Welcome to our review of Amazon Echo. This isn’t going to be your typical Amazon Echo review as this page also doubles as an essential Amazon Echo user manual for beginners.
With this guide you can expect us to spend some time reviewing the Echo but more time helping you understand everything there is to know about it.
The simple truth is the Amazon Echo is amazing and we use it everyday. And we highly recommend it to everyone. We’ve had it since before it was officially released and friends and family who have seen us use it have gone out and bought one for themselves.
Why do some many people love the Amazon Echo?
Well, it’s the perfect home assistant as well as the perfect device to tie together all your smart home devices. If you plan to use Amazon Echo for your smart home, be sure to check out our list of the best Amazon Echo accessories to buy.
About this Amazon Echo Review and Guide
In this Amazon Echo review and guide we’re going to:
- Explain what the Echo is
- Give you reasons why you should get the Amazon Echo
- Show you how to setup and use the Amazon Echo
- Provide you with a ton of resources so you can get the most out of your Echo
Remember to bookmark this page because once you’ve bought your Amazon Echo, you can go through this extensive information and use it as an online Amazon Echo user manual. That’s right, you don’t need to go to Amazon and buy one of those Amazon Echo user manual eBooks because you have one right here. For FREE!
And if you’re having trouble getting your Amazon Echo to stay connected to your Wi-Fi then check out our guide that shows you how to fix common Wi-Fi problems in your home.
- 1 About this Amazon Echo Review and Guide
- 2 What is Amazon Echo?
- 3 The benefits of owning Amazon Echo
- 4 How to get started with Amazon Echo
- 5 The Amazon Alexa app
- 6 Music, Audiobooks, and Podcasts
- 7 Alexa and IFTTT
- 8 Amazon Echo commands and capabilities
- 9 Amazon Echo and your Smart Home
- 10 Amazon Echo tips and tricks
- 11 The Alexa skills kit for developers
- 12 Other Amazon Echo resources
- 13 Go buy Amazon Echo now
What is Amazon Echo?
So what is Echo exactly and what can the Amazon Echo do?
Well, perhaps you have heard of the Amazon Echo, but still aren’t entirely sure what it is. The short answer is that it is an assistant, similar to iPhone’s Siri or Windows 10’s Cortana, but the Amazon Echo is established in your home. It provides similar services, such as playing music you have saved to one of a number of music repositories, as well as helping you manage your home.
Your initial reaction is probably one of the most common reactions we’ve seen asked about the Amazon Echo:
I already own a smartphone, and all of the highlights of the Echo are already on a device that can fit into my pocket.
Why would I get a device that is over 9-inches tall and that does pretty much the same thing as a smartphone, without working as a phone or text device?
It doesn’t even have a screen to read up on news or other information.
You have that reaction because trying to describe what the Amazon Echo does is easier to do in terms of technology you already know, but it really isn’t the most accurate description. If someone told you that there is a device that gives you a way to talk to your home to manage it, and that device also provides answers to questions, and even plays music, you probably would imagine the device is actually built into the home. And that will give you entirely the wrong idea of what you are getting with the device.
The best way to describe the Echo is to offer a short list of all of the things that it can do:
- Answers questions, including about the weather, current news, sport scores, and traffic
- Acts as an alarm or timer that you can turn off through voice commands
- Creates to-do and shopping lists
- Plays a number of different forms of entertainment such as music from one of several music repositories you already have, podcasts, and audio books
- Tells you about your planned events for the day from one of several calendars
- Integrates with smart devices in your home to help you manage different aspects of your home with your voice, including things like the temperature, garage door, sprinkler system, and lights
- It’s one of the best Amazon Bluetooth speakers on the market
The Amazon Echo is a cloud-based device that looks very similar to a cylindrical speaker. While it is relatively small, this device can be incredibly powerful, and it is constantly evolving through updates.
A Quick History
The Amazon Echo was made available on November 6, 2014 to a very limited set of shoppers – only Amazon Prime members who received an invitation could purchase the original version. In the early days, it was primarily a way of playing music without having to access your smartphone (a very handy feature when you are multi-tasking and don’t want to stop to hit buttons to access your phone assistant). With the original selling point being that it was a device for playing music from one of several different repositories, it meant you would not have to create yet another list for another device. All you had to do was hook it up. To persuade people to buy it, the original Amazon Echo was discounted for Prime members and came with the promise that much more was on the horizon.
