The Amazon Alexa Manual: Everything You Need to Know About Your Echo Smart Home Assistant
Amazon Alexa is one of the smartest voice assistants around. She can play your favorite songs while you try a new recipe in the kitchen or dust your living room. She can read you the latest news or that bestseller you’ve been putting off reading for a while now. Alexa can also answer questions drawing on the wisdom of Wikipedia, order home supplies you’re running out of, and enable you to control your smart home devices using simple voice commands.
Meet Amazon Alexa
Alexa has over 50,000 skills according to Amazon. Add to that the fact that she’s super friendly, and it’s not hard to see why Amazon has developed its own smart speakers – the Echo series – to bring the popular voice assistant into people’s homes. The Amazon Echo smart speakers are now available in over 40 countries around the world.
But while Alexa keeps getting smarter with every update, for new users it can be hard to keep track of all she can do. Adding to the confusion is the fact that Amazon doesn’t provide a comprehensive guide of all that Alexa can do, but only some general pointers to help you get started.
Whether Alexa is already a presence in your home or you plan to buy an Echo device soon, this guide will help you unlock her potential. And since Alexa’s functionality depends on what devices you connect to her, we’ll cover some of the best Alexa devices around.
But first, your choice starts with the Alexa speaker. Since the launch of the first Echo speaker in 2015, Amazon has introduced a variety of new Alexa devices. These smart devices come in different styles and allow you to enjoy Alexa’s core capabilities. Discover them now.
The Best Amazon Alexa Echo Smart Speakers and Displays
Do you have an Alexa smart speaker already or plan to get one? Amazon gives you plenty of options and styles to choose from – many more than the first Echo users had back in 2015.
While there are some notable differences between these models, they all come with the same clever and helpful voice assistant.
The Amazon Echo is the essential Alexa smart speaker. Compared to the original Echo, it comes with a more attractive mesh cover design and improved far-field voice detection. It uses seven microphones with advanced noise cancelation functions, which can pick up your voice even if you are at the other end of the room.
Available in different styles ranging from charcoal and sandstone fabric to silver finish, the 2nd generation Amazon Echo is more stylish than its predecessor. Like the original and like all other devices in the Echo series, this 2.5-inch speaker remains corded.
The small brother of the 2nd generation Echo, Echo Dot packs a 1.6-inch speaker into an appealing design. The latest version provides an overall better sound quality as well as a higher volume. Now in its 3rd generation, the Echo Dot allows you to add Alexa to any room.
It provides more or less the same Alexa functionality as the more expensive Echo, except that it doesn’t have a ZigBee smart hub built into it. If you want your Echo device to become the hub of your Alexa-enabled smart home, you may want to turn to the Echo Plus.
As its name suggests, the Echo Plus is a more advanced version of the 2nd gen Echo. It promises the best sound experience of all the Echoes thanks to its large woofer and 360-degree audio system. It also comes with an integrated ZigBee hub which makes connecting compatible smart home devices to it very easy.
If you’re not familiar with ZigBee, it’s a smart home protocol for Internet-of-Things devices which operates in a mesh network. Without getting into the technical details, ZigBee is a great alternative to Wi-Fi or Bluetooth smart home devices not least because of its stability and security.
After you plug it in, you can ask the Echo Plus to discover compatible devices in your home, which speeds up the configuration process.
A special version of the latest Echo Dot, the Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with a kid-friendly case, a longer warranty, and 1 year of FreeTime Unlimited. This means plenty of audiobooks, in addition to kid-friendly radio stations and National Geographic and Disney games. It comes with built-in parental controls which prove useful if you don’t want your kids to use Alexa to order toys on Amazon.
It has an upbeat design with vibrant colors and a more playful look than the other Echo devices. Not surprising, since this one’s marketed mostly for its fun factor.
