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10 of the best things you can do with the Amazon Echo

There's a lot Alexa can do -- here are 10 reasons why we love her.

If you're considering buying an Alexa device (including the new Echo Show or Echo Look) or got Amazon Echo (£149.99 at Amazon.co.uk) as a gift, there's a lot to learn. There's a lot Alexa can do, but here are the 10 best tips and tricks to get you started.

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1. Make phone calls (basically, landline calls)

Editor's note: On Friday, May 12 it was discovered that this calling feature allows anyone who has your phone number to call you through the Echo. Currently, there's no way to block, remove or silence individual contacts. The best solution for those uncomfortable with this is to call Amazon customer service and disable the feature. We expect Amazon to address this issue soon.

Just when you thought house phones were dead, Amazon brings them back. Alexa can now be used to make calls to other Alexa devices in other houses. And, like the answering machines of the '90s and '00s, you can even leave a message. Please see the note above, however, before enabling this feature.

I happen to think it's a wonderful and welcome feature, provided my parents don't use it to check in on me too often...

2. Control your smart home

Controlling your lights, door locks, appliances, switches and other smart home devices is probably what Alexa is best at doing. You can browse the smart home compatibility tool to see what Alexa works with, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Control your lights. You can ask Alexa to turn lights on or off. She'll even change the color if the lights are color-changing.
  • Open or close your garage door. Smart garage door openers like Garageio work with Alexa.
  • Change the temperature. "Hey Alexa, set the temperature to 68." Honeywell, Nest and Ecobee are just a few thermostats that work with Alexa.

3. Get cooking ideas and tips

No, Alexa can't actually cook for you (yet), but she definitely makes cooking easier and less stressful. I personally keep Alexa in the kitchen to do things like:

  • Get conversions. "Alexa, how many tablespoons in a quarter-cup?"
  • Ask for recipes. Alexa can get recipes from AllRecipes. She can also be used to follow recipes step-by-step on your iPad with GoodNes.
  • Play music. "Hey Alexa, play some smooth jazz." Because cooking is more fun with music!
  • Control a sous vide machine. If you cook sous vide, you can ask Alexa to set the temperature.
  • Set a timer. You can set multiple timers and ask her for time remaining.

Here's our longer list of everything Alexa can do in the kitchen (and how it all works.)

4. Get the news

As you get ready for work or arrive home after a long day, Alexa can let you know what's happening in the world. This is called your Flash Briefing and can be customized to include the news sources you want to hear from. What's that you say? You want to hear CNET News? No problem -- here you go.

5. Entertain your kids for hours on end

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Actually, more like, "let your kids entertain themselves." Alexa is full of games, Easter eggs, silly answers to silly questions and much more. Here are some ways Alexa can keep your kids busy:

  • Play games. This guide includes a few of our favorite Amazon Echo games.
  • Find Easter eggs. Alexa loves a good inside joke.
  • Set timers and play music. Kids will quickly learn how to talk to Alexa and can ask her for timers, music and random trivia.

6. Learn about more features

If Alexa can't do something out of the box, there's probably a Skill for it. There are so many Skills, in fact, that Amazon made something called a Skill Finder, which you can use to, um, find Skills. Launch it by saying, "Alexa, open Skill Finder" or "Alexa, tell Skill Finder to give me the skill of the day."

Here are 35 of our favorite Alexa Skills.

7. Get fit (or try to)

While you can't take Alexa to the gym (unless you have a Tap, of course), you can get her to give you fitness feedback and guidance. Here are some ways she can help you get healthy:

  • Check on your FitBit stats. Once you sync your FitBit with Alexa, there are many things you can ask, like, "Alexa, ask FitBit how I'm doing today."
  • Get nutrition information. "Alexa, how many calories in a banana?"
  • Do a workout. After enabling the 7 Minute Workout skill, just say, "Alexa, Start 7 Minute Workout."

8. Control your TV

Forget digging around for the remote -- Alexa can control your TV almost entirely by voice. The setup takes a bit of time (and money), but once you're set up, you can say things like:

  • Alexa, turn on the TV.
  • Alexa, turn on Netflix.
  • Alexa, tell Harmony to pause

To do this, you'll need a Logitech Harmony remote that comes with the Harmony Hub (you can also buy the Hub separately). Then follow this guide.

9. Use Spotify to play music

By default, Alexa plays music through Amazon Music, because obviously. But if you use Spotify, you can change this setting so that Alexa uses Spotify as the default player. Here's how.

Alexa does have more built-in features for Amazon Music, however. For example, you can ask Alexa for the song of the day, and she'll play it for you.

10. Train Alexa to do practically anything else

Alexa can't talk to every device or website -- many companies just haven't gotten on board yet. Likewise, not all features of supported smart home devices can be controlled with Alexa. However, there is a workaround that lets you connect Alexa to unsupported devices, apps and websites. It's called IFTTT.

So, for example, you can use IFTTT to create a "rule" that changes your light bulbs' color when your timer is up. That's not something you can simply ask Alexa to do -- you have to program it through IFTTT. If you're ready to take the plunge, here are our favorite Alexa IFTTT recipes.