Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant, built into its
range of Echo smart speakers and displays, but you’ll also find Alexa in speakers from other manufacturers as well as on Amazon’s tablets (tablets including the inexpensive
Fire 7) as well as its
Fire TV media streamer.
Here’s how to talk to Alexa, what you can ask her and how to use the
multi-room music capability. There are also
many funny things she can say if you ask the right questions!
Like any good assistant, you can speak to Alexa using natural language. In some countries including the US and UK she can recognise individual voices and provide information specific to that person (such as what’s on their calendar) but she will respond to anyone’s voice for general requests, questions and commands.
When speaking, you don’t have to wait after you say “Alexa”. Just look and check that the LED ring has lit up, and carry on speaking. Bear in mind that unlike Siri and Google Assistant, Alexa can’t take multiple commands at once. (Hopefully that is coming soon, and in the meantime you can set up routines to make several things happen from a single command.)
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What can I ask Alexa?
Alexa has a lot of capabilities. Some you will have to
enable via the Amazon Alexa app (get it for
Amazon Fire). Take a look through the available Skills and simply tap Enable to add that function.
But Alexa can handle a lot of general requests such as these:
- Time: Alexa, what time is it?
- Alarm: Alexa, set an alarm for weekdays at 7am
- Snooze alarm: Alexa, snooze
- Countdown timer: Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes AND Alexa, how much time is left on my timer?
- Sleep timer: Alexa, stop playing in 30 minutes
- Volume: Alexa, turn up the volume OR Alexa, volume 5 [the range is 1-10]
- Volume: Alexa, quieter OR Alexa, mute
- Get help: Alexa, Help
- Stop whatever is playing: Alexa, stop
- Unit conversions: Alexa, what’s 100 miles in kilometres?
- Capital cities: Alexa, what’s the capital of Colombia?
- Maths: Alexa, what’s the square root of 64?
- Weather: Alexa, what’s the weather like? [you need to set your location in the app first]
- News: Alexa, give me the headlines [you can set up your Flash Briefing in the app]
- Traffic [set up your start and finish points in the app]: Alexa, what’s my commute?
To check for delays on UK railways, enable the National Rail Skill in the Alexa app. You can speak to Alexa to set up your home and destination stations. Here’s
how to enable skills.
She can also handle general knowledge questions such as:
- Alexa, how tall is Kilimanjaro?
- Alexa, what’s the definition of putative?
- Alexa, why is the sky blue?
- Alexa, when is sunset today?
- Alexa, who plays Mark in Peep Show?
- Alexa, who is the lead singer of Jamiroquai?
- Alexa, how far is it from Manchester to Birmingham?
You should also try saying, Alexa, good morning as you’ll hear an interesting fact of the day.
Music and audio playback controls
Alexa is great for music although, as you might expect, only truly good if you subscribe to Amazon Music or have a Prime subscription which includes the basic version of it. You can also link up your Apple Music or Spotify Premium account if you would prefer Alexa to play music from those services instead. When you make one of those the default provider in Settings > Music in the Alexa app, music will come from there when you say any of these commands:
- Shuffle all music: Alexa, play some music
- Play an artist or album: Alexa, play Michael Bublé OR Alexa, play Back to Black
- Play a genre of music: Alexa, play some jazz
- Skip to the next track: Alexa, next
- Play the last song: Alexa, previous
- Repeat a song: Alexa, restart
- Start a playlist (you need to create these first in the Amazon Music app): Alexa, play the 1980s playlist
- Get the name of a song: Alexa, which song is this?
- Listen to the radio: Alexa, ask BBC to play Radio 4
- Play music over Bluetooth: Alexa, connect to my phone
You can also add songs to playlists, create new playlists and more. Also, it’s possible to ask Alexa to play a song from a band you heard a few weeks ago, but can’t remember the track name.
- “Alexa, play me the Jamiroquai song I heard last month”
- “Alexa, play me pop music I was listening to three weeks ago”
- Or even try, “Alexa, play music that I was listening to earlier today”
- “Alexa, play jazz songs I haven’t heard recently”
There are also ways to play similar music to what you’re listening to:
- “Alexa, play more like this”
- “Alexa, play songs similar to ‘Easy like Sunday Morning'”
- To do this for an artist and era, “Alexa, play songs like 80s Rick Astley”
You can also make playlists, and add to them using these commands while listening to Amazon Music:
- “Alexa, add this song to my playlist”
- “Alexa, add this to my ‘Studying’ playlist”
- “Alexa, create a new playlist from this song”
- “Alexa create a new playlist”
If you have several Echo devices you can create a group in the Alexa app and play music in sync on all of them. Again, this will work no matter whether you’ve chosen Amazon, Apple or Spotify as the music source.
To create a group, tap on the bottom-right icon from the bottom of the home screen in the Alexa app then tap the ‘+’ symbol top right and choose Add Multi-Room Music Speakers. Then you can ask Alexa to play music by saying, “Alexa, play Maroon 5 downstairs”, assuming you named the group ‘downstairs’.
If you group all your Echo devices, you can say “Alexa, play My Music everywhere”.
Alternatively, you can ask Alexa to play music on a specific Echo device, so you could make calming lullabies play on your Echo Dot in the baby’s room from your Echo in the kitchen, for example.
You can rename any of your Echos by tapping on Device Settings and then Edit Name (above, right).
