Like most people, I rely on my phone to help me stay organized and on top of everything. I find myself constantly pulling out my phone to add to my to do list, set a reminder or Google something. I was thrilled to get my hands on the voice-operated Amazon Echo — a device that’s the closest digital thing to a personal assistant. But what can the Amazon Echo actually do?
Amazon released the Echo 2nd Generation, which retails for $130, in Canada last fall. It’s roughly the length and width of your hand in size and comes in six different neutral colours, making it easy to match the look of your home.
The Amazon Echo and the similar device Google Home are well known for being similar to Siri — you can ask the devices for the weather, top news stories or to play music.
I connected the Amazon Echo — which goes by the name Alexa — to my phone by downloading the Amazon Alexa app, which is a fairly simple process and required to start using it. The app is like the hub of the device — it’s where you connect to things like your Spotify or Kindle libraries and smart devices. You can also add “skills” through your Alexa app which enables the Echo to perform its various functions, and allows you to connect to your Echo device when you are away from home.
Here’s 8 super-helpful things I discovered Alexa can do:
1. Alexa can connect to other apps already in your phone (and order you an Uber, or food)
Through the Amazon Alexa app, you can connect to apps on your phone through the “skills section” which allows you to go hands-free with the select apps. For example, if you have the Uber app and add Uber to your skills you can ask Alexa to order an Uber to your home. Alexa can also shop on Amazon, order food from select places, and start a workout session. It can also control various smart devices you may have, like smart lights, in the “Smart Home” tab on the Alexa app.
2. Alexa can act as an intercom
If you are interested in buying multiple Amazon Echo devices, there is a “drop in” feature that allows you to communicate with other devices in different rooms of your house — so, for example, you could let your kids know when dinner is ready if they’re in a different room. This is when the Echo dots come in handy, rather than purchasing multiple regular Amazon Echo devices (they retail on Amazon for $49.99).
3. Alexa can set reminders and act as your alarm clock
You can set a reminder/alarm using a voice command (or manually through the Amazon Alexa app), and Alexa will notify you at the exact date and time you requested. For example, if your partner is at home while you’re at work, you can have Alexa remind them to feed the dog. You can also make mornings easier by setting your favourite song as your wake-up alarm.
4. Alexa can read your kids (or you!) a bedtime story
In the skills section of the Alexa app, there are various applications that allow enable Alexa to read a bedtime story. When I asked Alexa to play me a bedtime story, it first asked for my name. It proceeded to tell a story with my name as the protagonist that saves the day.
5. Alexa can read out recipes while you cook
I enabled “Allrecipes” in the skills section and saved a few recipes I thought looked amazing. When I was ready to use one, I asked Alexa what ingredients I needed and what the process was. Alexa will recite what ingredients you will need and the instructions to go along with the recipe. It can also give you a recipe of the day if you ask.
6. Alexa can buy things for you
Whipping up a dish in the kitchen and realize you’re all out of paper towel or garbage bags? If you’ve got an Amazon Prime account, you’re able to ask Alexa to make purchases for you.
7. Alexa can help you sleep
I told Alexa that I was unable to sleep one night, in which it replied with “I’m sorry to hear that.” I asked her, “Alexa, can you help me fall asleep?” It then started playing a soothing melody, perfect to help you relax and wind down. You are also able to add various meditation skills in the skills section in which it will guide you through.
8. Alexa can learn your voice
Setting up the voice recognition takes about five minutes, and from then on you can ask Alexa, “Who am I?” and it will respond knowing exactly who it is speaking with. This is a great feature for families because it makes each user’s experience unique — the Echo sets different reminders, schedules, and access each person’s own contact list or music library based on the user.