Alexa is smart...
Once upon a time, Alexa was contained to Amazon's Echo speakers. But now the voice assistant lives in a number of third-party devices, such as the Ecobee5 Thermostat and Sonos One speaker. Alexa is popping up in new places all of the time, so you might as well make it as smart as possible. Currently, some of the best Alexa skills include Alexa Answers, MyPetDoc, and Ask My Buddy. But there are several more worth checking out.
For more Alexa-related tips, tricks, and how-tos, check out our complete guide to Alexa.
Get exclusive deals
If you ask "Alexa, what are your deals?" you'll hear a series of Amazon Prime member-exclusive deals that you need an Alexa-enabled device to order. You can also visit Amazon's Voice Shopping page to get the sentences you'll need to say to trigger them.
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Talk to Alexa in different languages
Not every household speaks the same language. If you happen to live somewhere where members of the family are fluent in more than just one language, Alexa has a new mode built just for you. Multilingual Mode lets you talk in two different languages, and Alexa will understand either one. The service is available in the U.S. (with support for English and Spanish), India (where it will support Indian English and Hindi) and Canada (where Alexa will understand both English and Canadian French).
Make a donation
Through Alexa, you can donate to a charity or organization. Just say "Alexa, donate $20 to the American Cancer Society," or even more simply, "Alexa, make a donation," and then you will be prompted to choose an organization and a dollar amount. Currently, there are over 270 charities with which this feature works, including the American Heart Association, ASPCA, Doctors Without Borders, One Laptop Per Child, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and the Wikimedia Foundation. Here is a complete list of organizations that accept voice donations via Alexa. In order to use this service, you need to have set up an Amazon Pay account, and have voice purchasing enabled.
Listen to Samuel L. Jackson
If your pet is sick or acting strangely, and you're not sure what's wrong, Alexa can help. Let MyPetDoc know Fido's symptoms, and Alexa will ask follow-up questions and provide advice. If Alexa doesn't know what's wrong, it will forward your conversation and phone number to a veterinarian, who will give you a call within a few minutes. (Just remember that while Alexa can give you some guidance, it's not a substitute for an official vet visit).
At last, Alexa can tell you all about S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers initiative — or it will be able to once a celebrity voice provided by Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson, debuts later this year. The feature is built using Neural TTS, and works pretty much like a standard Alexa voice — ask for a joke, the weather report or for some music, and Alexa will respond only in Samuel L. Jackson's inimitable voice. There will be two modes, explicit and non-explicit. (Presumably, the latter will be helpful if you need Alexa to tell you to "Go the **** to sleep.") Add the personality this year, and Amazon will charge you a discounted price of 99 cents. Amazon promises more celebrity voices later in the year.
Get recipe ideas
If you're stumped on what to serve for dinner, you can select one of many Alexa skills to help you choose. Try Easy Meal Ideas for quick-and-easy recipe recommendations, or check out America's Test Kitchen Daily Cooking Q&A, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated, which posts new recipes, tips and techniques in its weekly Q&A. Morton's Salting Sous Chef can tell you exactly how to salt everything you're cooking, and delivers general salting tips as well. If you have an Echo Spot or Echo Show, just say "Alexa, show me recipes" and Alexa will present a list of top meals from services such as SideChef, AllRecipes, and Kitchn. Select your favorite, and Alexa will walk you through the steps. You can pause, and ask for repeats, as often as you'd like.
Listen to audiobooks
If you enjoy reading, you might also like audiobooks, since they let you to 'read' a book while doing other things. Using Audible, a mobile audiobook service, you can play your current read through your Alexa speaker and control it with your voice. Alternatively, you can listen to certain Amazon Kindle books through an Alexa speaker, although they'll be dictated in Alexa’s robotic voice instead of the real narrator you get using Audible.
Call another Alexa-enabled device
Amazon allows you to make voice or video calls to and from other Alexa-enabled devices, such as the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, and the Alexa app on your smartphone. Alexa looks through your phone's address book to find contacts who have the Alexa app or an Echo device, and then gives you the option of calling them.
You can stream music using Alexa from a variety of services (Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Sirius XM, iHeartRadio, Deezer, Tidal, Gimme, TuneIn, Pandora, Pandora Premium and Vevo), and within each, up- or down-vote songs and play selected playlists. With Amazon's music library, you can also launch playlists based on specific activities, eras, artists, even your mood. You can also combine categories, such as "80s music for running," or, if you're feeling frisky, you can even ask Alexa to play hook-up music.
Here are some examples of things you can say:
- “Alexa, play Pandora"
- “Alexa, play Christmas music”
- “Alexa, play 'Castle On The Hill' by Ed Sheeran”
- "Alexa, play Taylor Swift on Spotify"
Use as a personal trainer
Alexa can whip your behind into shape with the 7-minute-workout skill. If you say, "Alexa, start 7-minute workout," the virtual assistant will suggest reportedly tested exercises that will increase your metabolism, improve your energy and remove fat. The best part: You can take breaks when you need them.
Check your credit-card balance
American Express-card holders can manage their accounts with the Amex Alexa skill. Saying "Alexa, open Amex," will allow you to connect your account. Then, you can check your account balance, make a payment, review charges, check your available credit and more. .
Find the right restaurant
Looking for a place to eat? Alexa has all the information you could need about the businesses around you. Just ask "Alexa, what time does Taco Bell open?" or "Alexa, what's the address of Wendy's?" It can tell you a restaurant's hours, location, phone number, address, and more.
