Clever uses for your Amazon Echo and security steps you can’t skip
Amazon’s Echo line is the reigning champ of the smart speaker world. Compared to virtual assistants like Google and Siri, Alexa works with far more gadgets and responds to significantly more commands than the competition.
I bought six of these Echo Shows for Christmas presents. They have a nice screen, so all the kids and grandkids can pop in and say hello to my Mom whenever they want. She’s going to love it!
Maybe you’re new to Alexa and all she can do, or you need some new ideas to bring new life to your smart speaker. Here are 20 ways she can make your life easier — or just make you and the family laugh.
First, let’s talk security
Never keep any smart device that hears what you say in private places like your bedroom or bathroom. If you’re working from home, keep it out of your office space, too — or switch off the speaker during work hours. You don’t want to risk anyone or anything overhearing confidential info.
You need to adjust a few privacy settings, too. With a few taps, you can instruct Alexa to delete your records and disable voice purchases automatically. Tap or click here for all the steps.
Now, onto the fun stuff!
1. “Alexa, call (contact)” or “Alexa, call (number).”
Alexa recognizes names and spoken numbers and can make calls for you. To make this work, first, register your contacts in the Alexa app. On your smartphone, open the app and follow these steps:
• Tap Communicate.
• Tap the contacts icon.
• Choose the menu icon, and then Add Contact.
• Type a name and phone number, and then select Save.
Once your contacts are registered, ask Alexa to place the call for you.
There are certain numbers Alexa can’t call, including 911, toll-free numbers or international numbers outside the U.S., Mexico or Canada.
2. “Alexa, move my 8 a.m. meeting today to 1 p.m.” or “Alexa, cancel my 10 a.m. call.”
Alexa can act as your personal assistant if you sync your calendar. She can remind you about your upcoming meetings or even move, cancel or schedule one for you.
Here’s how to sync calendars from iCloud, Outlook, Google and other services:
• Open the Alexa app and go to the settings menu.
• Choose Settings.
• Choose Calendar & Email.
• Choose your account provider and select Connect Account.
• Follow the on-screen directions to sync your calendar. Repeat these steps for each calendar you want to add.
3. “Alexa, drop in on all devices.”
Remember those clunky old intercom systems in big homes? Alexa is the modern equivalent.
To use it, just say “Alexa, drop in on all devices” to reach every Alexa-enabled speaker or “Alexa, drop in on (device name)” to target just one. Then just wait for the confirmation tone before speaking.
You can call the entire family for dinner without ever leaving the kitchen. Handy!
4. “Alexa, remember …”
Alexa can remember specific dates and events for you. Say “Alexa, remember …” followed by whatever you’d like her to track.
For example, “Alexa, remember I have a dentist appointment at 1 p.m. on Tuesday” or “Alexa, remember I hid the key in the kitchen cupboard.”
5. “Alexa, set volume to (number between 1 and 10)”
Echo speakers have volume buttons on the top to adjust audio levels, but you don’t have to get up and walk over to your speaker to change it. Just tell Alexa what volume level you want.
Try experimenting around with different levels to see which one you like best. You can also ask Alexa to “set volume to 11,” which maxes the volume. It’s a sneaky reference to a classic movie.
6. “Alexa, what’s the extended forecast?”
This command will show you the extended forecast for the next seven days. I bet you’ll use this one all the time.
7. “Alexa, tell me about the movie (title).”
Alexa is an excellent resource for trivia and pop culture. Asking her about specific movies will give you a brief rundown on the film’s director, stars, and plot. She’ll even tell you the IMDb rating.
8. “Alexa, who plays (character) in (movie or show)?”
You can also ask Alexa to identify an actor in a movie you’re watching. This may settle some heated debates. Be sure to say the character’s name and the title of the show or movie.
9. “Alexa, who sings this song?” or “When did this song come out?”
With this command, you can ask Alexa to identify a song currently playing through the speaker.
To activate this feature, say “Turn on Song ID.” You can also ask her to disable the feature if you no longer wish to use it by saying, “Turn off Song ID.”
10. “Alexa, convert (measurement) ” or “Alexa, calculate (math problem)”
Alexa is an excellent kitchen resource. She can convert measurements with a simple voice command. But beyond the culinary world, Alexa can solve complex math problems in seconds.
11. “Alexa, what wine goes well with (food)?”
Once you’re finished preparing dinner, it’s time to find the perfect wine to pair with it. Alexa can help. Just activate this wine pairing skill from the Alexa skill shop, and you’ll be well on your way to a fancy dinner at home.
12. “Alexa, play (radio station).”
Alexa can play your favorite radio stations via voice command, too. That’s handy when many of us aren’t making our daily commute. You just need to make sure you know the name of the station you’re requesting.
13. “Alexa, Wikipedia (topic).”
If you’re the type who loves to settle arguments right on the spot, this command is for you. Just ask Alexa to “Wikipedia” a topic you want to discuss and she’ll read a preview of the full article out loud.
Want more privacy? Tap or click here to see how you can tell Alexa to delete what you say.
14. “Alexa, spell (word).” or “Alexa, define (word).”
If you’re a stickler for spelling and grammar, this command is another excellent argument-settling tool. Alexa pulls all this information from Webster’s dictionary, so you won’t have to.
15. “Alexa, tell me a joke.”
This is an oldie but a goodie. Alexa isn’t just useful — she’s funny too. Most of her soundbites are puns and dad jokes, but there are a few that are genuinely hilarious. Try these:
• “Alexa, how much do you weigh?”
• “Alexa, find Chuck Norris.”
• “Alexa, do you know the muffin man?”
16. “Alexa, give me quotes from (movie).”
If you’re curious to hear what Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator sounds like in Alexa’s voice, you can ask her to give you a quote from “Terminator 2” — or any other movie for that matter. It never gets old hearing her say, “Hasta la vista, baby.”
Are you looking for some new skills? Tap or click here to download 9 Alexa skills you’ll love.
17. “Alexa, how many days until (date or holiday)?”
This is similar to Alexa’s calculation ability, but with a more practical everyday use. Now, when your kids ask how far away Christmas is, you can give them the correct answer. Better yet, they can ask Alexa and leave you out of it.
18. “Alexa, drop a beat.”
And for the aspiring rappers out there, Alexa can generate a synthesized tune. The beats are surprisingly catchy.
19. “Alexa, what is the value of Pi?”
It’s one of the nerdiest things you can ask Alexa, but she’s more than up to the task. Alexa will read you the value of Pi up to 100 digits, which is surprising and slightly scary to hear.
20. “Alexa, what do you think of Siri?”
A little friendly rivalry never hurt anyone, right? Ask Alexa what she thinks about Siri, and you’ll get a backhanded response you might not expect.
What digital lifestyle questions do you have? Call Kim’s national radio show and tap or click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to or watch The Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet, television or computer. Or tap or click here for Kim’s free podcasts.
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