Alexa is constantly learning. On top of features like Whisper mode or Alexa Guard from Amazon itself, there’s a growing community of developers who are constantly thinking of new Skills. These apps for Echos are affectionately named Alexa Skills and let you do all kinds of things with these smart speakers or smart displays.
Better yet, they work with any Echo, and CNN Underscored has reviewed nearly all of the Echo family: Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Studio, Echo Flex, Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8 and Echo Show. We have a guide here for how to set them up.
But after you’ve entered the world of Alexa, it can be a challenge to discover all the features you’ll really like. So let’s dive into some tips and tricks for Alexa and your Echo.
If you’re the forgetful type, you can use Alexa to set up reminders and alarms. All you have to do is say, “Alexa,” then tell her what you want to be reminded of and when. The same goes for alarms. To edit or create them manually, open the Alexa app, access the menu (the three white bars on the top left), then tap Reminders & Alarms. You can even set them to repeat or modify the sound your alarms make.
On top of asking Alexa general questions about recent sporting events, you can actually get her to keep track of your favorite teams. From the menu in the top left, select Settings and then Sports Update. Once you’re there, you can compile a list of your teams. After this setup, you can ask Alexa for a sports update and she’ll let you know how your teams have been stacking up.
This one’s so deceptively simple that you may not even think of it. With Alexa, you can order items on Amazon with just your voice. Running low on paper towels? Just tell Alexa to add the item to your shopping cart, then tell her to order the items in your cart. Just keep an eye on your cart contents in case you tend to window-shop.
The best way to get Alexa to read one of your audiobooks that you have with Kindle is to simply ask her. You can even jump to different pages or chapters. Alternatively, you can have her read one using the Alexa app. Just go to the menu, tap Music, then Video & Books, then Audible. After that, you can tap the audiobook you want and get started.
One of Alexa’s many skills is her ability to call an Uber or Lyft for you. Just open the Amazon app, go to Skills & Games and search for your service of choice, using the magnifying glass on the top right. You will then have to log in and either verify your account or tap Allow. Now you can ask for a ride just using Alexa, and even specify what kind you need or find out pricing before you order one. As a note, make sure your device has your home address. To do so, head to the menu, tap Settings, then specify your home address. You can add more locations too, such as a work address.
One skill that’ll really surprise you is Alexa’s ability to check on airport security queue times. Yes, Alexa’s aptly named Airport Security Line Wait Times skill keeps track of over 450 US airports. Just look up your airport’s abbreviated code and find out your terminal, then ask, “Alexa, ask Security Line what is the wait time for my airport and terminal?”
The Alexa app has a few communication options you may find useful. Within the app, tap the Communicate tab on the bottom, which looks like a chat bubble. First off, you have the option to call or message someone from your contacts. If you don’t see anyone listed, you can add a contact or import them from the device running the app. You can also use the Drop-In feature to create a two-way call between your Amazon device and a friend’s. Last but not least, you can make announcements to all your Alexa-enabled devices, even when you’re away.
If you’re looking to keep things quiet, you can enable Alexa’s Whisper mode. The primary method is to just tell her to do it, saying something like, “Alexa, turn on Whisper mode.” Otherwise, you can activate it from the Alexa app. Go to the menu, tap Settings, then select Voice Responses. That option will be under the Alexa Preferences bar. Finally, enable Whisper mode by flipping the adjacent switch to the right.
There’s plenty of tech out there to make your home smarter, much of which Alexa can interact with. Just open your Alexa app, tap the menu, then tap Add Device. You’ll get a sizable list of types of devices (scroll down for more), and after tapping one, you can select the brand. You can hook up smart bulbs, cameras, plugs, speakers, microwaves, slow cookers — the list goes on. A particularly useful device by Amazon is the Echo Flex, which plugs into any outlet to let you interact with Alexa in that room. Depending on the device’s brand, you may receive further instructions in the Alexa app.
With Alexa, you can set up routines where she’ll give you specific information and perform specific actions at the drop of a phrase. From the Alexa app, go to the menu and select Routines. After you click the plus icon, you can name your routine, specify a phrase to activate it (such as “Alexa, good morning”) and add actions. Actions range from playing music and giving you traffic or weather information to briefing you on new emails, and much more. Of course, you can also use these to activate devices like those discussed in our previous tip.
Man’s best friend has been pulling guard duty in our homes for decades, but it’s time to give Fido a break. With Alexa Guard, you can turn your Echo smart speakers into security devices. Once the feature is enabled, your Echo devices can listen for signs of trouble — breaking glass, smoke alarm and doors opening, among others — and then contact emergency services if necessary. It’s not quite as robust as a professional security system, but it’s a helpful monitoring system when old Fido is too lazy to get off the couch.
If you’re looking to fine-tune your diet with some healthy suggestions, Alexa can provide nutrition information sourced from Mayo Clinic. Before you start any kind of nutrition program, it’s important you speak with your primary doctor. But Alexa is a quick way to get educated and learn about the importance of good nutrition. Just say, “Alexa, give me a nutrition tip.”
Back in the day you had to watch your local news to get up-to-the-minute weather information. With Alexa, you have your own personal weather forecaster who can provide the current temperature at a moment’s notice. Simply say, “Alexa, what’s the weather like outside?” and she will tell you if you need an umbrella or if it’s time to throw on some SPF 30.
Alexa has access to a number of workout skills designed to raise your heart rate. One of our favorites is 7-Minute Workout, which features a variety of exercises to help you achieve your fitness goals. You can tailor your experience by choosing your preferred workout style, such as low impact, and even ask to target a specific muscle group. To get started, tell Alexa to “start 7-Minute Workout,” and you’ll be guided through an exercise routine.
Alexa doesn’t just provide you with helpful information; the assistant also likes to have fun. The next time you get together with friends and family (lockdown restrictions permitting), ask Alexa to play a game. There are a variety to choose from, including 20 Questions, Jeopardy and Bingo, among others. If you don’t have an old-fashioned board game in the hall closet, Alexa is a good way to get the party started.
If you don’t have time to read the news, Alexa has you covered. There are a variety of news sources to choose from. Just say, “Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?” and you’ll hear the latest news and breaking news for US, world, weather, entertainment, politics and health.
“Alexa, start my car” is the type of phrase you’d expect in “The Jetsons,” but it’s actually real life. There are a number of skills from top auto makers that allow you to start your car remotely, change the interior temperature and lock or unlock doors. Of course, you’ll need a compatible car, but there are skills from Hyundai, Ford and Tesla, to name just a few.
We’ll be updating this list from time to time as we discover more cool features, but don’t be afraid to explore Alexa’s many skills for yourself.