The Ultimate Guide to Using Amazon Alexa
WHAT IS AMAZON ALEXA?
Alexa — named after the ancient library of Alexandria — is Amazon’s voice- control system that lives inside Amazon’s Echo range of products as well as Wondrwall Light Switches and a host of other devices.
Alexa is always ready to answer your questions on all kinds of topics, set timers and alarms, reminders and calendar events, make to-do lists, read books, stream podcasts, play music, provide weather, traffic, sports, and other real-time information, such as news, and control the Wondrwall and Smart Home devices in your intelligent home.
Users are able to extend the Alexa capabilities by installing “skills”, additional functionality developed by third-party vendors such as weather programs and audio features.
A companion app is available from the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore. The app can be used by owners of Alexa-enabled devices to install skills, control music, manage alarms, and view shopping lists.
HOW DOES ALEXA WORK?
Once you buy an Amazon Alexa device — Amazon Echo or Dot or Wondrwall light switch — the device connects to the internet and then to other devices. With the most common devices, the Amazon Echo and Dot, people merely say “Alexa,” which wakes up the device, and then ask for what they want. Other devices such as the Amazon mobile app and the Wondrwall light switch require the user to push a button to activate Alexa’s listening mode.Currently, besides English, interaction and communication with Alexa are available in German, French and Japanese.
Alexa has a lot of built-in commands that make her useful right out of the box. Alexa Skills expand the capabilities, allowing users to perform more actions with voice-activated control through Alexa.
WHAT ARE AMAZON ALEXA SKILLS?
As mentioned before, you can make Alexa even better by adding ‘skills’. Alexa Skills are apps that give Alexa even more abilities, letting her speak to more devices and even websites. They are a series of shortcuts to your favourite or most used requests – think of them as bookmarks in a web browser. If you like to hear the news or weather forecast read to you every morning from your favourite news website, for instance, or if there’s a game you often play, you can just say a key phrase and Alexa will obey your request.
HOW TO ENABLE OR INSTALL ALEXA SKILLS
You can search for and enable skills in the Alexa app and from the Alexa Skills store on the Amazon website. If you know the exact name of the skill you want, you can say, “Enable (skill name).” Skill availability varies by country.To enable Alexa skills:
1. Go to the menu, and select Skills.
2. When you find a skill you want to use, select it to open the skill detail page. 3. Select the Enable Skill option, or ask Alexa to open the skill.
WHAT ARE THE BEST COMMANDS AND SKILLS FOR ALEXA?
Alexa is designed to respond to a number of different commands and even converse with users. Alexa comes with more than a few capabilities built-in such as playing music, giving the weather forecast or reading news. In addition, there are well over 10,000 skills available. Although Alexa’s pretty smart, she gets better with the skills you install. However, as with everything, some are better than others and with 10,000 different skills, you need to search for the best.To help you with the best commands and skills for Alexa, here’s a few that we like.
Alexa can tell you the most mundane information about your day and anything else you want to know about. You can use voice commands to have Alexa tell you the time and date as well as anything that might be on your calendar, provided that you’ve linked a calendar in the Alexa mobile app.Even if something isn’t listed on your calendar, you can ask Alexa to set reminders and alarms at any time. For example, saying “Alexa, remind me to register for swim classes at 8pm” will have Alexa tell you “register for swim classes” at 8pm that day. Alarms work similarly and come in handy, particularly when you’re cooking and don’t have a hand free to set an egg timer or a timer on your oven. Your Alexa device will sound when the alarm goes off. Just tell Alexa to “stop” to end the alarm tone.
Alexa can add things to your to-do list as well, which you can review either in the Alexa app on your mobile phone or by asking it “what’s on my to-do list?” We’ll talk about shopping lists in another section, but Alexa’s to-do list feature is useful for the busiest of us who rarely have a pen and paper handy. Using your voice to ask Alexa to add things to your to-do list ensures you won’t forget even the most random tasks that come to mind.
All of the previously detailed features are like the utility section of an app store—they’re often overlooked, but you’ll need them at some point throughout your day. But Alexa can also provide more specific information and from different sources. Alexa can deliver weather forecasts, recent news headlines, and general information about sports, movies, and music. For example, asking “Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing?” will prompt the assistant to read off all the news from your selected sources in your Flash Briefing. You can choose the news sources you prefer in the Alexa app and rearrange the order that Alexa plays them. Rather than watching the news in the morning, just listen to it via Alexa.
