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New Amazon Echo? 5 essentials tips you need to know now

Alexa knows how to do a lot, but it can't tell you how to set up some of your new Echo's useful features.

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These tips will help you from the moment you unbox your Amazon Echo.

Chris Monroe/CNET

You just took your new Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot with Clock or Echo Show 8 out of the box, but what exactly do you do with it now? You already know that it can play music, tell you the weather forecast and set alarms -- but Amazon's Alexa does so many things that it can be overwhelming trying to figure out where to begin. 

For example, Alexa can learn who it's talking to, order supplies for around the house and even turn on the lights. Not to mention, you can make calls and send texts using the Echo speaker -- or drop in on someone else's speaker (with their permission, of course).

Right out of the box, Alexa won't tell you how to do these things, but we've got you covered. Read on for essential tips for your Amazon Echo ($35 at Amazon) that you'll need to know.

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Find the perfect spot in the house for your new Amazon Echo.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Find a good spot for your Echo in the house

The first thing you'll do when you've unboxed your new Amazon Echo is to plug it in. And when you only have one Echo speaker, you don't want to just plop it down anywhere in the house -- in fact, there are four places you should never place your device. You should make sure it's in a centralized spot where your voice can carry from most rooms, like in the kitchen or living room. (Here are the four best uses for Amazon Echo in every room of your house.)

Get the basic stuff taken care of first

Now that you've got your Echo plugged in and set up, it's time to learn the basics. This includes downloading the Alexa app and setting up your location so you'll have an accurate weather forecast. 

We also recommend that you take the time from the beginning to create a voice profile for everyone who lives in the house. While you can set this up at any time, being able to let Alexa recognize the different users' voices will give each user a personalized experience. For example, when Alexa recognizes your voice, it'll play the music and news you like to listen to and will call or message people in your address book.

You may also want to set up voice purchasing so you can quickly order an item you often buy, like paper towels. To do this, you'll also need to enable 1-Click ordering in the settings app. Remember to set up a password so that only you can make purchases this way. You can find this in Settings > Account Settings > Voice Purchasing.

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Once your Echo is plugged in, you can start with the basics.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Using voice commands to get stuff done

Every action you want Alexa to make will require a voice command. For example, turning on music, controlling the volume of the smart speaker and creating lists or reminders. You'll just say something like, "Alexa, turn the volume down," or, "Alexa, add coffee to my shopping list."

You can also communicate with Alexa through texts, instead of speaking. Just open the Alexa app and tap the Keyboard button in the top left corner.

Don't want your wake word to be Alexa? You can change it to Echo, Computer or Amazon. Just say, "Alexa, change the wake word" and make your choice. 

Read more: We tested all 4 Amazon Echo wake words. Here's what we learned about Alexa

Control your smart home devices from your Echo speaker

Wishing you could arrive home at night with the lights already lit up? Well, if you've got smart lights, smart plugs ($25 at Best Buy) or switches, you can control them using the Alexa app so that you never have to trip going up the front porch stairs again.

Other devices you can control include smart locks (in case you forget to lock your door before leaving), thermostats, robot vacuums and more .

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Connect all your smart home devices in the Alexa app.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Call, text and drop in on your friends using Alexa

Lost your phone in the house again? No worries -- you don't need it because Alexa can make calls and send texts for you. Just say something like, "Alexa, call Mom," or, "Alexa, text Katie." The contacts have to be in your address book for this to work. 

You can also use your Echo speaker to drop in on friends and family who have added you as an accepted contact. To do so, just say something like, "Alexa, drop in on Dad."

Oh, and about that lost phone -- Alexa can help you find it in your home.

Now that we've got the essentials out of the way, here are five surprising things you didn't know your Amazon Echo could do, 10 weirdest things Amazon Echo can do and how to turn your Fire TV into a larger Amazon Echo Show.

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