Is Alexa From Amazon Useful? Essential Tips for Newbies

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Alexa is the software and the brains; the Echo is the device or hardware you have. Alexa is a virtual voice assistant by Amazon that turns your words to actions I personally have six of them in my house, and they are scattered around. I also have many third-party devices that are compatible with Alexa.

Alexa is a useful voice assistant that is compatible with most of the smart home devices, and you can use it to control cloud-based devices, including your smart lights, play music and much more. There are hundreds of features and skills that you get when you use Alexa. You can order products through Alexa or book your Uber ride. Alexa helps you to focus on doing something else, and you can speak a command, and the Echo will execute it. You can ask Alexa to play a podcast, read your kindle book or play music while you are washing dishes.

When you have Alexa, it is great at playing music, and it is compatible with Amazon Prime Music and Spotify. When you have an Amazon Echo, you can hear details like upcoming schedules and scores. You can connect your smart home devices under the Connect Home section in the Alexa App, and if you are a shopping lover, then having Alexa is cherry on the cake. You only need to ask Alexa to add the items to do list shopping list. Then you order the products through an interactive process.

Usefulness of Alexa

Make phone calls (basically, landline calls)

Amazon brings back house phones, just when you thought they might be dead. Alexa now is enabled to make calls to other Alexa devices in other houses, and they are even better compared to the answering machines of the 90s because you can even leave a message. This is a nice feature as anyone that has your number can use it to call your Alexa speaker. But you are also able to block any unwanted incoming calls.

Control Your Smart Home

Alexa is best at enabling you to control your smart home device like smart lights, door locks, appliances, and smart switches. You can go to the compatibility tool and see the devices that Alexa is compatible with.

Controlling smart lights: you can use Alexa to turn your lights on or off, and she will even change the color of the lights. The Philips hue lights are my favorite lights you can get out there; you will not regret it.

Open or close garage door: I have installed smart garage door openers in my home, and I have found that Alexa is compatible with them.

Change temperature: I also have installed smart thermostats in my home, the ecobee4 smart thermostats and Nest 3rd generation learning thermostat.  All I have to do is say, “Hey Alexa, set the temperature to 68.” Nest and Ecobee are just a few thermostats that you will get and work with Alexa.

Get Cooking Ideas and Tips.

As per now, Alexa cannot cook for you, but she will help you to make your cooking much easier and less stressful. I have kept one Alexa in the kitchen to help in making things easy.

Get conversions:  I use my Alexa to know the conversions on what I want to cook, “Alexa, how many tablespoons in a quarter-cup?”

I also ask for recipes: I use Alexa to get the recipes for what I want to cook from Allrecipes. I also use Alexa to help me follow them step by step on my iPad with GoodNes.

Play music: I find that when cooking, it is nice to have some background music. What I do is ask Alexa, “Hey Alexa, play some smooth jazz.”

Control a sous vide machine: I use my Alexa to set the temperature when I cook sous vide.

There are many other smart ways that Alexa can help you in the kitchen to make it easy for you.

Get The News

Alex lets me know what is happening in the world; it can be in the morning when I am preparing to leave the house or in the evening when I am going back home. This is through the flash briefing, and you can even customize it so that it only brings the news sources you only want to hear from. 

Entertain Your Kids for Hours on End

Alexa is full of games, Easter eggs, silly answers to silly questions, and it will let your kids entertain themselves.

Play games: there are many amazon echo games that will keep your kids entertained.

Find Easter eggs: Alexa loves the good inside jokes.

Set timers and play music: your kids will love using Alexa, and they will start to talk to it and ask her for timers, random trivia and play music.

Learn About More Features

If you find that Alexa cannot do something out of the box, then there is a skill for it. There are many skills that amazon has made and they have a Skill Finder that you can use to find skills. You can launch your skill finder by saying, “Alexa, open Skill Finder” or “Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day.”

Get Fit (or try to)

While it may be hard to take your Alexa to the gym, unless you have a tap, you can alternatively get her to give you all your fitness feedback and guidance. There are a variety of ways that Alexa can help you to keep fit.

Check your FitBit stats: you can sync your Fitbit to Alexa, and this will enable you to do so many things. This will enable you to ask Alexa, “Alexa, ask Fitbit how I’m doing today.”

Get nutrition information: you can get to know like how many calories are in a banana when you have Alexa.

Do a workout: you can enable the 7-minute skill on your Alexa, just say, “Alexa, Start 7 Minute Workout.”

Control Your TV

When you have Alexa, you can forget about digging around for the remote control; you can control your TV with Alexa almost entirely by voice. This setup may take a little time and money, but once it is set up, it becomes easy.

Here are some things you can say to Alexa.

Alexa, turn on the TV.

Alexa, turn on Netflix.

Alexa, tell Harmony to pause

To be able to do all this, you need to get a Logitech Harmony remote that you get when you buy a Harmony Hub, though you can buy the hub separately. Then follow the guide on how you can set it up.

