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Ask Alexa: our weekly take on the best commands, tips, tricks and Skills

This week, use Alexa to read your favourite Kindle book, play a celebrity guessing game and change the wake word for your smart speaker

Ask Alexa: our weekly take on the best commands, tips, tricks and Skills

If you think you’ve mastered your voice assistant, you’re probably wrong. The wide range of things you can do with Alexa is astonishing, and it’s learning all the time.

To make sure you don’t miss out on genuinely useful tricks you can experiment with, each week our experts will be selecting their favourite Alexa commands for you to try out, plus sharing some helpful tips too.

Find out below what made the cut and be sure to check back next week for more.

Not on board yet? Browse all our reviews of smart speakers with voice assistants to get started.

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Alexa trick of the week

Choose your own wake word for Alexa

Although you can’t change Alexa’s name, you can decide which word wakes the assistant up from a nap. The choices are fairly limited (you have to pick from a list of preset options), but this might come in handy if your television keeps setting off the voice assistant without you saying anything.

To change the wake word, you’ll need to play around with some settings in the Alexa smartphone app. Just follow these steps:

  1. Open the Alexa app and select Devices
  2. Choose which gadget you want to assign a new wake word to
  3. Tap on Wake word
  4. Pick your new wake word from the list of options (for example, ‘Amazon’ or ‘Computer’)

Now, you’ll have to start your voice commands with your new wake word. Saying ‘Alexa’ will have no effect unless you undo these changes in the app again.

Alexa tip of the week

Have Alexa read your Kindle book to you

If you can’t quite find the time to settle down and finish that Kindle book you’ve been flicking through, have the Alexa voice assistant act as a narrator while you’re doing other tasks. For example, you can prepare dinner in the kitchen or lay back on the sofa while your Amazon Echo continues the story for you.

To have your Alexa voice assistant read a Kindle title, follow these steps:

  1. Open up the Alexa app
  2. Tap Play at the bottom of the screen
  3. Scroll down until you spot your Kindle library
  4. Select the book you want read aloud

Alternatively, if you don’t fancy reaching for your smartphone or tablet, you can use a simple voice command to get the job done. Try saying ‘Alexa, play the Kindle book, [title]’ or ‘Alexa, read [title]’.

Once Alexa is telling you a story, you can stop the audiobook at any time by saying ‘Alexa, pause’.

Alexa Skill of the week


Akinator is a free game that tries to guess what celebrity you’re thinking of just by asking a series of yes or no questions. The character you think of can be real or fictional, and the challenge comes from trying to think of a person or animal that Akinator hasn’t heard of.

Once you’ve downloaded the Akinator skill, you can start up the game by saying ‘Alexa, start Akinator’ or ‘Alexa, play Akinator’.

Voice assistants are an integral part of a smart home, but there’s a wide range of possibilities if you’re looking to invest. Read our guide on how to set up a smart home, including the best smart speakers and household products to buy.

Our top 10 things to ask Alexa

These are our experts’ favourite and most frequently used features and commands.

