Read on to find out everything you ever wanted to know about Alexa and Amazon’s line of Echo smart speakers—plus, check out our room-by-room guide to a more comfortable, convenient life courtesy of the awesome products that work with Alexa.
Getting to Know Amazon Alexa
What Is Alexa?
Alexa has been called everything from a personal assistant and butler to a playmate and parents’ helper—but what exactly is Alexa? The short answer is a hands-free voice service by Amazon. That means Alexa responds to the sound of your voice to help you do things.
If you’ve ever yelled at an appliance in an attempt to make it do your bidding, you’re going to love Alexa. The Amazon-created voice service lets you give voice commands to dim the lights, turn up the thermostat, set a timer, turn on the TV, or make a grocery list (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg!).
Alexa operates in the cloud and has a “brain” that is constantly adding new skills and abilities to its database. The more you use Alexa, the better it gets—Alexa is designed to learn your speech patterns and adapt to your personal preferences.
How Does Alexa Work?
Alexa uses an online cloud service run by Amazon to interpret vocal commands you give to an Alexa-compatible device. If that sounds complicated, don’t worry. You don’t really need to understand the tech behind Alexa to make it work for you.
The easiest way to put Alexa to work is to use an Alexa hub, or speaker, like the Echo. Think of the Echo as the genie in the bottle that takes your wishes and makes them come true. Instead of rubbing the bottle, all you do to get Alexa’s attention is utter one word. Amazon calls this the “wake word,” and it can be anything you want, although most people simply use “Alexa” or “wake up.”
After you wake the Echo, the device starts recording everything you say. It sends your words over the internet to the Alexa Voice Services cloud, where it figures out what you want and responds accordingly. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but Alexa does it so fast that you won’t even notice.
In addition to this basic functionality, Alexa also works with a whole bevy of other technologies in your home, car, and beyond. This is why you can use Alexa for everything from starting a pot of coffee to ordering an Uber.
Imagine waking up gently to the perfect temperature and lighting that doesn’t blind you the second you open your eyes. If that sounds like a dream, it’s one that Alexa can make come true. When you combine Alexa with other smart products, you can slumber (and wake) to the perfect environment every day. Check out what Alexa can do to transform your bedroom into a relaxing utopia.
A. Set the alarm.
Tell Alexa to set the alarm every night as part of your bedtime routine, or make life even easier with a repeating alarm for each weekday. And if you like the idea of Alec Baldwin or Missy Elliott greeting you each morning, be sure to use one of Alexa’s celebrity alarm tones.
B. Adjust the temperature.
Nothing’s worse than having to crawl out of a warm, cozy bed. Ease the pain by using Alexa to turn up the heat before your feet touch the floor.
C. Figure out what to wear.
Alexa can give you a weather update every morning, so you always know if the day calls for rain boots or flip flops. With Amazon’s latest Echo product, Echo Look, you can get a snapshot of your ensemble sent straight to your phone so you can critique your fashion sense before you hit the streets.
D. Dim the lights.
Set the perfect scene for relaxation when you combine Alexa’s voice control with smart light bulbs. You can also manage exposure to blue light before bed and set your lights to greet you with ideal illumination in the morning.
E. Replace the remote.
Never fumble around in the dark for the remote again—Alexa can completely replace your universal remote. When you put Alexa in charge of your TV, all you have to say is “Alexa, turn off the TV,” and you’ll be on your way to sweet slumber.
F. Close the shades.
Don’t worry about getting in and out of bed to make sure the shades are closed. With smart controls and Alexa on your side, you can tell those shades to close themselves.
If you’ve fantasized about hiring a nanny to help out with the little ones, Alexa can bring you a little bit closer to that goal. Although Alexa doesn’t provide direct supervision, you can use your Echo or Echo Dot to give the kids a convenient new playmate.
A. Tell jokes.
What kid doesn’t love a joke? Alexa has an ever-growing library of jokes, including everything from knock-knock jokes to hilarious puns.
B. Play a game.
Kids get a kick out of playing games with Alexa through the Amazon Echo. You can pick from hundreds of games like Twenty Questions, Jeopardy!, and Simon Says. There are also games related to popular shows like Sesame Street or SpongeBob SquarePants.
C. Tell a bedtime story.
When you could use an extra five minutes to get the dishwasher started, Alexa can get the bedtime routine going. The Bedtime Story skill turns your Amazon Echo into an expert storyteller—each bedtime story is personalized to make it even more special.
