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Smart Home

50 most useful Alexa skills

Alexa has a ton of functionality out of the box, but the real magic happens when you dig into the world of third-party skills.

James Martin/CNET
amazon-echo-skin.jpg
Taylor Martin/CNET

Out of the box, Alexa can do an impressive number of things. It can stream Amazon Music or Spotify, control your Philips Hue smart bulbs or anything connected to a SmartThings hub and integrate with IFTTT for a laundry list of other functions. You can also order millions of products off Amazon without lifting a finger.

But what has really propelled Amazon's Alexa forward as a bona fide platform, not just intelligent software behind a few connected speakers, is the Smart Home Skill API. This allows third-party developers to create apps and tap into the power of Alexa without ever needing native support. Major brands have already jumped on the bandwagon and more are soon to follow, especially if the popularity of products like the Amazon Echo ($60 at Amazon) continues to grow. There are now over 10,000 Alexa skills available.

If you're looking to make your Alexa speaker even more helpful around the house, we've got your back. Below you will find some of Alexa's most helpful, clever and entertaining skills available today.

Editors' note: This article was originally published July 27, 2016, and is frequently updated to include additional information and new skills.

A skill for finding skills

  • Alexa skills themselves are quite helpful. However, even with an updated Skills section in the Alexa app and the ability to add skills using only your voice, discovering new and useful skills is a less than desirable experience. So much so that Amazon actually created a skill called Skill Finder to discover new skills. Launch it by saying, "Alexa, open Skill Finder" or "Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day."

Finance

  • The Capital One skill allows you to check your credit card balance or make a payment when one is due. This is secure: The skill performs security checks and requires you sign in using your username and password. Then, when you open the skill, you must provide a four-digit code to confirm your identity. Just be wary of who is around when using the skill -- anyone who overhears you say your personal key can access your banking or credit card info just by asking Alexa.
  • If you'd like to check stock prices before heading out in the morning, try Opening Bell. This Skill allows you to ask for a stock price using a company's natural name instead of the ticker symbol, such as, "Alexa, ask Opening Bell for the price of Google."
  • Similar to Opening Bell, TD Ameritrade has a skill that lets you check "US-traded stocks, ETFs, mutual funds and major US indices -- 75,000 securities," just by asking. Say, "Alexa, ask TD Ameritrade for the price of Amazon."
  • Since cryptocurrency is so popular (and volatile) these days, you can keep up with your current investments during your Flash Briefing with the Cryptocurrency Flash Briefing skill. When you ask to play your Flash Briefing, this skill will retrieve the current prices of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Ripple, BitcoinCash and Litecoin. 

Productivity

  • You can use IFTTT to push additions to your Amazon To-do List to Google Calendar, or you can use the Quick Events skill. Say something like "Alexa, tell Quick Events to add go to the grocery store tomorrow at 6" to add an event to your calendar.
  • If you're in marketing or are just looking for some ideas that are outside the box, enable the Giant Spoon skill. Chances are, the ideas aren't always going to be applicable to what you're working on, but in my use, they've sparked some interesting ideas.

Smart home and car

  • Out of the box, Alexa has support for IFTTT, but not Yonomi. Support for Yonomi is enabled through a skill. Yonomi is a lot like IFTTT, but designed specifically for the smart home. Yonomi generates virtual devices for each scene you create, so the command sounds more natural, such as, "Alexa, turn on Sunset."
  • You can also keep tabs on your car with Alexa using the Automatic skill. Automatic is a dongle you install in your car's OBDII port which connects with your smartphone and tracks the status of your car. You can connect your Automatic account to Alexa and ask for the current fuel level, where your car is or how far you've driven in a span of time.
  • The Harmony skill by Logitech will allow you to control your entertainment system using your voice though a Harmony hub-based remote. You can say things like, "Alexa, turn on the TV," "Alexa, turn on Netflix" or "Alexa, turn on the Travel Channel."
  • The Anova Precision Cooker now has an Alexa skill, called Anova Culinary. With this skill, you can look up cooking guides and begin cooking using your voice. You can say things like, "Alexa, ask Anova to help me cook steak" or "Alexa, ask Anova to increase temperature by 2 degrees."
  • Likewise, the Joule has an Alexa skill, called Joule: Sous Vide by ChefSteps. This skill can recall your past cooks when you say, "Alexa, ask Joule to cook steak like last time." You can also set the temperature and check the status of your cook, just by asking.

