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New Amazon Echo? 8 surprising Alexa tricks to try tonight

Become an Amazon Echo pro by learning these tips today.

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You'll use these Echo tricks daily.
Chris Monroe/CNET

You just got a new Amazon Echo, and while you've probably mastered asking Alexa all the funny questions you can, there's so much more your device can do. For instance, you can also ask it to turn on your TV with just your voice and use it to control your home security camera. But your Alexa voice assistant has several more tricks you might not know about yet.

For example, did you know you can hold something up to your Amazon Echo Show ($128 at Amazon) and Alexa can tell you what it is? Or that you can tell your Echo speaker to create a playlist for you without ever picking up your phone?

There's a lot to learn about your Amazon Echo and everything its voice assistant can do, but for now, here are eight Echo tricks we've compiled that you can start trying today.

1. Turn your Echo into a TV speaker

Whether it's a quiet scene in a movie or you're trying to keep the volume down so you don't wake everyone up, you can use your Amazon Echo to hear what's playing on the TV. Your TV needs to either have Bluetooth capabilities or be connected to an Amazon Fire TV Stick. To get started, make sure your Echo device is close to your TV, then say "Alexa, connect." On your smart TV or Fire TV, navigate to the Bluetooth settings to find the Echo speaker you're wanting to connect. When you're ready to disconnect, just say "Alexa, unpair."

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2. Create a playlist on the fly

Creating a new playlist can take time -- you have to think of the songs you want to add, search for the titles and manually add them to the playlist you just created. So instead of trying to quickly tap as many songs as possible, just ask your Echo to add them for you. 

While you're busy doing other things, like household chores or playing video games, just say, "Alexa, create a new playlist." You'll need to come up with a name for the playlist, like "Favorite Rock Songs of the '90s." If you want to add a song to the playlist, it'll need to be playing on your smart speaker. So if you want to add Weezer's Say It Ain't So to your playlist, you'll need to request Alexa to play it first and then say, "Alexa, add this song to my playlist."

Once your playlist is complete and you're ready to listen to it, just say, "Alexa, play [name of playlist]."

3. Get the traffic details for your morning commute

Knowing which route to take to work in the morning is important, especially if you've got a daily commute that involves driving through the busiest part of town. Fortunately, before you head out the door in the morning, you can ask Alexa what the traffic looks like. 

You'll need to add your work location in the Alexa app so Alexa can give you the best route advice. Open the Alexa app menu and select Settings. Then scroll down and tap Traffic and enter the address you'll be leaving from (like your house or favorite coffee shop) to head to your destination (work address). 

Now when you're ready to leave the house, just say, "Alexa, what's my traffic?" and Alexa will give you the fastest route and the estimated time it will take to get to work.

4. Whisper to Alexa

If everyone in your house is sleeping or you just don't want to hear your speaker's loud replies, try whispering to Alexa. For example, if you want to know what time it is when you wake up without looking at a bright screen, just whisper "Alexa, what time is it?" That's all you have to do to get Alexa to whisper back. 

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You can communicate with Alexa without saying a word.

Chris Monroe/CNET

5. Set location-based routines

Whether you need to send an important email when you get home or need a reminder to feed the dog, you can set a routine to remind you as soon as you get to your destination. 

To set up a routine, open the Alexa app menu and tap Routines. Select the plus sign icon in the top right corner and enter the routine name (for example, Send email). Next, select When This Happens and tap Location. From here, select Arrives or Leaves, and choose either your work or home address. Tap Next and then select Add action. If you're setting a reminder, select Alexa says and create a customized response.

Note that you can also create routines that start with your voice activation, an alarm, a specific time or other triggers. You can also set actions to do things like start your Alexa-supported robot vacuum or turn the thermostat temperature down when you leave the house.

6. Tap your command instead of saying it

If you ever have trouble getting Alexa to understand what you're saying, just turn on the Type to Alexa feature. It lets you type out a command rather than speaking it, and it lets you easily access shortcuts with one tap on the screen. 

For example, instead of saying, "Alexa, what's the weather today?" you can just text in the app to quickly get the forecast. This can be helpful if you want to get info at a glance rather than waiting for Alexa to go through its entire spiel about the weather.

To use Tap to Alexa on your Echo Show, open the settings and select Accessibility. Then, scroll down and toggle the Tap to Alexa switch on and tap Continue. You can move the Tap to Alexa icon around until you find the best spot.

To use it in the Alexa app, select the keyboard icon in the top left corner and type your command.

Useful features exclusive to the Amazon Echo Show

Amazon's Echo Show (starting at $45 on Amazon) has its own set of cool features that aren't available on the other Echo devices due to its touchscreen. 

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Make sure the Echo Show's camera is on before using the Show and Tell feature.

Chris Monroe/CNET

7. Show and tell 

If you've got an Amazon Echo Show, it can recognize your household pantry items, like a can of soup. This feature was developed to help blind and visually impaired people identify a specific object. Alexa can name items using advanced computer vision and machine-learning technologies for object recognition

To get started, make sure your camera is on and ask, "Alexa, what am I holding?" The voice assistant will then give you instructions on where to hold the item, how close it needs to be to the camera and when to show different sides of the product. 

I tried this with two items, a packet of oatmeal and a tube of lip balm. When I showed it the oatmeal, Alexa was able to tell me "cinnamon roll," "measuring" and "pouch" but was unable to identify the brand. When I showed it the lip balm, Alexa was able to identify that it was Blistex Medicated Lip Balm.

8. Turn off the screen 

Your Echo Show's screen will stay on constantly if it's plugged in, which can be frustrating when you're trying to fall asleep at night or need to stay focused while working. And while you can dim your device, it doesn't always help. Fortunately, you can turn your screen off without shutting down the device by saying, "Alexa, turn off the screen." To turn the screen back on, you can either tap the screen or use your speaker's wake word.

Now that you've mastered these Amazon Echo tips, here are six more things you haven't tried with your Echo speaker, seven shocking things you still can't do on your Amazon Echo and four places to never put your Echo in your home.