D. Get the wiggles out.
If you’re too pooped to get down with the youngsters, ask Alexa to play “The Hokey Pokey,” call out the colors for Twister, or play a groovy dance tune from Amazon Music or Spotify.
E. Get silly.
Sometimes all your kids need is a little laugh. Alexa delivers with Laugh Box (you can ask for anything from a baby to a villain laugh) and 4AFart, which is sure to have kids large and small rolling on the ground with a fit of the giggles.
F. Help with homework.
Because we rely on the internet to help with all kinds of things these days, it’s super convenient to have Alexa look up references or help with specific questions without having to leave the document or webpage you’re already working on.
G. Set timers.
Whether you want to make sure they brush their teeth for a full sixty seconds or get off the computer in five minutes, Alexa timers make sure things in your home run on schedule.
H. Provide an extra set of eyes.
Alexa can help you keep watch over sleeping babies or adventurous teens. Simply set up Alexa to work with a compatible nanny cam or baby monitor. Then all you have to do to check in on the kids is ask Alexa to show them to you.
The living room brings your household together, so it makes sense to enhance that special time with the power of Alexa. Check out everything Alexa can do to support your home’s central hub.
A. Catch up on the news.
It’s hard to find time to sit down and read the paper or watch the news. Save time and stay up to date on current events by asking Alexa to read you the day’s headlines. You can select your favorite news sources to create a customized “Flash Briefing” that includes all the news that matters to you.
B. Host family game night.
Alexa’s game prowess isn’t just for entertaining kids while you catch up on chores. Let Alexa run your next family game night. During a surprise event last September, Amazon unveiled Echo Buttons for use with multiplayer games like Trivial Pursuit. Echo Buttons let you add a new level of competition (you can “buzz in” to answer first) to game night when you play through a compatible Echo device—or you can play games specially designed for Echo Buttons.
C. Set the mood.
Whether it’s movie night or a romantic evening in front of the fire, use Alexa to set the right mood. Control lighting, temperature, and ambiance with your voice. Alexa can access and play your favorite album or playlist from Amazon Music, Spotify, or Pandora.
D. Entertain your crew.
Hands-free TV is more accessible than ever with Amazon Alexa. Alexa loves to manage home entertainment systems—from your TV and DVR to the stereo and streaming music services. With Alexa, you can tell your TV to fast-forward, rewind, record, or switch input, all with the sound of your voice. You can also control volume and launch apps like Spotify or Netflix, just by telling Alexa to do it.
E. Keep things tidy.
If Alexa hasn’t impressed you yet, this might be the pièce de résistance. Use Alexa to control your robot vacuum, and you’ll never have to worry about even one dust bunny escaping. Best of all, your floors will get cleaned while you sit back and relax.
F. Find lost keys.
Save yourself from turning the sofa inside out by using Alexa to locate lost items. Team Alexa with a remote tracker like Tile, and a simple voice command is all you’ll need to pull your keys back from the cavernous confines of your couch.
Most of us don’t have a sous chef, but Alexa is the next best thing. Make sure your Amazon Echo is locked and loaded with kitchen skills. When you need a little extra help in the kitchen, here’s how Alexa can offer an extra “pair of hands.”
A. Get the coffee started.
When you combine Alexa with a Wi-Fi coffee maker, you can have the perfect cup of joe waiting for you every morning. A simple “Alexa, is my coffee ready?” ensures that you start each day with the perfect jolt of energy.
B. Stock the fridge.
You can use Alexa to keep track of your grocery list. Not only can Alexa update the list when you notice something new to add, Alexa can also order groceries and have them delivered.
C. Order a pizza.
We’ve all had those days. When you can’t face the prospect of making dinner, Alexa can call Domino’s directly. Or use one of the many other delivery and takeout skills to get a hot, fresh dinner at your doorstep in minutes.
D. Use up all those leftovers.
You don’t have to stretch your creativity to the limit when you have Alexa on your side. When you’re faced with a fridge full of random ingredients or leftovers, just tell Alexa what you’ve got and ask for a recipe that uses those elements.
E. Mix a mean cocktail.
Impress party guests (and yourself!) with professional bartending guidance from Alexa. With this secret weapon, you can dare guests to try to stump your mixology skills.
F. Watch your waistline.
If you’re counting calories, Alexa can give you the breakdown of every morsel that passes your lips. Alexa can even calculate the caloric value of homemade recipes.
