use for this power cable must output at least 2 amps in order for it to be able to convert the 5-volt USB output to the 12-volts that the Echo Dot needs.
Echo Dot Wall Mount
Wall mount for Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation only) that can be mounted without drilling a hole in your RV. It comes with removable adhesive strips (Command Strips) that securely fasten the mount to most any surface on your RV.
There is the option to use screws if you feel better using them, though mine has been mounted in my RV for months using just the adhesive strips and it has yet to come off the wall.
Available in either white or black color.
Bluetooth Adapter (optional)
This part is totally optional. If your RV has a stereo receiver that isn't equipped with Bluetooth, you can add this Bluetooth adapter and give your RV Bluetooth capability. Both Camp Addict Kelly and Marshall use this setup in their rigs.
This allows you to connect your Echo to your RV's stereo, giving it better sound quality. You can also connect your smartphone to your stereo via Bluetooth with this adapter.
Your stereo will need a 3.5mm round auxiliary input in order to use this adapter (it connects to your non-Bluetooth receiver using this 3.5mm port). And it requires an available USB power port.
Because of the way vehicles are wired (including an RV's 12-volt electrical system), there is a problem with ground loop noise (a bunch of static) when you use this type of Bluetooth adapter. This problem is easy solved by purchasing the inexpensive ground loop noise isolator below.
Yes, you can use your Amazon Echo in your RV powered by a USB plug! It just takes the right power cord. Get it, and you are on your way to boondocking smart-RV bliss! If you are powered all the time to shore power, there's not much need for this. (Unless you want connectivity during a power outage.)
Are you using an Echo in your RV? Comment below and let us know your steup and what your experience has been with it!
Camp on, people!