You can use this for Spotify and TuneIn, but not BBC Radio (as the BBC Sounds app doesn’t work with multi-room audio, and the BBC has recently removed its stations from TuneIn). In the US, you can also stream from Pandora and iHeartRadio – SiriusXM support has also been added.
Currently the feature doesn’t work on non-Amazon devices that have Alexa built in, such as the
Jam Voice. You can find out even more about
music on Alexa.
- Play an audiobook (you need an Audible subscription): Alexa, play [title of book] on Audible OR Alexa, play the book [title]
- Skip chapters: Alexa, next chapter OR Alexa, previous
- Read a Kindle book: Alexa, read me my Kindle book [then say the title of the book]
Alexa’s text to speech isn’t nearly as good as a proper audiobook, but it is one way to get her to read aloud books without an Audible subscription (but you still need to have purchased Kindle books).
There’s support for smart light bulbs, thermostats and more. Alexa works with Nest, Philips HUE, LIFX, Netatmo, Hive, LightwaveRF, Smart Things, Honeywell Total Connect Comfort, digitalSTROM, MyFox and tado. Plus, Yonomi lets you control some other devices not directly supports, such as Logitech Harmony controls and Sonos systems.
In the Alexa app, tap the three horizontal bars (or just swipe to the right), then tap on Skills & Games. Now you can search for your product or service and see if it is supported.
In general, once you enable the skill, you will need to log into the account for your smart product and authorise Alexa to use it. If there are multiple products, such as lights, you can usually group these or name them individually so you can control them together or separately.
Some examples, once this is all set up, include:
- Alexa, set the temperature in the Hallway to 20 degrees
- Alexa, tell Hive to boost my heating
- Alexa, lower bedroom by 3 degrees
- Alexa, turn on the lights in the lounge
- Alexa, turn off the kitchen light
- Alexa, tell Hive to turn on the kettle [this uses a smart plug]
Of course, there are many other skills available which cover a multitude of areas. For example you can say “Alexa, enable easyJet”, then “Open easyJet”. You don’t have to know your flight number, but it helps. However Alexa can get your flight status if you know the departure and arrival airport names.
Shopping, to-do lists and calendar
The Alexa app has a built-in to-do list and shopping list, and can sync with your Google calendar. You can then say:
- Alexa, add washing up liquid to my shopping list
- Alexa, add Go Shopping to my calendar on 15th November at 3pm
- Alexa, what’s on my calendar?
- Alexa, put get the car serviced on my To-Do list
Alexa can also schedule reminders. You can say, “Alexa, remind me to buy a birthday card on Thursday at 1pm”, and on that day at that time a blue light ring will appear on the Echo device and Alexa’s voice will remind you to buy the card. The reminders also appear in the Alexa app on your phone.
You can give a specific name to a timer which is really handy when setting multiple timers at once. For example, you can ask Alexa to set a pasta timer and also to set a garlic bread timer, and when the timer goes off, Alexa will state which timer is up.
Since there’s no screen on some Echos, you can check the amount of time left on specific timers (or even cancel it). Just say, “Alexa, cancel the pasta timer” or “Alexa, how much time is left on my garlic bread timer?” Active timers can also be seen in the Alexa app, and on the screen if you have an Echo Show or Spot.
Amazon has also launched a
wall clock which shows how much time is left on your Alexa timers. There are
other accessories for your Echo, too.
Fire tablet / Fire TV
Everything above works on a Fire Tablet and most on the Fire TV. But with these devices you have extra options thanks to the screen. These also apply to the Echo Show and Spot, which have screens too.
- Alexa, play Episode 1 of the Grand Tour
- Alexa, next episode
- Alexa, rewind 30 seconds
- Alexa, pause
- Alexa, show films with Brad Pitt
- Alexa, open Netflix
Have both a Fire TV and an Echo in the same room? Then you can pair them and use your Echo’s hands-free Alexa control instead of the Fire TV’s remote. The process should be largely automatic if you have only one Fire TV on your Amazon account: simply ask Alexa on your Echo to pair with the Fire TV.
If you have more than one, follow these steps:
- In the Alexa app, go to the menu and select Settings.
- Tap on TV & Video and tap Fire TV.
- Follow the instructions.
- Tap Link Devices to confirm your selection.
If you have a compatible Fire tablet, you can say “Alexa, enable show mode” and she will change the screen to one similar to the Echo Show. You can
buy the Show Mode Charging Dock for the Fire HD 8 and HD 10 which makes them much more usable in this mode.
Some of the latest skills Alexa has learned include:
This is a great new feature which is currently rolling out. When you leave home say “Alexa, I’m leaving” and she can send you alerts if she hears certain sounds such as glass breaking, smoke alarms beeping or carbon monoxide detectors going off. If you have the necessary smart home kit, she can also turn lights on and off intelligently to make it seem like someone is home. There’s also integration with some alarm systems (including Ring and ADT).
Currently this is US only.
Alexa is always getting smarter, and hunches is where she learns when you tend to switch your smart lights and switches on and off. So when you say “Alexa, Good Night” she can tell you “By the way, your outdoor light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”. Again, this feature is being rolled out.
Local Voice Control
This is one we’ve been hoping for. Alexa usually relies on an internet connection. But now she will be able to control lights, plugs and switches that are connected to an Echo with a built-in smart hub (such as the Echo Plus or 10-inch Echo Show).
Would you like to make sure that Alexa isn’t saving your voice requests?
Have a look at our guide here.
You can also find out
what the various colours mean on your Echo’s Light Ring and
how to use Show & Tell on an Amazon Echo.