The Echo's most obvious function is streaming music. Ask Alexa, the Echo's voice assistant, to play some jazz, or tell her you want to hear "Bohemian Rhapsody," and she'll get right to it, streaming music from the Amazon Prime library of tracks.
More of a radio fan? No problem -- just tell Alexa to play your favorite station, and she'll use the service TuneIn to, well, tune in. That includes local channels as well as nationally syndicated programming from sources like ESPN and NPR. Ask her for the news of the day, and she'll play a "flash briefing" of the day's important headlines (you can customize the specific categories and sources you'd like her to focus on -- including CNET!) She can also use iHeartRadio to stream your favorite podcast.
Got a question for Alexa? In many cases, though not all of them, she'll have an answer. If you'd rather be the one answering, you can turn on Alexa's "Jeopardy" Skill by saying, "Enable Jeopardy." She'll gladly rattle off trivia questions for you -- just make sure you answer in the form of a question.
Here's one I use in my own home almost every day: Alexa-powered kitchen timers. Just tell her to set one for however long you need, and Alexa will start the silent countdown. You can have multiple timers running simultaneously, and it's always a handy, hands-free way to manage the clock while you're cooking.
If you need more than just a timer to make you a good cook, try out one of Alexa's many cooking Skills. They will walk you through recipes -- and you can always ask Alexa for measurement conversions if you need some help.
It wasn't long after the Amazon Echo's debut that Alexa started showing off her smart home chops. The first trick Amazon unveiled was compatibility with Belkin WeMo smart switches and Philips Hue connected LED lights. You can sync all of them up with your Echo, then tell Alexa to turn things on and off.
Like the Philips Hue, the Lifx is a color-changing smart LED that works with the Echo system. Activate the Lifx Skill in the Alexa app, and you'll be able to tell Alexa to turn your bulbs on or off, dim them up and down or change them to a specific color.
If you're looking to get a little more creative with your smart home gadgetry, try out something like Garageio. Echo can connect with this device to tell you if you've left your garage door open. You can even say, "Alexa, tell Garageio to close my garage door," and she will.
Want an extra measure of security? Alexa can lock your August Smart Lock for you. Right now, she still can't unlock it for security reasons. But if you're just locking up your home for the night, it's nice to be able to say, "Alexa, ask August to lock all my doors."
Once you're in your house, you want the atmosphere to be perfect. The first step is climate control. Alexa can adjust the temperature on Ecobee thermostats, the Honeywell Lyric and Nest. Just say, "Alexa, set the temperature to 71."
Amazon Echo features native connected home support for Insteon smart home gear. That includes connected lights, outlets and smart switches -- you can turn all of it on and off by telling Alexa to do it.
Alexa also has her own channel on the free online automation service IFTTT. Activate it, and you'll be able to link up Echo with any of the hundreds of products and services that work with IFTTT. You'll even be able to craft your own custom voice commands.
Then there's the smart-home phone system Ooma. With a new Amazon Echo integration, you'll be able to make calls straight from the speaker. Here's a handy Ooma how-to post in case you want to try it out.
So you find out there's a movie showing in 10 minutes, and you're ready to call your date, but you can't remember if you filled up the gas in the car or not. One of Alexa's many Skills syncs it up with the Automatic car-tracking gadget, which plugs into your vehicle's diagnostic port to keep track of gas mileage, engine trouble and your car's location. Just ask Alexa, and she'll let you know how much gas is in the tank.
The Therapy Skill is a fun way to unwind after Alexa has reminded you of your financial state. Tell Alexa you're feeling sad, and she'll give you insightful nuggets like, "Don't be sad. Turn that frown upside down!"
If you just want to pretend to exercise, you can use the Digital Pet skill to take your dog on a walk or play fetch. Fair warning: Your digital dog Dazzle often feels chastised when you say the wrong thing.
There's a whole host of other smart home gadgets that'll work with the Echo -- including several that showed off their integrations at CES this year.
As of publishing this, Alexa has well over 3,000 Skills -- too many to list here. They range from surprisingly helpful to undeniably absurd, and the list is growing all the time. For more, check out our full review of the Amazon Echo.