  • Set a reminder for a time and activity ‘Alexa, remind me to take the bins out tomorrow at 8am.’ You can also set recurring reminders: ‘remind me every Tuesday at 8am to take the bins out.’ Reminders can be more useful than alarms, since you can tell Alexa what they’re for: ‘Alexa, remind me in 20 minutes to add the sauce’ is more useful than ‘Alexa, set an alarm for 20 minutes’.
  • Build a shopping list ‘Alexa, add milk to my shopping list’. You can also create new lists through the Alexa app, for example ‘Poundshop’ – then just ask: ‘Alexa, add clingfilm to my Poundshop list.’ You can even now add multiple items at once, and they will appear separately: ‘Alexa, add milk and cheese to my shopping list.’
  • Listen to the radio ‘Alexa, play BBC Radio 1’. Alexa can play dozens of radio stations by default and you can use Alexa Skills to add more.
  • Set a sleep alarm If you like listening to music or other audio before bed, tell Alexa to set a sleep alarm. It will stop playing automatically so you don’t disturb yourself telling Alexa to ‘stop’. Just say: ‘Alexa, set a sleep alarm for 20 minutes.’
  • What’s the weather like? Most people know you can ask this, but you can also check the weather tomorrow, for the following week or even for a different location. Say ‘Alexa, what’s the weather like in Marseille next week?’.
  • Get help planning trips ‘Alexa, how long will it take to get the train to Bristol?’ If you’re wondering what to do at the weekend, get the lay of the land with some approximations from Alexa, without having to look it up.
  • Listen to audiobooks With a subscription to an audiobook service, Alexa can be the perfect companion for an evening read. For example, ask: ‘Alexa, read Treasure Island from Audible.’ Amazon’s service Audible has a 30-day free trial.
  • Broadcast messages around the home If you have more than one Alexa device at home, no need to shout to your family – simply use the broadcast feature with the ‘announce’ command to send your message to all the Alexa devices in your home. Say ‘Alexa, announce: takeaway has arrived!’
  • Call friends If you have an Amazon Echo device (this isn’t supported on all third-party Alexa devices), you can call most UK mobiles and landlines for free once set up in the Alexa app (excluding emergency numbers). ‘Alexa, call Diane.’
  • Get some culinary inspiration Alexa can give you some easy fresh ideas and even take you through the recipes step by step. ‘Alexa, find quick dinner recipes.’

Other great tips, tricks and skills for Amazon Alexa

Best Alexa tricks

  • Whisper mode – ‘Alexa, turn on Whisper mode’. Whisper to Alexa, and she’ll whisper back.
  • Send a hug ‘Alexa, send a hug to Mum’. Send a hug that will appear as a message on both the voice assistant and the phone of one of your contacts. 
  • Wake up to your favourite tunes – Tell Alexa to ‘Wake me up at 8am to…’ and then name a song or artist you like.
  • Master Lists – Create new lists for any topic you choose: for example, ‘Alexa, create a packing list’. Say ‘Alexa, add sun cream to my packing list’ to add items to that list.
  • Routines – Simplify repeating the same set of voice commands every day with Alexa Routines. Just say one command – such as ‘Alexa, good morning.’ – and it will trigger all your regular commands in one go. To set up a Routine, head to the Alexa app, tap the menu button and select Routines.
  • Follow-up mode – Go into Settings in the Alexa app, choose your device and enable ‘Follow-up mode’. Then you’ll only need to say ‘Alexa’ for the first command you make in a sequence.
  • Follow your favourite sports teams – In the Alexa mobile app, head to the main menu and tap Settings. Under Sports, run a search for your favourite team. For example, try tapping in ‘Arsenal’ or the name of any other teams you’d like to keep an eye on – there’s a range of sports on offer. Then, try saying ‘Alexa, give me my sports update’.
  • Turn your Alexa device into an intercom – If you have more than one Alexa at home, you can speak into one and have your voice played out through another in a different room. Just say ‘Alexa, Drop In on [device name]’ or ‘Alexa, Drop In everywhere.’ You can also Drop In on devices outside your home owned by any Alexa contacts you’ve added in the Alexa app.
  • Personalise Alexa for multiple users – Alexa can personalise its responses to different people using Alexa Voice Profiles. Say: ‘Alexa, learn my voice,’ then follow Alexa’s prompts. You’ll then be able to customise responses, such as your Flash Briefing news report, so it’s unique to you (based on your settings) next time you say ‘Alexa, what’s in the news?’
  • Set Alexa to automatically delete your recordings  In the Alexa app, go to Settings, Alexa Privacy, then Manage Your Alexa Data. Under ‘Manage your voice recordings,’ use the ‘Automatically delete recordings’ toggle to make your recordings delete, with options for after three and 18 months.