The Echo show adds a 10.1-inch HD screen to the Amazon Alexa home experience and includes a ZigBee hub as well. For many users, it’s the ultimate Echo device. In addition to the Alexa features it shares with other Echo devices, it lets you stream video content, make Skype calls, or view an outside smart camera. It can also display calendars, to-do lists, weather forecasts, song lyrics, and more.
The Echo Show is also a great hands-free kitchen companion. It makes searching for a recipe, setting timers, or shopping for groceries a hassle-free experience. The Echo Show has eight microphones which give it one of the best voice-detection capabilities of all the Echo devices – even while music is playing.
In the end, the Echo Show is a convenient alternative to taking your tablet to the kitchen. And if the screen size isn’t a big issue for you, it can even replace an old kitchen TV.
The Echo Spot looks like a futuristic clock with customizable faces, but behind the understated design, you’ll find the same advanced voice recognition that the Amazon Echo 2nd offers. Alongside the Echo Show, it’s the only Echo device with a screen. That makes it ready for video calls and perfect for connecting to it a smart camera or home monitoring system.
The Echo Input brings Alexa to your own speaker over an AUX or Bluetooth connection. If you already have a high-quality smart speaker, the Echo Input is a great way to add Alexa to your smart home without cluttering your room with speakers. It enables the complete set of features that the other Alexa smart speakers provide. One thing to note is that the Echo input doesn’t support calling and Drop In via Bluetooth.
One of the newer members of the Echo family, the Echo Look is marketed as a hands-free camera and style assistant. With Echo Look, Alexa makes a foray into the world of fashion and social media influencers. It can offer you personalized style recommendations, including matching items and accessories.
Tired of all those selfies in front of the mirror? You can ask Alexa to take high-quality head-to-toe photos of your outfits or record a short 360 video. There’s no calling or messaging with the Echo Look. On the upside, you can ask Alexa to tell you what’s trending or read the latest news from the fashion industry.
What Can Alexa Do?
Alexa can do more than play music and order products from Amazon. Much more. Behind every Echo device hides a sophisticated and sharp voice assistant that can transform your home. Here’s a detailed list of Alexa’s key features. Let it inspire you to explore Alexa’s functionality more creatively.
- Have Fun
- Play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, and Apple Music.
- Tune in to TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Pandora, and other radio stations.
- Find and Play TV shows on Echo devices with a screen or compatible TVs.
- Bring you the latest news reports from the BBC and other news channels.
- Play audiobooks or read books out loud.
- Tell your children a bedtime story.
- Control Your Smart Home
- Control a wide range of smart home devices from alarms to garage door openers.
- Change the room temperature using a compatible smart thermostat.
- Adjust the lighting in your house through a connected smart lighting system.
- Set timers and alarms and trigger specific actions at set intervals after the alarm, like playing happy music while you get dressed to go to work.
- Lock smart doors before you go to sleep and unlock them after you wake up.
- Protect your home from intruders by triggering an alarm and notifying you if it hears suspicious noises like shattering glass.
- Go Out
- Help you find a particular restaurant or location in town and provide you with directions to it.
- Book a table with OpenTable.
- Call an Uber car to your doorstep.
- Do Things
- Answer any questions you ask her by drawing on the content of websites like Wikipedia.
- Drop In on another Alexa speaker within range, i.e. in another room.
- Relax you or help you fall asleep more easily by playing soothing background music.
- Play a variety of games, from Tic Tac Toe and The Magic Door to Bingo.
- Call your contacts and set up quick and simple free calls to the US, Canada, and Mexico.
- Drop In on another Alexa speaker within range, i.e. in another room.
It’s good to remember that Alexa’s functionality depends on the compatible smart devices you have. Choosing the right devices is very important, and we’ll devote an entire section of this guide to that later on.
How to Set Up Alexa
Getting started with Amazon Alexa is easy once you get a compatible speaker. The setup process is similar regardless of the Echo device you choose. The only difference is that some devices, like the original Echo, the Echo Plus, or the Echo Show have more features than others. You need a bit more time to become familiar with them, but it can be an interesting experience.
