At last the Amazon Echo is available in both the US and the UK, and in several different forms too, depending on your needs and your budget. If you’re new to the world of Echo, though, it’s not necessarily all that easy to work out exactly what kind of gadget it is.
Perhaps the best way to explain the Echo’s purpose is to tell you about what it can actually do: and here are 14 of the more unusual options. If you’re already an experienced Echo operator, then you might find a few abilities here that you weren’t aware of.
Not all of these commands (which Amazon calls “skills”) are available on your Echo out of the box – to install third-party capabilities, you need to launch the Alexa app on your smartphone and find it, or just tell Alexa to enable the skill that you’re interested in.
1. Get cocktail recipes
Having a little get-together at your place? If you install The Bartender skill, you can have your Echo read back to you recipes for more than 12,000 cocktails – that’s a lot of drinks, so chances are it should know how to make that special concoction you had on holiday.
2. Find out what day it is
You might have noticed it’s always the national day for something or other, and if you want a simple way of working out what you’re supposed to be celebrating, then the command “Alexa, ask National Day Tracker what’s being celebrated today” will work.
3. Get help with your spelling
The Echo can spell words for you right out of the box but the Spelling Bee skill turns it into a bit more of a game for you or your kids. Once it’s installed, just say “Alexa, launch Spelling Bee”and the app comes up with a few tricky words to try and catch you out.
4. Order a pizza
Thanks Domino’s: if you install the skill developed by the well-known pizza chain then you can call up an order through your Echo. You can ask for your most recent order or your pre-configured Easy Order, but unfortunately it’s only available in the US for the moment.
5. Tune your guitar
There’s an Echo skill called Guitar Tuner, and once you’ve installed it, you can say “Alexa, ask Guitar Tuner to tune my guitar” to get some acoustic help (your Echo will simulate each guitar string four times). Alternatively, another of the available skills is Ukulele Tuner.
6. Call an Uber
Has Uber reached your part of the world yet? If so, you can order a cab through your Alexa-powered machine – “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride” should be enough to start the process, and you can also change your pickup location and find out where your taxi is.
7. See if the Tube’s busy
If you’re a Londoner (or visitor) looking to make efficient use of your time in the capital then get the Tube Status skill installed – it can give you updates about specific lines and about delays in general. There’s also a similar Echo skill for the New York subway.
8. Tell Alexa your secrets
The Secret Keeper skill allows you to unburden your darkest secrets to your Echo’s memory banks and then locks them away behind a password until you want to hear them – you can use it to confess to crimes or just to remember your bike padlock combination.
9. Track your health and fitness
If you’re about to pass out on the couch you can ask your Echo to read back details of your workout, as long as you’re using a Fitbit tracker: “Alexa, ask Fitbit how I’m doing today” and “Alexa, ask Fitbit how many steps I’ve taken” are two supported voice commands.
10. Get conversation starters
There’s actually an Alexa skill called Conversation Starters so you need never be stuck for something to chat about when the family’s round at Christmas. Just say “Alexa, ask Conversation Starter for a topic” and then “next” to skip ones that you don’t like.
11. Investigate the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents
Bet you didn’t think your Echo could help you look into the origins of Batman? It can, thanks to a choose-your-own-adventure story skill called The Wayne Investigation. Say “Alexa, open The Wayne Investigation” to your Echo and then follow the instructions.
12. Find out how far you can travel on your budget
Kayak is a travel comparison site and if you install the Kayak skill then you can use commands such as “Alexa, ask Kayak where can I go for 500 pounds?” (or however much you have spare). The skill also lets you look up prices between two destinations.
13. Consult an 8-ball
8-balls don’t actually have any psychic talents of course, but if you can’t make your mind up about something – what to have for tea, where to go out at night – then fire up the Magic 8-ball skill on your Echo and ask it pretty much any yes or no or maybe question you like.
14. Close your garage door
Okay, this one depends on you having installed a Garageio system in your garage, but it’s a good example of how an Echo can start to control your smart home. Set up the Garageio skill and you can close or open the garage remotely just by speaking out a command.
What about Google’s version of the Amazon Echo?