Smart speaker tips and advice

How to make Alexa and Google Assistant let you know when they start—and stop—listening

You can set your Echo and Google Home or Nest devices to give you audio cues when they start—and, more importantly, stop—listening for commands.

google home and amazon echo listening
Michael Brown / IDG

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We’ve shown you in the past how to make your Amazon Echo or Google Home smart speaker keep listening after an initial voice command, but how do you know for sure when they’ve stopped listening? There’s an easy way to find out.

Both Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers (such as the Echo Dot and the Nest Mini) and smart displays (e.g., the Echo Show and the Nest Hub Max) alway keep an ear out for the “Alexa” or “Hey Google” wake words respectively, but it’s only after you’ve summoned Alexa or Google Assistant that they’ll record and transmit your requests to the cloud.

By default, Alexa and Google Assistant stop listening as soon as they’ve fulfilled a command or answered a query, although (as we’ve previously explained) you can also set them to keep listening for follow-up questions. If you’ve enabled the “Follow-up Mode” (for Alexa) or “Continued Conversation” setting (for Google Assistant), your device will keep listening for several more seconds in case you want to ask more questions or issue more voice commands.

Both classes of smart speakers and displays already have visual cues that let you know when they’re awake and listening for questions or commands. For Alexa, you’ll see a blue halo around the top of an Echo speaker (with turquoise segment indicating the direction from which its mics have pinpointed your voice). On the Echo Show, you’ll see a horizontal blue line at the bottom of the display; again, with a turquoise segment indicating the direction from which it heard your voice.

amazon echo listening Michael Brown / IDG

The turquoise wedge of color indicates the direction Alexa heard your voice come from.

On Google speakers, four colored LEDs on top of the device will light up (the Google Home Mini shows four white LEDs), and Google Assistant-powered displays will show a horizontal bar at the top of the screen with four pulsing dots in the left corner.

If you like, though, you can also set your Echo or Google Home devices to give you audible cues that they’re listening. Better yet, you can enable an audio cue that lets you know that Alexa or Google Assistant have stopped listening. (Again, keep in mind that your Echo and Google Home devices are always listening for their respective wake words.)

google home listening Michael Brown / IDG

The original Google Home lights up four colored LEDs on its top when you summon the Google Assistant (this one has been customized with a wood-veneer wrap from Toast).

Turn on “request” sounds for Alexa

  1. Open the Alexa app, tap the Devices tab at the bottom of the screen, tap Echo & Alexa, then select an Echo speaker or display.
  2. Under the General section, tap Sounds, then toggle on the Start of Request and/or End of Request settings.

Turn on “start” and “end” sounds for Google Assistant

  1. First, open the Google Home app, tap a Google Home or Nest speaker or display on the home screen, then tap the Device settings button (it’s the one that looks like a small gear, up near the top).
  2. Scroll down to the Device settings section and tap Accessibility.
  3. Toggle on the Play start sound and/or Play stop sound settings.

Now, when you say “Alexa” or “OK Google,” you’ll hear a two-tone beep when Alexa or Google Assistant starts listening for commands, and a second, slightly different tone (or pair of tones, in Google Assistant’s case) when your device stops actively listening.

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