20 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
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Photo by 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 bonafide 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 continues to grow.

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.

A skill for finding skills

  • Alexa skills themselves are quite helpful, and there are nearly 1,900. 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."

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 6:00" 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 creates 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.

Food

  • 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."
  • 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." Now, if Domino's would just deliver to my apartment...

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 which 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."

Games

  • Looking to up your Pokémon Go game? Enable Trainer Tips to learn more about various Pokémon. 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 Pokémon.
  • 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.
  • And for you Harry Potter fans out there, Potterhead Quiz will test your knowledge of Potter realm.

Update, August 5: Added detail from Capital One on its skill's security measures.

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