The Amazon Echo is packed with tons of useful voice commands, but not all of them are obvious. You can also interact with Alexa from other devices or services, which is even less obvious. Here are some of the most useful features you can try out both on the device and while you’re away from your Echo.
While you can use Google Assistant and Siri pretty much anywhere you are, Alexa is still stuck in your living room (and in an iPhone app). If you want to try out Alexa without buying an Echo, or if you want to talk to Alexa when you’re away from home, the developer tool Echosim.io can help. Head to the site on any computer with a microphone and log in. You can then hold down the blue button and talk to Alexa.
This tool is designed to help developers create their third-party skills, so not all of the commands work. For example, you can’t play music through the web interface, but you can do things like add items to your shopping list or ask for a joke. It’s not as robust as a proper Echo, but it’s handy if you want to play with Alexa before you buy one.
If you own a recent Fire Tablet (running Fire OS 4.5.1 or higher), you can have Alexa send information to your tablet so you can see the results of your voice commands with a feature called Voicecast. It’s a little like having an Echo Show. For example, if you ask Alexa what’s on your calendar, your tablet will display your next few events. If you ask how much time is left on your timer, your tablet will display all your timers and how much time is left on each.
You have to enable first Voicecast to use it. To do so, open your Alexa app on your Fire tablet and head to Settings > Voicecast. You can set Voicecast to send information to your tablet only when you ask, or for every command.
When you link your Spotify account, you can ask Alexa to play any of your music or playlists (as long as you have a Premium subscription). Once your accounts are linked, however, you can control your Echo from any Spotify app. Open up Spotify on the web, desktop, or mobile app and you can start playing songs on any of your Echos. If you have a playlist running on your Echo, you can add songs from the Spotify app without disrupting the current song. This is especially handy during a party when you don’t want to use a voice command and interrupt the music every time you want to modify the playlist.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, say “Alexa, help me sleep” and your Echo will start searching for some calming ambient noise to start playing. Technically, it’s searching for third-party skills that play ambient noise, which you can also search for yourself in the Echo’s Skill store. However, all Alexa will ask is whether you want to hear things like bird noises or rain sounds. Say yes or no until you find one you like and Alexa will automatically enable it in the background. You can just relax to the soothing sounds you picked out.
When you and your friends or family can’t make a decision, Alexa has several ways to decide for you. There’s the tried and true coin flip for simple yes-no decisions. For more complex decisions, you can roll a die to get a number. So, for example, say you want to decide between six restaurants to go to or six movies to watch, say “Alexa, roll a die” and she’ll give you a number from one to six.
For the more tabletop-inclined, Alexa can even roll specialty dice. Ask “Alexa, roll a D20” and she’ll roll a 20-sided die and give you result. She can roll a D4, D6 (obviously), D8, D10, D12, D20, and even a D100. If you’re ever playing a game and missing any non-standard type of die, you can use Alexa to fill in the gap.