Use Spotify to Play Music

Alexa has Amazon Music, and it will by default play music obviously. But if you want to use Spotify, you can change the settings of Alexa so that it can become the default player. 

Train Alexa to Do Practically Anything Else

Alexa does not talk to all the devices and websites; this is because many companies have not got onboard. Not all the features of supported smart home devices can then be controlled with Alexa. However, you can get away around to connect Alexa to devices that are not supported, apps and websites. This is the IFTTT.

You can use IFTTT to create rules that change the color of the lights when the timer is up. You cannot ask Alexa to do such a thing; this has to be programmed through IFTTT. 

The Best Alexa Skills and Commands

Channel Your Inner Yoda

To mark the star wars day this year on 4th may, amazon created an Alexa Skill that is based on the Star Wars universe.

This Star wars Alexa skill was to test the user on your star wars trivia, speaks like Yoda and gets you up to speed with Jedi code via amazon music. You also played the best start wars playlist.  There were many questions to ask Alexa to see what the Alexa star wars skill is capable of doing.

Here are some of them, Alexa, what order should I watch Star Wars in?” and “Alexa, tell me a Star Wars joke.” “Alexa, who is the best Jedi?” “Alexa, what’s the Jedi code?”

Play PAC-MAN Stories

Bandai Namco has gone into the world of interactive storytelling on Amazon Echo and launched Play PAC-MAN Stories. This is now available on all the Alexa enabled devices including Echo Dot and Amazon Echo. The PAC-MAN Stories skill enables families to use Alexa in a kind of  “choose your own adventure” game that the players make choices for PAC-MAN  as he makes his way through the tale. Each of the choices generates a different story arc.

The first story to be launched with Alexa’s skill is PAC-MAN and the Ghastly Garbage. The ai of this is to save PAC-MAN planet based on the decisions you make. The Alexa skill has the PAC-MAN as well as Clyde, Pinky, and Blinky.

Play LEGO With Alexa

Just in a similar way as you play PAC-MAN stories with Alexa skill, LEGO has now teamed up with DUPLO and created a kill that combines physical play with Amazons Alexa voice service. Now children can respond to LEGO DUPLO stories using Amazon Echo or Echo Dot using one of five vehicles or five animal playsets. The aim of the game is to change the route of the story with the guide of Alexa using physical toys.

Become a Master at Call of Duty

Using the free Call of Duty Alexa Skill, you are able to get personalized player recommendations, notifications and tips on how you can improve your skills. You are also able to ask Alexa to tell you if your friends are online without firing up your console.

This includes:

Recommendations that are personalized to improve your skill

Match summaries and highlights of the recent gameplay

Social features to enable you to know if your friends are currently playing and comparing your stats with others

Contract and Order Status

In-game news with the event and game updates.

Game and features description

The skill uses AI and machine learning to enable tailored tips about play styles, modes, maps and divisions for individual players. It analyses 20 factors that include, movement, accuracy, shots, engagement distance, K/D, time played, score per minute and relationships to other players.

Get Help With Breastfeeding.

Start4Life is a Public Health England scheme, and it has launched an Amazon Alexa Skill that is called Breastfeeding Friend.  This now enables mothers to have 24/7 hands-free access to NHS approved advice. They get to ask Alexa any question about breastfeeding and get answers that are tailored to the baby’s age.  The breastfeeding Friend is now available on Amazon Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Plus.  You can get it by going to the skill store or searching for Breastfeeding Friend.

Dictate an SMS Message With Your Voice

Amazon has now added a skill that enables you to send an SMS message to your contacts. There are a couple of hoops that you need to jump through for you to set it up and for now it is working with android handsets. As per now, you cannot text the emergency services using it and also group SMS, but it is good to help you especially when you are in a hurry, and you need to inform someone that you are on the way coming.

Destiny 2: Ghost AI

Destiny 2s Ghost AI has partnered with Alexa, and they are all virtual assistants, and their developers teamed up to have this Ghost themed skill. When the skill is enabled, Ghost gives you dialogue lines to learn more about Destiny 2 characters and what to do if you find you are stuck in the game. The skill is available from the UK and US versions; you can also get a replica Ghost speakers that are available on the cheap.

Grandpa Rick Wisdom

If you a Rick and Morty fan, you are now able to get Rick Sanchez gave some of his best one-liners and soundbites through Amazon Echo. All you have to do is ask to Tell Alexa to ask grandpa Rick to say something. Note that the soundbites are often unsuitable for young ones.

Fuel Finder

This is one of the highly effective skills you can get on Alexa; it enables you to find the lowest price for petrol and diesel in your local area. To run this command on your Alexa, you need to enable it to access your location.

Amazon Storytelling

The Amazon storytelling skill plays a collection of stories and entertains children during the day and can also read for them bedtime stories.

Eharmony

Eharmony is the first dating site that has built an Alexa skill in the UK. You cannot use the skill if you are not an eharmony member for you to ask Alexa to find your matches.