If you’re curious which band plays a song you heard on the radio, Alexa can probably tell you who they are. She can also tell you band members’ names and song and album titles. The same goes for films as Alexa can identify actors and actresses and which films they are in and even give you movie times. If you want to know football scores or other sports results, Alexa can tell you scores by team and individual player statistics.
There are also skills that add to this general knowledge that Alexa already has. The BBC News skill reads out the top headlines while you get on with other things, whether you’re getting dressed or making breakfast for the children or doing the ironing.In the UK, we are always talking about the weather so makes sense to have a great skill for this. The Big Sky skill will tell you if you need to pack an umbrella or the sun screen. You can ask for the weather forecast right now or sometime in the future for the commute home or the weekend, or if you just want to know more about weather forecasting, then just ask it for a weather fact. To enable it, say, “Alexa, start Big Sky”.
Here’s some commands to try:
“Alexa, what’s on my calendar for today?”
“Alexa, what will the weather be like today?”
“Alexa, remind me to pick up Antonia at 3pm.”
“Alexa, set timer for [xx] minutes.” For example, “Alexa, set a timer for ten minutes.” “Alexa, add call mum to my to-do list.”
“Alexa, did the Man City win yesterday?”
“Alexa, set alarm for 7.30am” and then “Alexa, snooze!”
The Music, Video, and Books section of the Alexa app is your gateway to all kinds of media that Alexa can control. You’re not limited to Amazon-controlled media, although Alexa will pull media from Amazon accounts by default unless you tell it differently. Linking your various accounts in the app will allow Alexa to control music, video, and audiobook playback from any Alexa device including Amazon Echo and Dots as well as Wondrwall light switches.By default, Alexa plays music from Amazon Music. Alexa does have clever built-in features for Amazon Music. For example, you can ask Alexa for the song of the day, and she’ll play it for you. If you’re in the mood for a specific type of music, you can ask Alexa to play songs by artist, genre, or theme as well. If you use Spotify, you can change this setting so that Alexa uses Spotify as the default player. The daddy of music skills for Amazon Alexa devices, Spotify is the only service, other than Amazon Prime Music, which can be selected as a default music destination.
You can play music through different smart speakers listed below as well as via the Wondrwall light switches. Wondrwall has integrated with Sonos for high quality music and you can use Alexa to control playback on Sonos by talking to the Wondrwall light switches or via the Wondrwall app. Wondrwall light switches can play music, but for the ultimate in music quality, nothing beats Sonos. With the Sonos skill, you can ask Alexa to play music from Spotify Premium, Amazon Music, Deezer or TuneIn – on your Sonos One or Beam. Start music from more than 55 other popular music services with the Sonos app, and tell Alexa to pause, resume and adjust the volume. Besides asking Alexa via the Wondrwall light switches, you can also control Sonos via your Wondrwall app.
Amazon owns Audible, arguably the leading provider of audiobooks, and you can link an Audible account to Alexa so it can read your audiobooks to you from an Echo device. You can ask it to start reading a specific book or pick up where you left off in an audiobook you already started. You can also skip to different chapters and set a “sleep timer,” or a time for Alexa to stop reading in the future. These controls also work for Kindle books you may have purchased from Amazon that also provide access to the audiobook version.
“Alexa, play [artist] name.” For example, “Alexa, play Oasis” “Alexa, play Wonderwall playlist from Spotify.”
“Alexa, play the book Animal Farm.”
“Alexa, skip to chapter 10.”
“Alexa, resume my book.”
“Alexa, stop playing in 30 minutes.”
CONTROL YOUR TV
Forget searching for the remote — Alexa can control your TV almost entirely by voice. The setup takes a bit of time, but once done, you can say things like:
Alexa, turn on the TV. Alexa, turn on Netflix.
Besides playing music, reading books and watching TV, click here to find some other suggestions for using Alexa in the living room.
GET COOKING IDEAS AND TIPS
Of course Alexa can’t actually cook for you, at least not yet, but she definitely cam help make cooking easier and less stressful. With Alexa in the kitchen, you can ask her to do things like:Get conversions. “Alexa, how many tablespoons in a quarter- cup?”
Ask for recipes. Alexa can get recipes from AllRecipes. She can also be used to follow recipes step- by-step on your iPad with GoodNes.Play music. “Hey Alexa, play some smooth jazz.” Because cooking is more fun with music!
Set a timer. You can set multiple timers and ask her for time remaining.
ENTERTAIN YOUR KIDS FOR HOURS ON END
Actually, more like, “let your kids entertain themselves”. Alexa is full of games, Easter eggs, silly answers to silly questions and much more. Here are some ways Alexa can keep your kids busy:Play games. This guide includes a few of our favourite Amazon Echo games.
