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25 Alexa tips and tricks

Let's help you make the most of Amazon's assistant.

Sarah Tew
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Amazon is always adding new features to its Echo devices.

With so many voice commands that work with the Echo's assistant, Alexa, it's easy to overlook some of the more helpful ones. You might've also missed some of the features added since you first unboxed your Echo.

If you want to get the most out of Alexa, here's a list of useful tips that will help you get what you want from her.

Editors' note: Originally published July 21, 2016, this article is regularly updated to include up-to-date information, new features and additional tips.

1. Make profiles for every family member

If multiple people in your home have Amazon accounts, you can add them to your Alexa household profile. To check which profile is currently being used, simply ask, "Alexa, which profile is this?" And to switch profiles, say, "Alexa, switch profiles."

While adding additional members doesn't give you separate shopping or to-do lists, it does allow you to share content libraries. Beware, though, as it also allows them to use your Prime account to order items.

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2. Change the wake word

Whether you have someone in your house by the name Alexa or you're tired of Amazon's commercials waking your speaker, changing the device's wake word is often the best course of action.

Unfortunately, you can't set your own wake word (yet), but you can choose between Alexa, Amazon, Computer or Echo. To select one of the three alternate wake words, open the Alexa app or alexa.amazon.com, open Settings, choose your Echo device, click Wake Word, choose one of the four options from the dropdown menu and click Save.

3. 'Can you say that again?'

If you ever miss one of Alexa's responses or need her to repeat something, just ask. Say, "Alexa, can you repeat that?" or, "Alexa, can you say that again?" She will repeat what she just said as many times as you need.

You can also look up recent responses in the Home tab of the Alexa app, as well as listen to the recordings of the things you've said to Alexa.

4. Delete all your Amazon voice data

Speaking of which, everything you say to Alexa is recorded and uploaded to Amazon's servers. If you don't like the idea of hundreds of voice recordings of things you've said to your speaker floating around in the cloud, there are two ways to get rid of all those old recordings. Just know that even after purging all the recordings, a new one will be added every time you speak to Alexa.

5. Solve quick conversions and math problems

Primarily, I use Alexa for controlling my smart home using my voice. It's far more convenient than digging through my phone to open one or two applications just to control the lights.

The second most convenient use of Alexa for me is quick calculations or conversions, especially while cooking or making coffee. You can convert currencies or measurements and even do mathematic equations. Just say, "Alexa, 15 times 32" or "Alexa, 10 dollars to pounds."

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6. Add non-supported smart home devices

If you've got a mixture of smart-home devices, chances are, there may be a few that aren't officially supported by Alexa. But you may not be out of luck.

First, double-check that there isn't an Alexa Skill for that smart device. It there isn't, check the online connection sites Yonomi and IFTTT to see if your devices are supported. If so, get to know Yonomi or IFTTT, as they can greatly expand the usefulness of Alexa, allowing you to tie several actions to a single voice command, export your Alexa to-do or shopping list to Apple Reminders or Todoist and much more.

Here are some Alexa IFTTT recipes to get you started.

7. Stream any audio using Bluetooth

By default, you can listen to Amazon Prime Music, Audible audiobooks, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, Pandora and Spotify with the Alexa speakers. You can even have your Kindle books read to you by Alexa herself.

But if you're looking to play Apple Music, Google Play Music, your own music library or some other unsupported audio, you will need to first pair the Alexa device to a computer or mobile device using Bluetooth. Then you can stream any audio you want, using it as a Bluetooth speaker.

8. Set the default music service to Spotify

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The Amazon Echo is not stuck with Amazon Music when you want to listen to songs.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Not surprisingly, Amazon devices always push in-house services -- such as Kindle, Amazon Music, Audible and so on -- anywhere they can. With the Echo speakers, however, you can replace Amazon Music as the default music library with Spotify or as the default station service with Pandora or iHeartRadio. Just open the Amazon Alexa app, go to Settings > Music & Media > Choose default music services and select your preferred services.

What this changes is the need to specify "on Spotify" every time you want to stream music. Instead, you will need to say "on Amazon Music" when queueing up a song to play it through Amazon's music service.

