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Smart Home

12 new ways Alexa is becoming even more useful

Alexa's got a brand new bag. Here are 12 features that will make an old friend feel new again.

Ian Knighton/CNET

Back in September, Amazon announced tons of new products, plus upgrades to its voice assistant Alexa. 

They've made Alexa more conversational, while adding a handful of features that improve the overall voice assistant experience. Here are 12 new ways you can use your Alexa speakers now and in the near future.

Call with Skype

Likely as a result of Alexa and Cortana's recent partnership, Amazon has a new calling option: Skype. You'll can place voice and video calls to your Skype contacts by simply saying, "Alexa, call [person's name] on Skype." Here's more information on how to make Skype calls with Alexa

Whisper mode

One of the worst things about a smart speaker is volume control, especially late at night when other people around the house may be sleeping. Google Home has a feature called Night Mode that will automatically raise and lower the volume on a schedule. But Whisper Mode for Alexa speakers is an entirely different take on the problem.

If you whisper your command to Alexa, her response will also be in a whisper.

Hunches

You know what it's like to have a hunch, now Alexa is trying to emulate that with machine learning. As you continue to use your smart home devices, Alexa will learn how you use them and make suggestions when those devices aren't set to how you normally use them using the skill Hunches. That may sound confusing, but it's actually very simple.

Say you usually turn off the kitchen light before going to bed, but you left it on. When you say, "Alexa, good night," it might ask you if you want it to turn it off and do it for you (assuming you have smart bulbs or switches).

Video Doorbell

The Echo Show now works with your video doorbell from Ring and August. When someone rings the doorbell, you will be able to say, "Alexa, answer the front door." A two-way video and audio feed will come to your speaker.

Know when a new album hits Amazon Music

If you use Amazon Music on your Alexa speakers and follow your favorite artists, Alexa will notify you of new album and track releases from those followed artists. As a little icing on the cake, some release notifications will be voiced by the artists themselves.

Alexa Guard

At its best, a smart home is a great way to deter potential break-ins. You can lock the entryways, get alerts when someone is in your home, schedule lights to come on throughout the day to make it seem like someone is home and more.

Alexa Guard is a new feature that uses machine learning to do all of these things with little to no effort from you. To activate Alexa Guard, just say, "Alexa, I'm leaving." Your Echo devices will then be on alert for unusual sounds, such as breaking glass or smoke alarms. It will also toggle lights on and off in what seems like a natural pattern rather than on a rigid schedule to simulate someone being home.

If any noise is detected, Alexa will send you Smart Alerts with an audio clip of the sound for your review. You will then be able to choose to forward that alert to Ring or ADT.

Alexa Guard will be available on select Echo devices in the coming months.

New routines

Routines are a great way to put Alexa to work for you by grouping multiple actions to a single command or having them fire off at the same time every day. Amazon has expanded routines to have more triggers, such as when the temperature in a specific room gets too high or low, when you leave or arrive home or if motion is detected.

Also new to Routines are delayed actions. Instead of the actions starting as soon as the routine is triggered, they will be able to start a few minutes later if desired. And if you want a routine to play music, you can build a sleep timer for that sound into the routine.

Amazon introduced Routines for Kids, which are routine templates that will say a nice (customizable) message, turn off the lights and start sleep sounds when you say, "Alexa, good night."

Multistep requests

In addition to Follow-Up Mode, where Alexa will continue listening for a second after your first request, Amazon will be updating Alexa with multistep requests.

What this means is you will be able to request multiple actions in one command. For example, say something like, "Alexa, add eggs, milk and bread to my shopping list," or "Alexa, play jazz music on Spotify at volume three."

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Location-based reminders

Earlier this year, Google updated Assistant and Google Home speakers to work with location-based reminders. Now Amazon is firing back with a similar feature. You can say something like, "Alexa, remind me to water the plants when I get home." When you arrive home, a notification will be sent to your phone.

It's not yet clear how extensive these location-based reminders will be. Google Home's location-based reminders, for example, work with generic locations (like "the grocery store"), business names and specific addresses.

Cook with Alexa

Alexa was already a big help in the kitchen with features like multiple timers, grocery lists, tons of third-party cooking skills and more.

Alexa is working more closely with these third-party skills (Kitchen Stories, Allrecipes, Epicurious, Food52, TheKitchn and SideChef) to give you step-by-step instructions. To get started, just say, "Alexa, let's start cooking."

Email

Alexa will soon be getting email integration, too. After you link either a Gmail, Outlook or Hotmail account, you can say, "Alexa, do I have any new emails?" It will read through your emails and you will be able to reply using only your voice.

Local Voice Control

Normally, when your internet goes out, your Alexa speakers stop working altogether. However, the upcoming Echo devices with built-in smart home hubs (the new Echo Plus and Echo Show), you will still be able to control your smart home devices that are on the same local wireless network.

This feature will not work with existing Echo devices or new devices without the built-in hub features.

Try these seven unusual Alexa skills.

Here's the complete list of Alexa commands so far