Alexa can also supply the fun. There are a ton of different trivia-related skills, but you can also use the smart assistant to play Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock; 20 questions; bingo; Jeopardy; tic-tac-toe and others. Check out the Games, Trivia & Accessories section of the Alexa app to find the game you want to play.
Schedule a meeting
Provided you have access to their calendars, you can schedule meetings with your contacts using Alexa. Amazon's assistant will suggest meeting times based on both of your schedules. If a conflict arises after you've scheduled a meeting, you can ask Alexa to move the appointment to a different time. Supported calendars include iCloud, Gmail, G Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Exchange (only through Alexa for Business).
Teach Alexa what you know
Alexa Answers is the voice assistant's newest crowd-sourced skill. It encourages Amazon to users share their intel on their favorite topics with the Alexa community by responding to questions Alexa doesn’t know the answer to yet. Once you’ve submitted an answer, you can earn badges based on how many questions you’ve answered, how many times your answer has been shared with Alexa customers and more.
Get a weather report
While Alexa has built-in support for weather forecasts, the Big Sky skill will provide hyper-local forecasts based on your street address. The service uses information from Dark Sky, and can provide data such as wind speed and humidity.
Get pregnancy tips and advice
Everyday Health's What to Expect skill for Alexa provides daily and weekly tips, guides, and advice for expectant parents, customized to your due date. The skill also provides advice for the first year of your newborn's life, too.
Get first aid
The Mayo Clinic released a skill that provides basic first aid answers, for everything from minor scratches to CPR instructions. However, this skill is intended for instructional purposes only; if you're in a life-threatening or emergency situation, call for help.
The Ask My Buddy skill will send a notification (text, SMS or phone call) to a preselected contact when you're in an emergency and can't reach your phone. While this feature is not a substitute for 911, it lets you tell loved ones you need help.
Ask Alexa to explain itself
This skill is coming later this year, but when it arrives, it should make your voice assistant's behavior less cryptic. When you ask "Alexa, why did you do that?" you'll hear an explanation for why Alexa responded the way it did to your last voice command. Presumably, the feature will lead to better communication between you and your voice assistant in the future.
Get the latest news
The NPR Hourly News Summary skill is a 5-minute briefing of the day's headlines, updated every hour. If you want to test your knowledge of the news, try out NPR's Wait Wait Quiz based on the comedy show "Wait Wait…Don't Tell Me." You'll be asked fill-in-the-blank trivia questions about the week's news. If you answer five correctly, you'll be entered for a chance to have your name mentioned in the next episode of the show.
Turn your lights on or off
Why bother reaching for your phone or a light switch when you can simply tell Alexa to turn off your connected lights? You'll need a smart plug for this skill to work, but it's pretty handy. Skills are available for a number of smart-home platforms including Lutron and Control4. Here's how you can connect Alexa to your Philips Hue lights.
There are several ways to control your TV using Alexa. If you have a Logitech Harmony remote, you can use this skill this skill to link the remote to Alexa. It's recently been upgraded so you only have to say "Alexa, turn on my TV" or "Alexa, pause," and the command will automatically be sent. Here's how to connect Alexa to your Harmony remote.
Clean your apartment
A number of robot vacuums, including the Shark Ion R85, the Samsung Powerbot R7070, the Neato Botvac Connected and Connected D7 and the iRobot Roomba 650, 690, 890 and 960 can be commanded to start and stop cleaning using Alexa. Vacuuming has never been this hands-off!
MORE: Best Robot Vacuums
Start your car
Want to get your car started and warmed up before you drive off? A number of auto brands have skills that allow you to start your vehicle remotely, lock and unlock doors, change the interior temperature, turn on the lights and more. These include Hyundai Blue Link, MyFord Mobile and EV Car for Teslas.
Follow your favorite teams
The Amazon Echo wants to help you stay on top of your favorite sports and teams. In the Alexa app, in the menu, tap Settings. In Sports Update, search for and save your favorite teams. The digital assistant can give you details such as scores and upcoming schedules for NFL, NBA, MLS, MLB, NHL, WNBA, NCAA, and other American sports. Once you've entered your team, you simply say "Alexa, give me my sports update."
Control your thermostat
Several smart thermostats, including the Nest Learning Thermostat, Honeywell RTH8580WF, Honeywell Lyric, Honeywell Lyric T5 and Bosch BCC100 can be connected to Alexa, so that you can change the temperature just by speaking. Going one better, the Ecobee4—our favorite smart thermostat—even has Alexa built into it, so you don't need to talk to an Echo or Echo Dot.
MORE: Best Smart Thermostats
Listen to a podcast
Use the Anypod skill to stream thousands of podcasts. You can search by name, subscribe to podcasts, skip ahead or back, and when you pause an episode, it'll pick up right where you left off. Included in AnyPod's 3000-plus library of podcasts are Serial, RadioLab, This American Life, S-Town, The Moth, The Daily, TED Radio Hour, and This Week In Tech.
Find out what's happening on Mars
Want to know what's happening on the Red Planet? The NASA Mars skill will keep you up to date on the goings-on with the Curiosity rover, and also deliver answers to commonly asked questions about the planet.
Ready your mantras! Developed by Stop, Breathe & Think, Meditation Timer will ask you how long you want to meditate for, and then will play either forest, rain, or surf sounds to help you relax.