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How to use Alexa with an Android phone

At long last, Amazon has brought Alexa to any and all Android devices. Here's how to get it on your phone.

Taylor Martin/CNET

This year, Alexa has popped up in a number of places we never would have expected it before -- in refrigerators, thermostats, televisions and even lamps. But it's taken longer for Amazon's handy personal assistant to arrive on our pockets.

In March, Amazon made Alexa accessible from every iOS device by adding it to the Amazon Shopping app. Then Huawei added Alexa to its Mate 9 phone. And HTC updated the HTC U11 in July to equip it with Amazon's digital assistant. No other Android devices had official access to Alexa, but a recent update added Alexa to the Amazon Shopping app on Android. Here's how to use it.

alexa-on-android

Taylor Martin/CNET

First, download the Amazon Shopping app from Google Play. When you open the app, you'll see a microphone icon in the upper right corner, above the search bar. Before, this was simply a voice search function that you could use to find stuff to buy or track your orders.

Now when you tap the microphone icon, you can access the full power of Alexa, all from within the Amazon Shopping app. You can do things like stream music from Amazon Music, listen to your audiobooks (or have Alexa read your Kindle books to you), control your smart home, listen to the news and so on. You can also enable skills to play games, get more in-depth weather and much more.

In essence, it's nearly a full preview of what Alexa can do. You won't be able to stream music, podcasts or radio from third-party streaming services such as Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn or Pandora. But the main difference between using Alexa within the Amazon Shopping app and from an Alexa speaker is the lack of a wake word in the app. 

The first time you tap the microphone icon, you'll be met with a brief informational card about Alexa. Tap Try Alexa. After Alexa is enabled, tapping the microphone will automatically cue up the voice assistant, and you can begin speaking a command. If you don't issue a command within a second or so, Alexa will timeout.

amazon-shopping-alexa-android

Taylor Martin/CNET

Here are some examples of what you might say:

  • "Reorder paper towels."
  • "Track my package."
  • "Play my Flash Briefing."
  • "Play Stuff You Should Know."
  • "Read 'Ready Player One.'"
  • "What's the weather like?"
  • "Turn on the office lights."
  • "Tell August to lock the front door."
  • "Open Big Sky."

It still feels like it would have made more sense for Alexa to have been added to the standalone Alexa app instead of the Shopping app. Amazon's primary reason for Alexa is to encourage people to buy more, of course.

If nothing else, it's a great way to try before you buy. You can do nearly all the same things you can do with a fully-fledged Alexa speaker, without spending a penny. 

There are other ways you can try out Alexa for free. In the US, you can still buy a Dash Wand, which has Alexa built-in, for $20, but it comes with a $20 Amazon credit. You can point your desktop browser to echosim.io to try it from your computer. Or you can build your own Alexa speaker with a Raspberry Pi.