The Amazon Echo and compact Echo Dot are the foundation for what's officially our smart home platform of the year. With its digital assistant, Alexa, Amazon's Echo lets you speak to your home and, more importantly, lets your home answer back.
Once the novelty of trying to get Alexa to swear and getting her to tell you painfully bad jokes has passed, you're left with a robust platform that's just waiting to be tailored to your personal needs with the growing array of Echo Skills.
Read this: The best Alexa Easter eggs
These are bits of software that let your Echo play nice with other hardware and software to perform certain tasks. Whether it's turning your heating up or ordering some dinner, there are plenty of things your Echo can do. Thanks to its open API, the list of compatible services and devices are growing by the day, too.
If you're looking to level-up your Alexa, these are the Best Amazon Echo Skills you can try right now.
Amazon Echo skills for connected tech
If you've got an Echo, chances are it's not the only smart device populating your home. It's certainly the most sociable though, and it's using this chatty nature to strike up conversations with the rest of your connected tech. The result is an all-round smarter home controlled simply by your voice. These are the best Amazon Echo Skills for creating a truly connected home.
Got a Nest thermostat? This skill is a must. You can tell Alexa to turn your heating up or down, which makes breaking out the Nest smartphone app feel like a relic of personal comfort as dated as actually standing up and fiddling with the thermostat manually. You can be specific with where you want the temperature changing too by saying things like "Alexa, change the Hallway to 20 degrees" or "Alexa, raise the bedroom by four degrees" without having to touch a thing.
Probably one of the nicer, and more affordable smart lightbulbs, LifX's line doesn't need a hub to use with Alexa – it only needs the skill to be downloaded, and of course, your voice to tell Alexa to turn on and off the bulb.
It's time to get precise with your voice-controlled lighting. Philips Hue and Alexa play nicely together, meaning you can say things like "Alexa, dim the living room lights to 20%" from the comfort of your favourite chair. The only problem is that she can't change the colours of the bulb - we hope that changes soon.
You'll need a hub and the compatible devices for this one to work, but it syncs up really well making Alexa the perfect smart home controller. With the SmartThings system playing nice with everything from lighting to heating, there's plenty Alexa can control.
Read this: A guide to using Samsung SmartThings
August Smart Lock
If you have an August Lock and Connect on hand, and installed, just head into the skills menu of your Alexa app and download August Home. Link up the accounts and you should be set to control your locks with the sound of your voice. Magic.
Even looking at your wrist is old fashioned with you have a robot of Alexa's enviable talents living within your home. Once you've synced your Fitbit with the Alexa Skill, prefacing your questions by saying, "Alexa, ask Fitbit…" and following it up with questions about your sleep, steps, calories, stairs climbed etc will let you find out how active you've been, using the most lazy means possible.
Another hub system that gives Alexa omnipotent powers over everything in your home, Logitech's Harmony skill provides the Echo power to control your connected TV, among other devices. 'Alexa, tell Harmony to turn on the TV', '...turn up the volume' and '...pause my movie' are just a few of the commands you'll be flinging your TVs way the next time you've misplaced the remote.
It's not just Nest that's got Alexa-loving voice commands down All the big connected thermostat players are getting involved, including the British Gas bundled Hive. As well as asking Alexa to turn your heating to a certain temperature, you can make use of Hive's broader array of smart devices, using echo to turn on certain power outlets in your home and set the mood with connected lighting.
How to add skills manually: Amazon Echo tips and tricks
Amazon Echo exercise and health skills
Alexa isn't just a butler and an educator, she's a personal trainer too, whipping you into shape with her metallic tones. If you're trying to keep fit or get a jump on that 2017 beach-bod, these are the health and fitness skills you should try.
A modern twist on an exercise classic, this fitness tool comes with an all-important timer and cycles between different reps for quick exercise bursts. Letting you keep track of your fitness sessions and resume exactly where you left off, it will coach you into being the best you possible. Not sure what a certain exercise requires? The companion app also provides images and directions for the various reps.
Push Up Century Club
Ever wanted to increase your ability to do push ups? Of course you have. That's why you need to try the Push Up Century Club skill with Alexa. Letting you set a fitness foundation based on your current level, Alexa will determine which set of reps you should start with. Then she'll guide you through a workout complete with 30-second breaks in between.
Exercise doesn't have to require you entering Beast Mode, it can be a little more measured too. This skill has Alexa guiding you through a beginner's pilates class where you'll just need the Echo and a mat. From there, it will take about 20-30 minutes to complete, and you can run it as regularly as you like.
For those who want to meditate and gain a clear mind, try this skill on for size. It's really just relaxing sounds that play for a minute, but hey, maybe that's all you need to recharge.
It's not just your own health you should be thinking about, especially if you've got wee ones around. The BabyMate skill lets you keep tabs on your baby's actions when you're too busy to hold a pen and paper. 'Alexa, ask Baby Mate to record a bottle of 100 milliliters' is a great command for those worried about the amount their kid is taking in, while 'Alexa, ask Baby Mate to record a medium diaper' covers the other end.
If you're an Android user, set up Google Fit on your phone now and get this skill added to your Echo. Starfish Fit lets you keep tabs on your health activities by asking things like 'Alexa, ask Starfish Fit for calories used today.' Your speaker can now also monitor your weight and fitness reports too.
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Amazon Echo game skills
Once you've focussed on your home and body, it's time to have some fun. Thankfully, Alexa's not a stuffy digital assistant, she likes to let her hair down occasionally too. These game skills are testament to that.
Every day, you can ask Alexa to play this and she'll change up the categories. Though there are only six questions asked, it's still a fun little game to play.
