Look at what Amazon's Alexa can do on a phone!

Here's what you can and can't do with the voice assistant on the HTC U11.

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Amazon's Alexa is coming to phones. We've seen it on the Huawei Mate 9 and now it's here for the HTC U11, the phone you can squeeze.

But the Alexa voice app works a little differently on the U11. There are still some things you can't do on the phone that you can on your Amazon Echo speaker at home.

By bringing Alexa to phones, Amazon is attempting to increase its territory on the voice assistant frontier. This is increasingly important as Google Assistant, Apple Siri and soon, Samsung's Bixby Voice, make their way to more speakers, refrigerators and TVs in the home. The platform that can spread fastest could have a better chance of winning.

Remember, Amazon Alexa works in tandem with Google Assistant on both the HTC U11 and Huawei Mate 9. You won't have to choose one over the other if you'd like to use both, or use Google Assistant instead.

Here are some things you'll be able to do with the app right now, and some you won't.

Read next: Amazon Alexa on phones: What it does that Google and Siri can't

What Alexa on the HTC U11 can do:

"Alexa, turn on the lights." 

Josh Miller/CNET
  • Say the wake word -- "Alexa" -- to launch the voice assistant, even when the screen is off. You'll need to unlock the phone first if you have a security PIN, password or fingerprint access (on the Mate 9, you have to open the Alexa app to trigger the wake word, an extra step).
  • Access Alexa's vast library of skills.
  • Control your smart home.
  • Play music through Amazon Music.
  • Get a flash briefing from various news outlets.
  • Tell you the weather where you are -- you don't have to ask for the city name ("Alexa, what's the temperature right now?"). You can always ask for the weather in another city, too, of course.
  • The usual requests for encyclopedic knowledge, like how far away Hawaii is, or how tall the tallest redwood tree is.
  • Check traffic and a sports score.
  • Add a calendar appointment and an item on your to-do list.
  • Buy stuff with your Amazon account.
  • Track Amazon orders and read your shopping notifications.
  • View your search history in the Alexa app.
  • What Alexa on the HTC U11 can't do:

  • Show you text-based results as Google Search and Siri do (Alexa will give you a voice response, as it does on the Echo).
  • Play music from Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio and TuneIn.
  • Open the Amazon app to help sort purchases. It'll read the description and cite the price, then ask if you want to buy.
  • Provide a numbered list of shopping alternatives to give you buying options (it works better when you make a very specific shopping request).
  • Set an alarm, a timer or a reminder.
  • Control phone settings and open apps (it isn't integrated into the phone system).
  • Work with some Amazon features, like Drop In calling and messaging for Amazon Echo devices.
  • Confusion: Amazon Alexa vs. HTC Alexa

    Alexa on phones is still imperfect, and not only because the app isn't phone-aware, meaning it can't control your phone settings. See, you actually need two apps to use Alexa on the HTC U11: Amazon Alexa, which you can download on any phone, and HTC Alexa, which is HTC's app for this phone. Huawei's Mate 9 has a similar double-app setup, too. 

    The most confusing part is that Amazon Alexa has a long list of things you can do with Alexa... on the Echo, not necessarily on the phone. One example is support for Spotify and Pandora -- if you're looking at Amazon's Alexa app, playing The Beatles through Pandora is a go. But that isn't something actually supported on phones. 

    Another example is Drop In, which promises to let you call or message a contact's Echo speaker. Drop In is related to Amazon Calling and Messaging, HTC said, and is not supported on third party Alexa-enabled devices.That means it won't work if you try to trigger it with an "Alexa" voice command.

    Need some pointers? The Alexa app sets you on the right track.

    Josh Miller/CNET

    Is Alexa on a phone any good?

    I haven't been using HTC Alexa on the U11 long enough to favor Alexa over Google Assistant or the other way around. I prefer the shorter wake word, "Alexa" over "OK, Google," and I appreciate that Alexa can launch certain Amazon-only skills for the smart home. 

    But I would like to see Amazon take a stronger hand in working with phone-makers to streamline and unify the Alexa experience on phones. 

    That goes for visual search result cards like the ones in Google (which would make voice shopping a thousand times easier), as well as making Alexa tie in to the device the way that Google Assistant, Siri and Samsung's Bixby Voice app can.

    As more phones adopt and adapt Alexa, I hope we see the kind of development that would make the app a real asset on phones and a strong enough alternative to its rivals that would warrant using it alone.