The smart-home category continues to boom. And if you haven't jumped on that whole, you know, pissing your spouse off by dimming the bedroom lights to spook her from a phone app while you're at the gym, you're missing out. To that end, perhaps one of the most fun innovations in the smart-home realm is the Amazon Echo, which also happens to be pretty damn useful. The device is essentially a wireless speaker that works through your voice. If you're an owner, you may already know you can stream Spotify or get the weather with it, but with over 1,400 "skills," read on for our favorite 13 tricks to get more out of your Echo.
1. Train your device to understand your cadence and pronunciation better.
Using the Alexa app (Alexa is the voice service software that powers your machine), open the sidebar and select "voice training." For around two minutes, you'll go through 25 simple and brief phrases — "Alexa, play the new John Mayer album" — to help prevent misunderstandings and enhance communication with your new toy.
2. Connect to your SmartThings Hub.
Follow these steps to get it connected with this neat device, and you'll be golden for turning on your TV, controlling your thermostat and on/off switches, and dimming your lights with Samsung's SmartThings hub. In your car and realize you forgot to turn off your bedroom lights? You can control things directly from your phone, and even set schedules for various connected items in your household (the hub is also compatible with Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap).
3. Get a car sent to your doorstep.
Need a ride? As of July 2016, you can order a Lyft simply by saying "Alexa, ask Lyft to call a ride," or "Alexa, ask Lyft to call a Line to work." If you're more of an Uber fan, you can also get an Uber to come to you as well. (Note: For third party skills like Lyft, Fitbit, or Spotify, you have to enable them to get them working. Simply say “Alexa enable [X skill]” or take care of it on your Alexa app using the Skills tab.)
4. Link the Echo to an Amazon Prime account.
Set this up at echo.amazon.com by going to Settings and scrolling down to “Set up your Household." (You can link your Echo to multiple Prime accounts, just make sure each person has the Echo app on his or her phone and joins the household; you can switch between profiles by saying, "Alexa, switch to [insert user name]’s profile."). You can place certain orders directly through Alexa, and even say “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” to track packages.
5. Use Alexa as a personal concierge.
Plumber, dinner res, whatever you need, Alexa is waiting for you. Through integration with Yelp, ask the Echo where you can find a Mexican restaurant or to find a local business, and she will give you top search results related to your question. Additional suggestions and information will also pop up on your Alexa app.
6. Have a better commute.
This simple trick can shave minutes off your daily trek to the office: Just program your work location into your Alexa app to get the daily commute time and best route.
7. Beat hometown boredom.
Echo is now compatible with StubHub, so you can find sporting events, concerts, and more in your area. Enable the skill on your Echo (see tip #3), and then set your home city. Then inquire, “Alexa, ask StubHub what is happening this weekend.”
8. Plan a vacation.
Alexa can help set up your next travel experience. Say: “Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $300,” or whatever your budget is, and Alexa will take it from there. If you want to zoom in on a particular area of travel or dates for your getaway, you can also let Alexa know about your time frame and regions you want to visit. Alexa can also track flights using Kayak.
9. Set alarms.
Here's that final reason to kick your phone out of your bedroom: You can use Alexa to set repeating alarms. For instance, say "Alexa, set an every-day alarm for 6:30 a.m." (Hitting it hard early with that strength-training workout, right?)
10. Check in on your car.
When you enable the "Automatic" skill on your Echo, you can use the third-party functionality to get important updates on your car. Once you link the two, simply say "Alexa, ask Automatic where my car is," "Alexa, ask Automatic if I need gas," and you can even get data on how much fuel you have left, how many miles you logged in the past day, week, or month, and other useful info.
11. Let your Echo lull you to sleep with some bedtime reading.
Alexa can turn text to speech with Kindle book reading. Just tell her: “Alexa, read my Kindle book,” or “Alexa, read [Kindle book title]." It will seamlessly sync wherever you left off on your Kindle or smartphone, so don't worry about losing your place.
12. Turn Alexa into a personal shopping assistant.
In addition to placing orders easily through a Prime account, if you forgot an anniversary or birthday gift (again), say “Alexa, ask 1-800-FLOWERS.COM to order a dozen roses." Now, maybe it's time to set that anniversary reminder on your phone for next year.
13. Test out some "Easter Eggs."
Alexa has no shortage of fun tricks hiding up her sleeves — there's even an entire reddit thread devoted to them — but if you need a quick laugh beyond "Alexa, tell me a joke," here are a few of our favorites: "Alexa, rap to me," and "Alexa, you have mad skills "(this is in honor of Alexa having over 1,400 skills available).