(Pocket-lint) – The Amazon Echo is one of a range of hands-free speakers and devices from Amazon that can be controlled with your voice. The voice-controlled “personal assistant” on these devices is called Alexa, which will perform various tasks for you and control various systems.
In this feature, we’ll explain what Echo is and what Alexa can do.
As well as being available on Echo devices from Amazon directly, Alexa is available on a lot of third-party devices like speakers or TVs as well as through the Alexa app on phones. Alexa is also available in some cars and in some wearables.
What devices offer Alexa?
There are two sides to this question – devices that work with Alexa (such as Philips Hue) – and devices that offer Amazon Voice Services, which is the platform that runs Alexa.
First and foremost, Alexa is designed around Amazon’s own Echo devices. The Amazon Echo range includes the standard Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Studio, and Echo Dot, which are all speakers, and then the Echo Show, Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8, and the Echo Spot, which also feature a display, so can give you visual feedback, like weather widgets, videos or song lyrics. There are several Amazon Alexa gadgets too though, like the Echo Wall Clock and Echo Flex smart plug for example.
The cheapest Echo device is the Echo Dot, which is a good starting point for building an Echo system and getting started. You can see all the Echo devices compared right here.
There are plenty of other devices that offer Alexa voice control, such as the Sonos One, Sonos Move, Sonos Roam, Bose Home Speaker 500 or Polk Command Bar. You can see a range of Echo alternatives here that offer Alexa too.
All these devices feature far-field microphones that can pick out your voice through background noise and are waiting to take your command when they hear the Alexa wake word. Once you say this, Alexa will swing into action and respond to your commands. But what can Alexa actually do?
What can Alexa do?
Alexa is able to play music, provide information, deliver news and sports scores, tell you the weather, control your smart home and even allow Prime members to order products from Amazon. Alexa sits in the cloud, expanding the information offered all the time and refining the responses to give you more accurate information. No matter what Alexa device you ask, all can return these sorts of answers, be that on your soundbar or in your car.
One of the core functions is playing music and Alexa can draw many sources. Amazon Music is supported, of course, but beyond that, there’s support for many more services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music, TuneIn as well as apps from individual providers, like the BBC.
The Echo devices with a display can also return visual information, extending beyond widgets to news videos, recipes or games. On the display-equipped devices – Echo Show and Echo Spot – you can also use touch controls to respond, for example, to control smart home devices.
Alexa can also tap into information from other devices and services by using Skills (which are like apps), so will be able to give you specific information about your car, your latest weigh-in or to find your Tile.
What about Alexa in the smart home?
Smart home control has emerged into one of the most significant areas of Alexa’s influence. It’s no longer just about asking for the weather and playing music with fancy voice control – it’s also about connecting to and controlling other devices in your home.
You can view your Ring Video Doorbell on your Echo Show, for example, as you can with Arlo cameras. You can connect Alexa to your Philips Hue or other lightbulbs, like Ikea, to turn them on or off with voice, or link to your heating controls so you can check and change the temperature in your house.
In this sense, Alexa is a great smart home controller – and once linked to Alexa, can be accessed through anything that supports Alexa voice commands.
Some Echo devices take this a step further offering Zigbee support, which will allow you to directly connect and setup smart home devices without needing a separate app or hub for that device. For example, you can buy a single Philips Hue bulb and set it up with your Echo Plus second-gen or Echo Studio, without needing a Hue Hub.
What can you ask Alexa?
There are plenty of things you can ask Alexa to do. Skills in the Alexa app enable you to customise your Echo device with capabilities to suit your preferences.
There are several skill categories within the Skills section of the app, including Connected Car, Food & Drink, Travel & Transportation, Music & Audio, Smart Home, and plenty more. To get started, you just have to tap Enable Skill when you’ve found one that is suited to you – or you can ask Alexa to enable skills via voice.
Some will require you to link to an existing account or separate subscription to use. For example, to use Uber with Alexa, you’ll need to have signed into your Uber account within the Skills section of the Alexa app.
Here are just a few examples of what you can ask Alexa to do, but we have a whole separate feature you can read on it too:
- “Alexa, wake me up at 7 in the morning”
- “Alexa, ask Skyscanner for a flight to New York”
- “Alexa, ask The Telegraph for the top stories”
- “Alexa, what’s on my calendar today?”
- “Alexa, what’s the weather in London?”
- “Alexa, play Taylor Swift from Amazon Music”
- “Alexa, how’s my commute?”
- “Alexa, shuffle my Favourites playlist”
- “Alexa, turn it up”
- “Alexa, will it rain tomorrow?”
- “Alexa, read my audiobook”
- “Alexa, what’s in the news?”
- “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride”
- “Alexa, open Just Eat and ask for my last order”
- “Alexa, turn on the coffee machine”
- “Alexa, turn on all the lights”
- “Alexa, set the master bedroom to 20 degrees”
- “Alexa, ask Jamie Oliver for a recipe”
What apps and services work with Alexa?
Numerous companies offer partnerships with Amazon Echo devices, as you will have seen from some of the questions above. There are thousands and thousands of skills available but here are some of the services that work with Alexa and what they mean you can do.
Writing by Britta O’Boyle.