Skip to Content
© Jdjuancimail |
Kim's column

13 Alexa skills that you’ll use time and time again

At last, you’ve found yourself with an Amazon Echo speaker and it’s the perfect time to have a virtual assistant since you’re spending so much time at home. The Echo (or Echo Dot, or Echo Tap, or Echo Show, or Echo Plus, or Echo Spot) is now in your kitchen, and it’s ready for your every command.

Alexa can perform skills that run the gamut of uses – from workflow to domestic life to entertainment to safety to whimsical party tricks.

By now, you may have already learned that Alexa can play music and answer simple questions. If not, here’s a list of basic Alexa commands to get you started. That’s just the beginning. Below are several exciting ways that an Alexa device can assist you.

Tell Alexa to check your email

What does it mean to have Alexa check your email? For most people, it would be tedious to hear every single message dictated aloud from a small speaker. But this skill is actually convenient: Simply say, “Alexa, check my email,” and she will respond with a summary of your email messages that have been received within the last 24 hours.

You can read, reply to, delete and archive email messages using voice commands. Just a word to the wise. If your reply is more than a few sentences, it can get frustrating.

You can also have Alexa notify you when you receive an email from a specific person, so you don’t have to refresh your screen endlessly, and you never miss a long-awaited missive.

Discover and call local businesses with Alexa’s help

Most Echo devices establish your location right away, and you can quickly connect to Google and other geographically sensitive apps. Alexa can now search for and call local restaurants and businesses by only using your voice. Just ask a question like, “Alexa, what’s the number for Domino’s?” to connect to the nearest venue.

You can also say, “Alexa, where is the nearest Whole Foods?” and then say “Alexa, call them” to reach your local store.

Use Alexa to handle your to-do lists

Anyone can use an Echo for entertainment and basic searches, but to take real advantage of your “virtual assistant,” you can create “to-do lists” and then build them out into full-on routines. To get started, say, “Alexa, create a to-do list,” and then add tasks as you think of them. You can also create other individual lists for daily needs.

You could say, “Alexa, put get an oil change on my to-do list,” or “Alexa, add milk to my shopping list.” It’s quite handy.

Have Alexa tell you the latest news

Amazon calls it a “Flash Briefing,” a quick overview of news and other editorial content. The feature is designed to quickly aggregate and summarize the most important headlines of the day. Alexa reads text or plays audio content provided by each enabled skill. Flash Briefing’s will soon become a regular part of your day.

A typical command would be, “Alexa, give me my Flash Briefing,” or “Alexa, what’s in the news?”

If you don’t mind a shameless self-promotion, here’s a tip on setting up your Amazon Echo to listen to Komando podcasts.

Alexa can keep you on time

Thanks to the new updates for Alexa devices, you can now adjust the timer settings using just your voice. This setting is especially popular among busy or multi-tasking people, who need real-time reminders for specific tasks, appointments, and time-sensitive steps.

For example, say you are in the kitchen preparing a ham for Easter dinner. You can set a timer with your Alexa device and by saying, “Alexa, add five minutes to my timer,” and adjust the timer to fit your needs.

Alexa can welcome you home and turn on the lights

With Alexa, you can now create location-based routines which are automatically activated when you enter or leave a location. The routines are based on GPS information gathered from your smartphone when location sharing is enabled.

For example, say you come home after a long day at work. Using only your voice, you can have Alexa turn on the lights when you walk into your living room. You could also have Alexa turn off the music whenever you leave your home.

This excellent feature can potentially save money on your power bill, and it prevents you from worrying about whether or not you turned off the kitchen lights after you have left your house.

You’ll need special lightbulbs to activate this Amazon Echo feature, which you can learn about in this post.

Turn Alexa into a smart home command center

If Echo is the only smart device you ever buy, you probably won’t be disappointed. But to explore the full power of a smart home, you can connect your Echo to an ever-growing arsenal of smart appliances. To start, say, “Alexa, discover my smart home devices,” and your futuristic adventure will begin.

There are countless examples and combinations, but commands might include: “Alexa, connect to my phone,” “Alexa, turn on the lights,” “Alexa, raise the temperature 5 degrees,” and, if you have a Geneva smart oven and the relevant skill, “Alexa, tell Geneva to preheat my oven to 350 degrees.” Nice.

RELATED: 14 other ways to control your home with Echo and Alexa.

Alexa will keep you organized with reminders

With Alexa, you can now set reminders that are triggered when you leave or arrive somewhere based on the location of your smartphone. Just say something like, “Alexa, remind me to take the chicken out when I get home,” and when you arrive at home with your phone, Alexa will automatically send a notification to your phone and set a reminder.

Location-based Reminders are also available for locations outside the home where an Echo device may not be nearby, such as your office. For these location-based Reminders, you will receive a helpful push notification via the Alexa app on your phone.

Have Alexa help you workout and stay in shape

If you’re at home, and you have a spare seven minutes, and you don’t mind getting a little sweaty, there’s every reason to try the seven-minute workout skill. To get started, say, “Alexa, start the seven-minute workout.” Alexa will coach you through a series of exercises, which can be conducted just about anywhere.

There’s an emerging industry based on health and wellness skills for Alexa, so if you have an interest in indoor fitness and mindfulness exercises, this is a genre to keep an eye on.

Go to sleep with Alexa’s help

Who doesn’t love falling asleep to music or sleep sounds? Using your Alexa device, you can now set a sleep timer for music within Alexa Routines.

For example, you can create a “Good Night” routine that will play sleep sounds, music, or white noise for an hour before automatically turning off. You can also add wait actions between Alexa Routine actions.

For example, you can create a “Good Morning” routine that turns on the lights at 8 a.m. and then 20 minutes later plays your Flash Briefing. This fantastic feature allows you to remain in control of your evening and morning routines, therefore allowing for a more productive day.

Tell Alexa not to disturb you

While having a smart home device can be very beneficial, sometimes you may not want to be disturbed with Alexa’s voice. Thankfully with the “Do Not Disturb” option you can avoid this.

Using voice commands, you can create a “Good Night” routine that turns off the lights, starts sleep sounds, and enables a Do Not Disturb feature on your devices for up eight hours.

Trick burglars with Alexa’s help

Whenever folks leave their homes for a few days (or weeks), they wonder whether burglars are casing their house. This is a frightening prospect, and many residents will use simple tricks, like leaving certain lights or the television on to give the illusion that the home is occupied.

Alexa can radically bolster that defense, thanks to the Away Mode skill. Just say, “Alexa, run Away Mode,” and Echo will start playing a scripted-yet-realistic conversation. Burglars may think the family is home having a discussion. There are several different dialogues using several different characters, but the idea is to confuse potential criminals with credible chatter.

RELATED: How to use Alexa to control your home security system.

Use Alexa to call 911

In the event of a real honest-to-goodness emergency, the best bet is to call 911. Your Echo can call 911, but it uses VOIP, which can be unreliable. Also, for your Echo to call 911, you need to set up several steps before an emergency. Here is a step-by-step guide to using your Echo to call 911.

Tech smarts in 2 minutes a day

Get my Daily Tech Update and the Digital Life Hack. Just one minute each and arm you with the tech knowledge you need to impress your boss and friends with how smart you are.