Alexa has many skills, and can do more than you realize. These tips & tricks will help you get the most out of your Amazon Echo.
Alexa is a digital assistant built for Amazon Echo loudspeakers, Fire tablets plus TVs, headphones and even car stereos. There are many things you can do with Alexa, and the purpose of this guide is to help you use core features such as playing music to set the routine so that some things happen when you say special sentences.
We assume that you have set up your Echo and have the Alexa application on your mobile. It’s a good idea to browse the ‘Things Tried’ section, which you’ll find if you tap the menu button in the upper left corner.
If you have Echo Show – one of Amazon’s smart displays – you will see Things to Try appear at the bottom of the screen. Unfortunately, there is no option to turn it off, but it is mostly a useful reminder of what you can say, as well as suggestions for new features that you might not have used.
Things to Try – in the Alexa application – are divided into various categories so just select and try saying a few commands. One part to look at is ‘What’s New’ because it tells you the latest features.
From setting timers and alarms to finding information and changing units and measurements, Alexa can be useful in many situations (especially when cooking).
Top tip: If you keep Echo in your room and you don’t want Alexa to bark her response at night, you can turn on whisper mode, where she will whisper back to you when you whisper to her.
Top tip: You have to say Alexa first, but you don’t need to stop and wait before asking a question. Plus, there’s no point in saying “Stop the timer, Alexa” because he will only hear “Alexa” without a command afterward.
For example you can say “Alexa, how is the weather on Sunday”. As long as you watch to see that the blue LED lights up to indicate that he has heard his name, keep talking.
We have compiled a list of what you can say to Alexa.
Alexa Tip: Music & radio
One of the echo playback features is playing music. By default, Alexa will play from Amazon Music. But if you have a Spotify subscription you can say “Alexa, play Billie Jean from Spotify” to determine which service to use. You need to configure your Spotify account first, so open the main menu in the Alexa app and tap on Settings> Music & Media. The same thing applies to Apple Music.
Tap one of these services and then ‘LINK YOUR ACCOUNT’.
Alexa also supports TuneIn, and this means you can listen to the radio. BBC radio is no longer available on TuneIn but you can still listen by saying “Alexa play Radio 2” and it will start playing. TuneIn is used for other radio stations, so your favorite FM or digital radio station must be there.
Top tip: If you have more than one Echo, you can add it to the group and synchronize music playback on several or all of them. You will find the option to create a group under Devices> Speaker Group.
Top tip: You can ask Alexa to play music on certain Echo if you have more than one. First, make sure you are named your Echo. It usually makes sense to give a name after the room is entered. Do this under Settings> Device Settings> [Your Echo Device]> Edit Name.
Then you can say “Alexa, play lively music everywhere” or “Alexa, play 90s music in the lounge”.
You will see what is currently playing on the Echo Show screen, but you can ask “Alexa, turn on Song ID” to make it announce the song artist and song title at the beginning of each song.
Bluetooth Tip: You can use the built-in Bluetooth of Echo (or Show) speakers to play music from your phone, or even connect Bluetooth headphones or speakers for better sound quality. Here’s how to pair Alexa with your Bluetooth device.
Alexa Reminder and list
Alexa can remind you of many things. Just say “Alexa, remind me to pay for my TV license tomorrow at 11am”. Obviously you will not hear a reminder if you are not within earshot, but he will remind you at that time.
You can also check the reminder in the Alexa application, of course, so it doesn’t disappear after the specified time and date.
Separate list for reminders. There are two: Shopping and Agenda. Ask Alexa to put something on the list by saying “Alexa, add cornflakes to my grocery list”. Then, when you are at the supermarket you can check the list inside the application.
The list of things to do isn’t sophisticated enough to include deadlines, but you can also say “Alexa, add a trash can to your list of things to do”.
Why does Alexa blink yellow or green?
The ring of light on the Echo speaker will light up or blink in various colors to indicate certain things.