Find Easter eggs. Alexa loves a good inside joke.
Set timers and play music. Kids will quickly learn how to talk to Alexa and can ask her for timers, music and random trivia.If you want to send the kids off to sleep, or just keep them entertained for a little while, you have to try Amazon Story Time. It prompts Alexa to read out a short story from the Amazon Rapids app library and Audible. Stories are suitable for kids aged 5-12. To enable it, just say, “Alexa, open Amazon Storytime.” Then it’s a simple case of saying, “Alexa, ask Amazon Storytime to read me a story. and you will start to hear the story via your Wondrwall light switch or Amazon Echo.Another fun skill and a lot easier than visiting the zoo, Animal Sounds plays the sounds of 30 animals. You can listen to everything from your standard household cats and dogs to more exotic creatures such as leopards, bears, elephants and sea lions. To enable it, say, “Alexa, open Animal Sounds.
While you can’t take Alexa to the gym (unless you have a Tap, of course), you can get her to give you fitness feedback and guidance. Here are some ways she can help you get healthy:Once you sync your Fitbit with Alexa, there are many things you can ask, like, “Alexa, ask Fitbit how I’m doing today.” Although you may not like the answer.
Get nutrition information. “Alexa, how many calories in a banana?”
Do a workout. After enabling the 7 Minute Workout skill, just say, “Alexa, Start 7 Minute Workout.”
HELP YOU GO TO SLEEP
Background noise is great to help you fall asleep, and this skill has a lot of different options, including rain. You can ask Alexa to switch it off after a pre-determined time, 20 minutes for example, so you don’t risk it waking you up in the middle of the night. To enable it, say, “Alexa, open Sleep Sounds”.Just before going to bed, you can have Wondrwall put your home in to the sleep mode by saying: “Alexa, turn on sleep scene” which will arm the security and turn off all the lights.
MAKE CALLS AND DROP IN ON ALEXA DEVICES
Just when you thought house phones were dead, Amazon brings them back. Alexa can now be used to make calls to other Alexa devices in other homes or you can just leave a message.The Alexa Calling feature enables you to make calls between Alexa devices or via the Alexa app. To make an Alexa call you can just ask “Alexa call [contact name],” or go to the Conversations tab within the Alexa app and pick a contact from there. You can only call contacts in your phone book who have themselves own an Amazon Echo speaker and have registered for the service.
Drop In works slightly differently. Drop In with Alexa enables you to call and talk to another Alexa speaker, without anyone answering the call. This is essentially an intercom between rooms in your house. Just say “Alexa, drop in on the [say Echo device name]” to be patched into other areas of your home, and immediately get two-way audio. You can also Drop In to any of your contacts who own an Amazon Echo speaker – but they have to opt-in to the service first. Given that your friends and family can essentially wiretap your home, be careful with opting in for this service!
USING ALEXA TO ORDER FROM AMAZON…
If you’re an Amazon junkie for ordering, your Echo speaker can help you order items faster. If you find you’re running low on a certain thing, there’s no need to reach for your phone and open the app. You can order items from Amazon, get delivery notifications and re-order things you have ordered before with the following commands. You can set a PIN to avoid ordering things by accident or to keep the kids under control.“Alexa, order dog food on Amazon Prime” – If 1-Click ordering is turned on, this will automatically have the item sent to you and you’ll be charged.
“Alexa, add toilet roll to my cart” – This adds to your cart but doesn’t purchase. “Alexa, cancel that order” – You have 30 mins after ordering for this to work. “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” – Alexa will run through all pending deliveries.“Alexa, re-order toilet roll” – Alexa will search previously purchased items to suggest the brands you like.
…OR TO ORDER FROM OTHER COMPANIES
There are skills for a variety of different companies that can be used to order directly from them.If you can’t decide where to have dinner, you can ask the Just Eat Amazon Alexa skill for recommendations for nearby restaurants and she’ll list them for you, choosing from any cuisine you want. Alternatively, if you don’t fancy leaving the house, Alexa has access to more than 27,000 restaurants through the Just Eat partnership. Simply tell Alexa your standard takeaway order and she will do all the ordering.
Pizza firm Domino’s has introduced a skill that allows Echo users to order food using their voice. The system works by using Domino’s ‘Easy Order’ option, which allows customers to select their usual order simply by asking Alexa. Alexa will then automatically tell the company to accept the order for the selected items. By saying ‘Alexa, ask Domino’s to feed me’ the system will place the order.