Food and drink

  • If you're anything like me, you have no idea which wines pair well with which food. Fortunately, the MySomm skill will tell you. Just ask, "Alexa, ask Wine Gal what goes with a pot roast?"
  • The same goes for beer and the What beer? skill. The invocation for this particular skill is clever, making the phrasing natural and easy to remember. Just say, "Alexa, ask what beer goes with ramen."
  • To kick up your home-bartending skills a notch, enable The Bartender. You can ask what a drink is made of, and it will tell you the ingredients and the recipe. The answers are a lot to take in for a single response all at once, but this skill can definitely help you dissect your favorite cocktails.
  • To double-check what internal temperature is considered safe when cooking different meats, use Meat Thermometer. Say, "Alexa, ask Meat Thermometer what is the best temperature for steak."
  • For recipes and food recommendations, try the Best Recipes skill. You can find recipes based on up to three ingredients and narrow the results to breakfast, lunch or dinner. To get started, say, "Alexa, tell Best Recipes I'm hungry" or "Alexa, ask Best Recipes what's for dinner."
  • Similarly, Meal Idea will give you recipe ideas that call for common, everyday items you likely already have in your pantry. It's suggested things like bone soup (out of canned tomato soup and elbow noodles) and a salad made of salad greens, canned beets and goat cheese. At least one of those sounds great.
  • One of my personal favorite skills is Domino's. You can place your Domino's Easy Order just by speaking, "Alexa, open Domino's and place my Easy Order." You can also track the status of an order you've placed by saying, "Alexa, open Domino's to track my order."
  • If Pizza Hut is your jam, there's a skill for that, too. To get started, first enable the skill, link your account and say, "Alexa, tell Pizza Hut to place an order."
  • Starbucks now lets you place an order using Alexa with the Starbucks Reorder skill. After you enable the skill, you will need to link your account. The skill will not work unless you've previously placed a mobile order with the Starbucks app on Android or iOS. It can place an order at one of the last 10 Starbucks locations you've visited in person. You can also check your account balance and switch between your five previous mobile orders. 

Fitness

  • For those familiar with the 7-Minute Workout, you'll be happy to learn there is a skill for the famous workout available on Alexa speakers. Say, "Alexa, open 7-Minute Workout." The workout will begin. You can pause and resume workouts as needed.
  • Similarly, there is a skill for a 5-Minute Plank Workout. This skill walks you through five minutes of various planks with a 10-second break between each.
  • If you wear a Fitbit tracker on your wrist, you can enable the Fitbit skill. With this skill, you can ask Alexa about your progress or how you slept the night before. Before you can use the skill, however, you will need to link your Fitbit account by going to the skill page at alexa.amazon.com and linking your accounts.
  • For tracking your food, you can use the Track by Nutritionix skill, which lets you track your food intake using your voice or ask for caloric values of foods. (Alexa does the latter by default.) Say things like, "Alexa, tell Food Tracker to log a cup of almond milk" or "Alexa, ask Food Tracker how many calories are in two eggs and three slices of bacon."
  • Each day, Guided Meditation will give you a different meditation routine, ranging from three to eight minutes. If you're not digging the current routine, you can say, "Alexa, play next" to skip to the next exercise.

Weather

  • Not impressed by Alexa's default weather forecasting abilities? You'll want to enlist the help of Big Sky. Using the Dark Sky API, Big Sky provides hyperlocal weather forecasts, telling you when rain will start or stop for a specific address or the humidity and wind speed and direction. Big Sky does require a small amount of setup first, though.
  • If you're less interested in what the actual temperature is and care more about how it feels outside, try the Feels Like skill. It will give you the wind chill when the temperature is less than 50 degrees Fahrenheit and heat index when it's over 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • And when you don't have time to listen to an entire, drawn-out forecast, Fast Weather is your best bet. Just say, "Alexa, fast weather." You will be given a no-nonsense forecast with no wasted words -- something like, "Chance of rain. High: 58. Low: 31."

