Saturday 11 March 2017

Learn How To Use Amazon Echo And Alexa

Amazon Echo And Alexa

The Amazon Echo and its little brother, the Echo Dot, have been a hit since they were released in the UK last year. Controlled entirely by speaking, its virtual assistant Alexa can be summoned with just a word, used to play music, set alarms or check the weather.

However, getting to grips with what is essentially a brand new type of gadget can be daunting - especially on the occasions when Alexa doesn't understand you. Here's how to make the best of the Echo.

What are Echo, Echo Dot and Alexa?

The Echo is a cylindrical speaker that's roughly the size of a wine bottle. It must be connected to a power source and links to the internet over Wi-Fi. The Echo Dot has the same technology, but is a smaller, puck-shaped gadget with a less powerful speaker.

Alexa, meanwhile, is the voice assistant that runs on the Echo and Echo Dot. The software also runs on Amazon's new Fire TV stick and some other gadgets, but the Echo is the machine designed specifically for it.

The Echo is easy to control: you just wake it up by saying "Alexa", and give a command, such as "Set a timer for 10 minutes." There are limited physical controls on the Echo itself - a button that can also wake it up, a mute button that cuts out the microphone, and volume controls - up and down buttons on the Echo Dot and a ring at the top of the Echo.

What can I do with it?

The aim of Alexa is that it will eventually be able to answer any question (within reason) and carry out hundreds of tasks that you currently use your computer, phone or tablet for, all by speaking to it. The company has developed advanced speech-recognition software and says it is constantly improving and adding new features.

Alexa can respond to thousands of requests, but some of the best and most useful are:

  • "Alexa, what will the weather be like today?"

  • "Alexa, set an alarm for 7am tomorrow."

  • "Alexa, play Radio 4"

  • "Alexa, what's the capital of Hungary?"

  • "Alexa, tell me a joke"

  • "Alexa, tell me the football scores"

  • "Alexa, add milk to the shopping list"

If you have any smart home devices, such as a Hive or Nest thermostat or Philips Hue lightbulbs, you can also ask Alexa to activate them.

Setting it up

The key to making sure the Echo runs smoothly is the Alexa app, which works for iPhones, iPads and Android phones and tablets. After plugging the Echo in, you use the app to connect the speaker to Wi-Fi.

Amazon Echo And Alexa

The Echo's Settings, accessed by pressing the icon with the three bars in the top left corner of the Alexa app, allow you to set your preferred music streaming service - at the moment Alexa supports Spotify (£9.99 a month) or Amazon Music, which is £7.99 a month for Prime members of £3.99 for a version just for the Echo.

Once logged in, you can play music just by saying phrases like "Alexa, play music by David Bowie" or "Alexa, play my morning playlist". The Amazon Music service has some clever technology in it that can recognise, for example, if you ask for the new Ed Sheeran album.

If you have an Audible account, it can play audiobooks, and it can link to an Amazon account to read out your Kindle books - although the storytelling is a little robotic.

Whenever Echo is playing music, you shut it off by saying "Alexa, stop" and can adjust the volume with "volume up", "volume down" or "volume 5 (any number from one to 10). News

You can ask for a quick news update by going to the Flash Briefing section of Settings. Saying "Alexa, what's the news" or "Alexa, what's my flash briefing will activate an audio bulletin from your choice of providers.

There are now over a dozen options - including The Telegraph - that you can enable. You can also get the latest scores and fixtures for your favourite football team in the Sports Update part of settings.

Smart home

If you have internet-connected thermostats, lights, locks or power plugs, Alexa is a simple way to control them that's often easier than pulling out your phone to switch them on or off. To control devices such as Hive, Nest or Philips Hue from the Echo, there's a Smart Home section of the Alexa app menu that lets you set it up.

If you do that, you can say things like "Alexa, set the heating to 20 degrees." But one of the most useful things about smart home controls is you can group different things together. If you have five internet lightbulbs for example, you can create a group called "lights" in the Smart Home section of the app, called lights. That way, you turn them all of by saying "Alexa, turn off the lights."


Many of Alexa's most useful functions - setting timers, alarms, playing music and so on - are baked into the software itself. But you can add "skills" to augment its abilities. Think of skills in the same way as the Echo's version of apps for your phone that you can download - they add a specific new function.

You can download skills via the Alexa app, and you have to activate them in a specific way: "Alexa, ask [skill name] to....". For example, "Alexa, ask Uber to order me a car."

Alexa now boasts 10,000 skills in the US, but the range in the UK is more limited, and the majority of them can be avoided. Here are some you might find useful though:

  • Tube Status: If you're a London commuter, you can ask about any delays, or the status of a particular line

  • Wiki Brains: If you says "Alexa, ask Wiki Brains to tell me about" and then say a subject, it will read the first lines of the relevant Wikipedia article

  • Uber: If you sign in with your Uber account, and say "Alexa, tell Uber to order a car", one will arrive at your door shortly.

There are a few entertaining game-type skills too such as Beat the Intro and Potterhead Sorting Ceremony, which will sort you into one of the Hogwarts houses from Harry Potter.

Amazon Echo And Alexa

Having an always-on microphone connected to the internet in your living room might sound like a privacy nightmare, especially given recent allegations about security services using devices to spy on people. Amazon doesn't ignore the voice recordings it gets either - it uses them to "train" the Alexa software. However, your regular conversations aren't stored - only those that come after you've activated the Echo with the "Alexa" wake word.

There are a couple of things you can do to protect your privacy though. Every Echo has a mute button that you can use if you really don't want it listening. And you can delete your old commands in the Alexa app in the History section of Settings.

Other hints and tips
  • If you don't like calling your Echo "Alexa", you can change it to "Amazon", "Echo" or "Computer" by selecting the Echo in the Devices section of the Settings and changing the "wake word".

  • Shopping and to-do lists are a useful feature. Tell Alexa to add something to one of the lists and it will show up in the app's lists section. Alternatively you can link them to a separate app like or Todoist.

  • You can make more of Alexa with a service called IFTTT (If this, then that). It links an Alexa action to one in a different internet service like Gmail or Spotify. For example, you can set it so that Alexa emails you your shopping list. Sign up here.

Don't forget To check Amazon Echo Review



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