The Amazon Echo and compact Echo Dot are the foundation for what was our smart home platform of 2016. With its digital assistant, Alexa, Amazon's Echo lets you speak to your home and, more importantly, lets your home answer back. Plus, on its way soon is the Echo Show, which will let you use all your skills but with the benefit of a built-in display.
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 is growing by the day, too.
Amazon has also started letting you use skills without enabling them first. You just have to ask Alexa to use a skill and when she's done it'll automatically be enabled. It's only just started to roll out, though, and only some skills can take advantage right now.
When it comes to leveling-up your Alexa, these are the Best Amazon Echo Skills you can try.
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 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 Home
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.
Need to know: Amazon Echo tips and tricks
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.
The point of a Roomba is to take some of the hassle out of cleaning your home, and the Alexa skill can help make life even easier. Just tell her to get your Roomba to start cleaning, or to stop cleaning, or to dock. Best of all, if you notice something weird going on, you can simply say, "Alexa, ask Roomba what it's doing."
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.
BabyMate (UK only)
It's not just your own health you should be thinking about, especially if you've got little 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 millilitres" 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.
What to Expect
Expecting? Alexa can help you find out what you can really expect. All you have to do is tell Alexa your baby's due date or birthdate and she'll give you customised expectations daily. You can track your pregnancy, get tips and even get help for a year after your baby is born.
Zyrtec Daily AllergyCast
Allergies can be crippling. Unfortunately, it's difficult to know when or where they'll come and get you. Enter the Zyrtec Daily AllergyCast skill, which will give you an allergy forecast that includes pollen counts. Plus, it'll tell you the dominant allergens in the area so you know exactly what'll make you miserable.
Amazon Echo game skills
Once you've focused 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.
Can you tell if someone is lying or not? Time to put it to the test. The Lie Swatter host will share several crazy facts, and everyone else will have to guess whether they're true or false. Simple, addicting and, with the right people, absolutely bonkers.
Love playing Dungeons & Dragons but don't have a dungeon master? It is a fine art, after all, so it's understandable if you can't find a good one. Enter 6 Swords, based on the first version of the classic role-playing game. Let Alexa remember where you are and what you're doing, and use simple commands to get through the game. You can play with up to five other people.
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.
Read next: Amazon Echo v Google Home
Abra (also known as Akinator)
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.
This Day in History
Can you guess what happened on this very day last year? How about 10 years ago? Or back in 1923? History Channel's This Day in History skill has you covered, offering up one historical anecdote in detail every day. And oh, if you get stuck in the past you can stay there a little longer, since you can ask for even more detail if you're really curious.
If you've ever needed a little intellectual stimulation, or your conversation is stalling and you want to spice it up with something interesting, then Curiosity is for you. This skill presents you with two topics, you choose one and it'll tell you some kind of interesting fact about art or history or science. It's kind of like feeding your brain, except what you're feeding it is totally random.
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.
If you're over in the Big Apple and need some help with the labyrinth that is the New York City subway system, NYC Subway has your back. It constantly checks the status of the subway lines, telling you which ones aren't rated "Good Service" and tell you whether there are any issues with a specific line.
Bay Area Transit for Caltrain
In the San Francisco Bay Area, BART and Caltrain are a one-two public transportation punch. While they serve totally different areas, they can be combined to move around the entire Bay Area. Figuring out all the timings is the tough part, but this skill will let you know when and where they'll stop, and how they connect.
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.
Amazon Echo news skills
One of the best things about Amazon Echo is waking up and asking Alexa for your daily briefing before you head out for your day. You can get your weather and your news in a flash. These skills will help you get up to speed before your day begins.
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 from all over the world, the BBC skill is a good one to go with. It'll add the latest world headlines from the BBC World Service directly to your Flash Briefing.
The Daily from The New York Times
Every day, five days a week, for 15 minutes, The New York Times puts together an audio briefing of the most essential news you need to know before you start your day. It's in-depth and a good companion to your morning cup of coffee.
The wide world of sports produces so many goals, touchdowns, home runs and slam dunks that it's hard to keep track of them all. The ESPN skill will give you a daily gulp of sports news, delivered from the people behind SportsCenter.
Essential reading:Everything you need to know about Amazon Echo
Associated Press Headlines
If you just need a quick overview of everything happening, literally in headline form, the Associated Press Headline skill will deliver just that. There are 11 different feeds, including world news, politics, business, sports, entertainment, tech, science, health and unusual, because sometimes we just need to embrace the weirdness.
The Daily Show
The news can often be depressing and sad, so leave it to the people at Comedy Central's The Daily Show to put a funny spin on things. Every morning during your daily briefings you'll get a quick recap of the best bits from last night's show.
Bloomberg Flash Briefings
The business world moves fast, and stocks are trading up and down and up again at the speed of light. Bloomberg's Flash Briefings give you a 60-second report that summarises all of the big financial and business stories.
Amazon Echo food skills
It turns out that Alexa is a pretty good sous chef, setting your alarms and making sure you don't forget that you need to pull those muffins out of the oven. But she can also help you in the kitchen in other ways. Bon appétit!
Save the Food
You've spent your hard-earned paycheck on food, but sometimes you've bought too much and can't finish it all before it expires. That's where Save the Food comes in. You just ask what the best way to store food is, and Store the Food will let you know how to keep if fresher longer. No more wasted food!
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.
You'll surely find something to cook in Allrecipe's library of 60,000 recipes. Alexa will even help you out, asking how much time you have to cook and what kind of food you want to cook. She'll provide step-by-step voice guided cooking instructions. If you don't have all the necessary ingredients, Alexa can send them to your phone for when you're at the grocery store.
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.
Just Eat (UK only)
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 an 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 while 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.
If you've had a long day and you're just not in the mood to cook, and you can't get Just Eat, you can turn to Grubhub. All you have to do is say "Alexa, tell Grubhub I'm hungry." Then you get to choose from three of your past orders to re-order. Simple.
You're in dire need of your current go-to Starbucks drink, the Narino 70 Cold Brew, but you just know the line is going to be insane. Just turn to the Starbucks skill, which allows you to quickly and easily re-order your go-to Starbucks order.
Other Amazon Echo skills we love
It's the age old question: what's the Wi-Fi password? With this one, you can just say, "Alexa, ask Wiffy for the Wi-Fi password" to find out. Goes without saying that you shouldn't use this one if there are people who you might not want to grant access, but otherwise it's a real time saver.
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.
Looking for things to do? With the Meetup skill, you can ask Alexa what's going on in your area. She'll let you know what kind of meet ups are happening all around you. All you have to do now is brush up on your social skills.
We get it, trying to find content in one of 50 streaming services can be a pain. What movie is on which service? You can ask the Cinemate app to sort through all of that for you. You can ask all kinds of information about the movie you're about to watch, including what movies two actors have been in together (great for outsmarting friends!). It currently serves Netflix, Hulu, HBO and Amazon Prime Video, and is being updated with new services.
Making your home smarter
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You know you've done it. You've just been sitting around and, all of a sudden, you'll wonder how to say "I'd like to order pizza" in Japanese. That's what Translate is for, translating your English into 36 other languages.
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.
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 from 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.
Chores can be boring. You've got to clean something up or fold some laundry, but you can't really do anything else to keep yourself entertained or enlightened. With the TED Talk skill, you can listen to TED's library of talks. Search by topic or speaker name.
Laundrapp (UK only)
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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