Alexa isn’t anything new to the smart home community! The smart-tech revolution is now at its full swing, and needless to say “Amazon Echo” is the heart of it. The brain behind the brawns if I may put it that way. Research shows that there are going to be more than 21.4 million smart speakers in the US alone by 2020 – data by Activate.
Millions of households across the globe have incorporated Alexa into their daily routine. Let it be listening to music, or asking Alexa to set up your morning coffee for you – while you are still in bed, without a doubt in mind; Alexa is the heart of any smart home.
If you own Amazon Echo or any of their line-up, I am sure you know by now how to use Alexa to check-up on your local weather or play your favourite music playlist. This people! Is just the tip of the digital iceberg and by the end of this article, you would be grateful that you spent time into reading what Alexa can actually do that would allow you to embed it into your daily routine.
Out of thousands of skills Alexa offers, I have shortlisted the Top 11 ones, that would actually make your day brighter, and at the end, you would start feeling proud of owning the Alexa device. Let us now dig straight to it!
Here is the list of the Top 11 most useful Alexa skills that I use every day!
Automated Actions with The Help of “Routines”
Let us assume you are the “Boss” at your workplace. Well, not everyone is! But surely, I would like to believe that you are one.
Let us consider that Alexa is just like the personal-assistant that you have at the office.
Whenever you walk in, you do not have to remind your assistant to grab you a cup of coffee? Or remind your PA to attend to the phone calls! Duh, reason being; your assistant already is aware of your morning routine and doesn’t need to be reminded of each. Well, the best ones do! What I am implying here is, that your personal assistant at work doesn’t need to be reminded of each and every tiny little thing and you have a peace of mind that your tasks are being attended to and are automated with the presence of an assistant at work.
Similar is the case with Alexa. She can act as a personal assistant for you at home, allowing you to automate your daily routines with the help of “Routines”.
For instance, as soon as you enter the home from a long day at work; you can say “Alexa! I am home”. Given you have created a routine which involves actions you take whenever you enter the home, it would then automatically: Switch on lights, turn on the HVAC system and read the daily news bulletin to you. And much more…
Similarly, if you say “Alexa, Goodnight!”, then you can expect Alexa to switch off or dim the lights, lock the doors and set your thermostat to the desired temperature that you have set for your periods of sleep.
If you’re keen to know what other voice commands you could give to your Alexa, then there is a very elaborative list of Alexa voice commands available for your easy-read and references.
To create a Routine, head over to your Alexa app and follow the below guidelines:
- Go to the menu and select “Routines”
- Select the + icon in the top right corner.
- Select “When this happens” and then here you can choose how to trigger the Routine.
- Select “Add action”and choose which action it completes. To receive a notification, you can select “Send notification”.
- Under “From” section, select which device controls the Routine.
- Tap “Create”
Ever noticed while being in a hotel, that a particular announcement is being broadcasted throughout the hotel speakers? Something like “Dear Valuable Guests, The Lunch is on us today. Please head over to the lobby and straight into the hotels’ restaurant.” God, I wish such a hotel exists *wink*
Anyhow, getting back to the topic. You can very well mimic this concept at your very home by using the “Announcement” feature of Alexa. Let us assume you have multiple Echo devices throughout your home. You can interlink them together and then set up announcements which would basically serve as an intercom. You can broadcast a single message which would then be played on all of the Alexa devices in your household at the same time.
A prime example of this would be, “Alexa, announce that the lunch is ready”. Alexa would then record this voice command of yours and broadcast (play) it on all the Alexa interconnected devices at your home. What a great way to remind your kids to close the PlayStation and head down for Lunch.
The Amazon Echo is also packed with a feature called the “Drop In”. The concept is similar to “Hey, I thought to quickly drop in to check if you are feeling better”. Drop In the Amazon echo works in a similar fashion. You can connect to any of the interconnected Echo’s at your home and just simply engage in a two-way audio conversation with the person on the other end of the echo. Practical use of this would be:
“Alexa, Drop In on kitchen!”
Once Alexa connects to the Kitchen echo, it would give alert you with a beep.
Once connected, you can then communicate to your wifey and ask:
“Hi Sweetheart, how is the dinner coming along?”
Since Drop In is supported by a two-way audio feature, you can then talk away.
Once done, you can say “Alexa, hang up”, and the Drop In would disconnect.
Incredible isn’t it?!
You can even Drop In to your friends and families Echos.
To set this up, fire up the Alexa app:
- Navigate to “Settings”.
- Select the Amazon Echo device you want to connect to and tap “Drop In”.
- You now have the option to select ON” or “Only My Household” to enable Drop In conversations.
Make Free Phone Calls
Alexa isn’t the only one you can talk to through your echo device. You can very well place and receive voice calls with an echo and enjoy seamless conversations. The Alexa app supports Alexa-to-Alexa voice calling on iPhone with iOS 9.0 and above, and an Android phone with a 5.0 version or higher. If you have got your hands on the Echo Show, then you can also initiate video calls in between the Alexa supported devices.
To activate the calling feature in Alexa, you will need:
- A valid Amazon account.
- Your mobile number which you intend to register.
