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8 surprising Alexa tricks to try with your Amazon Echo tonight

You can get Amazon's digital Alexa assistant to recognize a can of soup and create music playlists on the fly.

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Your Amazon Echo can create playlists for you.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about your Amazon Echo -- all the funny things to ask Alexa, how to turn on your TV with just your voice and how to control your smart home devices -- here comes another batch. Your Alexa voice assistant has several more tricks up its sleeve that you might not know about yet.

For example, did you know you can hold something up to your Amazon Echo Show ($230 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?

It may take a while to learn all the things your Amazon Echo and its voice assistant can do, but for now, here are eight Echo tricks we've compiled that you start trying out right now.

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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]."

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.

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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The Echo Input turns any speaker into an Alexa-compatible device.

Ry Crist/CNET

Turn any speaker into an Echo

If you already have a speaker with great sound quality and you're not ready to get an Echo speaker yet, you can just use an Echo Input ($35 on Amazon) to turn your speaker into an Alexa device

Doing either of these gives your current speaker access to Alexa. To use it with your favorite speaker, connect it using the auxiliary cord that comes with the device or pair it with the speaker using Bluetooth

Location-based routines

Whether you need to send an important email when you get to work or need a reminder to feed the dog when you get home, 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 trigger. 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.

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You can communicate with Alexa without saying a word.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Useful features exclusive to the Amazon Echo Show

Amazon's Echo Show (starting at $70 on Amazon) has its own set of cool features that aren't available on the other Echo devices due to its touchscreen. For example, you can communicate with Alexa without ever saying a word. Here are some other useful things you can do with your Echo Show.

Tap your command instead of saying it

If you ever have trouble getting Alexa to understand what you're saying, just turn on the Tap 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 tap on the weather icon 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 enable Tap to Alexa, open the settings on your Echo Show 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.

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

Chris Monroe/CNET

Show-and-tell 

If you've got an Amazon Echo Show, it can now 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.

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.