Over the next few months, new features were added regularly, and those who had the product were able to test them out and provide feedback to Amazon on how well the additions to Echo were performing.
On June 23, 2015, Amazon Echo was authorized for release to the general public. It has grown from essentially a music player to a way to manage your life and home without having to continually access a screen to make the updates. Of course, you can still play music on it, including local radio stations, but it also has implemented many of the features that are available today, like lists and home management.
It has also been opened up so that third-parties can program new features and apps to exponentially expand the device’s capabilities. And as a bonus, Amazon Prime members get special features with Echo.
The possibilities for where the Echo can go are as open as they are for your smartphone and tablet. There’s really no way to predict its long-term trajectory because third-parties come up with new and inventive uses for devices all of the time. However, there is one interesting point to make about the Amazon Echo, and that is the Echo Dot. If you do not like the price tag on the Amazon Echo (see current price here), you may want to consider the Amazon Echo Dot. It’s roughly half the price, half the size, and includes many of the features that Amazon Echo users have become accustomed to using.
Essentially the Echo Dot gives you a way of setting up the Echo in multiple rooms so that you don’t have to be in a single location to get stuff done. The primary difference is that the Dot is not as powerful when it comes to playing back songs. It is a bit quieter, and while it can hear you just fine, it isn’t going to substitute for a real music player. However, you can hook it up to a speaker, and then all bets are off on just how much you can do with it.
When you consider the costs you would incur by trying to set up a smart home as was imagined several decades ago, you were looking at thousands of dollars. With the Echo and Dot, you are looking at the cost of your WiFi (which you probably already have) and then each device you want to install in your home. There is no monthly fee, no installation charge, and no remodeling required.
The 2nd generation Dot is currently available. If you have an Amazon Echo then you can order the Echo Dot by saying “Alexa, order an Echo Dot,” and your order will be initiated.
Word of Warning
Before diving into everything you can do, you should be aware that as of the day we are writing this, the Amazon Echo is not available to those outside of the US, and it is currently only capable of understanding English. While this does limit its use in some households, it is something that Amazon is working on for a future release. This is actually quite common for major Amazon products. Amazon usually rolls major products out in phases, so they will be incorporating suggestions and fixes requested by the American audience into their global roll out.
If you live outside of the US, you should know that your Echo only operates on US time zones based on an area code. For those who live in Canada, you can certainly enter an American zip code that corresponds to your time zone, but your weather and traffic reports will be based on the American area code.
The benefits of owning Amazon Echo
It’s possible that if you’ve come to this Amazon Echo review and guide, you may already have the Echo and you don’t need a sales pitch – you need to know exactly how to make it do all of the amazing things you’ve heard it can do. Perhaps you were even talked into buying it against your better judgment or without actually knowing what it can do.
Skipping over the hype (the Echo is the way to start living science fiction now) and the plethora of positive ratings, here are the facts about the actual benefits of Amazon Echo, which in our opinion is an ingenious piece of technology.
The device is entirely voice activated. When you are in the kitchen cooking and can’t remember what time an event is, all you have to do is turn to the device and ask, “Alexa, what is on my calendar for tonight?” She will provide you the date, time, location, anything that you have on the calendar. You won’t need to clean your hands and dig her out of your pocket before getting the details. If you are getting ready to leave the house, drop by the room where Alexa resides and ask her about traffic. That way you can plan around any unexpected traffic, construction, or issues between your home and final destination.
No Seriously, Voice Activated
With smartphones, you usually have to speak very slowly and repeat your question several times to get an acceptable answer. While Alexa (the voice activated assistant on Amazon Echo) does have her limitations, she can hear you from well across the room. As long as you say “Alexa” (or “Amazon”) first to let her know you need something from her, she is going to give you a response. Because the device is bigger, there are multiple microphones in it, and that means your assistant has very good hearing. If you speak loudly enough, she can hear you even when you are in another room nearby.
