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Top Alexa Tips and Tricks: Make the Most of Amazon's assistants

Written by  Sam Leach Jul 21, 2018

The Amazon Echo can make to-do lists, set alarms, stream podcasts, play audiobooks, read PDFs, provide weather forecasts, warn you of traffic, answer trivia, control your smart home and serve up other information in real-time.

We've been living with the Echo, Echo 2, Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Show and Alexa for some time so here's how to get the most out of your cool smart home devices.


Introducing Echo Plus – With built-in smart home hub (White) £139.99

Amazon Echo tips and tricks

Mute the "Alexa" wake word:

Amazon Echo is always listening for the word "Alexa". Whenever you say it, the Echo will listen, consider what you're saying and respond. But if you don't want the Echo to wake and respond, there's a mute button on the top of the speaker that you can press to mute Alexa.

Press it again to unmute her. Simples.

Change Echo the wake word

If you happen to have someone in your house called "Alex" or similar, then you'll find the Echo responds when you say that name too. You can choose another word too; Computer, Amazon and Echo are all available.

Head into the Alexa app > settings > select your Echo > Wake Word and pick a new word from the list.

amazon-echo-spot-300x300

Amazon Echo Spot

Price: £119.99 from Amazon UK

How to control Amazon Echo through your browser

There are a couple ways you can control your Echo, as well as your to-do and shopping lists. The first, as we mentioned, is through the Alexa app. The second way is through the web. Just visit this site in your browser: http://echo.amazon.com and you'll be able to log-in and control your device without needing a phone.

Customise your Flash Briefing

When you say "Alexa, what's new?" or "Alexa, flash briefing", you'll be given a catch-up of information based on news and weather. You can change the services in the Alexa app. Head into Settings > Flash Briefing and you'll see where your news is coming from and the ability to turn the weather off. You can also add more content to Flash Briefing and change the order in which it is delivered.

Create a sports update

If you say "Alexa sports update" you'll get a rundown of news for teams you have chosen. Head into the Alexa app > Settings > Sports update and you'll find the option to search for teams. You can add important teams, like West Ham or Seattle Seahawks, or find national teams. Not all sports are covered, however.

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Get traffic details for your commute

Head into the Alexa app, Settings > Traffic and you can put in your work address, as well as any stops on your route - like school drop-off. Then you can ask Alexa for the traffic details in the morning, or add traffic to a routine.

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Amazon Echo Show

Price: £199.99 from Amazon UK

Add your calendar to your Echo

If you want Alexa to serve up your calendar details, then head into the Alexa app, Settings > Calendars. There's the option to add Google, Microsoft and Apple. Once you're linked up, you can ask Alexa what's in the calendar, what appointments you have, or what's happening on a specific date. On the Echo Show, you're also shown these events on the screen.

Control voice purchasing

Alexa allows you to buy things from Amazon using your account and default payment method. This can all be done with voice, so you can search for something and then buy it and it will appear on your doorstep. Anyone talking to your Echo can do this, so if you've got kids or have visitors, it's worth turning off. Head into the Alexa app, Settings > Voice Purchasing and you can toggle the feature off. Even with it off, you can still add things to your basket.

To add protection for those who do want to buy with voice, there's the option to have a voice code - basically a PIN code you'll need to say to make that purchase.

Connect a Bluetooth speaker to your Echo

The Echo can be connected to a Bluetooth speaker, so you can, for example, connect a Dot to something with much more gusto, like your soundbar. To do this, head into the Alexa app > Settings and select the Echo you want to pair. Then select Bluetooth and you can see devices that your Echo has paired with before, or you can pair with a new device. You'll have to put that Bluetooth speaker into pairing mode, then you simply follow the instructions in the app.

amazon-echo0

New Amazon Echo (2nd generation)

Price: £89.99 from Amazon UK

Connect your Echo to a music system via 3.5mm cable

The Echo Dot, Echo 2 and Echo Plus all have a 3.5mm connection in the base next to the power cable. This can be used to connect those devices to another device via 3.5mm cable. You'll have to supply the cable yourself, but it's simply a case of plugging one device into another. This will let you add Alexa skills to a bigger system - like your AV receiver - so you can use better speakers, but still have the fun of Alexa voice control. Generally, the wired connection is a better option than Bluetooth.

Create a multi-room group for music

One of the more recent skills that Alexa has adopted is multi-room music. This will let you pair Echo devices and play music across them - great for parties. Head into the Alexa app and head into the "smart home" section. Here you'll see devices, groups and scenes. Tap the groups tab > add group. You'll see the option for "Amazon Multi-Room Music Group". Tap this and give the group a name, then you'll see all the devices you can add to that group. Then just say "play music [group name]" and you have a multi-room experience.

Sadly, you can't use third-party Alexa devices (like the UE Megablast) in a multi-room groups.

Amazon Echo Buttons

Price for two: See on £19.99 from Amazon UK

Change the default music service

The Echo is compatible with a range of music services, not just Amazon's own. If you'd rather use Spotify, head into the Alexa app > Settings > Music & Media.

In this section you can link music accounts and pick the default. Then, when you say "Alexa, play Phil Collins" it will use Spotify rather than Amazon Music, for example.

