No matter how many Amazon Echo commercials you see, it takes a little time to adjust to Alexa. Putting a virtual assistant in your home signals a change in lifestyle, sort of like adopting a puppy. There will be a lot of trial-and-error, but once you find your rhythm, you'll forget what life was like without it.
The Amazon Echo listens for the wake word, Alexa. Frankly, I was shocked by how many conversations were recorded by my Echo that did not include the wake word. You might be, too.
The device is programmed to respond to almost unlimited commands and variations, and there are tens of thousands of individual “skills” you can add to its repertoire. But the journey of a million commands starts with a single wake phrase.
“Alexa, play Maroon 5.”
Lest we forget, the Echo is a speaker, originally designed to play audio. You can use Echo to play your own music, Amazon Prime playlists, browse Spotify or Pandora, search the Internet for a song, and even check into global radio stations.
“Alexa, set the volume to six.”
You can change the volume without leaving your seat or even pressing a remote. You can also skip tracks, pause the music, and “like” a song. You could spend days just playing with the music features, which become more expansive when you subscribe to different services.
“Alexa, what time is it?”
If your phone or watch isn't handy, you can ask Alexa what time it is. But that's just the tip of the temporal iceberg: you can also ask what time it is in another city, or what time it will be in 37 hours, or even set a timer for the cake in your oven.
“Alexa, Wikipedia: Toilet paper orientation.”
Using the Echo to find information is like discovering Google all over again. The experience feels completely different. Most of us are so accustomed to typing our questions and then reading the results, not dictating our questions and hearing the answers recited back to us. If you asked Alexa this question, you'd hear the Wikipedia entry about the over or under social consequences.
“Alexa, what's the score of…”
If you're near your Echo, why aren't you watching the game? There are a million reasons you might be separated from your favorite game, but now you can check the score (verbally) whenever you want. This could be especially important when family obligations tear your away from the TV, but you still want to know how your team is faring.
“Alexa, how many liters in a gallon?”
One of the best surprises for Amazon Echo users is how handy the device is in the kitchen. You don't even realize how many times you have to wipe off your fingers before consulting a cookbook or iPad. Your virtual assistant becomes a kind of sous chef, looking up recipes, setting timers, and, yes, making quick conversions.
“Alexa, pick a number between one and 57.”
I don't know about you, but I almost never carry cash anymore. This is less than ideal when you want to flip a coin. Alexa can randomize results for you, from flipping a coin to picking a number. You might be surprised how often this skill comes in handy, especially when you have tasks to delegate and you don't want to refresh yourself on the rules to Rochambeau.
“Alexa, buy more dental floss.”
After two solid months of malls and virtual storefronts, the last thing you want to think about is shopping. But you still need regular provisions to keep your household flush, and Amazon Echo makes those routine shopping trips infinitely easier. Once you connect your Echo to Amazon Pantry, you can tell Alexa to refresh household items whenever you like. This can be just as handy for a small business when you need to replenish the office supply closet.
“Alexa, buy this song.”
Amazon Music isn't as popular as iTunes, but it has become a strong competitor. The subscription service combines some of the best parts of streaming platforms, like Pandora, and the traditional iTunes model.
“Alexa, ask Uber for a ride.”
For the millennial adult, it doesn't get better than this: sitting at home, playing with your Echo, and then deciding to meet someone for a hot totty at a nearby gastropub, but you don't want to drive. To call an Uber or Lyft, you don't need to get up from the futon, or lift your hand, or even open your eyes. Once you have connected Alexa to your ride-share app, you can make local travel arrangements in seconds.
“Alexa, what's the weather going to be like in Boulder, Colorado this weekend?”
In the flurry of life, we often forget to check the weather, which can be downright dangerous if we are driving six hours through freezing rain. Alexa can check the weather almost anywhere on the planet, so you'll know how to dress and whether to finally invest in those snow tires.
“Alexa, ask Flight Tracker for Delta 162.”
It's hard to believe that airline passengers used to have to physically arrive at the airport to find out that their flight had been delayed. Nowadays, Google can give you real-time updates on individual flights that rival anything on a control tower's screen. Alexa makes this even faster, enabling you to ask about any flight on any major airline. This can be a real timesaver if you're about to zoom out the door, and you find out your sister's plane is delayed by two hours.
“Alexa, turn on Fire TV.”
Beginners usually spend a lot of one-on-one time with their Echo, figuring out all the wonderful things it can do on its own. But you may also be interested in the myriad smart devices that Alexa can control. One of the simplest gadgets to sync is Fire TV. Verbally request a specific film, fast forward to a favorite scene, or skip to the next chapter without so much as a remote control.
“Alexa, raise temperature to 78 degrees.”
Smart homes are already designed for ease of operation and energy efficiency. But many devices also connect to the Amazon Echo, and you can manipulate many aspects of your environment using only your voice. With a smart thermostat, you can ask Alexa to change the temperature of the room.
“Alexa, read me my Kindle book.”
Audible is the reigning champion of audiobooks, and Amazon customers often enroll in the program and fall in love with recorded books. But this feature takes that idea one step further: with a Kindle, Alexa will read the book to you. Not everyone will like the robotic voice, especially if they prefer a flesh and blood narrator, but it's helpful for people with visual impairments.
“Alexa, show me pictures of puppies.”
The revolutionary new device is the Echo Show, which combines speakers with a TV-like screen. This screen adds a new dimension to the virtual assistant genre. If you were already adept at the Echo, using the Show will require some adaptation. To test its capabilities, try something simple, like asking for a particular type of image. I recommend cute, fuzzy animals.
“Alexa, show me a recipe for chicken soup from AllRecipes.”
As I mentioned, the Echo is great for cooking, and many users set up Echo Show in their kitchens, either to consult recipes or to watch a program on Hulu while they chop carrots. AllRecipes is just one of many culinary archives you can pore over; you could watch any number of Tasty videos or Food Network shows as well.
“Alexa, show me the front door camera.”
Many people develop their smart homes with security in mind, and Echo Show can be connected to your digital CCTV system to show you footage from different parts of the house. If you hear a bump in the night and want to check out the garage without actually going there (and thereby putting yourself at risk), you can scan the screen for intruders.
“Alexa, show me the trailer for 'Blade Runner 2049.”
Echo Show is great for all kinds of videos and movie-watching, especially when you just “want something in the background.” Curiously, Amazon has been pushing the Show's ability to screen movie trailers. This might sound odd to some; why would you set up a little TV just to watch commercials? But it's a fun way to pass the time and figure out what you want to stream next on Prime Video.