G. Help with recipes.
If you’ve ever been elbow deep in a turkey and needed to check the recipe or set a timer, then you’ll adore having Alexa in the kitchen. All you need is your voice to ask for the next step in your recipe, set a timer, or convert measurements. Alexa can also help you find substitute ingredients if you discover you forgot something halfway through the recipe.
We know what you’re thinking—the bathroom? How could a virtual assistant possibly help out in this most private of rooms? Well, read on! Here are the best things Alexa can do to make even the most personal parts of your life a little more indulgent and amazing.
A. Keep track of medications.
Use Alexa to keep track of medications—when it’s time for a dose, and when you need a refill. Alexa’s CareTaker skill can set reminders for medication, list common side effects, and send alerts to Facebook so you receive reminders no matter where you are.
B. Turn off the flat iron.
How many times have you been stuck in traffic and wondered whether you left the flat iron—or any other hot styling tool—on? When you set up Alexa to work with smart outlets and switches, you can make sure those potential fire hazards are turned off, even if you’re already on the road.
C. Order more TP (and other necessities).
Use Alexa to keep track of pantry items (like toilet paper, tissues, body wash, cotton swabs, etc.) and tell her to reorder when you’re running low. This way you’ll always be fully stocked and won’t have to worry if someone is willing to spare a square for you.
D. Transform bath time into spa time.
A day at the spa is such a luxury that most of us don’t get to enjoy them very often. Use Alexa to help you simulate the spa experience right in your very own bathroom. Dim the lights, play a relaxing tune, and even monitor the humidity in the room to avoid things like frizz. Set up the kids with a fun game on the Echo in the living room to gain a few extra minutes of peace.
E. Answer the door.
Yes, you can do this from the bathroom when you combine Alexa with a smart doorbell. Ask Alexa to let you see who’s at the door and to enable two-way talk. This way you can screen visitors without having to rush whatever “business” you’re attending to.
You don’t have to limit Alexa to the interior of your house. There are plenty of things Alexa can do outside those walls. If you’re ready to unleash the power of Alexa beyond the front door, take a look at how she can help take care of the rest of your home.
A. Never leave the garage door open again.
No one wants to turn the car around to make sure the garage door is closed. Save yourself stress and time by letting Alexa check for you. When you set up your smart garage door opener to work with Alexa, you can say, “Alexa, close the garage door,” and join the morning commute without worry.
B. Lock or unlock the front door.
Garage doors aren’t the only ones we forget to lock. Combine Alexa with a smart lock and securing the front door will be as easy as saying “Alexa, lock the front door.”
C. Keep an eye on packages.
Stop wondering if that special package has been delivered. Alexa can be your eyes even when you’re far from home. Ask Alexa to show you footage from your outdoor security cameras to verify delivery—and catch a thief in the act, if the worst happens.
D. Light up the walkway.
There’s no need to stumble in the dark when you can have Alexa turn on the porch light before you step outside. Whether you’re taking out the garbage, or you left something in the car, Alexa can turn on the lights to ensure safe passage.
Now that you’ve invited Alexa to work her magic outside the hallowed halls of your home, why not use Alexa skills to dig into lawn care? If you’re more into relaxing on the patio than trimming the hedges, you’ll love what Alexa can do to boost your curb appeal and your free time.
A. Water the lawn.
Don’t worry about a thirsty lawn when you set up your Wi-Fi sprinkler system to work with Alexa. You can not only set your system’s main control but also make quick adjustments for changes in the weather. If a storm moves in, all it takes is a voice command to add a rain delay that will keep your system from watering during a rainstorm.
B. Mow the lawn.
Say farewell to sweating under a hot sun to keep your lawn looking neat and trim. With Alexa and a robot lawn mower, all you have to exercise is your tongue—and you’ll still end up with a lawn the neighbors envy.
C. Keep Fido safe.
Make sure your four-legged family members stay where they belong. Combine Alexa and a smart dog collar, like the LINK AKC Smart Dog Collar, to keep tabs on your best friend at all times. You can ask Alexa to alert you if your dog leaves a designated safe zone and tap into GPS to find them quickly if they get lost.
D. Grill the perfect steak.
Never again serve a medium-well ribeye to someone who prefers their steak medium-rare. All it takes is a holler to Alexa to keep an eye on the time and you’ll quickly become the neighborhood grill master.
Written by Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. Her safety expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. ou can find her work and contributions in places like TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, HGTV, MSN, and an ever-growing library of radio and TV clips. Learn more