The Amazon Echo is compatible with a number of different apps and devices:
- iOS app
- Android app
- Web browser interface
- A growing number of other third-party products
SmartHome DB is actually tracking all of the different products that are currently compatible with the Echo. Check out their detailed list for more information so you can start setting up your home with your device.
No Additional Charges
One annoying thing people have become accustomed to is purchasing a device and then having to repeatedly pay for that device to be useful. That is not the case for the Echo. Once you own it, the only cost is to your power bill to keep the device working, just like a lamp or your refrigerator.
Also, you don’t need any other hardware. If your home does not have any smart features right now, that is perfectly fine. You can still set up Echo to work with the services you do have and use, including your television and linking it to your mobile devices. Since it is Wi-Fi ready, all you have to do is add it to the network to start making life a little easier. In time if you add Amazon Echo compatible smart devices to your home, you can easily add them without incurring any additional ongoing fees.
A Lot of Power in a Little Frame
The Echo is actually really small for as powerful as it is. That means you can set it up pretty much anywhere in your home without it consuming a lot of space. Also, you don’t have to do any remodeling to maximize its use. You can always add the Echo Dot to your home so that you can activate Alexa from anywhere, but the cost is minimal.
Alexa allows you to do everything that your mobile assistants can do and you don’t have to have your hands free. To ask Siri to add something to a list, you always have to find your phone first, then hold the button to access her. Alexa is just a word away from doing what you need.
This means you and your family can go back to eating meals without the distraction of your smart devices to distract you.
Alexa does not intend to replace your mobile devices either. She doesn’t have a screen, so her abilities are limited. However, you can integrate her with your mobile device by installing the Alexa app.
An Inspiration to Numerous Other Technologies
As the Amazon Echo grows in popularity, a lot of companies are looking for ways to incorporate their technology into the Alexa pantheon. Just like with the release of the iPod, Echo seems to be signaling a change to the way people think about technology. When the iPod evolved into the iPhone, technology took a significant leap forward. The Echo has been inspiring very similar advances in the short time it has been available. Companies are not just looking to find a way into the market, they are starting to think about the future and how their product can be better incorporated into the home, and that is having positive effects on the market and your home’s security.
IFTTT stands for If This Then That, which is basically programming language that sets up conditions. For example, if you tell Alexa to add dish detergent to your list, she will add to the list you specified in your IFTTT set up. If you use Evernote, she will add dish detergent to your Evernote grocery list, so now the list on your phone just needs to sync up and it will include everything you asked Alexa to add.
The real treat with IFTT is when you have smart features in your home. You can tell Alexa to trigger the AC to turn on when the house reaches a certain temperature, to run the sprinklers for a specific duration, or turn off the television. Based on the apps you have connected to her, she will know exactly what to access and how to respond to your voice activated requests.
This is perhaps the coolest, most beneficial aspect of the entire device, so an entire section (Commands and Capabilities) is dedicated to helping you understand how it works and how to set it up for maximum efficiency.
A Semi-Open System
Just as smartphones allowed outside developers to create apps for users, the Amazon Echo has opened their skills (an app equivalent) to development from outsiders. Like the early days of Apple app development, there is a regulated process behind the release of each skill, but once it has been vetted, users can make the most of the third-parties’ skills. As of March 2016, more than 400 third-parties have been added to the Echo skills, and there is still plenty of room to exponentially increase those skills since we are still in the early days of this new technology.
How to get started with Amazon Echo
For something as powerful as the Echo is, the device is incredibly easy to set up. The system itself comes with a great set of instructions, but it never hurts to get another perspective from a neutral source.
WARNING: Before getting in too deep, remember that as of the writing of this Amazon Echo review and guide, the device was only intended for an American audience. If you live outside of the United States, some of the reports (such as weather and traffic) will be incorrect since you will have to enter an American zip code. This also means your alarms will need to be set based on how far off your actual time zone is from the American time zone you enter during the set up process.
When you open the little black box, you will see three main components:
- The Echo
- A power brick
- A remote control (buried under these are a couple of batteries, so you won’t have to go pick up any, and a remote cradle)
The assembly process takes less than five minutes. Plug the power brick into the Echo and the wall, and insert the batteries into the remote. And the system is ready to go.