Play a song you don't know

If you've got a tune in your head and you know some of the words, trying singing them to Alexa. Alexa may well recognise that song and offer to play the version you actually want. "Alexa, Here Comes Santa Clause, Here Comes Santa Clause" will offer the Elvis version of Winter Wonderland, you can then easily ask for the Snoop Dogg version (do it).

Rename your Echo

Your Echo will probably have a boring name, like "Dan's Echo" or "Dan's Echo Dot". Renaming helps you manage different devices, but also make's it easier to use functions through a specific device, like Alexa calling. Head into the settings and tap on the device you want to rename and you'll find the option.

Play music on a different Echo

If you have more than one Echo device, you can tell one Echo to play music on another Echo - separate from groups. This is where renaming can help, because you can call your Echo "Office" or "Kitchen" and tell any Echo on your system to play music in that room.

echo dot

Amazon Echo Dot

Price: £49.99 from Amazon UK

Listen to Audible or Kindle books on your Echo

A great option if you have an Audible account - or if you just want to listen to the free Audible version of A Christmas Carol - is to get your Echo to do it. Say "Alexa, read me my book" and playback of your current Audible book will resume. You can also ask what Audible books you have and Alexa will list them - on the Echo Show you see the covers too.

If you're a Kindle user, you can listen to some Kindle books too. Just say "Alexa, read my Kindle book" and the Echo will pick-up where you stopped reading. To see the books that Alexa can read, head into the Alexa app, Music, Video & Books and tap on Kindle - a full list will appear. In this case, however, it's Alexa reading the book and the delivery isn't as good as the professionally-read Audible books. (A free trial of Audible is available.)

Setup a smart home device

One of Alexa's greatest skills is working with other systems around your home. In many cases, you'll find them labelled as "Works with Alexa" when you buy them. The first step is to connect and power-up your new smart home devices. Then say "Alexa, discover my devices" and your Echo will scan to see what's available.

In many cases you'll have to add a skill - which will involve signing into your account for that service - so that Alexa knows who it's talking to. Alexa will then have native controls "Alexa set my heating to 21 degrees" or skill-specific controls "Alexa tell Hive to set my heating to 21 degrees."

If you're using the Echo Plus, Zigbee devices can be used out of the box with no setup. When you discover (as above), Alexa will know what to do with them.

The best smart home experience, however, is always to setup the relevant device first and then introduce it to Alexa.

Add skills to Alexa

There are lots of things that the Echo will do by default, but sometimes you'll have to enable a particular feature to get more. These are called skills, and basically give Alexa access to particular information. In the Alexa app head into Skills and you'll find a range of compatible apps and features. It's here you can enable control of your Hive heating or access to your BMW Connected app, for example.

If you don't know what the skill is, trying telling Alexa what you want to do and she might suggest the skill, or ask to enable the skill and Alexa will search and tell you what there is.

echo spot

Amazon Echo Spot

Price: £119.99 from Amazon UK

Set up a routine

Alexa can now run routines, meaning you can have a sequence of actions when you say a particular phrase. The idea is you can say "Alexa, good night" and you'll get a range of actions - turning off the lights, turning on the security cameras and so on. These are customisable (to a certain extent). Head into the Alexa app and select routines. You'll then be walked through the options - although there aren't too many actions at the moment, but we expect it to expand.

Setup Household Profiles

From the Amazon website you can link your family Prime accounts. With a feature called Household Profiles, you can add another adult to your Amazon Household to listen to either his or her content (for instance, music and audiobooks) and manage shared features (like lists).

Go to Settings, scroll down the page, and set up your Household. Shared members will have to download the Echo app and agree to join the household. You can also the app to setup your household too. More information about Household Profiles is at this support page.

Also see: Top UK Amazon Echo deals

Switch Amazon account profiles

Thanks to Household Profiles, Amazon Echo can be synced with more than one Amazon account. To find out which profile you're currently using, say "Alexa, which profile am I using?" To switch profiles, say either "Alexa, switch profile" (moves to the next profile) or "Alexa, switch to David's profile" (moves to the profile you named). More information about Household Profiles is at this support page.

Force software updates

Amazon Echo has a CPU and software running it that needs updating. The speaker looks for updates every night, but if you want to force an update, just hit that same mute button we discussed earlier, then let Echo sit for at least 30 minutes, and the speaker will update.

Control the settings of your different Echos

If you have more than one Echo, you you find the controls for each device in the Alexa app. Head into the settings in the app and you'll see a list of all your Alexa devices - this will include all Echo devices, third-party speakers (like the UE Megablast), as well as Fire tablets and Alexa apps on phones.

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Amazon Echo Show

Price: £199.99 from Amazon UK

Amazon Echo: What can you say to Alexa?

Here are some examples of things you can do with Echo/Alexa, along with links to their relevant Amazon support pages:

amazon-echo0

New Amazon Echo (2nd gen)

Price: £89.99 from Amazon UK

Amazon Echo: What are some funny questions to ask?

Ask Alexa these questions and we promise you'll love her responses:

  • "Alexa, what does WTF stand for?"
  • "Alexa, Up Up, Down Down, Left Right, Left Right, B, A, Start"
  • "Alexa, how much is that doggy in the window?"
  • "Alexa, Is Santa real?"
  • "Alexa, do you know Hal?"
  • "Alexa, Who shot first?"
  • "Alexa, which came first: the chicken or the egg?"
  • "Alexa, what is love?"
  • "Alexa, what's the meaning of life?"

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