Siri had a good run, but its time in the spotlight is over. Alexa has arrived, and it’s way smarter than Siri. Alexa, of course, is the voice-activated “smart” assistant lurking inside the Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Tap products. It recently made its way to select Amazon Fire tablets as well.
If you own one of these gadgets, you probably know the basics by now. You can ask Alexa for today’s weather forecast, a daily news briefing, an oven timer or a favorite playlist. But as the Echo family of products has grown, so has the ecosystem that surrounds it. Alexa can do a lot more than you might think, everything from finding your misplaced phone to helping you get a good night’s sleep. Here are a few handy ways to get the most from your virtual, voice-powered assistant.
Get skilled at adding skills
Given everything Alexa can do right out of the box, it’s easy to overlook all the capabilities you can add, capabilities that come in the form of “skills.” (Think apps, but for Alexa). There are thousands of them, and you can add any one just by saying, “Alexa, enable the X skill.”
To solve for X, head to the Alexa app on your mobile device, tap the Menu button, and then tap Skills. You can browse the various categories or search for something you might want. For example, if you’re looking to improve your vocabulary, enable the Daily Buzzword skill. Every day, when you say, “Alexa, open Daily Buzzword,” it’ll give you a new word and definition from Merriam-Webster, complete with an optional quiz.
Get some sleep
Alexa devices make great nightstand companions, starting with the alarm feature: “Alexa, set an alarm for 6:15 a.m.” Here’s something even cooler: If you venture into the Alexa’s app settings, you can customize your alarms with celebrity wake-up voices (Alec Baldwin, anyone?).
Find your phone
You’re already five minutes late getting out the door; you definitely don’t have time to hunt down your phone. Did you leave it in the bedroom? Bathroom? Did it slip beneath a couch cushion?
Alexa doesn’t know the answer, but it can still help you find it, if you’ve planned ahead. Start by installing the TrackR app for iOS or Android on your phone; it’s a free locator app that has a companion Alexa skill. Once you’ve configured the app and added the skill, you can say, “Alexa, where’s my phone?” and Trackr will make the phone ring loudly, even if it’s in silent mode.
Listen to podcasts
Alexa is probably best known for its music acumen and can sling tunes from a variety of sources, but it can also serve up podcasts. That’s thanks to the Echo’s direct integration with TuneIn, a service that’s home not only to live radio stations, but also to a large library of podcasts.