Take the time to go over the short setup guide to get familiar with the basics. The short guide provides details on everything you need to know to interpret what is going on with the device:
- How to switch the microphone on and off
- What the light ring indicates
- How to change the volume
- Managing the alarm with the action button
- Recommendations for where to place the Amazon Echo
- How to talk to Alexa and information on the apps
- A short test to begin working with Alexa
- Basics on the remote
- A way to contact Amazon to provide feedback (they really do want to hear from you and are known for taking suggestions, problems, and recommendations and improving their products)
Your new device also includes a short cheat sheet to help you get started with your Echo. It includes basics on music, pairing the Amazon Echo with other devices and tools, and setting up the most popular features.
Unless you have purchased more than one Amazon Echo, you will want to set it up in a room where you spend a lot of time or that is between several rooms where you tend to be. For example, if you spend a lot of time between your study, the living room and the kitchen (and these three rooms are all close together), find a location that is central to all three and plug it in. You can talk to Alexa from anywhere in these rooms and she will likely hear you and respond accordingly. You can set the Echo up in the kitchen too, but you will want to place the equipment far away from any source of water. If your living room and kitchen are close together, it would be better to set up the device in the living room and in a location that is near the kitchen, or in a space that is shared by the two rooms.
It won’t take long before you notice that the light around the top of your Echo changes color periodically. The following are what the different colors mean:
No light – Either it isn’t plugged in or it is actively listening for your request.
Blue with a spinning highlight – The device is booting up.
Blue with the highlight pointing in one direction – Alexa is considering how to respond to your request.
Orange spinning clockwise – The device is connecting to your Wi-Fi.
Moving violet – The device has encountered a problem connecting to the Wi-Fi.
Red – You’ve turned off all of the microphones.
White – You are actively changing the volume.
Your first task after finding the right location and plugging in the Echo is downloading the app. The app will take care of all the rest of the initial set up tasks, giving you a chance to read up on the device while it is setting up.
Once the app is downloaded, you can download the apps on your mobile devices from their respective sites:
Once you have paired your phone and your Amazon Echo, you can use your Echo from outside the home too. You will have to access it through the app, which may not appear to be a timesaver at first, but when you consider that most of the information and apps you need will be tied to that single app, you won’t have to store all of those other apps on your phone. This will free up space on your phone, and extend the life of your phone’s battery.
Make sure you are logged in to your Amazon account in your phone’s app when you get started.
The Amazon Echo should now appear as an option under the Wi-Fi settings, and its name will be something like Amazon-15R. Connect to it.
Alexa will let you know when you are connected and that you can proceed with the app to finish the set up. Your phone should also display a message that the connection was successful.
You can now use the app to connect the Echo to your network. Choose your home network on your phone, and click on the Connect button icon. If you prefer a more secure set up, you can use the advanced options to connect.
Expect that the connection to Wi-Fi will take a bit longer, but it will let you know when it has gone through successfully.
The last part of the setup is the remote. Simply remove the film and add the batteries (if you haven’t already). Turn it on, and the remote will automatically connect with your Echo. Alexa is voice activated, but you may be in a situation where the room is too noisy or you are too far from the device for her to understand what you are saying. With the remote you can hold down the microphone button and just say what you want without saying “Alexa” or “Amazon”. The remote also gives you a way to turn down the volume or change the channel.
Once you have all of this set up, you are ready to move into working with Alexa and testing the features that you have heard so much about.
The Amazon Alexa app
Alexa is the name that Amazon gave the Echo assistant.
- Echo refers to the actual device.
- Alexa refers to the software that you interact with and all of the skills you use.
The most entertaining part of the set up is working with the Alexa app because that is where all of the entertainment lies. Open the Echo app on your smartphone to get started. The process is the same regardless of your carrier or whether the phone is Apple or Android.
Just like you tend to say a person’s name to get their attention, Alexa remains silent until you get her attention. This is done through a wake word. As of the writing of the Amazon Echo review and guide, there are three options for your wake word (no, you cannot create your own – though it is very likely that this will be available in the future – for now you must be content with one of the three options):
- Echo (a recent addition to the list and not part of the original choices)
When you set up your Amazon Echo, you get to choose how you want to address the assistant. Go into the apps settings on your phone and tap on the Echo wake word, then select one of the three options. If you are happy with the wake word Alexa, you can skip this step.
