Alexa can be your helping hand through this difficult time – whether that’s getting the most out of your day, helping you to keep fit, providing entertainment or ‘helping out’ with your chores.
Smart speakers are hands-free and can provide a handy break from looking at screens. If you mainly use your smart speaker for music and radio, checking the weather or timers, you’re only scratching the surface of how helpful Alexa can be.
From home deliveries, to free calls, helping with cooking, keeping the kids entertained and plenty more, find out below how much you can harness Alexa to improve your wellbeing at home.
- Best smart speakers – our tests reveal which models won’t let you down, with sound quality that will bring your home to life.
- You can keep up to date on our latest coverage over on our coronavirus advice hub.
10 ways to take advantage of Alexa
1. Mindfulness and mental health
You can use Alexa with mental wellness platforms such as Headspace or Meditation Timer – just say: ‘Alexa, open Headspace’ or ‘Alexa, open Meditation Timer’ to get started.
There is also plenty of relaxing curated playlists to try out. For example, BBC Sounds offers CD-length ‘playlists to relax or meditate to – just say: ‘Alexa, ask the BBC to play Mindful Mix’. Or you can simply just listen to nature sounds. Try: ‘Alexa, open Bird Sounds’ or ‘Alexa, open Ocean Sounds’.
2. Games, quizzes and entertainment
Alexa can be great fun as well, with many games and quizzes built in. Try: ‘Alexa, play True or False’, ‘Alexa, start Song Quiz’ or ‘Alexa, open Yak Yak Quiz.’ Some games are multiplayer, too. To find more, check out the list of games skills in the Alexa app.
If you haven’t already, you’ll quickly find Alexa has quite a sense of humour. Try asking questions, such as: ‘Alexa, do you have a boyfriend?’ or ‘Alexa, beam me up.’ You’ll soon find she’s smarter than you think.
3. Indoor workouts, health and keeping active
Keeping fit can be tough during lockdown. Alexa can help here too – she can give you exercise routines to work through, and even provide encouragement. Say: ‘Alexa, start 7-minute workout’ or ‘Alexa, open My Workouts’.
Others to try include The Body Coach and Five Minute Workout: Core and Cardio. Or, for something a bit less strenuous, Easy Yoga and Easy Meditation are worth a try.
If you have a Fitbit, Alexa can tell the number of steps you’ve taken, your quality of sleep along with other metrics logged by your Fitbit activity tracker.
You can also use Alexa to play motivational songs from Spotify and other music streaming services as well.
4. Podcasts, audiobooks, music and radio
Many people ask Alexa to play music, but make sure you take full advantage of all the audio options available. Using your smart speaker to listen to the radio or podcasts through services such as TuneIn radio and BBC Sounds can be one of the easiest hands-free ways to keep informed.
Audiobooks can be a great way to unwind while giving your eyes a rest. Amazon’s own audiobook subscription service Audible is well-integrated with Alexa, and some titles are available to try for free and see if it works for you – say: ‘Alexa, what’s free from Audible?’
5. Smart home routines and reminders to ease daily chores
Spending more time at home means juggling lots of tasks, and it can seem as though there aren’t enough hours in the day. Many basic household jobs, such as controlling lights and the thermostat, can be automated to make your life easier and controlled at a distance through voice commands. Getting a robot vacuum cleaner can also help you save you time. You can also manage all these devices in one place on your smartphone or smart display.
Look for smart home devices compatible with Alexa – for more information, see our guide on how to set up a smart home.
6. Engaging the kids
Having the kids at home all the time can be time-intensive and Alexa can really help you out. Kids often love talking to Alexa – it offers parental controls and separate ‘Kid Skills’ you can enable in the Alexa app (select ‘Settings’, then ‘Alexa Account’). The Alexa app also has an explicit language filter for music – choose ‘Settings’, then ‘Music’.
If something crops up, Alexa can also read your kids bedtime stories. Try: ‘Alexa, read a bedtime story’. Alexa can also help with educating them too – try asking things such as: ‘Alexa, how do you spell difference?’ and ‘Alexa, what does preposterous mean?’ You can also ask science questions, such as: ‘Alexa, what is the water cycle?’
7. Cooking and recipes
Asking Alexa questions can be particularly handy in the kitchen when your hands are full. You can ask it to read you out online recipe instructions step by step, or just ask if you’re not sure how to make something, such as: ‘Alexa, how do you poach an egg?’.
