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Explainer Smart Home

12 new Alexa features to up your Amazon Echo game

Amazon adds privacy protection features, quality-of-life upgrades and -- why not? -- Sam Jackson's voice.

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James Martin/CNET

Amazon has staged product announcement events in early autumn for a few years now, but this is only the second year the event has felt really big. In 2018, Amazon announced a slew of Echo products, like the Echo Auto, Gen 3 Echo Dot, Echo Sub and plenty of other new hardware. But they also built out Alexa's feature set, most notably announcing Alexa Guard, a feature that makes your Echo listen for window breaks or activated alarms. If triggered, Alexa sends users alerts, letting them listen to a snippet of the sound.

This year, along with the hardware announcements on Wednesday, the big question is, what else does Alexa have up her sleeve? Here are the new features Amazon just announced for your digital assistant.

'Alexa, tell me what you heard' and 'Why did you do that?'

Saying to Alexa, "Tell me what you heard" will lead to the digital assistant sharing what exactly she "heard" you say. It seems like a small addition, but this feature adds a little bit of clarity for users. "Why did you do that?" will make Alexa explain why it performed any action. For instance, if music begins to play randomly, users can check whether that streaming was initiated via Bluetooth or a misheard voice command.

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Auto Delete voice recordings every 3 or 18 months

Amazon has faced a number of privacy criticisms over the past year. To continue to curtail privacy concerns, Amazon is adding more user choice. Another command Amazon is introducing will delete users' voice recordings every 3 or 18 months. Users can also tell Alexa to "Delete what I just said" or "Delete everything I've said today."

Neural Text to Speech

This new development adds deep learning to the Echo's already impressive text-to-speech technology. This new Neural Text to Speech feature should improve the speech patterns of Alexa, making the assistant more "emotive and expressive," as well as adding new languages, like Hindi, French and Spanish.

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Celebrity voices

Beginning later this year, Amazon will be rolling out celebrity voices for Alexa. It appears the "voices" will actually be partially generated based on limited recordings with the celebrities, so how effective the feature is remains to be seen.

First up on the docket? Samuel L. Jackson

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Frustration Detection

If Alexa senses frustration in the user's voice -- for instance, if she plays the wrong song after a request -- she will apologize and attempt to clarify and recover.

Food Network features

Alexa will now be able to help users cook meals via a Food Network collaboration. Customers will be able to access recipes and take cooking classes on Echo Show ($230 at Amazon) devices. This will come with commands like, "Alexa, show cooking classes from Bobby Flay," "Alexa, how many chicken thighs was I supposed to use?" and "Alexa, save that recipe."

Smart Screen SDK 2.0

This new feature will allow richer interaction with displays, letting users follow up questions with screen interactions. This will bring third-party screens closer to smart display status. This means, when users ask for information like weather or sports updates, you'll receive visual information.

Alexa Communications for Kids and Free Time

Communications for Kids will allow children to communicate with contacts preapproved by parents. Free Time on Echo Show will give kids access to games and other activities, as well as the above Communications for Kids.

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Alexa Education Skill API

This new API will allow existing educational services to connect with Alexa. If schools are using services to track kids' homework or grades, for instance, Alexa will be able to share that info with parents.

Wi-Fi control

If users want to control certain Wi-Fi settings, they may use Alexa and certain brands of router, to control Wi-Fi access. That means you could say things like, "Alexa, pause the Wi-Fi on Bryan's PlayStation," or, "Alexa, pause the Wi-Fi on the tablet."

Alexa Hunches

Although Hunches has been announced before, Amazon will be launching this feature now. If users tend to perform certain actions together -- for instance, locking the door and turning off the lights -- Alexa will begin to prompt the second action when you request the first.

Alexa Guard upgrades

Alexa Guard, which listens for window breaks and alarms, is expanding. The customer can use more complex routines now, saying something like, "Alexa, I'm off to work." This will not only arm Alexa Guard, but also trigger other commands, such as turning off the lights. In addition, Alexa Guard will begin listening not only for breaking glass and alarms, but also for human activity while you're out of the house. That means the Echo should be able to tell the difference between your cat padding around the apartment and an intruder sneaking around.

Read about every new device Amazon has revealed today

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Amazon Echo Show Second Generation (Charcoal)
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