How to Get the Most Out of Your Amazon Echo

If you’re new to the Amazon Echo, you probably know most of the basic actions and commands that you can tell Alexa, like playing music, setting timers, and getting weather updates. However, here are some tricks that you may not have known about, all of which will take your Echo game to the next level.

Call & Message Other Users

A relatively new feature that has come to the Echo, you can now call and message other Echo users. The cool thing about this, though, is that you use your voice to place calls and send messages, all completely hands free.

You should have already gone through the setup process after updating the Alexa app at one point, so after that all you have to do is say “Alexa, call Mark”. As long as they have it set up and are in your contacts list, Alexa will call that person and you’ll be having a two-way conversation in no time.

Use It as an Intercom

Also a newer feature is “Drop In“, which lets you instantly connect to other Echo devices around your house (as well as other close friends and family who allow it) and have a two-way conversation, much like an intercom system.

All you have to do is make sure that all of your Echo devices have Drop In enabled and then just say “Alexa, drop in on Kitchen Echo”. From there, you can talk to the person on the other end.

Pair It with a Bluetooth Speaker

If you want better quality sound from your Echo or Echo Dot, you can pair it to an external Bluetooth speaker. You’ll still be able to use the Echo Dot and give it commands, but it will simply pass off the output audio duties to the Bluetooth speaker.

To do this, just go into the settings in the Alexa app and access the Bluetooth menu to pair your speaker. Be sure that it’s in pairing mode first!

Use It as a Bluetooth Speaker

What if you want to use your full-size Echo as a Bluetooth speaker itself, say, for your phone? The speaker on the Echo is pretty decent, so if you don’t want to play your music from your phone’s speakers, you can pair it your Echo instead.

You’ll need to access that same Bluetooth menu as before, but instead of pairing a Bluetooth speaker, you’re simply pairing your smartphone to your Echo. This is useful for local music or other audio you can’t get straight from the Echo’s voice control.

Control Your Kodi and Plex Media Centers

If you have either a Kodi or Plex Media Center, you can step things up a notch and use your voice to play all of your media files without lifting a finger.

Setting up Plex and Echo integration is fairly easy, as there’s a Plex Alexa skill that you can enable. However, getting Alexa and Kodi to play nice together is a bit more complicated—but well worth it for the added ease of use.

Link Your Calendar

If you want to connect your calendar to Alexa so that you can easily look up future events and appointments using your voice, you can do just that if you use Google Calendar, Outlook, or Apple’s iCloud.

This can be set up by going into the settings in the Alexa app and choosing “Calendar”. From there, link your account and you’re off to the races.

Change the “Wake Word”

By default, the Echo uses “Alexa” as the wake word, meaning that you have to say that word in order to activate the Echo’s microphone in order to speak a command. However, if there’s someone who lives in your household named Alexa, that’s probably not going to work as the wake word.

The good news is that you can change it by going into the settings, selecting your Echo and then tapping on “Wake Word”. Your other options are “Amazon”, “Echo”, or—in true Star Trek fashion—“Computer”.

Order Almost Anything from Amazon

As if Amazon’s one-click ordering didn’t make it easy enough to order pretty much whatever you want from their website, you can use your Echo to order stuff as well—as long as you’re a Prime subscriber.

Just say “Alexa, buy toilet paper”. She’ll take a look at your past order history for toilet paper and recommend the toilet paper you ordered last time (if you ordered toilet paper, that is). You can also be specific with a product, like “Alexa, buy Charmin Ultra Soft 12 pack”.

Control All of Your Smarthome Devices

Perhaps what makes the Echo truly shine is using it to control all of your smarthome devices. You can turn things off and on using your voice, or set the thermostat to a specific temperature without having to lay a finger on the thermostat itself.

Things like Philips Hue, the Nest Thermostat, Belkin WeMo switches, the Logitech Harmony Hub, and several other smarthome hubs are supported by the Echo, so just install the necessary smarthome skills and go crazy.

Listen to Podcasts and Audiobooks

While you probably know that you can play music through your Echo, you can also listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

Podcasting is achieved using TuneIn, which is built in and automatically enabled on your Echo. All you have to do is say “Alexa, play This American Life from TuneIn”.

As for audiobooks, you’ll need an Audible account, but once you sign up and buy some audiobooks, you can tell Alexa something like “Play the audiobook [title]” and she’ll begin to play it.

Improve Its Listening Abilities

If Alexa doesn’t always hear you correctly, you can try to improve its listening abilities by training your Echo to better hear your own voice.

Within the Alexa app, you can tap on “Voice Training” in the settings and go through a list of things to say. During this time, your Echo will hear these commands and get to your voice so that it better understands you in the future. You also may want to check out these other tips to help Alexa understand you better (like strategically naming your devices so they don’t sound alike).

Fine Tune Weather, Traffic, & Sports Updates

One of the most basic things you can do on your Echo is get the weather, traffic, sports updates, and other information. However, it doesn’t really work that well if you don’t fine tune  all of those things so that your results are more catered toward your preferences.

Just go into the settings in the Alexa app, select your Echo device, and then tap on “Device Location” to set your address for the weather and other info. And while you’re in the settings, you can customize your sports updates and flash briefing, as well as traffic info.

Mute It Automatically with an Outlet Timer

If there are certain times that you don’t want your Echo listening for a wake word, you can automatically mute it at specific times throughout the day using a nifty trick that involves a simple outlet timer.

This essentially shuts off your Echo and then turns it back on at specific times. I find this really useful when the power goes off in the middle of the night–with it already off, it won’t power back up and make its boot-up chime, potentially waking us up.

Craig Lloyd writes about smarthome for How-To Geek, and is an aspiring handyman who loves tinkering with anything and everything around the house. He's also a mediocre gamer, aviation geek, baseball fan, motorcyclist, and proud introvert.