- The Alexa app installed on your smartphone
To activate this feature, open the Alexa app:
- Goto the conversations tab (bottom of the screen, speech bubble icon).
- Follow the on-screen instructions to link your mobile number.
Once you have allowed Alexa to access your Contacts list, you can then simply give the voice command to call anybody you want to speak to from your contact list.
The only limitation here is that the person you are trying to reach out to needs to have an Amazon Echo device or any Alexa compatible device linked to their mobile numbers for this inter-communication call to take place.
Earlier this year, Amazon had inked a deal with both AT&T and Skype to communicate using your Amazon devices. So, once you link your Amazon account to your AT&T account, then you don’t necessarily need to have your mobile phone present around the household to access this “FREE PHONE CALLS” feature on the Amazon Echo.
Keen to know more about this AT&T integration with Amazon Echo, then click on the link to read more.
Translation at Your Fingertips
The concept of having a gadget that you could speak to, and it would then process what you have said, into a foreign language, was always considered a thing of the future. Isn’t it?
Wrong! Echo can do precisely that and in the most accurate way possible. And that too, in the present age! Yay! This is a paradigm shift in the world of meetings, foreign exchange students or couch surfing hosts. Imagination is the key to where this kind of extraordinary feature can be put to use.
To use this feature, you need to download a skill called “Translated”. Once installed, all you need to do to access it is by saying:
“Alexa, open Translated.”
After the skill has been enabled, just say:
“Alexa, how do you say Good Morning in Japanese.”
Or perhaps any of the other 37 supported languages of the Translated app. The only drawback to this is that you need to speak in ENGLISH and the Translated app then converts it into the 37 languages.
A live demo to the Translated app can be seen in the video below:
Controlling Your TV
Got a dumb TV at home? Convert it into a smart TV right now with the aid of a Firestick.
Read my in-depth article on how to convert a standard computer monitor into a smart TV or if you are keen into finding out what actually is a DUMB TV and whether you have one.
Once you convert your DUMB TV into a smart TV with the help of a Firestick, you can potentially then control your TV by using your voice commands given out to the Echo device it’s connected to.
To set this up, fire up your Alexa app:
- Select “Music, Videos & Books”.
- Select “Fire TV >> Link Your Alexa Device”.
- Follow the on-screen instructions to select the devices you want to link.
- To confirm the link, tap on “Link Devices”.
If you are keen into finding out step-by-step instructions, then head over to the article here by Amazon.
Once connected, you can then issue commands to your Tele by saying:
“Alexa, turn up the volume.”
“Alexa, Pause the video.”
…. And much more!
If you have just got one Firestick, then the commands that you give out to the Echo would correlate directly to the Firestick device linked to your Echo.– PRO TIP by SmartNutter.com
Much like Apple’s AirPlay or the Sonos system, you can very well execute a similar feature with your multiple Echo devices at your home. You can set them up to play the same music at the same time, much like having a centralized speaker system at your home.
To set it up, fire up the Alexa app:
- Go to “Settings”.
- Scroll down until you find “Audio Groups”.
- Select “Multi-Room Music”.
- Here you should be able to see all of your “Smart Home Groups”.
- Select “Add Group >> Amazon Multi-Room Music Group”.
- Select the name of your new group.
- Add the echo devices you want to be added into this newly formed group.
Now since we have a group created. Let us play music on all of them simultaneously, shall we?
“Alexa, play Michael Jackson’s History on Group 1” – Group 1 is the name I assumed you would give to your multi-room audio setup *wink*
Setting up Timers
Timers is the single best thing Amazon could do to help me save on the scolding’s that I have received from my wife whenever I burnt the sirloin steak!
Well, now! No more.
With Echo present in my kitchen, I can easily set up multiple timers and also categorize them individually. For example:
“Alexa set a 45-minute timer for the cookies” and “Alexa set a 10-minute timer for the pasta.”
After the time has passed, Alexa would start repeatedly beeping until you give out the command:
If you are not keen on repeating to Alexa to stop the Timer, then I would suggest replacing the command TIMER with REMINDER. This way it would beep only twice instead of the continuous beeps, which can at times tend to annoy the wifey *wink*.
To manually manage the timers, just fire up the Alexa app and:
- Tap the hamburger shaped icon (button) in the top left corner. This will then to expand the menu.
- Select “Alerts & Alarms”.
- Select the “Timer” tab.
- Tap on any of the active timers.
- Tap “Pause” or “Cancel”.
Timers too are device-specific. Just as the reminders and alarms. Therefore, whichever Alexa device you decide to create a timer on, only that particular device will sound the alarm when it finishes.
Oh, Dear God! This one is a life-saver. Without this particular skill, my day would have been useless. Well, not saying that I am a very busy guy, but I would certainly like to believe so! Hey, writing this article takes time, you know!
You can easily sync your calendar from your favourite mail application directly into your Amazon Echo or the Echo Show. With the help of this feature, you can have Alexa read up your upcoming appointments. Thus giving you the real feeling of having a personal voice assistant around you.