A classic with a futuristic twist, you'll need to download bingo cards for this game if you don't already have them, but having Alexa on hand to call out numbers is quite useful and adds to that "authentic bingo hall" experience.
One for the older crowd, Drinkmaster is a fun skill for parties. There are three games you can play: Circle Of Death, Never Have I Ever and Most Likely. To start simply say "Alexa, Start DrinkMaster". Alexa will walk you through the rest. Unlike you she won't get tipsy and forget the rules either.
If you haven't tried Akinator before, it's a game where a cartoon genie tries to guess what you're thinking of by asking a series of questions - with scarily accurate results. And now it works with Alexa! Just don't be creeped out when not one, but two robots are reading your mind.
Don't like Alexa working out what you're thinking about? Fine, just turn the tables and have a go at trying to crack her thought process instead. Who's for a game of Twenty Questions? Once you've instigated a game (Alexa, play twenty questions), you've got, yep, you guessed it, 20 questions to work out what animal, vegetable, mineral or other she is. Be warned, she's a crafty opponent.
Part game, part educational experience, ask Alexa every day to be fed new pieces on trivia around the current date in history. Full of daily surprises, it's like an advent calendar, just everyday, and without the chocolate.
Amazon Echo travel skills
Wherever you're trying to get, and however you're trying to get there, your Echo can help, you just need the right skills and the right questions. They can't help delays, but this lot can make your journey a little bit easier.
Sync your Uber and/or Lyft account through the Amazon Alexa app to allow access. From there, you can ask Alexa to use the rideshare apps. Just make sure your location is right so the driver can find you. You can also ask Alexa for arrival statuses, cancel ride requests and for Lyft, even rate drivers.
Airport Security Wait Times
Airport security checkpoints are a pain if you're rushing to catch a flight, but this Alexa skill will keep you updated on the latest. Obviously times change a fair bit throughout the day, but if you're wondering if you can get away with an extra half hour before leaving for the airport, it might be best to check with Alexa first.
"Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $200" - that's the essence of what Kayak is about. You can also ask it for flight costs between specific places, and Alexa will scan the skies for the best deals.
British trains are notoriously fickle, so this is a Skill that's more valuable than most. As well as asking for train times, you can get Alexa to see what's going on with the inevitable delays. Set up your usual routes, and asking questions like 'Alexa, ask National Rail what my commute is looking like' will tell you that yes, your train is nobbled again and no, there's no point in getting out of bed just yet.
If you're a more underground than overground kinda guy or gal, you'll want to look past the National Rail skill and go straight for Tube info instead. Checking line statuses and delays, it can prevent you being wedged in like a sardine on an overcrowded carriage. There's guidance on the best routes to take too if you need it.
We get it, you live a jet setting lifestyle, and you need to be able to demand things like 'Alexa, ask Skyscanner to find me a flight to London tomorrow', or 'Alexa, ask Skyscanner where I can go this weekend'. If that's you, this flight comparison skill is just what you need. Just remember though, when you get back, all that's going to be waiting for you is a jilter digital assistant.
Other useful skills we like
Easily one of our favourite skills. The Bartender lets you ask Alexa how to make a cocktail, responding with the exact ingredients required and how they should be mixed. If your Echo is in the kitchen or by the bar, it would be a sin not to have this skill installed.
Similar to the above, but this one's all about food, helping you find the ingredients for thousands of dishes. Also try out the Jamie Oliver skill to find more recipes via voice commands.
60dB's personalised radio service is now available as an Alexa skill, and it's a great fit for the platform. The service pulls news stories from a range of sources and categories, all suited to your taste. You can tell Alexa to skip stories you're not interested, and over time 60dB will get better at knowing what you want to hear.
If you just want to hear the big stories of the moment, the BBC skill is a good one to go with, delivering a flash briefing of headlines from the BBC World Service. The Associated Press Headlines skill is another decent option for getting your news hit.
A must for any guitar player. Alexa will sound out each note in turn, helping you to tune your strings. It's a simple skill, but as any musician will attest, a mighty useful one.
Ask My Buddy
A good skill for people who live alone, Ask My Buddy lets you alert contacts when you need help. Either assign one contact or all of your family, and Alexa will alert them something is wrong without you having to reach for a phone.
That's right, your wildest dreams have come true: Alexa can order your favourite pizza with just a simple command thanks to Domino's Echo skill. It's a bit limited in functionality, but you'll be able to get Alexa to order your pre-set 'Easy Order' by request, as well as track it when it's on its way.
Pizza not your thing? Don't worry, you're not being put on an enforced diet by your Echo. Takeaway-loving Just Eat lets you order through speech, assuming you've set up and account and Alexa's within earshot that is. Asking 'Alexa, ask Just Eat what can I re-order?' will give you a rundown of past choices which saying 'Alexa, ask Just Eat to re-order my last Indian' will see your favourite curry winging its way to you pronto. Still waiting on your grub? Asking 'Alexa, ask Just Eat where's my meal?' will update you on your poppadom's progress.
Trackr Find My Phone
We've all been there, frantically trying to find your lost phone with no friends around to let you call it off their handset. Don't worry though, set your phone up with Trackr, and the next time you misplace it, you can just ask Alexa to help you find it.
This is the future. Your speaker talks to you, and a robot inside orders your pizza, magic. What's not so magic though is that we're all still washing our own clothes. Wait, Alexa can handle that too? Amazing. Download the Laundrapp skill and you can ask the service to come collect your dirty wares. Heading out? Fine, just schedule a pick up for the morning.
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