Voice Command Your Smart Home
Amazon’s virtual assistant, which is commonly known simply as Alexa, is a very powerful tool. She can stream music, control your smart gadgets, order merchandise from Amazon and even integrate with If This Then That (IFTT). These skills alone are rather impressive. However, she is capable of much more. Alexa’s skills are practically endless due to third party skills that can make Alexa even more helpful. In fact, there are currently more than 70,000 skills today.
Essential Alexa Skills to try first
After testing out some of the most popular Alexa skills, here are the ones you’ll want to get. Here are a handful of niceties that are worth checking out.
Roomba: Control your robot vac
iRobot’s Roomba robot vacs are some of the best around, and now they’ll digest your voice commands as well as gobbling up stray pet hairs. If you have one of the fancier web-connected Roomba models, such as the 900 Series – and live in the US – that is. The latest major update to the iRobot HOME App for Android and iOS introduces the skill. All you need to say is, “Alexa, tell Roomba to start cleaning.” From there all you need to do is kick back with your ice cold tea.
Skill Finder: Find more skills!
Amazon has introduced a neat Alexa skill that, well, helps you find more Alexa skills. It’s a quick and easy way to discover cool new integrations you might not know about. Simply ask things like, “Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the Skill of the Day”. Alternatively, it’ll let you unearth skills on a category-by-category basis. Simply query, “Alexa, tell Skill Finder to list the top skills in the games category,” and you’ll be served up the most popular gaming-related integrations.
Plex: Manage your media
This is probably our new favorite Alexa skill as it lets you control your media library without lifting a finger. If you use Plex Media Server and have an Echo device in your living room, you can now ask Alexa to play films, tell you what’s next on your Plex deck, and even suggest things you might want to want. “Alexa, play the next episode of Grey’s Anatomy!”
Your Echo assistant has known how to play nice with Hue lights for a while. However, these days you have more mood control options than ever. Want to make things all sexy? Set up a ‘romantic’ profile and Alexa will make your bedroom redder than downtown Amsterdam. The best part is that she’ll make this happen before you can so much as say, “Go.”
Control your thermostat
Alexa now supports BSG’s Alarm.com Thermostats, meaning you can simply say “Hey Alexa, raise the living room temperature by 2 degrees,” and you’ll be toastier than marshmallows roasting on an open fire.
Uber: Call for a ride
Uber is a little fiddly to set up with Alexa, but once you’ve got it sorted, it does feel a little bit like magic. It took us a couple of attempts to link an Uber account to our Echo, and If you try to just ask for an Uber, Alexa will tell you to ask for it in a specific way. After you’ve got the knack though, just say the necessary incantation and a ride will roll up outside your location. Cool.
7-Minute Workout: Get a guided workout
Just say, “Alexa, start 7-minute workout,” and shock of all horrors, Alexa will take you through a 7-minute workout! If you’re unsure of any of the exercises, the app on your phone will show you little pictures of what you should do. It’d be nice if Alexa was a bit more encouraging, or played some music to help motivate you, but it’s pretty good all the same.
Spotify: The best for music streaming
Spotify is the best music streaming service around, and with Echo, Premium subscribers can simply shout out what they want to be played, be it a specific artist, mood, playlist and even decade. It’s a no-brainer to enable as soon as you fire up your new smart speaker and, better still, it comes pre-loaded – just enable it as your default music player and you’re away.
Wake up to your favorite song
While we’re on the subject of music, as of December 18, Echo users can now command Alexa to wake them up to the tunes of their choice. Whether you need some heavy metal to stun you out of your slumber, or some Marvin Gaye for a relaxing Sunday morning in bed with the paper, Alexa has you covered. You won’t need an additional Skill download for this; just say “Alexa wake me at 8 am to [insert favorite song]” and choose from artists, playlists, tracks or even a random selection. Best news is it works with all supported music services.
Control your whole home entertainment set-up
If you’re the proud owner of a Logitech Harmony Hub and a compatible remote, then you can use your Echo to add voice controls. You can command Alexa to turn on the TV or media player or play and pause content on your television screen, This is particularly handy if you’ve lost the remote down the back of the sofa. A recent improvement even simplified the voice controls. You can simply say “Alexa, turn up the volume/turn on BBC 1.”
The Guardian: All the latest news
Ask Alexa for the latest news, headlines, podcasts and more with this skill – she’ll even read you entire articles if you want. It’s well useful for all those times you want to meditate on how horrible the world is whilst doing the washing up…
Google Calendar: Never miss a meeting again
Habitually late to – or forget – pretty much everything? Alexa might just be your savior, as you can ask your Echo to remind you about meetings and other important events Neglected an anniversary, for example? Combine your reminder with begging Alexa to order some last-minute flowers for the ultimate in time-efficient getting out of jail.
Control Fire TV with your Echo
Most Amazon Fire TV devices now come with an Alexa voice remote. However, if it’s across the other side of the room, that’s a whole lot of energy that could be used for keeping warm. So, US Echo owners can now control their Fire TV devices with Alexa on the Amazon Echo. You could say “Alexa open Hulu” or Alexa “show me comedy films” for example. You can even say “Show me films with Liam Neeson,” leveraging the universal search feature. If you only have one Fire TV, Alexa should complete the pairing process automatically.
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