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Alexa, Sonos, Smart Things, Harmony, Oh My

So I wasn’t invited to the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Alexa beta and I have some concerns about how Sonos activities are going to be handled with respect to Alexa’s voice recognition.

It isn’t exactly transparent how to add/configure the Harmony->Sonos->Smart Things->Alexa routines to start Playlists or Stations from your Sonos favorites after you’ve done an initial setup. You have to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty.

When you edit your Sonos favorites in any official Sonos App (add/remove, etc.) the Harmony App/Remote doesn’t necessarily reread the Sonos lists. To get a revised Sonos Favorites list to refresh for Harmony, you need to START a Sonos favorite, hit the star key on the bottom of the app, then scroll and hit REFRESH. Then you can edit that activity and select a new channel or add Activities and specify a Sonos favorite from the refreshed, up to date list.

Below is a screen shot of the first “page” of (scrollable) activities. The naming convention is something I’m working on, and I’ll explain a little further along in this post. Ideally, I should be able to use the same Activity Name across the board, but this turns out to be problematic and confusing.

harmony

When you’ve configured and tested your new or edited Activities, next step is to add a Thing to SmartThings. This, too, isn’t intuitive. Select the + on the Things screen on your phone, then Entertainment, Buttons/remotes. Select Logitech. Your already configured Harmony Hub will appear. Select it, watch the spinning cursor as it refreshes and pulls down your revised, increased list of Harmony Activities. Then select additional activities, watch the cursor spin and the app will populate with the revised list of activities.

Smart Things insists on adding [Harmony Remote] to the end of activities imported from Harmony; you’ll need to edit them to at least remove the [Harmony Remote]. To edit, tap the activity to open its page and then the gear wheel to edit the name. Here’s where the name game becomes interesting. I’ll come back to this when I’m done explaining the process to get all of this hooked up to Alexa for voice control.

smartthings

The final step is to access the Smart Home tab in the Alexa Echo app. If you have the SmartThings skill enabled, you will need to disable it and then enable it so that it can re-read the list of “Things”. Then you’ll need to re-run Discovery (a pop-up should automatically appear to action this). All of your new activities should now show in the Your Devices list. And you’ll need to do this each and every time you edit or add a “Thing”.

There’s a big gotcha to be aware of. You can’t use the Station name/Playlist Name in your Sonos Favorites. You can’t use any Artist name or recognizable Playlist Name because Alexa will ignore the SmartThings skill and play music natively on Echo/Dot.

Here’s how I learned what works and what doesn’t.

I discovered that when I selected an Amazon Playlist named ABBA (or even the Pandora ABBA Station) from Favorites for the channel to play from Sonos on the Harmony Activity named Sonos Music and linked it with SmartThings and enabled Alexa that every single time Alexa played something else named Sonos on the current Sonos speaker (or already grouped speakers). And completely ignored the SmartThings list. When I renamed the “Thing” to My Sonos in SmartThings and removed/re-added the skill in the Alexa App, I had better luck, but only some of the time.

I similarly had problems with a John Denver and a Judy Collins playlist in Favorites. Alexa consistently ignored the SmartThings skill and played music by (whomever) on the Echo or DOT. .

After the above limitations sunk in, I decided to try a task based name, Exercise Workout. I set that up and was able to use ANY Sonos favorite without confusing Alexa. So in SmartThings, I currently have Sonos Colorado for John Denver and Sonos Folk for Judy Collins (these work). I’ll have to come up with better, memorable names that are task based.

So now I’m going to finish the task of renaming activities on the Harmony and in SmartThings to get this Harmony-Sonos-SmartThings-Alexa setup to work 100% of the time. Probably using task based and/or some other convention that Alexa won’t recognize. If you have any ideas, let me know on Twitter @barbbowman.

And I hope that the same situation isn’t true with the coming “native” Alexa support for the Logi Harmony Ultimate.

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