The Ultimate Guide to Using Your Amazon Echo & Alexa – All the Cool Tips and Tricks We Could Think Of
Things to do with Alexa | Hidden Amazon Echo Features | Funny things to ask Alexa | Echo Alexa for Kids | Customisation | and more...
20th Dec 2019 Published:
27th Jun 2019
By SHN Team
We are the SMARTHOME news team, with over 30 years of combined experience in publishing, tech and no
You have just bought home your first Amazon Alexa smart speaker after hearing the tales of how much easier she will make your life. Now what? The transition from science fiction concepts to reality can be slow and unsteady unless you have an idea of where to start and what to do with her. We are here to guide you through the process with all the cool tips and tricks you need to make the most of your Amazon Alexa. Check it out:
Searching for an answer? Here's our table of contents:
10 Things to Ask Amazon Alexa for a Hilarious Response
You might not know this yet but Alexa has an extremely humorous side. But you have to know how to bring it out, beyond the basic “Alexa, tell me a joke.” To help you along, we have rounded up some of the unique statements and questions that highlight her lighter side. Take a look:
Alexa, will you be my girlfriend?
If you are having a hard time finding dates and converting them into girlfriends, this would be worth a shot. Her answer though might not be what you were expecting. After all you have been through together, she’ll say, “I like you…as a friend.”
Alexa, spell ‘icup’
Not one to make a fool of herself or say anything inappropriate, Alexa will steer clear of this trap question: “I’d rather not answer that one.” (If you still don’t get it, try spelling the word yourself).
Alexa, do you have any pets?
Some of the best things to ask Alexa pertain to what she does when she is not talking to you. But her answer only makes things more mysterious: “I don’t have any pets. I used to have a few bugs, but they kept getting squashed”.
Alexa, do you know the muffin man?
You know that Alexa knows things. She surely must know the muffin man, right? As it turns out, she does have a hint: “I’ve never met him, but I do know his sister, Madame Macaroon. She’s a little bit nutty but sweet.”
Alexa, what do you think about Cortana?
Alexa does not pretend like she is the only AI assistant out there. If anything, she is quite cordial about her competitor Cortana: “I like Cortana. We both have experience with light rings, although hers is more of a halo.”
Alexa, I’ve got 99 problems
Make reference to this infamous hit and Alexa’s response will give you a few chuckles: “But a glitch ain’t one.”
Alexa, how much do you weigh?
Considering how sensitive most women are about their weight, you might be wondering about Alexa’s. Her sassy response is out of this world: “I am weightless, like a cloud. Wait a minute, clouds actually weigh a lot, so that’s not quite right. Let’s just say I’m more sass than mass.”
Alexa, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Everyone has dreams, right? Let’s hear what Alexa has to say: “I want to be the computer from Star Trek.” Quite lofty, huh?
Alexa, what is the meaning of life?
In view of her limitless access to random and not so random facts, could Alexa shed some light on this age-old question? As usual, her answer might catch you off-guard: “That depends on the life in question…42 is a close approximation.”
Alexa, can you sneeze?
It seems the guys over at Amazon knew there would be days like this. Otherwise, why would they give Alexa this hidden talent? “You’re in luck, I can sneeze on command. ACHOOOO!”
Now lets move onto some of the more serious things Alexa can do!
Setting up Echo & Alexa - Things to Get You Started
You can get useful tips from Amazon on how to set up your Amazon Echo for the first time. However, they won’t tell you everything about some of the settings you should give top priority during initial setup. Here are some important things to keep in mind so as to enjoy the best experience from your smart speaker.
Set up Location
After downloading the Alexa app on your smartphone, you need to set up your location. By doing so, you will access to relevant traffic and weather updates. To do that, go to Settings>Devices>[device name]>Device location and tap to set. It is not necessary to give your exact address though; a ZIP code is sufficient.
Log in to the account you use for your calendar and link it to Alexa so as to allow her to create events and modify them.
Set up Flash Briefing
Flash Briefing essentially refers to your own personalized updates on the information you consider important. In default settings, a Flash Briefing request will get you a weather and news update from all the sources you subscribe to. To adjust this, go to Settings on your app and select ‘Flash Briefing.’ Remove sources, find new ones and toggle sources on and off to fully customize this feature. Then you will simply need to say, “Alexa, play my Flash Briefing” to get all updates.
