Pick up a new Amazon Echo recently or just feel like you haven’t mastered Alexa yet? Alexa has a number of useful features on Amazon Echo smart speakers and displays that you may not have discovered yet. These are 10 of my favorite Alexa features that work with Amazon Echo:
Alexa, connect to my phone
The easiest way to set this up is to simply say ‘Alexa, connect to my phone’ and follow the audio instructions. Alexa will walk you through pairing your iPhone to your Echo, then connecting is as easy as a voice command in the future.
You can say ‘Alexa, connect to my phone’ to pair hands-free going forward, or say ‘Alexa, disconnect from my phone’ to disconnect until next time.
Alexa, wake me up to my Favorites Mix
Alexa now works with Apple Music, and Echo supports a handful of useful music features that Siri and HomePod still need. For example, you can set alarms using content from Apple Music as the alarm tone.
First, set up Apple Music in the Alexa app, then set it as your default music service for your library and stations. This tells Alexa to use Apple Music by default without needing to say ‘on Apple Music’ each time even if you have Pandora Radio or Spotify Premium connected too.
Then say something like ‘Alexa, wake me up to my Favorites Mix at 6 a.m.’ and your Echo will set the alarm using your personal playlist generated by Apple Music! This works with more general requests like artists, genres, stations, and more, or you can say ‘my music’ to use your station of personalized recommendations for more variety.
If you’re using Apple Music on multiple Echo speakers, you may want to create speaker groups ahead of time. I have a single group called ‘Everywhere’ so I can play Apple Music on every speaker by adding ‘everywhere’ to the request. You can also pair two of the same models of Echo speakers to create stereo pairs, although audio playback is generally limited to music.
Apple Music integration also works with Routines, a feature that lets you combine multiple actions to a single trigger like a voice command or change in condition like location.
Amazon recommends two pre-configured Routines: ‘Alexa, start my day’ and ‘Alexa, goodnight’. ‘Start my day’ can give you a weather and traffic report, read events on your calendar, and — with a little configuration — control smart home devices and play audio from Apple Music.
You can also use Routines to automatically adjust speaker volume daily so Alexa isn’t too loud or too quiet the next time you use your Echo. My bedroom Echo resets to 30% volume with a Routine that runs while I’m sleeping. Then Alexa isn’t too loud or too quiet in the morning even if I played music louder during the day. You can create as many of these for whenever you want.
Alexa, play rain sounds
Alexa can play lots of audio sources — without using a music service — including nature sounds. ‘Alexa, play rain sounds’ is one of my favorite bedtime commands. Alexa plays ambient rain sounds for one hour, then returns to quiet. Alexa supports lots of other nature sounds through skills that you can request with voice or discover in the Alexa app.
If you subscribe to a music service like Apple Music, you can ask Alexa to play rain sounds or other ambient noises from Apple Music too. This won’t automatically timeout after one hour which can be a plus or minus depending on your use, and it also supports speaker groups.
Alexa, play [local radio]
Connecting a music streaming service like Apple Music to Alexa lets you stream music libraries and playlist “stations” on Echo speakers, but there are lots of radio stations that are available online and not on Apple Music.
TuneIn works with Alexa and streams a lot of radio stations from around the country so you can likely play your local radio station through Echo speakers.
Alexa, who played Superman in the newest movie?
This one is simple. Alexa is just better tuned to handle trivia than Siri on HomePod which has a bias for providing music.
While watching the new Mission Impossible movie on my Apple TV 4K on New Year’s Day, I asked Siri on the HomePod who played Superman in the newest movie to remember how to pronounce Henry Cavill’s last name. HomePod played a Superman-themed song from Apple Music, and Alexa said Henry Cavill.
Alexa, what’s up?
Trivia isn’t the only place where Alexa can be more useful than Siri. Say ‘Alexa, what’s up’ and Alexa will tell you something new like a news headline or celebrity birthdays. Ask Siri the same thing and you’ll get a cute preconfigured response. You can ask Siri for news and play audio updates from select news providers, but I prefer Alexa’s default response to the basic and common ‘what’s up?’ question.
Alexa calling and announcements
Echo speakers support audio calling, and Echo displays add video calling. Out of the box, you can voice call and video call anyone with an Echo speaker or the Alexa app, or you can connect another calling service like Skype as an option.
My five-year-old daughter loves to call me from the closest Echo speaker when she needs something, and the call rings through the Alexa app on my iPhone and iPad just like a regular phone call thanks to Apple’s CallKit feature.
You can also use a feature called Drop In to start an instant Echo to Echo call (with permission) after saying “Alexa, drop in on [contact or Echo name]”. My family doesn’t use Drop In between houses, but we enjoy using Drop In from different rooms at home. It’s like a modern intercom system with voice control.
You can also create announcements from one Echo speaker that play on every Echo speaker in your house. Simply say ‘Alexa, announce that dinner is ready’ and each Echo will ring a bell and play your recorded message.
Alexa can set timers on Echo speakers and displays and popularized the concept of multiple named timers on voice assistants, something HomePod gained a few months after launch.
You can check the progress of any timer by asking and Echo displays can show timer progress when asked, but the new $29 Echo Wall Clock (reviewed) is the best way to have a visual timer — especially on Echo speakers without screens.
My kids love being able to see timers when I’m cooking so they have an idea of how much time is left, and “cool off” timers have become a regular practice after hot food comes out of the oven. Each light on the clock shows how many minutes are left, and the final minute starts a full clock countdown before the timer rings from the Echo.
Headlines, sports, and stocks
Have an Echo display like the Echo Spot? You can view news headlines, sports scores for your favorite teams, and stocks information automatically without requesting updates. Personalize which information cards appear on-screen and tell Amazon which teams to follow for best results.
Echo speakers and displays can give you alerts for things like package deliveries for orders from Amazon — especially useful if you use voice control to order products from Amazon using Alexa.
Echo speakers can light up with a colored ring to notify you, and Echo screens can show an icon to suggest notifications. Say something like ‘Alexa, what’d I miss’ or ‘Alexa, read my notifications’ to hear your alerts.
Amazon’s latest Echo speakers support adjusting sound through audio controls in the Alexa app. This lets you tweak the bass, middle, and treble levels for each Echo speaker — something HomePod customers would like.
Alexa also works with smart home control, but I much prefer HomeKit and Siri for managing the experience. You can set up smart home control with both Alexa and HomeKit for many products, but it often involves repeating many of the same configuration steps with naming bulbs and creating groups.
Echo speakers can be cheaper to put in every room and the Routines feature is really nice, but HomeKit feels more stable and the Home app is much more responsive than the Alexa iOS app.
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