Alexa is not an actual person. It is a virtual personal assistant created by Amazon. The way it works is you say a command and it will respond. If you have talked to Siri on an iPhone or used Google’s Assistant then you are already familiar with this technology. Now, let’s look at what else Alexa can do.
What can Alexa do?
Let’s start with the basics. You just say “Alexa” followed by a command or question. Here are some examples:
- “…what time is it?”
- “…set a timer for 5 minutes.”
- “…how much time is left on my timer?”
- “…set an alarm for 5 am”
- “…what is the weather like today”
- “…tell me a joke”
You can also get the news, update and check your calendar, play music, play audiobooks and shop. If you are dabbling in a smart home, then you can even control many items through Alexa such as turning things on or off, adjusting the temperature, etc.
Some things you will want to do require adding a skill. There are thousands of skills available so we will just pick one to give you an idea of how it works. Let’s look at the Best Recipes skill, which will help you figure out what to make for dinner based on three ingredients. First, you need to enable the skill by saying “Alexa, enable best recipes”. Then you can say “Alexa, tell Best Recipes I am hungry” or “Alexa, ask Best Recipes what’s for dinner”.
There is also a companion mobile app that you install on your smartphone. From there you can look at your installed skills. You can also change your settings. This is where you would link music accounts like Amazon Music, Spotify or Pandora. One more thing you may notice in the settings is that you can change the “wake word” from “Alexa” to “Amazon”, “Echo” or “Computer”.
Use the Alexa app to see all the available skills and learn when new skills or functionality are added. There is so much that it can do.
How do I get Alexa?
Maybe you’re now interested in giving Alexa a try. It was originally released on the Amazon Echo speaker, which is a capable small speaker for listening to music. It’s been recently improved and updated and is an excellent choice. The Amazon Tap is a battery-powered version. The Echo Dot is another speaker that includes Alexa. It is best suited for just talking to Alexa. The Echo Show and Echo Spot are similar, but they add a screen. The Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are streaming devices used for streaming video and the included remote gives you Alexa. So far everything we have mentioned is from Amazon, but the list is growing to include other manufacturers. There is now a smart thermostat, the ecobee4, that has Alexa built-in. Toyota will even start adding Alexa to select Toyota and Lexus vehicles starting this year.
If you already have one of these devices, give Alexa a try. If you want to try it out but aren’t sure what to buy here are some suggestions. The Fire TV Stick is the cheapest option. If you are also looking to buy something for streaming video it’s a good choice. You do have to press a button on the remote control to use the voice commands and it’s not the same as using an Echo so keep that in mind. The Echo Dot is my next suggestion. If you plan on using it for streaming music, just get the Echo.