Best Alexa tips

  • Reorder your shopping lists Use an app called Anylist to sync your Alexa shopping lists, and you can reorder items for any purpose you like – for example to appear in the order of the aisles in your local store.
  • Link your calendar and email Visit Settings in the Alexa app, and choose Calendar & Email. Link these to Alexa and you can ask for updates on your schedule, and new emails.
  • Flash briefing Configure sources for your flash briefing in the Alexa Settings to choose the news she reports.
  • Check what Alexa has recorded – Go to Settings and then Alexa Privacy. Here you can review your voice history, play back these recordings or delete them. Read our investigation into Alexa and Google voice assistants, where you’ll find more tips on safeguarding your privacy.
  • Adjusting bass/treble – If you’re finding music sounds a bit tinny, try increasing the bass: ‘Alexa, increase the bass.’ and increase the treble to hear voices clearer: ‘Alexa, increase the treble.’
  • Make Alexa speak slower or faster Simply ask: ‘Alexa, speak slower.’ Or if you just missed what she said, try: ‘Alexa, repeat that.’ If you find Alexa’s answers too wordy, you can either speed her up – ‘Alexa, speak faster.’ – or use Brief Mode. With this enabled, Alexa will give shorter response.
  • Connect to another Bluetooth speaker To partner your Alexa device with another Bluetooth speaker, open the Alexa app, select Devices, then Echo & Alexa. Tap your device, then select Bluetooth Devices. From there, select Pair A New Device. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the setup.
  • Avoid accidental purchases – Making a purchase using Alexa can be sorted with a single voice command, so anybody in the house can make a purchase with your account. To make it much more secure, you can enable a PIN that needs to be said to make a purchase with your Account settings in the Alexa app.
  • Help Alexa know your locations – Alexa uses your current location for weather updates, traffic updates and more. Make sure it’s got this spot on. Select your device in the Alexa app, tap Location and enter your postcode. For traffic updates, set your start and end point. Under Alexa’s app Settings, tap on Traffic, then ask: ‘Alexa, what’s the traffic like right now?’
  • Set your default music provider – In the menu in the Alexa app, head to Settings, music, then tap Choose Default Music Services. Remember some music streaming services and features require subscriptions.

Best Alexa skills

  • Sleep and relaxation sounds A skill with over 125 nature sounds to choose from. 
  • Find my phone Get Alexa to ring your phone so you can locate it.
  • Question of the day Test yourself with a daily question and pick up some general knowledge.
  • 1-Minute Mindfulness – This beginner-friendly skill aims to detach you from stresses and strains in just one minute.
  • 7-Minute-Workout skill – This skill will suggest exercises to boost your metabolism, give you more energy and remove fat.
  • My Better Nutrition. Offers daily advice and pep talks, including product recommendations and new recipes to try. You’ll find advice for kids, how to boost your immune system and hear about some good options for when you’re on the go.
  • Red Riding Hood Download the Red Riding Hood Alexa skill and you can enjoy an immersive, interactive story with your little ones. There are two tales to choose from, both of which allow you to make decisions along the way that affect the story. To get started, simply say ‘Alexa, open Red Riding Hood’ or ‘Alexa, open Hansel and Gretel’.
  • Song Quiz Test your knowledge of the most popular songs from the past 60 years – download the Song Quiz app and call out the correct song title or artist for points before time runs out. To get started, just say ‘Alexa, start Song Quiz’.
  • Ingredient Sub – Have a lovely recipe idea but missing one ingredient? This handy skill saves the day. Simply ask: ‘Alexa, Open Ingredient Sub’ and you’ll be given good options you can use as a substitute.
  • Red Burglar DeterrentIf you’d love a deterrent that even the Home Alone burglars wouldn’t crack, Burglar Deterrent is the Alexa skill for you. It’ll set Alexa to play sounds out of your connected devices to simulate people carrying out their everyday tasks in the house, in earshot to anyone who comes to the front door.

Browse more commands, and get some tips for Siri and Google Assistant devices, in our guide to Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa commands

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