- Microsoft Calendars via Outlook.com & Office 365
- Google Calendar
- Apple Calendar
If you are keen on knowing how you can link them, then fire up the Alexa app:
- Tap the “Menu” button in the top left corner.
- Tap “Settings”.
- Select “Calendar & Email”.
- Tap “Add Account”.
- Choose the email service you would like to connect to. And link!
- Enable (or Disable) calendar notifications.
- When finished, tap the Back-Arrow button in the top left
Voila! You are all set. Now you can add events to your calendar by saying
“Alexa, add lunch with my wife at 2 PM today” – Alexa replies, “Which Wife?” – this is supposed to be banter.
Audio, Books & Podcasts
It is easy as 1-2-3 to listen to music on your Amazon Echo, but if you are a devoted podcast listener than Alexa is the right solution for you. It allows you to access your favourite shows. Your options include:
- Apple Podcasts
To connect the music services, fire up your Alexa app:
- Tap the “More” icon in the bottom toolbar.
- Go to “Settings > Music & Podcasts > Link New Service”.
- Choose the service you want to add here.
- Tap the “Enable to use” button.
- You would then be asked to sign in to the service you want to link to your account with Amazon.
- Sign-in and tap the button to allow access.
- Tap “Done”.
If you add multiple podcasts service providers, then you also have the option to set one as “Default”. So, you don’t necessarily need to go back and forth with Alexa to stream your shows or podcasts from a particular service by repeating that service’s name every time. Once you set a default podcast service, then whatever you ask Alexa to play; it would then automatically pick up the podcast from that service provider and play it for you.
To set the default, go to:
- “Settings > Music & Podcasts > Default Services”
- Tap the “Change” link under the podcasts section and select the service you want to set as default.
After all of this has been set up, just give a command to Alexa to play your favourite podcast, such as:
“Alexa, play the podcast, Hidden Brain.”
This command would automatically play the podcast Hidden Brain from your default set service provider. (Hidden Brain, here is used as an example).
Checking the Traffic
Like most of us, we really want to be sure what time we should leave from home given how horrendous morning commutes could be due to the overlapping traffic. This problem often makes me end up being late to work since I was too acquainted with leaving at a particular time to head to work. Well, no more! My dear friend Alexa has solved this problem for me, and let me be honest with you. This is a standout feature, and it has helped me tremendously.
You can now easily ask Alexa how long would it take from point A to point B. One vital point to keep into consideration is that for Alexa to determine the distance between point A (assuming that’s your home) to point B, it needs to know the exact location of point A.
By default, your Amazon echo device is designed to pick up your current location as point A. To confirm whether that point A picked up by Echo is correct, fire up your Alexa app:
- Tap “More” on the bottom of the screen.
- “Device Settings”.
- Choose the device’s name from the list.
- (scroll down to) “Device Location” (under the General Section).
- If you can’t seem to be able to see your location registered here, just update it now.
Now since that is out of the way. Let us now configure point B (Which I assume is your work location).
Fire up the Alexa app:
- Go to “Settings”.
- (scroll down to) “Traffic” (under the Alex preferences section).
- Set the “From” and “To” fields.
“To” is the location of your work. “From” is what we configured as point A (your home).
So now when you ask Alexa in the morning:
“Alexa, how is the traffic today?”
She will respond back with the traffic details from point A to point B. Yay Alexa!
Currently, Alexa isn’t set up to provide public transport details. Hoping that in the future updates, this too would be attended to. If you are reading this, then click here to drop a quick email to the echo team requesting for this feature. Or you could even be quirky and give them a quick call on this Toll-Free Number 1-877-375-9365. The Amazon Echo Customer Support is available from 3 AM to 10 PM Pacific Time.
Ask Factual Questions
Random questions like:
“Who is the founder of Apple?”
“What are the names of Michael Jackson’s children?”
“Who invented the aeroplane?”
Tend to popup every now and then. Why not let Alexa answer these for you? Somewhat like a trivial game which could be played with your kids or even a guest-game night.
Alexa does an excellent job into answering not so obscure factual questions and answers them in the most significant way. But if you end up asking questions like:
“How did Tupac get his name?”
Then expect her to give you a haywire response. Such responses could be that she would start reading out Tupac’s Wikipedia page or even plainly respond back saying “Sorry, I don’t know”.
Statistics about Voice Processors
I know that these statistics are all over the web. But though to compile them all together under this article for those number-crunching nerd readers of mine. Here you go:
- About 30% of all the searches done on the internet will be done without a screen in 2020 – Gartner
- 13% of all the households in the United States owned a smart speaker in 2017. – OC&C Strategy Consultants
- Nearly 40 million Americans currently own a smart speaker.
- 58% of people have used voice search to find information about a local business.
- 72% of the people who used voice to search for stuff, claimed that it has become part of their daily routine now.
- Google claims 95% accuracy in their voice search technology.
- Alexa uses BING as its default search engine.
With this, I summarize my article on the Top 11 Alexa Skills that I use almost daily. These are thoroughly vetted, and I have jotted these down after personally using them. I am sure that these tips would lighten up your day and, in the end,, who hates talking to a female? – other than your wife. Of course, if she permits!
Stay safe people! Stay smart.