Solid red means the microphone is muted.
Yellow means there is a message waiting, so say “Alexa, read my notice”.
For more, read our guide to what all Alexa colors mean.
In addition to the core functions of Alexa, you can activate more by looking through the Skill library. There are thousands, but some require you to have hardware (like smart lights or switches) or subscribe to certain services. However, most are absolutely free to use and will work right away.
They include everything from Skills to checking train times to games and ‘silly’ features like Meow Meow, where Alexa will make cat noises.
If you already know the name of the skill, just say “Alexa activate skill [skill name]”. If not, in the Alexa application, from the main menu choose Skill & Games and browse or search. Star rating helps to see whether others think it is a good skill or not.
You can also create and customize your personal Alexa skills, which is great for when you have a guest of the house or for someone’s birthday.
One of the best features is the ability to set a series of actions that occur at your command. So, even though Alexa can’t accept multiple requests at once (yet!), Routines are a kind of solution for this.
You can configure, for example, that Alexa will turn on the lights and read your Flash Briefing when you say “Alexa, good morning”.
The first will only happen if you have compatible smart lights (see Control your item below). The latter is a built-in feature that gives you the latest news and weather.
To adjust Flash Briefing, go to Settings> Flash Briefing. Tap the box next to the service you want to include, and tap ‘Get more Flash Redirect content’ to add more.
Remember that not all services offered are audio recordings: some use Alexa’s text-to-speech function. Unfortunately, this is not good enough compared to listening to news bulletins that have been previously recorded. But you can turn off anything you don’t like easily.
Control your lights and switches
Many companies include Alexa support for their smart home gadgets, including Wi-Fi light bulbs, smart plugs, security cameras, temperature and motion sensors, thermostats and radiator valves.
You must activate the relevant skills, then enter your login details and allow Alexa to control the devices through your account.
Then it’s just a case of learning exactly what must be said to control them, as well as what is possible. For example, you can group several smart light bulbs and ask Alexa to turn them on and off simultaneously by saying “Alexa turn off the lights”.
When naming any device, it’s as simple as possible to make sure Alexa doesn’t miss hearing you.
If you have an Echo Show or Spot, you can view video feeds from compatible cameras and video doorbells. Activate Skill from the camera manufacturer and enter your account details. Then say “Alexa, show the front door” or use whatever name you give the camera. Remember, change the name of your camera if the current name is not easy to pronounce or easily understood by Alexa.
In some countries, you can activate Alexa Guard, which will listen for smoke alarms and the sound of broken glass, and automatically turn on lights to help protect your home when no one is in it.
Alexa can send messages and make voice calls to other Alexa users.
After you allow him to access your cellphone (or tablet) contacts, he can identify who has the Echo or Alexa application.
You can then say “Alexa, tell Marc I’ll be driving around in 15 minutes”. Your voice record will then be played on their Echo when they check their messages.
Or you can type your message in the Alexa application, and he will then read it in his voice instead of using your recorded voice.
For more details see our guide to Alexa messages and calls.
There is also the ability to broadcast messages on all of your Echo devices. Ask Alexa at each Echo and say “Alexa says everyone’s dinner is ready” and he will announce it around the house.
Drop-in is another feature which means you can start voice or video calls with trusted contacts without waiting for them to answer first. Sounds a bit strange, but when used between two Echos in the same house, or for grandparents’ video calls, it is a useful feature.
Fun things to do with Alexa
Amazon has provided many responses to Alexa: You just need to know what to ask. We have compiled a list of 100 things that you can ask Alexa to get a funny response. One quick example is “Alexa, tell us a joke”.
And there are several games that you can play. So try saying the following:
- Alexa, play 20 questions
- Alexa, play rock, paper, scissors
- Alexa, play Bingo
- Alexa, open Who wants to be a millionaire
- Alexa, open Trivia’s Geography
- If you play board games, say “Alexa, roll the dice”.