Here's everything the Amazon Echo can do (pictures)
The online mega-retailer's smart speaker seems to get smarter every day. Here's a rundown of the many tricks up "Alexa's" sleeve.
The speaker of the smart house
Since debuting as an invite-only beta-gadget at the end of 2014, the Amazon Echo smart speaker has risen to prominence, with some, including CNET's Dan Ackerman, calling it the breakout product of 2015. A steady stream of new Skills (apps), tricks and third-party integrations are making "Alexa" more and more useful each day. Here's a rundown of what she's currently capable of.
The Echo's most obvious function is streaming music. Ask Alexa, the Echo's voice assistant, to play some jazz, or tell her you want to hear "Bohemian Rhapsody," and she'll get right to it, streaming music from the Amazon Prime library of tracks.
More of a radio fan? No problem -- just tell Alexa to play your favorite station, and she'll use the service TuneIn to, well, tune in. That includes local channels as well as nationally syndicated programming from sources like ESPN and NPR. Ask her for the news of the day, and she'll play a "flash briefing" of the day's important headlines (you can customize the specific categories and sources you'd like her to focus on). She can also use iHeartRadio to stream your favorite podcast.
Got a question for Alexa? In many cases, though not all of them, she'll have an answer. If you'd rather be the one answering, you can turn on Alexa's "Jeopardy" Skill. She'll gladly rattle off trivia questions for you -- just make sure you answer in the form of a question.
Here's one I use in my own home almost every day: Alexa-powered kitchen timers. Just tell her to set one for however long you need, and Alexa will start the silent countdown. It's a handy, hands-free way to manage the clock while you're cooking.
Then there's the smart-home phone system Ooma. With a new Amazon Echo integration, you'll be able to make calls straight from the speaker. Here's a handy Ooma how-to post in case you want to try it out.
It wasn't long after the Amazon Echo's debut that Alexa started showing off her smart home chops. The first trick Amazon unveiled was compatibility with Belkin WeMo smart switches and Philips Hue connected LED lights. You can sync all of them up with your Echo, then tell Alexa to turn things on and off.
Like the Philips Hue, the Lifx is a color-changing smart LED that works with the Echo system. Activate the Lifx Skill in the Alexa app, and you'll be able to tell Alexa to turn your bulbs on or off, dim them up and down or change them to a specific color.
Amazon Echo features native connected home support for Insteon smart home gear. That includes connected lights, outlets and smart switches -- you can turn all of it on and off by telling Alexa to do it.
Alexa also has her own channel on the free online automation service IFTTT. Activate it, and you'll be able to link Echo up with any of the hundreds of products and services that work with IFTTT. You'll even be able to craft your own custom voice commands.
One of Alexa's many Skills syncs it up with the Automatic car-tracking gadget, which plugs into your vehicle's diagnostic port to keep track of gas mileage, engine trouble and your car's location. Hook it up with Alexa, and she'll be able to remind you of where you parked, or let you know how much gas is in the tank.
There's a whole host of other smart home gadgets that'll work with the Echo -- including several that showed off their integrations at CES this year.
Alexa also has dozens and dozens of Skills -- too many to list here. They range from surprisingly helpful to undeniably absurd, and the list is growing all the time. Check out our full review of the Amazon Echo.