9. Add Alexa Skills with your voice

Until late last month, you could only add Skills to your Alexa devices by using the Alexa app or echo.amazon.com to browse or search the Skills database and manually add them to your device. The process is clunky, mainly because the poor organization of the Skills repository.

Now you can add Skills by voice. Assuming you know the name of the Skill you want to add, just say, "Alexa, enable Lifx" or "Alexa, enable Magic 8-Ball." After just a few seconds, the skill will be enabled and available to use. Give it a try with one of our favorites (duh) -- the CNET News skill.

10. Turn on the wake-up sound

You don't need to wait on Alexa to light up after you've spoken your wake word to say a command. You can say, "Alexa, turn on the lights" without pausing.

If you're far from your Alexa speaker and can't see it, however, you might want to confirm she heard you before speaking the entire command. If you want an audible notification to know Alexa is listening, go to the Alexa app, open Settings > [Echo name] > Sounds and toggle Wake-up sound. For an audible confirmation that Alexa heard your command, you can also enable the End of request sound.

11. Add a Voice Remote

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Want to walk away from the Echo? Bring this remote to keep the Alexa assistant nearby.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you tend to sit too far away from your Alexa speaker to reliably control it, such as from the kitchen while the speaker lives in the living room, consider picking up a Voice Remote for Amazon Echo. It sells for $30 or £20 and works for both the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot (not the Tap).

Pair the remote in the Settings menu in the Alexa app, and you can remotely talk to your Echo from across the house, in other rooms, or even while outside. It does connect using Bluetooth, so the range is limited. But it can save you some frustration if you're not always near your Echo.

12. Make calls and send messages

Back in May, Amazon updated its Echo speakers with the ability to make calls and send messages to other Alexa users.

Anyone in the contacts list on your phone -- who is also an owner of an Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show and has enabled calling -- will show up in your Alexa contacts list. You can send them a message by saying, "Alexa, send [name] a message," or call them by saying, "Alexa, call [name]." The message or call will ring all of their Echo devices and the Alexa app on their phone.

Separately, you can enable Drop In with loved ones so you can check in on them. Drop In works much like voice or video calls, except the person on the other end does not have to answer.

13. Use it as an intercom

Similar to calling, Amazon added an intercom option to Echo speakers within a household. This gives you a direct line of communication to the Echo devices spread around your house.

Say, "Alexa, drop in on the living room," and anything you say will be played through the Echo speaker in the living room.

14. Order anything from Amazon Prime

You can now order millions of products just by asking for them. That wasn't always so. Before this month, you could only reorder things you had previously purchased using Prime. Now you can order anything that is Prime-eligible and is not apparel, jewelry, shoes, watches, Amazon Fresh, Amazon Prime Pantry, Amazon Prime Now or add-on items.

You can even order a Dominos pizza, or a ride from Uber or Lyft.

15. Track your Amazon packages

If you do happen to order something from Amazon with your Echo, Echo Dot or Tap, you can also track those packages by asking, "Alexa, where's my stuff?" or saying, "Alexa, track my order."

The information Alexa will give you about a package isn't too detailed, but it will tell you the day the packages are expected to arrive. The hope now is for an update that will at least tell you which carrier the item was shipped with so you can better anticipate the time it should arrive.

16. Get delivery notifications

With calling and messaging on Alexa came notifications for missed calls and unheard messages. The natural progression was to be able to receive other notifications from important skills or other updates.

For now, the only notifications available are the package delivery status for your Amazon Prime orders. When your order is out for delivery, your Echo speakers will let you know with a yellow light ring.

To enable these delivery notifications, open the Alexa app and go to Settings > Accounts > Notifications > Shopping Notifications and toggle it on. Third-party skills will soon be able to send users notifications. To check your notifications, just say, "Alexa, who did I miss?" or, "Alexa, what are my notifications?"

17. Get exclusive Prime deals

Amazon likes to show its appreciation for its most loyal customers, particularly those who've spent cold, hard cash on an Amazon device. From time to time, Amazon will run special deals that are reserved exclusively for Alexa speaker owners. For instance, the Echo Dot and Tap were initially only available for purchase for those who owned an Amazon Echo.

