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Explainer Smart Home

What is Alexa?

Catch up on the basics of Amazon's virtual assistant.

Chris Monroe/CNET

You might have seen the commercials where someone asks something called "Alexa" to order flowers or turn on the sprinklers. Alexa is Amazon's digital assistant built into devices such as the Amazon Echo. The Echo itself is a speaker with a built-in microphone. Alexa is Amazon's virtual assistant, like Siri from Apple's iPhone

Say the wakeword "Alexa," to your Echo and then, with a simple voice command, you can play music, control smart home devices, shop on Amazon, search the internet, set reminders and more. The Echo has a very powerful microphone that uses what's called "far-field" technology. It's so good it can hear your from across a room. 

Here's a list of Alexa's recognized commands, and here are the various smart home gadgets Alexa can control.  

According to industry estimates, Amazon sold roughly 11 million Echo devices by the end of 2016, or roughly 70 percent of the existing market for virtual assistant products. 

Currently, Alexa is built in to the following devices:

That list only covers the Alexa-enabled devices that Amazon makes itself. You can also download an Alexa app. Plus, third-party manufacturers have built Alexa into all kinds of devices including phones, lamps, thermostats, TVs and refrigerators. Here's a guide to getting started with Alexa in your home.