6 cool ways to use Alexa on the Amazon Fire tablet

Now that Amazon's voice-powered assistant has made her way to the company's tablet, find out how to make the most of her.

Alexa has now made her way into the world of Amazon's Fire tablets.

David Carnoy/CNET

If you own an Amazon Echo ($179.99 at Amazon.com), Echo Dot or Tap, you're already well-acquainted with Alexa, the voice-powered assistant that drives those devices.

What you may not know is that Alexa recently arrived on some of Amazon's Fire tablets, namely the $50 Fire, the fifth- and sixth-generation Fire HD 8 and the fifth-gen Fire HD 10. (That's it for the moment; even if you install the Alexa app on other models, Alexa herself will not make an appearance.)

As you might expect, it's a slightly different experience using Alexa on a tablet. For starters, she's not always listening like on an Echo or Echo Dot: You have to tap and hold the onscreen Home icon for a couple seconds, then speak your command. On the other hand, you don't have to preface every command with "Alexa." Rather, just say what you want her to do.

So what good is a tablet-trapped assistant who can't even be summoned hands-free? For one thing, she's available to you just about anywhere you go, provided you're connected to Wi-Fi. Your Echo, by design, stays put in a single room.

Let's take a look at some of the cool things you can do with "tablet Alexa" -- with one caveat: In my tests, the $50 Fire delivered a poor experience. Some requests were ignored completely, while others were slow to activate. I asked Alexa to "play some Christmas music," for example, and although she responded fairly quickly, it took a good 30 seconds before the music started. Your mileage may vary, but if you're buying that particular Fire with Alexa in mind, don't expect Echo-like performance.

Set visual (and mobile) kitchen timers

Alexa makes a great kitchen companion -- "Set a timer for 25 minutes" -- but if you want to know how much time is left, you have to ask her. On a Fire, however, there's an onscreen card that shows the countdown. What's more, you can venture into a different room while something is cooking; as long as you take your tablet with you, you won't have to worry about missing the alarm.

Order stuff

Echo-powered Alexa can order things for you (from Amazon, natch), but the only description you'll get is an aural one. That's one reason I haven't really enjoyed voice-powered shopping. But when you ask tablet Alexa to, say, "Order more name tags," you'll get a visual depiction of the item. Then, when she asks if you want to buy it, you won't feel quite as much unease that maybe it's the wrong thing.

Alexa can now show and tell you what the weather is like.

Rick Broida/CNET

See the weather

Another tablet advantage: visual weather updates. Instead of just hearing a forecast (one that encompasses just today and tomorrow), you'll see a weather card you can scroll to get a full week's worth of data. It's much closer to what you'd get from an actual weather app.

See what your Echo is up to

Thanks to a feature called Automatic Voicecast (accessible via the Alexa app by tapping Menu > Settings > Voicecast), tablet Alexa can show information related to what's happening on your Echo -- a now-playing song screen, for example, or an overview of sports scores. This is available only for "certain kinds of content" at the moment, but it's definitely worth enabling just to check out.

Play podcasts in a flash

You've probably already guessed that tablet Alexa will honor requests to play music or read the news, but she has one more cool trick up her sleeve: podcasts. As long as the show is available via TuneIn, the podcast source used by Alexa, she'll play the latest episode on demand. However, if you want a specific episode, one from the back catalog, you'll need to venture into the Alexa app or TuneIn proper -- which kind of defeats the voice-powered point.

Turn out the lights

The Echo platform is growing by leaps and bounds, with home-automation gadgets leading the charge. Just about every modern "smart" switch, appliance and control can be operated by Alexa. And that's one big reason to own an Alexa-compatible tablet: You can take it with you from room to room, thus eliminating the need to shout at an Echo that's far away. Thus, if your Echo Dot lives in the kitchen, you can still control, say, the thermostat from your bedroom.

All this, of course, is just the tip of the tablet-Alexa iceberg, as she can do many (if not most) of the same things as an Echo. But if you've found a particular good function for tablet users, share it in the comments!

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