First things first, though – you need to make sure Alexa’s running properly.
- Install the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone. You can also install it on your tablet. But for convenience, it’s usually best to have it on your phone. It’s available on Android, iOS, and Amazon’s own Fire OS.
- Log in with your Amazon ID. Use your Amazon Prime ID if you have one.
- Open the mobile app menu and go to Settings.
- Choose to Set up a new device.
- Choose the Amazon Echo device you have bought.
- Plug in your Echo device and wait for the pairing to finish – look for the orange light.
- Greet Alexa by saying her name and you’re ready.
As you add new smart devices to your home, you will want to connect them with Alexa. The simplest way to do this is to use the guided discovery feature in the app.
- Set up your new home device using the manufacturer’s instructions.
- Open the Amazon Alexa app on your phone.
- Choose Add Device from the menu.
- Select the new smart device you want to add and the brand.
- Follow the on-screen instructions.
You can also use Alexa skills to discover smart home devices and voice control devices without skills. However, not all home devices integrate with Alexa. To avoid compatibility issues, choose devices that work with Alexa – look for the label on the package.
Amazon Alexa Voice Commands You Probably Don’t Know
You may be already familiar with the essential Alexa voice commands. If not, they won’t take too long for you to figure them out. The simple commands are really simple:
“Alexa, what’s the weather like?”
“Alexa, lights off.”
“Alexa, turn on the TV.”
“Alexa, play [artist name].”
“Alexa, set alarm for [time].”
“Alexa, what’s on my schedule?”
“Alexa, add an event to my calendar [event].”
But Alexa can do more. Keeping track of all the complex commands is far from easy. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of some of the coolest actions and accompanying voice commands for Alexa.
Shop Faster Than Ever Before
“Alexa, order [Amazon item].”
Note: Before using this command, enable 1-click ordering in your Amazon account. This way, you can buy products on Amazon fast, without having to go through the regular checkout process. It’s a massive time saver.
But if in the following days your order doesn’t arrive for some reason, you can track your order:
“Alexa, where’s my stuff?”
With Alexa, you can also easily reorder items.
“Alexa, reorder ink cartridges.”
Alexa will have a quick look at your previous purchases and recommend products before placing an order. Each time you use Alexa in this way, you save time.
Set Up an Alexa Routine
A routine as Alexa understands it is a simple way to control your smart home with a single command. A routine can include several smart home devices.
For example, a bedtime routine may turn off the lights, lower the temperature in your bedroom to improve the quality of your sleep, lock the front door, turn off kitchen appliances, shut off the music player, and play soft ambient music for half an hour until you fall asleep.
The best part is that it can do all this with a single voice command from Alexa:
“Alexa, good night.”
To manage routines and create new ones, open the Alexa app on your smartphone and go to Routines. Choose what triggers the routine, i.e. your voice command “Alexa, good night.” Add the actions that you want this routine to trigger. The more smart home devices you have connected to Alexa, the more options you have.
Ask Alexa to Tell Your Kid a Story
Running out of bedtime stories? Or perhaps you’re down with a cough? Amazon Alexa can come to your rescue.
“Alexa, Ask Amazon Storytime to read me a story.”
Your Alexa speaker will start playing an audiobook story.
Note: Stories are for kids between 5 and 12 and you’ll need an Audible account.
Do Quick Math
Trying to figure out how much tax you have to pay. Or only adding up this month’s bills? Alexa is great at math. Just ask her and you’ll see.
“Alexa, what’s [number] plus [number] plus
“Alexa, what’s [number] plus [number] plus [number] minus [number]”
“Alexa, what’s 16% of 3,213?”
Don’t hesitate to try Alexa on long equations too. In addition to multiplying or dividing, she can handle factorials and square roots too.
With an Echo smart speaker, you can call Alexa devices or Alexa app users on Android or iOS. For you to call another Alexa user, he or she must have an Echo speaker registered in their account and be in your contact list.
