The engineers and coders at Amazon are adding new features to Alexa every month.
Here’s 25 of the best new skills you can add, or things and features you can find to do with your virtual assistant. Available to a growing user base of Amazon’s Echo, Echo Tap and a growing range of other devices, they are slowing changing how we interact act with technology.
From improving how your smart home works, to using the latest supported services, shopping or just having fun, find out how Alexa can help make your day better:
The Basic Skills
- “Alexa, play xxx (playlist or artist) on Spotify” or the music service of your choice is a great way to get your favorite tunes playing fast. Be it an artist on Pandora or a particular radio station on TuneIn, there’s no need to dig out the app or search for a group.
- If you don’t know the name of a particular track, then say “Alexa play the song that goes “Oh ahh, just a little bit” and she’ll find the song you mean. Great for when you have an earworm lyric in your head and can’t remember where it comes from. She does announce the title before playing.
- Personal reminders and alarms are a pain to set up, even on a smartphone. It gets a lot easier with Alexa where you can try various approaches from “set a time for 10 minutes” to “set an alarm for 8PM” all without having to worry about editing a new alert on your phone’s app.
- Many of us are still waiting for that first all-singing smart fridge, but until then Alexa can help manage your shopping list. Ask her “what’s on my shopping list” and she’ll read it out. Ask her to “add a dozen eggs to my shopping list” and on it goes, thinking up things as you go and adding them ad hoc is easier for most of us than sitting down and trying to write one just before you leave for the store.
- She can even perform more specific shopping tasks. If you’ve ordered products before then asking Alexa to “reorder my printer cartridge. Or, if you’re listening to tracks on Amazon Music, you can ask her to buy the song or album. If you’re near a Domino’s, she can even order you a pizza.
Smart Home Essentials
- The majority of leading smart home products are now Alexa compatible, you need to enable them in the Connect Home section on the Alexa app. So, if you have the Philips Hue or other smart lights, all you need to do is say “turn on the hall light” as you come home, or “dim the lights by a third” to reduce the brightness is all it takes to fine tune the ambiance.
- The same goes for thermostat controls, locks and alarms, all can be enabled or disabled, opened or adjusted with a couple of commands, such as “turn the room temperature down” or “lock the front door.”
- For more advanced products that are pre-programmed with scenes, like Wink, SmartThings among others, you can activate them by asking “turn on evening mode” or, “turn on children’s bedtime scheme.”
- Working with other devices, Alexa can trigger actions via products like a Harmony Remote using IFTTT commands. Using IFTTT, to turn the TV on or off, change channel. If you have an AnyMote dongle, it supports Alexa and can change features using the skill, i.e., “Alexa, tell AnyMote to Channel up on the TV”
- Alexa can work with your Wink devices via the new Wink Skill. Link your Wink account to the Echo via the app, find your devices by saying “Alexa discover new devices”, and you can then adjust any devices include Nest thermostats by saying “Alexa, increase the bedroom by five degrees.”
- Talking to the car, KITT-style. New model Ford cars with SYNC can interact with Alexa from your home. You can check how much petrol it has, get it to start the engine to warm the car up, or unlock the doors if you will be carrying something to the vehicle.
- Clean the carpets from the couch. Your smart robot vacuum cleaner may already be programmed for regular sweeps, but if you see some dirt, you can now trigger a Botvac into action with one of Alexa’s newer Skills. All you need to say is “Alexa, ask Neato to start cleaning.” and off it goes – hopefully we’ll be able to give it more specific details like “clean the rug” soon.
- Smart technology appears everywhere with the Haiku fan adding a touch of cooling glamour. These devices too can be Alexa controlled, adjusting the fan speed or the brightness of the built in light via simple voice commands like “Alexa, turn Living Room Fan on.”
- The best news for smart home users is that growing numbers of devices support Alexa out of the box, and Alexa’s skills continue to grow, so she should soon be able to support the vast majority of devices.
For Smarter Living
- Alexa can help you place an order for an Uber ride, as well as monitor and cancel it if you have a change of plans.
- If you lose your phone somewhere around the house, you can ask Alexa to help find it by asking “ask Phonefinder to call my phone” to start it ringing.
- Alexa can help you get home services or assistance fast, through the Home Advisor skill. It can help you connect with services such as electricians, plumbers or gardeners, whenever you need their services.
- Track your Fitbit activity with the Fitbit Skill. This allows you to query Alexa on your health and activity stats. These can include your weight, number of steps taken, sleep tracking, and other metrics.
- Soon you won’t need an Echo to enjoy Alexa, the service now appears in the company’s own Fire tablets and will soon feature in a GE smart lamp product, with a neat white ring LED. While the speakers in that and other products might not be great for music, they’ll handle all the basic Q&A and information services.
For Comedy Effect
- As you’d expect for a company that sells a lot of media, Alexa knows her way around Hollywood references. Just ask Alexa to “Use the force,” “Surely you can’t be serious or “Beam me up” and you’ll get a few appropriate responses, Try some of your own favorite movie lines to see what she comes up with.
- Ask Alexa to play “rock, paper scissors” and she will oblige with a countdown of 3,2,1 then call out her choice. No cheating now!
- If you feel the need to get fit after Christmas, Alexa can even manage a little light exercise for you and the family. Ask her to “start a seven minute workout” and she will give you a series of jumps or stretches to perform to help burn off the calories.
- If you need a spot of ad-hoc decision making in your life, Alexa can be asked to flip “heads or tails” or to “roll a dice” (of as many sides as you like), to you people come up with a decision or to aid playing a game.
- Talk to the Jeremy Clarkson and the Grand Tour crew. Amazon’s big TV show with the ex-Top Gear guys has its own Skill, allowing you to chat to the team and take on auto-related quizzes. This is a decent step forward and an example of how Alexa will be an entertainment product in its own right.
- Celebrity voices are starting to pop up on Alexa, ask about how many Oscars that Alec Baldwin has, and the great man himself will tell you, in all the gory detail.