The wait is over. Your Amazon Echo has FINALLY arrived.
Maybe you snagged an Echo up during Prime Day. Maybe you suddenly realized that you’re a grown ass adult and deserve nice things. Maybe someone who truly, deeply loves you bought you one. No matter: Excited for you, boo!
After six months with my Echo, I’m still a huge fan. You can read my full review – or, since you probably already have one, jump right into everything you need to know about your new artificially intelligent roommate, Alexa.
For the purposes of clarification, *Echo* is the name of the device/hardware, and *Alexa* is the name of the software/virtual personal assistant.
1. Help Alexa recognize your voice better.
The Echo has seven very good microphones that are constantly listening for the word “Alexa” in your conversations. Is it creepy? At first, yes. Once you realize how much Alexa can actually do for you, that’ll change.
To get the most out of Alexa, you’ll want to make sure she understands the way you speak. Improve Alexa’s speech recognition capabilities by opening the Alexa app (free, iOS and Android) > Menu > Settings > Voice Training. It takes a little while (you’ll need to say 25 different phrases out loud), but can pause the training at any time.
2. And just a heads up: The Echo makes recordings of your voice, which can be played on the app.
Say you have a guest staying in your apartment, or your roommate’s working from home, and they start using the Echo. Whoever has access to the Alexa app that controls your Echo can listen to those requests, right from their mobile device.
So it might be good to remind everyone who passes through your home that the Echo is *listening* – and that, if it freaks ‘em out, they can press the mute button (the microphone with the line through it) at any time to turn the voice listening off.
3. You can, however, delete the recordings from the app.
Open the Alexa app and on the main screen, you should see your Alexa history. On the request “cards” you want to delete, tap More > Remove card (shown above).
To delete your *entire* voice recording history, go to Manage Your Content And Devices > Your Devices > select your Echo > Manage voice recordings > Delete.
4. Okay, now let’s start with the most useful commands.
These are things you’re going to be barking at Alexa most. Screenshot and save it for later!
You can use these commands anywhere:
- “Alexa, stop.” or “Alexa, cancel.”
- “Alexa, help.”
There are a bunch of ways to control the volume:
- “Alexa, turn it down.” or “Alexa, softer.”
- “Alexa, turn it up.” or “Alexa, louder.”
- “Alexa, volume 2.” (Choose between 0-10)
While you’re listening to music, you can say:
- “Alexa, play some jazz [or your genre/artist of choice].”
- “Alexa, set a sleep timer for [X] minutes.”
- “Alexa, pause.” or “Alexa, resume.”
- “Alexa, next song.”
- “Alexa, loop.”
- “Alexa, restart.
And when you’re listening to Pandora or iHeartRadio, say:
- “Alexa, I like this song.” or “Alexa, thumbs down.”
Here are some other ones I use a lot:
- “Alexa, what time is it?”
- “Alexa, what’s the weather like in [your city + state].”
- “Alexa, wake me up at 7 am.“
5. When you’re cooking, Alexa is an amazing hands-free tool.
Alexa is a great cooking/baking assistant and my Echo is in my kitchen for this very reason. While your hands are covered in flour or grease, try saying :
- “Alexa, set timer for 12 minutes.”
- “Alexa, how much time is left on my timer?”
- “Alexa, how many cups are in a pint?” (and other conversions)
- “Alexa, add yogurt to my shopping list.”
6. Alexa can read you a custom news briefing over breakfast.
Ask “Alexa, what’s new?” or “Alexa, read me the news.” to hear the day’s top headlines. But first! Customize your news in Settings > under Account, select Flash Briefing. There you can select all kinds of hourly briefings, from sports news to NPR.
Beware that not all sources are audio programs. It’s pretty jarring to hear a robot cheerfully read aloud the stories of the day, tbh.
7. Listen to the radio, a podcast, or your Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify.
Here are some of my favorite commands:
- “Alexa, play NPR” and it’ll play your local NPR station. You can also ask for call letters like, “Alexa, play KQED.”
- “Alexa, play [94.9 FM or your favorite local station] on TuneIn.”
- “Alexa, play Fox Sports Radio on iHeartRadio.”
- “Alexa, play comedy [or your artist of choice] station on Pandora.”
- “Alexa, play Serial podcast on TuneIn.”
- “Alexa, play my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify.“
8. Alexa is also a great to-do list manager.
Keep track of tasks by asking Alexa:
- “Add “tampons” to my shopping list.”
- “Put “call mom” on my to-do list.”
- “What’s on my shopping/to-do list?
You can view the lists from the Alexa mobile app or on desktop at alexa.amazon.com.
9. Add your Google Calendar and Alexa can tell you what your day’s like.
You can turn the Echo into a personal assistant! Go to the Alexa app > Settings > under Account > Calendar to link your Google account.
You can ask things like “Alexa, what’s on my calendar this weekend?”, “Alexa, what’s on my calendar Saturday?”, or “Alexa, when is my next event?“
10. Add your work address to ask Alexa about your daily commute.
You can ask “Alexa, how is traffic?” or “Alexa, what’s my commute?” after you’ve entered a frequently-visited location, like your office.