Travel

  • If you want to do some casual research for a future trip, you can get fare estimates using the Kayak skill. You can say, "Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $400" or "Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly from Charlotte to Dublin." The skill will ask for additional information and eventually provide you with a series of options and price ranges.
  • If you need a ride to the airport, you can order an Uber with Alexa just by asking. Say, "Alexa, ask Uber to get me a car." Tell me that doesn't sound like the future.
  • There's also a skill for Lyft that functions in the exact same way, except you can ask for pricing. Say, "Alexa, ask Lyft how much a Lyft Plus from home to work costs."
  • Before leaving or your next flight, make sure to check for security wait times at your airport. The Airport Security Line Wait Times skill will give you wait times for over 450 airports around the US. Say something like, "Alexa, ask Security Line what is the wait time at SFO terminal 2?"

Entertainment

  • If you're looking for movie recommendations, the Valossa Movie Finder skill can help you find movies based on context or by genre and date. You can say things like, "Alexa, use Movie Finder to find comedies from the 1980s" or "Alexa, ask Movie Finder what are the best war movies."
  • For a similar experience finding TV shows and the times that they air, try TV Time. You can ask if movies starring a specific actor are coming on TV today, when your favorite show comes on or you can ask what is coming on a certain channel. Just say, "Alexa, ask TV Time what's on CBS tonight."
  • If you have an interest in history, the This Day in History skill will give you a daily history lesson. Just say, "Alexa, open This Day in History." To get historical information for a different date, just say, "Alexa, ask This Day in History what happened on April 2nd."
  • The Radio Mystery Theater skill lets you listen to radio mysteries of yore. Just say, "Alexa, open Radio Mystery Theater" to start, and say, "Alexa, next" or "Alexa, previous," to skip between episodes.
  • Take a load off and let Alexa put your kids to sleep with the Short Bedtime Story skill. Not only will Alexa read bedtime stories, but you can tailor those stories to your own children by customizing the names in the stories (and which stories are told) using the companion website.
  • After your kids are asleep, Alexa can help you doze off with the Ambient Noise skill and its companion skills. There are several different sounds to choose from, all of which come with their own skill. You can fall asleep to the sounds of a thunderstorm, rain, ocean, wind chimes, babbling brook, rain on a tent, city sounds and much more. For all available sounds, just say, "Alexa, ask Ambient Noise for a list."
  • If you want to learn something surprising every day, check out the Reddit TIL skill. It will pull one of the TIL (today, I learned) posts from the current top 25.  

Podcasts and radio

  • AnyPod is an Alexa skill for podcast power listeners. Alexa's built-in podcast capabilities are somewhat limited. For instance, you can only ask for a podcast. AnyPod allows you to subscribe to your favorite podcasts, play your subscriptions or request a specific episode.
  • Similarly, you have more podcast listening controls if you use the Stitcher skill. You must link your Stitcher account, but then you can access your podcast playlists, play your favorite podcast or play the Stitcher front page.
  • Not sure what to listen to? Try the Learn Something Radio skill. It pulls podcasts from 99% Invisible, NPR, Freakonomics, Hidden Brain and many more.
  • Or you could listen to a TED talk with Alexa using the TED Talks skill. You can specify what sort of TED talk you want to listen to, as well. Just say, "Alexa, ask TED Talks to find talks about nature" or "Alexa, ask TED Talks to play the latest talk."

Games

  • Looking to up your Pokemon Go game? Enable Trainer Tips to learn more about various Pokemon. Just say, "Alexa, ask Trainer Tips to teach me something" or "Alexa, ask Trainer Tips what's weak against fire" to learn about your favorite Pokemon.
  • The age-old Akinator game is available on Alexa under the Abra skill. Choose a character, say, "Alexa, start Akinator" and answer the questions. Alexa will guess your character almost every time with creepy accuracy.
  • Warner Brothers created a choose-your-own-adventure game for Alexa called The Wayne Investigation, wherein you investigate the death of Bruce Wayne's parents, Thomas and Martha Wayne. Start the game by saying, "Alexa, open The Wayne Investigation" and follow the prompts. Each choice you make affects the outcome of the story. This is one of the best examples of a game style that suits Alexa perfectly.
  • Another choose-your-own-adventure game is The Magic Door, which takes place in a mythical world with dragons and wizards. It has recently been updated to include a new adventure.
  • Earplay is a similar adventure game where your responses affect the outcome of the story. However, instead of being a bystander, you become part of the radio drama. To get started, say, "Alexa, start Early."
  • And for you Harry Potter fans out there, Potterhead Quiz will test your knowledge of Potter realm.