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Smart Home

8 things Alexa can't yet do

Alexa devices come with a laundry list of features. But there are plenty of things Alexa isn't capable of yet, and some of the missing features might surprise you.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Even for an always-listening assistant in a connected speaker, Amazon's Alexa can do quite a lot. It can reorder essentials, get you a Domino's pizza, call an Uber. The Echo can stream practically any audio, control your smart home and wake you up every morning.

More useful features are in the assistant's future, thanks to third-party add-ons called Skills and a growing list of native integrations that Amazon has added.

That said, there is still plenty Alexa can't do -- things that, at times, seem like no-brainers.

Editor's note, Oct. 31, 2017: Originally published April 1, 2016, this article is regularly updated to include new features and information.

Music alarms

It makes sense that a connected speaker like the Echo would come equipped with some killer alarm features. That isn't the case.

Until recently, if you wanted an alarm to wake you on a daily basis, you would have to tell Alexa when you wanted an alarm to sound each and every day. Recurring alarms weren't possible. Now you can edit existing alarms in the Alexa app to recur weekly, on weekdays or on weekends. Or you can create new recurring alarms by saying, "Alexa, set an alarm for 7 a.m. every weekday."

Seeing as Alexa's primary function is as a speaker, you would imagine some of its music features would be available as alarm sounds. Sadly, that's not possible without a workaround that involves streaming the alarm sound from your mobile device via Bluetooth.

Actions on IFTTT

Thanks to IFTTT integration, Alexa now works with dozens of smart-home devices, can be used to create tasks in Todoist, or to trigger multiple recipes with a single phrase.

The shortfall of Alexa's IFTTT integration is the lack of any actions whatsoever. Alexa can only be used as a trigger in IFTTT. That means I can't, for example, complete a task in Todoist and have Alexa play a song. Or as CNET's Ry Crist suggested, you can't have Alexa play sound bites, such as a dog barking, when motion is detected or a door opens in the middle of the night.

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String commands

If you want Alexa to do more than one thing, you can't tell it everything you want it to do at once. For instance, saying, "Alexa turn on the lights, play the Evening Chill playlist on Spotify, and turn the temperature up," won't work as intended.

Currently, you must divide every command into its own statement:

  • "Alexa, turn on the lights."
  • "Alexa, play Evening Chill playlist on Spotify."
  • "Alexa, turn the temperature up."

The only workaround for chaining multiple actions to a single Alexa command is by creating several IFTTT recipes with the same trigger phrase or a Yonomi routine.

Custom trigger names or voices

Alexa devices have only four words that will wake them: Alexa, Amazon, Echo or Computer. If you want a truly customized wake word, you're sadly out of luck.

And if you're anything but a native English speaker, or you aren't fond of a female voice for Alexa, there are currently no options for customizing either of those settings.

Swear

If you use the "Simon says" command, Alexa will repeat anything you say. Even if you speak a number of expletives, Alexa will repeat your words, only the swearing will be bleeped out. Some people might wish she did otherwise.

Command shortcuts

Google also recently added a feature it calls Shortcuts to Google Home. Shortcuts are sort of like a text expander for your smart speaker in that you can assign something that is much easier or faster to say to a much more complicated command. For example, you might want to change "OK, Google, show me photos of my family from last year on the TV," to "OK, Google, cheer me up."

With Alexa, the closest you can currently get to this is using IFTTT. You can say, "Alexa, trigger good night," and have all the lights in the house turn off and all the doors lock. The difference is, this IFTTT integration is limited to linking Alexa to external services. You can't create a shortcut command to play your favorite music or throw pictures or videos to a nearby Fire TV Stick.

Change voices

Recently, Google made it so you could change the voice of its Assistant between male and female. Apple has built up the choices for male and female voices for Siri in multiple languages and accents since 2014. This is something Amazon has yet to explore with Alexa. 

Now, however, you can change Alexa to have a British accent or speak in German.

Record a voice memo

While Alexa speakers can now store your short notes, it can't record voice memos, which is odd, considering it records everything you say. To that effect, you can see everything you've said (and play the recordings back) in the Alexa app on Android or iOS and at alexa.amazon.com.