Once you activate the Uber skill in the Alexa app, Alexa will let you book a taxi without touching your phone. It will also tell you how far away the closest car is, and let you know if there’s surge pricing before you accept a ride.
CONTROLLING A SMART HOME
Alexa integrates with a number of smart home devices made by manufacturers including Philips, Samsung, Nest, Honeywell, Ring, and Schlage. Once paired, these devices can be controlled with Alexa commands and configured further in the Alexa app. Smart light bulbs are some of the most accessible devices available, and Alexa can turn these lights on and off in your home, as well as dim and set them on a specific colour “scene” (if they are dimmable to coloured light bulbs).There are basic commands to control most smart home devices. Alexa can lock doors secured by smart locks, open garage doors that have smart attachments, and adjust the temperature in your home when connected to smart thermostats. Any device with Alexa such as an Amazon Eco or a Wondrwall light switch can control smart home devices. Controlling your lights, door locks, appliances, switches and other smart home devices is probably what Alexa is best at doing. You can browse the smart home compatibility tool to see what Alexa works with but we have included a list of some different devices below to get you started.
* Control your lights. You can ask Alexa to turn lights on or off. She’ll even change the colour if the lights are colour-changing.
* Open or close your garage door. Smart garage door openers like Garageiowork with Alexa.
* Change the temperature. “Hey Alexa, set the temperature to 22”
If you have Wondrwall installed in your home, the Wondrwall skill lets you adjust the heating on your Wondrwall system. It will help you to control your Wondrwall devices like the Wondrwall lights switches, thermostats and changes scenes in your house and as mentioned above, you can control other smart home devices.
Try these with Wondrwall:
“Alexa, turn on the bedroom light”
“Alexa, turn on bedroom middle light” “Alexa, turn on the Home scene”
“Alexa, turn on the Away scene”
“Alexa, what is the temperature of bedroom”
If you have other smart home devices installed, some of these will work:
“Alexa, dim the lights 50 percent.” “Alexa, lock the front door.”
WHAT DEVICES HAVE ALEXA BUILT-IN?
To be able to give commands to Alexa, you need to have a device with a microphone and speaker that is certified to work with Amazon Alexa.The most widespread way to access Alexa is via the Amazon Echo range of smart speakers such as Echo and Dot. There are alternatives to Amazon depending on your preferred design and the price you are willing to pay and features you’d like to have such as the Sonos One and Sonos Beam, UE Boom 2, Megaboom, Megablast, KitSound Voice One or Onkyo P3.
Amazon integrates Alexa in to some of its other products such as Amazon Fire TV, Amazon Echo Show and Amazon Fire tablets to name a few.
There are other devices around the home that now have Alexa integrated such as Kohler Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror, C by GE LED stylish table lamp and Wondrwall light switches that show you don’t have to fill your home with speakers to get Alexa everywhere.
You can even get Alexa in some cars such as with Ford SYNC 3. Here are some other car manufacturers that either support remote control of a vehicle with Alexa or have an infotainment system that supports Alexa voice commands: Nissan, Mercedes, Hyundai, BMW and Jeep
If you have the Alexa app installed on your phone, you can access the Alexa commands from your phone. Alexa is also integrated as standard in to some phones such as the Miotorola Moto X4. This allows you to sit on your couch and issue commands such as “Turn on the bedroom lights”.
Finally, Alexa is appearing on Windows 10 PCs from the likes of Acer, Asus, HP and Lenovo. Most of the Alexa-enabled PCs will be ready for purchase by the end of the year, though Acer is ready now.
There is also the ability to link Cortana on a Windows 10 PC to Alexa which opens up the possibility to control Microsoft applications. Echo users will first need to enable the Cortana skill in the Alexa app, which includes logging in with a Microsoft account. Then you can ask Alexa to order milk, and then have Alexa “wake” Cortana to view your schedule and send an email in Outlook. In the same way, you can use a Windows-based computer to ask Cortana to nudge Alexa to hail an Uber.
WHAT DEVICES CAN BE CONTROLLED VIA ALEXA?
There are lots of devices that can be controlled via Alexa and the list is growing. As long as you have one of the devices above, you can control these devices with your voice.
Lights are one of the easiest ways to start smartening up your home. With Alexa integration, you can ask Alexa to turn them on or off. Philips Hue has one of the most versatile lighting systems around. Whether you’re opting for white bulbs or colour changing, there are Hue options. Keep in mind that you’ll need a bridge and a separate app for all of these products. For a bridgeless option, Lifx makes dimmable white bulbs and multicolor bulbs, as well as lightstrips.Wondrwall light switches replace standard light switches and besides accepting Alexa commands, you can also control the lights by talking to Alexa, whether on the light switch or via another Alexa device such as your mobile phone or PC.