In the Alexa app, go to Settings > under Account, open Traffic > add your home and work addresses.
11. You can find information about local businesses and places to eat nearby.
Alexa taps into Yelp to find restaurants and businesses for you. First, make sure your location settings are correct in the Alexa app > Settings. Under Alexa Devices, select the device name and under Device location enter your address.
Now you can ask things like “Alexa, what burger restaurants are nearby?” and after she delivers the answer, you can ask follow-ups: “What is the phone number?,” “How far is it?,” or “Are they open?”.
- “Alexa, find the phone number for [name of restaurant].”
- “Alexa, find the hours for a nearby grocery store.“
12. You can access a version of the Alexa app online at alexa.amazon.com.
Here, you can view your history and settings from anywhere.
13. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to build an Echo-friendly smart home.
You can experience the ~magic of the voice-controlled smart home~ for under $50. Seriously.
All you need is a smart plug. I like Belkin’s Wemo Switch plug ($40) and the TP-Link Smart Plug ($35). You can plug virtually any appliance into these plugs: electric blankets, curling irons, fans, you name it. After that, it’s easy to set up and control your devices from the Smart Home section of the Alexa app.
I connected my outdoor patio lights to Alexa, and it was a game changer. You can put multiple smart home devices into a “group,” so when you say, “Alexa, turn on living room,” it’ll turn on the lights, fan, *and* speaker system.
There are, of course, other, more expensive Alexa-compatible devices available, like the Nest Learning Thermostat ($249) or the Philips Hue bulbs ($180) – but you don’t have to spend hundreds to live in the future.
14. You can control Spotify on the Echo from your computer or phone.
Connect your Spotify account in the Alexa app > Menu > Music & Books section to be able to ask things like:
- “Alexa, my Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify.”
- “Alexa, play Spotify to play from where you last left off.
- “Alexa, play classical jazz on Spotify.”
One of my favorite features is being able to control the Echo through the Spotify desktop or mobile apps. You can adjust the Echo’s volume, queue songs, or play/pause/skip remotely when the app says You are listening on [name of Echo].
15. While you’re at it, make Spotify the default music player.
If you don’t select Spotify as your music default, the Echo will automatically pull music from Prime Music (which has a much smaller library).
From the Amazon Alexa app, go to the Menu > Settings > under “Account” select Music & Media > scroll down to Customize my music service preferences > Choose default music services. Now, under “Choose default music services,” select Spotify. (If you don’t see this option in your app, go to alexa.amazon.com in your web browser, and you should be able to see it there.)
16. Play music from two different Spotify accounts with Amazon Household.
Have a roommate that wants to listen to their Discover Weekly playlist instead? Create a different profile for them. In the Alexa app, go to Settings > under Account, tap Household Profile > Add.
You’ll need to pass your phone or laptop to the new user, so they can enter their Amazon username and password.
Now, when you want to listen to a different Discover Weekly, for example, just say “Alexa, switch accounts” or “Alexa, which account is this?”.
17. The Echo can act as a Bluetooth speaker, too.
There are some things that Alexa has trouble finding. It might be a podcast or something from your personal library.
You can use the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker by putting your device in Bluetooth pairing mode, then saying, “Alexa, pair.” When you’re done, you can say, “Alexa, disconnect.“
18. Some of the Echo “skills” apps are amazing – and others, not so much.
Skills are like apps. In the Alexa app, you can enable different skills, made by other companies (including Uber, Lyft, Domino’s Pizza, Fitbit and more).
Some are really interesting, like this one on 1-Minute Mindfulness. Skills require a “trigger” word and you need to say, “Alexa, open [skill]” before you can continue. But because they’re not made by Amazon, some skills can be a little wonky (reviews are available on the app).
Here is a full list of available skills (warning: there are a LOT). Some of my favorites are Lyft, Quick Events (for adding Google Calendar events with Alexa), The Bartender (for instructions on how to make cocktails), and 7-Minute Workout.
19. There are a ton of Alexa features you can add through IFTTT.
IFTTT is a website that connects different gadgets and software together – and there’s a channel dedicated entirely to Amazon Alexa.
You can connect your Echo with a number of things (your phone, Evernote, etc.) in what’s called a custom “recipe.” Or you can enable a number of pre-made recipes. There’s a trigger to have Alexa find you phone, change the color of your lights when a new song plays, add your Echo to-do list items to an Evernote checklist.
These IFTTT recipes can help you deeply integrate the Echo into every part of your digital life –but like the Skills, their degree of effectiveness varies.
20. Have kids? Alexa’s easter eggs are fun and the games are pretty entertaining too.
Try asking Alexa “who loves ya, baby” or “The night is dark and full of terror” to get a surprise response. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of Alexa’s easter eggs.
The games are surprisingly entertaining, too. “Alexa, start Animal Game” will have you think of an animal, and Alexa will ask you a series of yes/no questions then guess the animal you’re thinking of. Try “Alexa, start Jazz Trivia” to test your knowledge of jazz music or “Alexa, start Movie Quotes” to match famous line with the movie it came from.