“Alexa, call [contact name]”
To make it easier for Alexa to identify the person you want to call, choose distinctive names for the people in your address book who have the same first name.
Do you have two or more Alexa speakers in your home? That’s great because you can Drop In. Drop In is different from calling. It works like an intercom between Echo devices on your network without the need for the person at the other end of the line to answer. It works with a simple command:
“Alexa, drop in on [Echo device name]”
The devices don’t have to be located close to one another – only to be on the same network. You can also Drop In on any other Echo device, provided the owner is in your contact list and they have opted in to Drop In.
Ask Alexa to Cheer You Up
Maybe it’s been a long day at work. Or it’s just the rain and the wind beating on your windowpane. Whatever it is, Alexa’s one of the funniest and quirkiest voice assistants around.
“Alexa, tell me a joke.”
“Alexa, make animal noises.”
“Alexa, sing me a song.”
“Alexa, talk like Yoda.”
Amazon Alexa Tips and Tricks
Getting used to Alexa’s many features and enriching your repertoire of voice commands is great. But you don’t have to stop there. The following tips and tricks will help you enjoy using Alexa even more.
Change Alexa’s Accent
Apart from American English, you can choose UK English, Australian English, Canadian English, and Indian English. Alexa is also available in different languages including German.
To change Alexa’s voice, open the Alexa app on your mobile device and go to Settings. Select your device from the list – yes, different interconnected Alexa speakers can use different languages – and find the Language option.
Activate Brief Mode
Hearing Alexa talk can be nice – it proves just how much voice technology has advanced in recent years. But after you’ve listened to her for a while you may become tired of hearing all that confirmation feedback she keeps giving you.
Enter Brief Mode. Once you activate it, Alexa will beep to show she’s understood your command without providing the verbal feedback she usually repeats. For example, when you ask Alexa to play a new song, she won’t tell you the name of the artist or the year of the release.
Activating Brief mode is easy. After opening the Alexa app, go to Settings > General. Find the Alexa Voice Responses tab and turn on Brief mode.
Ask Alexa to Guard Your Home After You Leave
Okay, this one may be a bit over the top, but if you’re worried about burglars, why not? Before you leave, let Alexa know:
“Alexa, I’m leaving”
Alexa will pay attention to suspicious sounds or alarms and notify you if the device detects something. So far at least, Alexa seems not to generate too many false alarms, so nothing to worry about in that regard.
Activate Whisper Mode
Does Alexa talk a bit too loud sometimes? Maybe when your partner is sleeping? At night, when the house becomes quiet, Alexa’s tone may seem a bit out of place in the hushed house. Some people mute Alexa at night but you don’t have to. Alexa has an “Shhh!” mode. To activate it, simply tell her:
“Alexa, turn on Whisper Mode”
But there’s something you should remember. Alexa will only talk to you in whispers if you do the same with her. If you talk to her in your normal voice, she will reply as usual, whether or not you have activated Whisper Mode.
Create Your Own Alexa Skill
As you can see, Alexa can do a lot of things. But what’s really great about her is that you can always “teach” her new skills. The Alexa Skill Store provides a variety of extra skills which can enrich Alexa.
You can even create new skills for Alexa yourself. You don’t need any programming experience or coding apps. Simply head to Amazon Blueprints and follow the instructions. All you need is to sign in to your Amazon account.
For example, you can use blueprints to help Alexa deal with guests. This can be useful if you’re renting out your home now and then or letting friends sleep in while you travel.
Using Amazon Blueprints, you can create an At Home skill that enables Alexa to tell guests how to do things. This means that when a guest asks, “How do I [turn on boiler]” Alexa will provide the steps you’ve given her.
To create this skill, you have to select Make Your Own skill and fill the corresponding sections. The first would stand for the action [turn on boiler]. The second covers the actual steps, which Alexa will share with your guest. The last section adds any notes, like for how long to press the boiler button to turn the thing off.
