Getting started with Amazon Alexa

I have enjoyed using my Amazon Echo Dot for the last year and come to use it in ways I did not expect at first. We do not use all the features available with Alexa, such as smart home devices, but we hope to in the future.

Amazon Echo Light

Good Morning

For us Alexa quickly became a regular part of our morning routine, and it really shines in this regard. Setting an alarm is extremely easy and you can even be very specific with repeating alarms by saying Set a repeating alarm for [day of week] at [time].. When the alarm goes off but you want to stay in bed, just say Alexa, snooze and you can stay warm in bed for another 9 minutes.

There are many ways to hear a weather report in the morning along with varying degrees of news content. The simplest is to just ask Alexa what the weather is, but you can also say Alexa, what's up? to get the weather, along with your calendar events for that day and a snippet of news.

However, my go-to every morning is to say Alexa, what's the news? which will activate your Flash Briefing which is configurable in the app. We currently have our setup to play the weather forecast, cooking tips from Cook’s Illustrated, and the NPR Hourly News Summary. This keeps it short and not overly depressing in the morning. BBC and NY Times are high quality but often long and not a positive start to your day.

Cooking and Laundry

Setting timers with your voice is our most-used command and it makes the device worth every penny. You will never want to fumble with your phone to set a timer again. You can set multiple timers and even give them names.

Connecting With Others

Sending messages and making voice calls on Alexa is a relatively new feature. It is nice to be able to initiate a call so easily but the most useful way we take advantage of this feature is by calling ourselves.

Using the phone app while I am away from home I find it very convenient to place a call to myself through Alexa. This will then ring the Echo in the room. When Ace is home and has her hands full cooking, she can answer the call by voice and we can easily talk. It usually gets her attention better than a call to her phone. :)

Relaxing Sounds

We love using the Thunderstorm Sounds skill to play relaxing ambient noise in the evening when we are trying to fall asleep. There are many similar skills out there; this is just our favorite.

Music & Radio

Playing music is a core feature and one which Alexa handles very well. As expected this all works best with an Amazon Music Unlimitied subscription but we currently have a Google Music subscription. That does not stop me from using it however. I can play music through a bluetooth connection (easy as saying Alexa, connect to my phone) and still control volume with voice control. Being able to request any artist or song is great when everything is working through Spotify or Amazon Music.

An often overlooked feature of Alexa is the ability to listen to any radio station live instantly. Simply say Alexa, play [radio station identifier] and it will use TuneIn to connect you to their live web stream. I will use this to listen to my favorite public radio stations from New York and California.

Fun Stuff

Alexa also offers tons of novelty skills and fun interactions. You can play a daily game of Jepoardy, and get her to make cat and dog noises by saying Alexa, meow. We have even used Alexa to do our morning 7-minute workout. I would love to have our lights and thermostat connected to Alexa but that will have to wait for another day.

Hope you enjoy using Amazon Alexa! If you have any questions reach out to me on Twitter at @kmuncie.