Notion's new Alexa email controls sound kind of amazing

The AI email service already parses through your inbox to pull out the most important details and keep you organized. Now, it'll let Alexa pitch in -- and even summarize any long-winded messages for you.

Ry Crist Senior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
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  • 10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
Ry Crist
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Notion's email app promises to simplify your inbox -- and now, it works with Alexa, too.

Ry Crist/CNET

Notion is a free app for Android and iOS devices that syncs with your inbox, then uses artificial intelligence to make it easier to find the info you actually need. Its latest upgrade: an Amazon Alexa skill that lets you access Notion's insights with simple voice commands. The coolest trick? Email summaries that let Alexa tell you the most most important tidbits from your backlogged inbox, or even sum long messages up into just a sentence or two.

Notion is a custom Alexa skill, not a native one, so you need to use the invocation words "ask Notion" at the start of each command. Things you can ask include:

  • "Alexa, ask Notion what's new."
  • "Alexa, ask Notion if anybody's waiting on me."
  • "Alexa, ask Notion who have I recently met?"
  • "Alexa, ask Notion who introduced us."
  • "Alexa, ask Notion to clean my inbox."

That last one looked pretty handy when Karl Tiedemann, a designer at Notion, met with me here at CES to demonstrate how the service works. The system's algorithm uses machine learning to identify important emails and contacts, with the rest labeled as less important. You can manually promote those emails to top-tier status if they're important, or sweep away the rest with a single swipe. And now, you can also ask Alexa to help keep things decluttered.

On top of that, you can ask Alexa to archive or snooze your messages, read your emails in full, or even take dictated responses (and yes, she'll read things back to you before sending to make sure she heard you right). You can also enable a PIN code so that your nosy roommate can't use Alexa to snoop through your inbox.

Here's the latest smart home gear that works with Alexa

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As for privacy, Notion doesn't store any of your emails in the cloud, but it does store those summarized bits of info so that Alexa can access them. Tiedemann told me that Notion is exploring methods of end-to-end encryption to help keep the whole process secure, but explained that it's tricky to do so in a way that doesn't affect Alexa's ability to work with your inbox. Hopefully it gets that figured out soon.

For now, Notion works with Gmail, but I'm told that support for other key email servers, including Yahoo, is coming soon.

At any rate, I was impressed by what I saw -- enough so that I think I'll have to take Notion for a post-CES test drive, complete with Alexa as copilot. I'll let you know how it goes, so stay tuned.