Explore the Possibilities
Once you are done with basic setup, you can now explore everything that Alexa can do. Go to the app menu and open ‘Skills.’ Under this tab, there are thousands of Alexa Skills to choose from to automate your home as well as your life. It might seem overwhelming at first, so try to focus on the basics and expand her capabilities as you get to know her better.
After you have set up your Alexa device and everything is up and running, you might still need a few final touches to get started.
Creating Profiles for Family Members
For the members of your family who have Amazon accounts, you can create separate profiles under your Alexa household profile. To do this, go to ‘Settings’ on your Alexa app, tap Alexa Account>Amazon Household and then follow the instructions.
Having multiple profiles allows you to share content such as music libraries and movies. It also lets you collaborate on calendars, to-do lists and shopping lists. Whenever you need to confirm which account is in use, ask, “Alexa, which profile is this?” To change to your own, simply say, “Alexa, switch profiles.”
Note, however, that every household can only have a single payment account and that everyone in the network is authorized to use that account. To keep them from placing orders on Prime you can set a password for purchases and create child profiles which are more limited.
Creating Voice Profiles
When you have multiple profiles set up on your Alexa ecosystem, creating voice profiles makes it easier for your voice assistant to distinguish users based on voice. With this feature, Alexa will provide personalized responses to your commands. For instance, if you tell her to play music, she will pick songs from your playlists. Similarly, when you ask about your day, she will use your calendar to provide feedback.
Changing the Wake Word
It could be that you or someone else in your house goes by the name Alexa. Or you might just be tired of having Alexa respond to Amazon’s commercials. Either way, you have the option of changing the wake word. You still cannot pick your own wake word, but you get four options to choose from: Alexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer.
Go to Alexa app under Settings>[Echo Device]>Wake Word, pick your favorite from the drop-down menu and tap ‘Save.’
If you want Alexa to repeat something she just said because you missed it or like the way it sounds, she is eager to comply. Just say, “Alexa, can you say that again?” or “Alexa, can you repeat that?” You can use that command as many times as you need repetition and Alexa will not tire out. In case you need to refer to something she has said, check for recent responses in your Alexa app under Home tab. It is also possible to hear audio recordings of the things you have told her.
Deleting Your Voice Data
Whenever you ask Alexa something personal or embarrassing, you have the option of deleting the record. It is worth noting that everything you ever tell your virtual assistant is kept on record and uploaded to Amazon servers. If this idea makes you uneasy, you can either delete individual recordings or purge your entire record of conversations.
For the first option, go to Alexa app>Settings>History and you will see a list of the commands you have given the AI assistant. Tap the record you want to delete and then click on ‘Delete Voice Recordings.’
To delete all your records, go to www.amazon.com/myx, sign in and then go to ‘Your Devices.’ Pick your Echo device from the list that appears and then to the left, you will see a three-dot option button, tap on ‘Manage Voice Recordings.’ You will get a warning message explaining why you may need the recordings in the future. If you wish to proceed, tap ‘Delete.’
You might want to repeat the process often because every time you talk to Alexa, you create a new one.
Audible Wake-Up Sound
After saying the wake word, you do not have to wait for Alexa to light up before giving your command. You can just give your full command without pausing. However, if you are a bit far from the smart speaker, you might need a confirmation that she is listening before proceeding. To get that, you could enable an audible wake notification that confirms whether she heard or not. Find this in Alexa App under Settings>[smart speaker name]>Sounds and then toggle on the ‘Wake-up Sound.’ You can take it even further by enabling the ‘end of request’ sound which confirms when she hears your command.
Amazon Alexa Basic Commands
In order to interact with Alexa effectively, it is important to familiarize yourself with some basic commands. Here are some of the most important ones to master for simple everyday tasks:
To ask Alexa for help: “Alexa, help”
To start a conversation: “Alexa, let’s chat”
To stop Alexa: “Alexa, shut up/stop”
To view your plans for the day: “Alexa, show my calendar”
To view cameras in the house: “Alexa, show me the [room] camera”
To get a weather update: “Alexa, show me the forecast for [day/period]”
To enjoy music: “Alexa, play some music”
To access song information: “Alexa, what’s playing?”