Ocado

It is easy to buy your shopping your amazon account, but not all the items will be offered during your weekly shop. Ocado is now the first supermarket in the UK to an Alexa skill and uses its commands.

You should first have an Ocado account for you to be able to use it. The Ocado skills then enable you to add products to your basket and confirm the delivery time.

Breathe

The breath skill helps you have a breath by guiding you through a five-minute breathing exercise.

Alexa Skills for Children

Amazon has started rolling out Alexa skills that are for children under 13 years. They have opened up their platform to developers to come up with apps and games that are child-friendly. These are now available in the US, and the UK versions will launch soon.

When you enable a child-friendly Alexa skill, you will need to enable it in the Alexa app, and the parents will have to give permission using their phones SMS code. 

Dyson: Keep cool without lifting a finger

The next-generation air purifier by Dyson is compatible with Alexa and works with Alexa commands for switching it on and off.

Met Office: Alexa, what’s the weather going to be like today?

The met office Alexa skill enables you to get more specific and accurate weather forecasts compared to those that were previously provided by Alexa.

Hue: Lights on, lights off

If you are lucky enough to have installed Philips hue smart lights and you are an Echo user, then you just have to look for the Hue skill. It will enable you to turn your Philips hue lights on and off and also change the mood in the room.

Alexa takes on Sonos.

Sonos speaker is able to perform any command that you tell it thanks to the built-in virtual assistant Alexa.

7-Minute Workout: A much more affordable personal trainer

The seven-minute workout skill is based on an exercise that is scientifically designed to increase metabolism and also improve energy and lower stress. This turns your Alexa to a personal trainer and guides you through a routine.

Plex: Better control of your media

This one of my favorite Alexa skills as it enables you to control your media library. You can use it to tell Alexa to play films and suggest the things you want to watch.

Mastermind: Hands-free text-to-speech

This enables you to have hands free text to speech. With the mastermind kill.

The Best Alexa speaker

  • Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Echo Dot
  • Sonos One
  • Ultimate Ears Megablast
  • Marshall Stanmore II Voice

If you are out looking for the best Alexa smart speaker for music, queries, and controlling your smart home and also works with all the Alexa platforms, the Amazon Echo is the one you should get. There are some third party brands that offer Alexa speakers that sound better and are also portable, but the second generation Amazon Echo is what you should start with. 

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is my best pick basic Alexa speaker and is always listening via Amazons Alexa service. It will enable you to play your favorite music, get answers to questions, order pizza, and can also control all popular smart home devices with other 10000 plus other services.

If you are new to smart speakers, they are the best option. They are what most people think about when they think of Alexa. It uses the popular Amazon Assistant for voice control.

They sound good for the office, bedroom, kitchen and other rooms if you are not after the high-end audio performance. 

They have simple and easy to use button layout, and they can also be used as Bluetooth speakers or connected to other better speakers if you want to have an improved sound.

It has seven microphones that it depends on for listening to commands and can even hear you when there is music playing at a moderate level.

Amazon echo gets all the updates since it is made by Amazon, like device compatibility and new features before other non-amazon devices get it.

Although it will use third party speakers, you may be required to have multiple apps set up for it to work.

Amazon Echo Dot

If you would like to expand your Alexa to multiple rooms in your house and you don’t care about how good the speaker is then Amazon Echo Dot is the way to go.

Amazon echo dot is a mini version of the Echo, and they are the best Alexa speaker if you don t want to spend a lot of money.

They may not sound as well and clearly as the Echo, but they are good for music and talk radio. It has an audio out port and Bluetooth, and this enables you to connect them to a larger speaker.

The most important thing is that they listen just as good as the Echo though they are a good way to get Alexa on the cheap.

Sonos One

The Sonos One are the best smart speakers you can use for the whole house music. They sound great and works with both Alexa and Google Assistant and with many other music services compared to other Wi-Fi speakers.

Sonos One is good if you are looking for a better sounding speaker than Echo and with a larger selection of music services and multi-room setup. This is if you don’t mind paying for their extra price.

Sonos One has a built-in far-field microphone and Alexa and also works as a Sonos platform though the only music services Alexa works with are those controlled by your voice.

Ultimate Ears Megablast

If you are looking for the best smart speakers that you can take outside, then the Ultimate Ears Megablast is your best choice.

The Ultimate Ears Megablast will enable you to get your Alexa outside without having to be troubled looking for a place to the plugin. It also sounds good and is IP67 rated to be weather resistant.

The Ultimate Ears Megablast uses a rechargeable battery that can last for up to 12 hours, and you can also use it as a Bluetooth speaker if you are not near the Wi-Fi range.

Marshall Stanmore II Voice

The Marshall Stanmore II Voice has a cool rock n roll look and sounds even better. It has classic volume and control knobs that enable voice commands.

They have a sound that is better than what you get from the Sonos One, and with more volume and defined bass. They only lack the Sonos platform. 

They also have far-field microphones that perform decently, but they are not as good as those of the Echo at picking your voice.