Phones

Amazon Alexa comes to its first Android phone

But don't expect a mini Amazon Echo or Tap in your pocket.

huawei-mate-9-launch-11.jpg

The Mate 9 will be the first Android phone to get Alexa.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Amazon Alexa on an Android phone is here, and Huawei Mate 9 owners in the US will get it first in an over-the-air update (and later through the Google Play store).

But if the thought of Amazon Alexa on a phone conjures images of an always-listening digital servant to answer your every whim and summon taxis to your exact locale, think again.

Although the voice-activated software will unlock Alexa's thousands of skills on the device in your pocket, there are some limitations right now as to what Amazon on this phone -- or any phone -- can do. It isn't always-listening. In fact, you'll have to download not one app, but two -- the Amazon Alexa app and Huawei Alexa. And if you want to shop Amazon through Huawei Alexa, you'll need that app as well.

You'll also have to open Huawei Alexa each time to get those voice commands flowing.

Amazon's foray into phones -- from the Huawei Mate 9 to Amazon's new shopping app for iOS -- is an important step in the company's bid to expand its foothold from the stay-at-home Echo to the phone. But Alexa faces intense pressure from smart assistants like Google Assistant, Apple's Siri and Samsung's upcoming Bixby to become the predominant way that phone owners vocally interact with their devices.

Here's some of what you can activate with your voice from the Mate 9's Alexa app:

  • Home automation (especially useful if you don't have an Amazon Echo device at home)
  • Order from Amazon Prime (account required)
  • Sync with Google Calendar to hear about your next meeting
  • Access skills like news brief readouts and workouts
  • Games, trivia and jokes (think road trips), like this gem: "Why do teenagers use odd numbers? Because they can't even"
  • Activate it by setting up a knuckle control on the Mate 9

However, the Huawei Alexa app doesn't hook into your phone's particulars like GPS, contacts, or even Amazon Prime Music. So you can't call a cab to your exact location, tell it to text your contacts or play everything that Prime has to offer. This is because Amazon hasn't made it possible, but they're all on the horizon.

We haven't yet had a chance to test Alexa on the Mate 9, so we can't say for sure what works well and what doesn't. But from what we know so far, it seems like Huawei Alexa's biggest advantage is to control your Alexa-compatible smart devices remotely.

And whether you have the Mate 9, a third-party app like Ubi (which basically does the same thing), or prefer to use your phone's voice assistant and standalone home automation apps to achieve the same thing, the Mate 9 will soon be one of many mobile devices bringing the full weight of Amazon's Alexa on board.

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