This is an example of a simple blueprint slash skill. You can use existing skills in the Amazon Alexa Skill Store for inspiration to create much more complex skills.
The Best Devices with Alexa Built-In
Some devices, including those manufactured by other brands, include Alexa right from the box. This means you can voice-control them without having to link them to an Echo smart speaker, though you can always do this for convenience. The list of devices with Alexa built-in keeps on growing. Here are only some of the best that are available now.
Featuring an Alexa-enabled voice remote, the latest Fire TV Stick lets you stream Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime, browse social media, discover new apps and games, and more. It’s a useful addition to your Alexa-enabled smart home ecosystem and you can also take it with you when your ravel. It works with any HDTV – you only need a Wi-Fi connection.
Looking for a simple way to stream HD content on your TV? The Fire TV Cube from Amazon is the first hands-free streaming media player. It comes with Amazon Alexa built-in, so it can tell you the weather forecast, dim the lights, connect to YouTube, and more.
Amazon’s voice-controlled microwave enables you to use quick-cook voice presets and reorder popcorn when you’re running out. Although it comes with Alexa integration out of the box, you’ll need an Alexa speaker to use it.
Now with built-in Alexa, the Ecobee4 thermostat can be controlled using voice in the same way you would control an Echo smart speaker. But more than telling it to increase or decrease the temperature, you can integrate it into your Alexa-enabled smart home and group it with other devices or add it to one of your routines.
This smart baby monitor includes a good camera for monitoring your baby as well as a speaker with Alexa built-in. It’s convenient if you want to make sure everything is as it should be in the baby’s room, including the temperature and noise level.
The Best “Works with Alexa” Devices
Many more devices are certified by Amazon to work with Alexa. That means you can use your Amazon-enabled speaker to control them. You can also integrate them into an Alexa-enabled smart home ecosystem without having to worry about compatibility. This way you can automate repetitive commands and get more out of your devices.
One of the best-known smart thermostats on the market, Nest enables you to adjust the temperature with voice commands. You can easily integrate it into your Alexa routine or group it with other smart home appliances.
You can control this Alexa-enabled plug through voice commands and set it up to turn on or off based on conditions such as temperature or humidity. It’s a small but important starting point for a smart home.
These simple and easy to use smart LED lights come with their own small hub that integrates with Amazon Alexa. You get two light bulbs in a kit.
Shades may not be the first thing you think about when it comes to a smart home, but they can be a great addition to your bedroom. Available in a variety of styles and colors, these automated window blinds can be voice controlled through any Alexa-enabled device.
Smart locks offer you a faster way to lock your home for the night, and the August Smart Lock Pro happens to be one of the best models available. You can ask Alexa to lock and unlock the bolt each time or set it to lock automatically before you go to bed and unlock again in the morning before you leave for work.
Robot vacuum cleaners are nothing new, but this one can be started, stopped, and scheduled using Alexa voice commands. Hands-free cleaning doesn’t get better than this – not yet at least.
Amazon Alexa and the Smart Home of the Future
A variety of new and exciting Alexa-enabled smart home devices are currently under development. Keeping an eye on them is a good way to stay up to date with the latest developments in what is become one of the tech world’s most interesting industries.
The LG InstaView ThinQ Refrigerator that lets you shop for groceries and play music is just one example. The 88-inch LG OLED 8K TV is no less exciting, allowing you to control your viewing experience entirely through Alexa voice commands.
The Verdera Voice Lighted Mirror, on the other hand, brings Alexa to the bathroom, providing the complete Amazon Alexa functionality without the clutter. Dimmable lights, a motion-activated nightlight, and weather updates just when you need them are only some of its features.
Talking of bathrooms, the U by Moen brings Alexa to your shower, creating a personalized showering experience with temperature control.
Neither Amazon nor other manufacturers will stop here. So, how can you?
Whatever turn Alexa-enabled devices will take, one thing’s clear – not using Alexa devices is missing out on a lot of fun.