Zip Code and Other Options
Although you can start testing the assistant, it is probably best to set up your zip code. After all, one of the major benefits of the device is that you can get the latest weather forecast, traffic updates, and local information. You will want this to be part of your testing, so take the minute or so to enter your zip code.
In your phone’s Alexa app, tap Settings, scroll down to Echo device location, and tap the Edit link. Enter your zip code.
Since you are already in Settings, there are a couple of other things you can take care of. For example, you can enable voice purchases from Amazon, which will activate 1-click payments (you will want to make sure you have the right payment method set up before using this). You can also switch to the metric system if you are an avid fan. More than likely you will want to update these two features:
- Flash briefing lets you customize your news to focus on specific news headlines, such as a top stories, world news, politics, or sports. Scroll through the different options to turn on flash news for the different news types.
- Traffic lets you enter information on your regular commute so that you can get updates on traffic before heading out the door. This could prevent you from being stuck in traffic.
Once you are through updating the different settings, you are ready to really put Alexa to the test. Remember to initiate the request by using the wake word you selected. Try out the news and traffic options. Set an alarm for an hour from now (and you will want to because the time is going to fly by and you probably have other things to do than play with your new toy).
You can also begin trying out the music features. However, that is a topic that is so varied and loaded with options that it has gotten its own section (Music, Audiobooks, and Podcasts).
Music, Audiobooks, and Podcasts
Music was the primary (and almost only) function of the Amazon Echo when it was originally released, so it comes as no surprise that the device has a wealth of capabilities when it comes to music. However, Alexa can do a whole lot more with those speakers than just play music; she has other ways of keeping you entertained. If you are an avid audiobook listener or have a favorite podcast series, she has you covered.
Since music is probably one of the most common uses you will love about your Amazon Echo, it’s time to dive into the basics and beyond. To start, getting your Echo to play is as easy as saying, “Alexa, play [fill in the blank].” You can request a particular song, a playlist, or all of the music you have by a particular artist. Getting the Echo to play is easy – your question is likely what music is available for this command.
As of this writing, Echo is able to link to a number of music repositories:
- Amazon Music
- Prime Music (for Amazon Prime members)
- Spotify Premium*
* Third-party music services require a little extra work as you have to link these accounts to Alexa. Don’t worry, it isn’t difficult.
- Open your smartphone Alexa app and go into the navigation panel.
- Select Music & Books.
- Select the third-party streaming service you want to link with Alexa.
- Tap Link account to Alexa to open the sign-in page.
- Sign in to the service with your third-party user information (not your Amazon account information).
The rest of the available services are already playable from your Echo, so all you have to do is ask her to play music you have on one of the services and Alexa will get right on it.
You probably noticed that the list does not include iTunes and Google Play music, but that doesn’t mean you can’t play the music that you have probably been purchasing for years (or in the case of iTunes, over a decade). You will need to upload all of your iTunes and Google Play music to Amazon Music (you will need to open an account with Amazon Music if you don’t have one – it’s free), making a massive playlist that you can play on your Echo, computer, or smartphone. The first 250 songs are free to load. There is a $25 annual charge beyond the 250 songs, but you can load up to 250,000 songs and play them on every device you have at any time.
It’s pretty easy to load the music from your computer.
- Open your Amazon Music library on your computer. If you don’t have it, you can download it for free from Amazon.
- Click on the menu and select Upload your music or Upload your music to your cloud library (depending on your app and your platform).
- Use one of the prompts to choose the music you want to add (with a Mac, your options are to select files or entire folders). Keep in mind you have a 250 song maximum if you aren’t a Prime member. If you don’t want to take the time required to scroll through your thousands of songs, go ahead and upgrade to being a Prime member now, and the upload process will go a lot faster.
Note: Depending on the age of your computer and if it has automatic integration with Amazon, you may need to download some additional files, like the importer, before you can get started (our one-year old Mac did not require this step since it was already Amazon prepared). These are all free, but know that it could take a bit more time to complete the process. The steps you take will vary based on your platform and whether it is already integrated with Amazon.
