If you have an Amazon Alexa-enabled device like the Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show, you’ve probably used the basic everyday voice commands, like setting a timer or hearing news headlines. But with more than 15,000 (yes, 15,000!) "skills" now on her resume, Alexa’s more useful than ever.
What’s an Alexa skill? It’s kind of like an app, which you control with your voice, that can perform different tasks — some with the help of third-party apps. Some require a bit of setup on the back end (for example, by connecting your Alexa device to product accounts or apps), but it could mean way getting way more use out of Alexa in the long run.
Below are 11 handy Alexa skills you may not know about. So if you already have an Echo, get ready to impress the heck out of your houseguests. And if you don't, you should probably go ahead and buy one.
Control the House
Don’t get up: Thanks to skills for Nest Thermostats, Philips Hue lightbulbs, August locks and many more smart home devices, you can ask Alexa to handle all kinds of things around the home. Add a compatible Logitech Harmony remote control and Alexa can change the channel on your TV, too.
Tell a Bedtime Story
For the nights when you have zero energy left, let Alexa handle the last step of the nighttime routine. After installing the Short Bedtime Story skill, tuck in your little ones and say, “Alexa, tell a bedtime story to (your child’s name).”
Get Exclusive Amazon Prime Deals
Yep, having an Alexa-enabled device gives you access to Prime member-exclusive deals on Amazon. Use the command “Alexa, what are your deals?” or visit Amazon’s voice shopping page to find specific phrases.
Talk to Your Cats
OK, this one is pretty amazing if you have cats and hate leaving them alone all day. The Meow! skill makes kitty noises like mews and purrs to keep your little pal entertained.
Skills for sous vide tools like Joule or some GE appliances will allow you to get dinner going with just your voice. Just tell Alexa to “Preheat the oven to 350 degrees” or “Alexa, ask Joule to cook my chicken like last time.” If you need more help in the kitchen, the AllRecipes skill can walk you through thousands of recipes, and even help you come up with dinner ideas with the prompt, “Alexa, what can I do with broccoli and Gruyere?”
Order a Car Without Lifting a Finger
Once you connect Alexa to your account, hailing a ride is easier than ever. Simply say, “Alexa, ask Uber (or Lyft) to request a ride,” and it will be billed the same way it is via the corresponding ride service app. It's especially helpful when you’re running late and don’t have time to manually enter your destination and track your ride.
Find Your Lost Phone
You’re home alone and there’s no one around to call your phone, which is totally here, somewhere. Oh wait — Alexa can do it! Just say, “Alexa, open ‘Where’s My Phone’,” and she’ll give your phone a ring so you can follow the ring or vibration. If you use lost and found trackers like Trackr, Alexa can help you find anything you’ve tagged, from your laptop to a beloved child’s toy.
See If You’ve Been Hacked
Subscribe to the security program Have I been pwned? (pronounced “poned”) to enable this skill, then check all your accounts for security breaches. Simply ask, “Have I been pwned?” to do a cross-account check.
Play the Best Music
Alexa’s ability to play music used to be restricted to Amazon Prime Music, but it now integrates with many music services, including Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora and SiriusXM, so you can rock out to whatever you enjoy. Podcast lovers will enjoy the Pod Buddy integration, which can pull up millions of them.
Have Her Make Your Calls
You don’t even need to be near your cellphone: Simply tell Alexa to call a person from your phone’s address book. For now, you can only call people who also have an Alexa-enabled device, but it’s a great hands-free option — especially if you have to do things that require your hands, like housework, during your call.
Plan Your Vacation
I recently tested Alexa’s ability to find flights for an upcoming trip and was impressed by the level of detail she was able to provide once connected to my Kayak account. To set it up, say, “Alexa, ask Kayak (enter your travel question here).”
Amazon Echo Plus, $150 (Originally $165), Amazon
Amazon Echo Dot, $50, Amazon
Amazon Echo Show, $230, Amazon