More recently, Amazon offered Alexa-only Prime Day deals, where a number of deals were reserved for official Amazon Alexa devices only -- third-party Alexa devices and services were excluded from those deals.

18. Settle an argument

If you and some friends are torn between where to go for dinner or you're not sure where you want to take this year's vacation, you can put Alexa in control for totally random decision making. Say, "Alexa, flip a coin" to choose between two possibilities. You can also roll some dice or ask a Magic 8-Ball (if you enable the skill).

19. Access Alexa from a computer

You don't need one of Amazon's speakers or even a third-party Alexa speaker to take the assistant for a spin. All you need is a desktop web browser.

From the web, you can navigate to Echosim.io and log in to your Amazon account. To interact with Alexa, click and hold on the microphone button and speak a command or ask a question. Alexa will respond just as she would from official hardware. Almost all Alexa features can be accessed through Echosim.io, as well. You can enable skills, control smart home devices and so on. However, you cannot stream audio, and while you can set a timer or alarm, there will be no sound when the timer has elapsed or the alarm is set to go off.

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20. Use Alexa from the Amazon app on iOS

Amazon has replaced the voice search function in the Amazon shopping app on iOS with Alexa. You can control your smart home, ask for facts, get unit conversions and much more.

To use it, open the Amazon app on iOS and tap the microphone icon to the right of the search bar. From there, you can ask anything you would normally ask Alexa. You can even stream music, an audiobook or a podcast while you shop from your phone.

The Amazon app on Android is set to receive the Alexa update this week.

21. Remove an Alexa device

If you use one of the above Alexa emulators or build your own Alexa device, you may notice there is no way to remove them from your account in the Alexa app. Instead, you will need to head over to Amazon.com and locate the devices under Manage Your Content and Devices and deregister Alexa devices from there.

22. Order your favorite food and drink

Thanks to over 10,000 skills, you can now do a lot more with Alexa than before. For instance, you can Enable the Pizza Hut or Dominos skills to order your favorite pizzas for delivery to your door. Or you can queue up your favorite Starbucks order with your voice on your way out the door so it's already prepared when you arrive at Starbucks.

23. Create reminders

Alexa now lets you create reminders so you can remember to check the oven or that you should go to the grocery store at a certain time.

To create a reminder, just say something like, "Alexa, remind me to stop by the post office tomorrow at 10 a.m." At 10 a.m. the next day, Alexa will sound an alarm, reminding you to go to the post office. You can also say things like:

  • "Alexa, reminder."
  • "Alexa, remind me to check the oven in 15 minutes."
  • "Alexa, remind me to call Mom four days from now."
  • "Alexa, what are my reminders this weekend?"
  • "Alexa, what reminders do I have tomorrow?"

24. Brew a cup of coffee

If you'd rather save yourself the trip to Starbucks, you can have Alexa start your coffee maker for you. Not only can the Behmor Connected Brewer be controlled by Alexa, it integrates with Amazon's Dash buttons to automatically reorder coffee when it starts to get low.

The Mr. Coffee Smart Optimal Brew coffee maker also integrates with Alexa through IFTTT. However, all you really need to make coffee using your voice is a compatible smart switch and a very basic drip coffee brewer.

25. Mount it on the wall

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The Echo speaker can be part of your wall's decor.

Taylor Martin/CNET

This is less a feature and more a unique design choice, but if you can't seem to find a place you like for the Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, consider mounting it to the wall. While it will put the speaker closer to the wall than recommended, it will also get it away from other obstructions and might allow you to place it in a more central location.

Bonus: Easter eggs galore

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Star Trek fans may want to make "Computer" the wake word for the Echo.

Chris Monroe/CNET

When it works as intended, which is more often than not, the Alexa Voice Service is an extremely powerful tool, which I love having around the house. There are countless practical uses for it.

But Amazon didn't stop there. It's clearly having fun with Alexa, as well, and trying to making it as personable as possible. Evidence of this is in Alexa's extensive (and rapidly growing) library of Easter eggs. CNET's Ry Crist explored the world of Easter eggs on Alexa, but dozens -- if not hundreds -- more have been added since it was introduced. It's impossible to know, of course, as most of the Easter eggs are added without mention.