Smart displays such as the Amazon Echo Show 8 with its large screens can be even more useful in the kitchen, as it can view each step of a recipe as you work through it. There are plenty of cooking skills to choose from for Alexa. A popular one is BBC Good Food skill – try saying: ‘Alexa, ask BBC Good Food for a quick Italian recipe.’
Missing an ingredient in a recipe? The skill Ingredient Sub can help you out. Simply ask: ‘Alexa, ask Ingredient Sub what can I use instead of brown sugar.’
8. Announcements, free calls and staying connected
If you have multiple Echo devices in your home, save yourself from raising your voice by using Alexa like an intercom using its handy announcements feature – just say things such as: ‘Alexa, announce that dinner is ready.’ You can also contact each device individually using the Drop In feature – set up your Alexa contacts in the Alexa app.
Amazon Echo devices (but not all Alexa brand devices) can also call most UK mobiles and landlines for free once set up in the app (it won’t let you call emergency numbers, though).
With being unable to meet friends and relatives during the lockdown, it’s also nice to use a smart display such as the Amazon Echo Show 8 to display photos, and you can also use these for making free video calls. Amazon’s Echo Show smart displays support Skype, too (this does require a subscription, though).
9. Learn a language
Finding you have more spare time during the lockdown? Learning a language can be a great new hobby when you’re stuck indoors and can’t do the things you would usually do. Alexa is great for this – you can simply ask questions, such as: ‘How do you say avocado in French?’, or there are skills such as SayHi Language Learning. The quiz-based Cleo is a great tutor, too.
10. Home deliveries
The government is advising to use home delivery services rather than going to the shops during lockdown and Alexa can save you from fighting your way around websites. But to make purchases using Alexa, you need to be an Amazon Prime member.
Say: ‘Alexa, order (the item you want)’, and if you haven’t ordered the item before, Alexa will add a reminder to your shopping cart for you to review later. Say: ‘Alexa, checkout (this item).’ Alexa will then place the order and confirm your order total and delivery date. For some significant purchases, you might need to verify the purchase in the Amazon app or website. If you make a mistake or change your mind, just say: ‘Alexa, cancel my order.’
Voice assistants can be a particular time-saver for repetitive purchases and things you don’t need to research. Alexa will remember your preferred brand if you order something generic such as toilet roll, although that might not be an option in the current climate.
Voice assistants are also great for hands-free and pen-free shopping lists. Just say things, such as: ‘Alexa, add milk to my shopping list’. Then you can keep track of your shopping list in the Alexa app.
Finding new Alexa skills
These ideas are only touching on the thousands of skills Alexa has at its disposal – to explore more for yourself, check out the skills categories in the Alexa app, or simply say: ‘Alexa, new skills’ and Alexa will tell you about three new ones you can try out.
For more voice-control phrases to try out, see our Alexa commands guide.
Three Alexa smart speakers to consider
Alexa’s available for smartphones, but it’s much easier to have a dedicated smart speaker listening out for your commands, rather than having to fiddle with your phone. There are plenty of models to choose from – we’ve selected some of the most recent and high-profile models to consider below. Click through to our reviews to see if they live up to the promise.
Amazon Echo Studio, £190
The Amazon Echo Studio is the high-end member of the Amazon Echo speaker range. Amazon’s aiming it at audiophiles looking for higher fidelity sound than on the standard Amazon Echo (3rd Gen). It even supports Dolby Atmos for cinema-like all-angle sound.
It also has a smart hub built in for those serious about controlling a number of different smart home devices through Alexa.
It certainly talks the talk, but are our expert panel impressed? We put it through its paces in our definitive Amazon Echo Studio review.
Amazon Echo Show 8, £120
Amazon Echo Show 8 is Amazon’s mid-range smart display with an 8-inch screen. Amazon promises that it’s really easy to use with its vivid touchscreen and simple setup, so we’ll see whether our lab experts agree.
Amazon makes many sizes of smart display – should you choose this one, and is there anything you need to watch out for? We leave no stone unturned testing all the features it has to offer in our extensive Amazon Echo Show 8 review.
Ultimate Ears Megablast, £153
It’s hardly surprising that with a name like Megablast you’re getting plenty of volume here, but what’s more surprising how compact a speaker this is, and how Alexa and wi-fi support are built in. It’s fairly weighty, but it’s waterproof and Ultimate Ears claims it has a 16-hour battery life – our tests reveal whether this is stacks up in reality.
So is Alexa on non-Amazon speakers such as this just as good? And will the sound quality make the most of your tunes? Our panel put it to the test in our Ultimate Ears Megablast review