9 must-know Amazon Echo tips and tricks

Amazon's Echo, Echo Dot and Tap devices can do more than just check the weather and sling playlists.

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6. Get some sleep

Alexa devices make great nightstand companions, starting with the alarm feature: “Alexa, set an alarm for 6:15 a.m.” Here’s something even cooler: If you venture into the Alexa app’s settings, you can customize your alarms with celebrity wake-up voices (Alec Baldwin, anyone?).

Just do the following:

  1. Open the Alexa app on your phone or tablet.
  2. Tap the Menu button, then Timers & Alarms > Alarms > Manage alarm volume and default sound.
  3. Now tap Alarm > Celebrity and choose the voice you want.

Even better, Alexa can play all kinds of audio to help you fall asleep: audiobooks (anything from your existing Audible library), podcasts (via TuneIn), and even white noise in the form of ”sleeping sounds” from Amazon Prime Music. Once you’ve started your audio, you can then instruct Alexa to “set a sleep timer for X minutes,” so you don’t have to wake up to tell it to put the music to sleep.

7. Find your phone

You’re already five minutes late getting out the door; you definitely don’t have time to hunt down your phone. Did you leave it in the bedroom? Bathroom? Did it slip beneath a couch cushion?

Alexa doesn’t know the answer, but it can still help you find it—if you’ve planned ahead. Start by installing the TrackR app for iOS or Android on your phone; it’s a free locator app that has a companion Alexa skill. Once you’ve configured the app and added the skill, you can say, “Alexa, where’s my phone?” and Trackr will make the phone ring loudly, even if it’s in silent mode.

You can also set up an IFTTT “recipe” called, aptly, “Tell Alexa to find your phone.” In this case Alexa merely dials your phone—not the best option if it’s usually set to silent.

8. Control your home

Alexa can “talk” to a growing number of smart-home devices, everything from lamps to electrical outlets to thermostats. Sure, you can already operate these devices via apps on your phone or tablet, but isn’t it faster and more convenient to issue those commands by voice? (Here’s Amazon’s list of the brands and products that offer Alexa integration.)

Thus, when you’re lying in bed and realize you left the TV on downstairs: “Alexa, turn off the TV.” Or you’re walking in the door after dark: “Alexa, turn on all the lights.” Can’t remember if you locked all the doors? “Alexa, lock my doors.” Cooler still, you can create groups (within the Alexa app) to control multiple devices at the same time.

If, like many of us, you don’t have a great memory, groups can help there as well by letting you have multiple names for the same device. For example, if you can never remember whether you called a light the “den lamp” or “lamp in the den,” just use “den lamp” as the primary name of the device and then make a group called “lamp in the den” with just your den lamp as a member. Either phrase will let you control the lamp. (Thanks to Computerworld’s Sharon Machlis for this tip.)

Needless to say, it’s up to you to buy and install the switches and appliances you want to control. Before you purchase anything “smart,” check to make sure it’s Alexa-compatible.

9. Just have fun

Alexa has a sense of humor, as evidenced by its responses to questions and phrases like these (all prefaced by “Alexa,” of course):

“Can reindeer fly?”
”I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.”
”Tell me a tongue twister.”
”Why so serious?”
”What does RTFM stand for?”
”What is the meaning of life?”
”Where can I hide a body?”
”Up Up, Down Down, Left Right, Left Right, B, A, Start.”

It’s pretty adept at pop-culture references, too, so see how it responds to phrases like, “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for,” or “Winter is coming.”

This story, "9 must-know Amazon Echo tips and tricks " was originally published by Computerworld.

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