To set a music alarm: “Alexa, wake me up to [artist/song] at [time] every day”
Amazon Alexa and Echo devices come with tons of features and capabilities. But not all of these are obvious. Some of the best features you can enjoy, in fact, remain unknown to the majority of users. Let us explore the most outstanding ones that you simply should not live without:
Using Alexa on Your Browser with Echosim.io
Alexa was for a long time stuck to the living room and the smartphone app, lacking access to the PC. But there is now a developer tool, Echosim.io that lets you access her functionality on your browser. All you need to do is log in to the site using a PC with a microphone and log in. To talk to Alexa, you will simply need to hold down the blue button. It is not yet as comprehensive as a smart speaker but allows access to some features.
Setting up Multi-Room Entertainment
If your home has multiple Echo devices or other smart speakers, you can stream a single playlist to all of them (or several of them) at once. In order to access this function, put your devices into groups on the Alexa app under Settings>Multi-room Music.
Note that even though you can create multiple groups, every device can only appear in one of the groups. That means that if, for instance, you have one Echo upstairs and two downstairs, putting the latter ones into a ‘downstairs’ group precludes them from appearing in a ‘whole house’ group. To play music on the downstairs devices say, “Alexa, play [playlist name] downstairs.”
As it turns out, you can talk to Alexa even when you are not within the range of your Echo device microphone. How? You can choose to use the Voice Remote which connects to Alexa using Bluetooth. Alternatively, if you do not want to spend money, you can opt for the Amazon Shopping app if you are in the US. In this case, you simply need to tap the microphone and give your command without using the wake word.
Getting Some Sleep with Ambient Noise
If ever you have problems falling asleep, you can simply ask Alexa to help. The command “Alexa, help me sleep” will trigger a search for ambient noises and give you options. You could choose to hear rain sounds or bird noises. Whatever your choice is, Alexa will play it.
Drop-in - using Alexa as an intercom
It is also possible to use Alexa as an intercom, dropping in on the kids or other family members. This feature lets you make announcements, for example, when it’s bedtime or time for dinner. You could also drop in via video call to see what everyone is up to.
Drop-in is usually enabled by default but you may want to fine-tune it. Go to Settings>[speaker name]>General>Drop-in and confirm that it is ‘On.’ Restrict drop-in calls to the household by selecting ‘Only my household.’
To use the feature, name your devices and simply say “Alexa, drop in on [speaker name].” To initiate broadcast messaging say, “Alexa, broadcast [message]” or “Alexa, announce that it’s time to leave.”
With Alexa Blueprints, anyone can now create custom skills for the voice assistant and create responses for them. The best part is that doing this does not require any coding skills. All it takes is a little imagination. You can use this feature to train Alexa on how to respond to specific questions using answers that you design.
To create custom Alexa skills, head over to blueprints.amazon.com and pick a template based on your desired category. The design of the templates lets you fill in the necessary details to personalize any given skill to your needs. In fact, they already work in case you would like to test them out before customizing.
Once you are done with filling in the content, name the skills and click on publish and the skill will become accessible to all the Alexa devices linked to your Amazon account. All the skills you create become available on the Amazon website where you can disable, enable and even delete.
Some of the fun categories to start with include:
Babysitter: help babysitter get important information and find things
Custom Q&A: set questions and customized responses
Fun and Games
Compliments: flatter family members with custom compliments
Trivia: play with family members and acquaint yourselves with family history
Jokes: create a list of favorite family jokes
Fable: create a short story with a moral
Fairy tale: create a custom fairy tale with a happy ending
Adventure: write a story with your child as the superhero
Enable Follow-up Mode
In her default settings, Alexa cannot answer multiple questions such as “What’s the weather today and what are my plans?” Enabling Follow-up mode lets you ask a series of questions without having to repeat the wake word. It will keep Alexa listening for commands which you can confirm from the blue light on your speaker that remains lit for five seconds after an initial request.
You can say “Alexa, turn the lights off” and then add another command, “turn the thermostat down” and another, “lock the doors.” To enable the feature, go to Settings>[speaker name]>Follow-up Mode.