Smart plugs are great for turning non-connected devices into things you can control remotely. Whether you have a lamp or just tend to leave your hair curlers on, a connected plug can turn them on or off for you. Alexa compatibility is especially nice, because you can ask her to turn on your reading lamp without having to get up from your chair.The Belkin Wemo Mini smart plug has a slim design, so you can fit two on a single outlet. The app lets you set schedules, and you can set up If This Then That to make its capabilities even more robust. Belkin also has a slightly bulkier energy-monitoring Insight plug that will show you how much electricity your space heater or whatever else you have plugged in is using.
Smart locks are no doubt convenient for letting in the cleaners when you’re not home, but they make some people nervous. Can someone hack in and break in to my home? What if the batteries die? Both the Kwikset Kevo Smart Lock and August Smart Lock also work with regular keys if you forgot your phone inside or something else goes wrong. In fact, the August Smart Lock works with your existing lock, making it a great choice for renters who have landlords that need access to their units. They both require a separate hub to work with Alexa. Pairing with Alexa means you can check the status of the lock, lock it, or even unlock it with voice commands. Getting her to unlock your door requires a vocally recited pin, so you should check who is around before shouting it out.
One big reason people start getting smart devices for their home is security, so there are no shortage of security cameras that let you do DIY monitoring of your property. One perk of the Echo Show, Echo Spot, or Amazon Fire TV is that they can show you camera footage without you having to pull out your phone and open an app.
The Netgear Arlo Q is an affordable security camera that gives you access to seven days of recording. It has both motion and sound triggers, as well as night vision. Because it’s one of the brands that works with the Amazon devices above, you see the video feed on their screens. Some of our other favourite security cameras can also do the same: the Logitech Circle 2 and the Nest Cam Outdoor.
As appliances get smarter, we’ll see more and more add Alexa compatibility. Whirlpool went practically all- in on Alexa last year, for example. A number of its fridges, dishwashers, wall ovens, ranges, and microwaves will come with Wi-Fi connectivity and voice activation. GE has a fridge with a built-in Keurig and you can ask Alexa to make you a cup of coffee. Bosch has its own line of smart appliances you can control with Alexa. If you’re looking for a voice- activated vacuum, both the iRobot Roomba 690 and Neato BotVac 540 will start cleaning upon your command.
Depending on the type of car you have, you may be able to use Alexa to control your vehicle. Some skills let you ask Alexa to turn on the engine, lock your doors, or turn on the headlights, even when you’re in your home. For new models with Alexa built-in or an infotainment system that’s compatible with Alexa, you can ask the voice assistant to tell you how much gas is in your car, set the temperature, and more.
WONDRWALL INTELLIGENT HOMES
With Alexa built-in to the light switches in a Wondrwall home, you can control all of the devices above using Alexa voice commands. In addition, you can of course control the different devices and functions of Wondrwall such as heating, lighting, security, safety and music. Check out the section above for some commands or get the Wondrwall skill.
CHANGE ALEXA’S ACCENT AND LANGUAGE
You do not have to use the standard Alexa accent. Alexa has lots of different ones to choose from and you can easily change them within the app. Australian, Indian, British, Canadian – the list just keeps expanding. Go to Settings > Language within the Alexa app on your mobile phone.Currently, besides English. The other languages supported by Alexa are German, French and Japanese with more to come. Alexa has been designed from the ground up for each language, so native speakers can expect a smooth experience. Bear in mind that certain features, such as Voice Purchasing, will not work if you select a language which is different from the region you currently live.
To change the language, follow these steps:
1. Open the Alexa App.
2. Tap the gear icon.
3. Tap your device.
4. Scroll down and tap Language.
5. Tap the drop-down box and select a language.
6. Tap Save Changes.
7. Tap Yes, Change to confirm.
IS ALEXA THE ONLY DIGITAL ASSISTANT? WHICH IS BEST?
Undoubtedly, digital assistants are getting more sophisticated. And while they’re still mostly used for playing music or asking for information, they are increasingly being used to help make our lives easier – either through home automation or support with routine tasks. Of the three assistant technologies currently on the market Amazon’s Alexa remains the most advanced with products like the Echo Dot being a particularly good value. However, Google is catching up and we predict major advances from the search giant in the future. As for Siri, it seems that Apple has now dropped to the back of the pack, not being very widespread, available in very few devices and with limited voice commands and capabilities.