Previously, the only way to install new ‘skills’ (like apps) to your Amazon Echo smart hub was by using the Alexa smartphone app, but now Alexa will automatically enable a skill when you say a trigger command.
This useful update makes your Echo smarter and simpler to use. Removing the install step streamlines your experience, but you still need to know the right thing to say. For example, asking Alexa to order you an Uber won’t get you very far but saying ‘Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride’ will get a better result. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it does mean Alexa can cover an extremely broad range of subjects and uses – its library of skills reached 12,000 this year.
We’ve found six useful skills and the commands you need to trigger them, so you can start getting more from your Amazon Echo.
Top-rated smart hubs for 2017 – find out whether the Echo is one of the hubs we recommend
Get your news
Command: ‘Alexa, what’s in the news?’ or ‘Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?’
Getting an update on the latest headlines and news stories is one of the Alexa’s handiest skills, but it works slightly differently from the others.
There are a number of different skills that can give you your news fix, including ones for Sky News, BBC News, The Guardian and more. They all use the same trigger command, so it’s up to you where you want your news to come from. You can have as many or as few outlets as you want in your Alexa app – simply enable the ones you want to hear and disable the ones you don’t. Remember that if you’ve ever had enough of your daily briefing just tell Alexa to stop.
Command: ‘Alexa, Wikipedia…’ then ‘Alexa, tell me more.’
Wikipedia is a fountain of knowledge. If it exists or it happened, Wikipedia probably has a page on it. Wiki Brains, which is already built into the device, gives you access to that huge database with a simple request.
It can recite all 5,398,377 English language articles but, since some of these articles are enormous, it will only give you the intro. If you want to keep hearing about the Crimean War or pandas or whatever floats your boat just say: ‘Alexa, tell me more.’
Command: ‘Alexa, ask First Aid how to help someone who is…’
There are plenty of useful Alexa skills, but this one could save a life. Made by the British Red Cross, the First Aid skill allows Alexa to talk you through giving aid to someone having an asthma attack or a seizure, has a broken bone or burn, or is bleeding heavily.
These first five are some of the most common household medical emergencies, but hopefully more will be added soon.
Sleep and relaxation sounds
Command: ‘Alexa, ask Sleep Sounds to play…’
If you’re having trouble sleeping but counting sheep doesn’t help, where do you turn? Alexa’s Sleep and Relaxation skill can play soothing sounds to ease you to sleep.
You can choose from more than 30 sounds including rain, wind, a waterfall or a cat purring, and you don’t need to worry about it playing all night because you can ask Alexa to set a sleep timer, so the sounds will turn off after a set length of time.
Command: ‘Alexa ask Translated how do you say… in…’ or ‘Alexa ask Translated to say… in…’
Translated makes Alexa multilingual. You can ask it to translate whatever phrase you want into 36 languages. The only slight hiccup is that Alexa can only understand English, so don’t try speaking any other languages at it.
Once you’ve got your translation, you can ask Alexa to repeat it and slow it down, so you can learn the proper pronunciation of ‘I love you’ in French and impress your partner.
The Magic Door
Command: ‘Alexa, open the magic door.’
While The Magic Door may not be an essential skill, it does show the versatility of Amazon’s smart hub. It’s effectively a choose your own adventure book where you tell Alexa how to proceed through the story.
There are currently nine adventures to choose from, each with hidden items to find and riddles to solve. They may not be as engrossing as a best-selling book or award-winning movie, but they’re a fun diversion.