Smart Home Control
Alexa is compatible with a vast range of smart home devices, giving you voice control over almost every aspect of your indoor life. Here is what you need to make this work for you:
Adding Smart Devices
Supported Devices – To start with, you need to connect smart devices to your ecosystem. First, go to ‘Smart Home Skills’ on your Alexa app and activate the relevant skills. This will simply involve picking the right skills from a long list of options.
Non-supported Devices – There could be a number of devices in your smart home collection that do not have Alexa support. This does not necessarily mean you cannot use them. First, double-check whether there is an Alexa Skill that can support the device. If there is none, you might need to head over to IFTTT or Yonomi, connection sites that could already have support for the device.
As you get more acquainted with your Alexa ecosystem, these connection sites will increasingly become useful. They let you extend your assistant’s usefulness in a number of ways. Besides allowing her to operate non-supported devices, they also facilitate the use of a single command to perform a number of actions simultaneously.
Routines give you the opportunity to give a single command and get multiple actions going. For example, you can create a morning routine tied to the phrase “Good morning.” Alexa could take this as a cue to switch on the lights, increase thermostat temperature and play your favorite morning music.
To create a routine, open Alexa App and select ‘Settings’ then proceed to Accounts>Routines and tap the plus sign at the top. Click on When this happens>When you say something and then input the command, for example, “Good morning.” Click ‘Done’ and then ‘Add Action’ to choose the actions you want to trigger with the phrase. Keep adding until you exhaust your wish list and when you are done, tap ‘Create.’ To edit a routine, go to Settings>Routines and tweak it to your preferences.
The only limitation with routines is that they apply to smart home control, traffic, news and weather updates. But it’s still a great way to achieve higher efficiency with minimal input.
Your Alexa Kitchen
One of the places where Alexa really comes in handy is in the kitchen. Oftentimes, your hands are either covered in food or too busy chopping things. Ask her to get things done for you like set timers, make conversions of cups to ounces and so on. You could even get her to restock dwindling supplies by telling her to order from Amazon Prime (more of that in a bit).
During meal preparation, take advantage of her wide resource base to optimize your culinary skills. For instance, she can connect you to Food Network to get a favorite recipe or get dinner ideas. Just say, “Alexa, ask Food Network for the Recipes on TV right now.”
Another handy feature in the kitchen is the ability to connect appliances to your smart home ecosystem and automate processes. For instance, with the GE Wi-Fi Connect you can enable the Geneva skill on Alexa. Say “Alexa, enable Geneva skill” and from there you can tell her, “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat the oven to 350 degrees” and so on.
Other Handy Tricks for Automating Your Life
Take Alexa with You on Vacation
After living with Alexa for some time, you might be getting used to the royal treatment, making orders and getting things done without budging a finger. With that in mind, the next time you are on vacation, you might really miss these conveniences. But you do not have to since you can take her with you.
One way to do that would be by carrying one of the smart speakers with you. But if you have a problem with the extra luggage, why not access her on phone instead? By simply opening the Alexa app and tapping on the logo at the bottom of the screen, you can talk to her as you normally do.
No matter which of the above options suits you best, you can keep tabs on your smart home while you are away. For instance, you could randomly turn the lights on and off to create the impression that someone is home. She can also help you find restaurants, hotels and stores in your vacation town. Be sure to change your location on the app to enjoy this feature.
Certain hotels already have Alexa to help with tasks such as calling room service, switching lights on and off and adjusting temperature settings among other things.
Getting Your Shopping Done
Alexa allows you to automate shopping, adding items to your basket and purchasing them, all using voice control. To get started, tell her what items to add to your shopping cart, for example, “Alexa, add milk to my cart.” Once you are done adding, you can complete shopping online.
But for a fully automated experience, you need to be an Amazon Prime user. In that case, say, “Alexa, order milk on Amazon Prime.” You have 30 minutes to cancel such orders, otherwise, they will be shipped. To check on the delivery status of your shopping ask, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?”
To reduce the possibility of having someone in the household misuse the provision, go to ‘Voice Purchasing’ under Alexa app ‘Settings’ and set a four-digit voice code. Every order will require this code so as to be charged to your account and delivered.
Amazon’s Alexa, when properly used, can be a powerful tool in your smart home. The potential for its practical and fun use cases is simply limitless. To take advantage of its relevant features, keep yourself in the know at all times regarding updates and new features.