Bluetooth and Your Music
The Echo supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), so that you can also stream your music (actually, any audio) over a Bluetooth connection.
Add to Your Library
The easiest way to add music to your library is to purchase it through your Amazon Music subscription. If you don’t find the music you want, you can always go back to your third-party of choice, purchase the music, then make sure to load it into your Amazon Music library.
Another option is to search the Prime Music for your song or album of choice. The best thing to do is to take 30 minutes or so to get familiar with what is available on Prime and to see if they have the kind of music you are interested in. Since it is a newer service, it may take a while to catch up to your other libraries. For now, it is unnecessary to switch (you may never want to drop iTunes or Google Play considering they can play music from just about anywhere in the world and can be imported to almost anything), but you should become familiar with what is there. You may find that it becomes your preferred library for some genres.
Finding time to read can be difficult, but with Amazon Echo, you can stay current with your favorite stories (like Game of Thrones while you are doing mundane stuff, such as chores) or get into a new series or genre. Alexa can read Kindle and Audible (you will need to connect your Audible account first).
While Alexa can read your Kindle books, it does tend to sound a bit robotic, much like her reading from a Wikipage. However, audiobooks are a different matter. These play beautifully with the voices used in the audiofiles.
Because you will want to start and stop books a bit differently from music, here are the commands you want to know to get the most out of the experience (don’t forget to use your wake word first):
Listening commands – “Read book title” “Play the book title” “Play the audiobook title” “Play title from Audible”
Pause – “Pause”
Resume – “Resume my book” Note this will play the last book that was listened to, so if you have several people in the home, this may not be the book you expect to hear.
Replay – “Go back” “Previous chapter” “Restart” (restarts the current chapter)
Skip – “Go forward” “Next chapter” “Go to chapter number”
If you are a fan of podcasts but have fallen behind because of time limitations, Amazon Echo can help you get caught up. Unless you prefer to keep up with podcasts under a subscription, there is no extra work required. For example, all you have to do is ask Alexa to play the latest BBC News podcast on TuneIn, and she will keep you connected. It’s the easiest way to stay caught up on all of the free podcasts without worrying about how to work it into your day.
Alexa and IFTTT
This section looks at the basics of IFTTT and how to use them to make the most of your Amazon Echo.
IFTTT is an acronym for If This Then That. The term is pretty much an explanation of the coding behind the apps used by the Echo and indicates the conditions. An established IFTTT will decide what to do based on the instructions you give Alexa.
IFTTT is the automation system behind your Echo, like default programs on your computer that open a file in a particular program instead of always asking you what program you would like to use.
The IFTTT Channel
Amazon has a page dedicated to IFTTT channels. Before going any further, you need to understand the terms used on the page.
- Channel – the program or app that will be accessed, including the Alexa command. Examples of channels include Google calendar and docs, Evernote, Salesforce, Craigslist, and your phone. You can check out all of the available channels, divided by type.
- Recipe is the sequence of the commands. One recipe is Alexa and your phone. Another is Alexa and Twitter. It is any combination of apps with Alexa, making it a fairly easy recipe to mix. Recipes include the trigger so that you know exactly how to get Alexa to do what you want, such as “Alexa, send me my shopping list,” which will tell Alexa to use Gmail to email your shopping list for easy access when you are at the store.
- DO recipes allow you to tap on your mobile device and accomplish the same task as you would if you activated Alexa, just without having to use Alexa. For example, if you have already gone to bed and Alexa is too far away to hear you, you can pick up your mobile phone, tap on the lights recipe, and turn off the lights set up to go off when you activate the recipe.
It is easy to get lost just going through everything posted. Each recipe (automated action when you activate Alexa for a specific request) displays two icons that indicate the If..Then sequence, with the corresponding command to activate Alexa.
For example, if you use Evernote and want to add to an existing to-do list, you will want to look for the recipe that pairs Alexa and Evernote with the text “Add your Alexa To-Dos to Evernote,” which will let Alexa know to add to-do items to your Evernote list. If you use the Todoist app, you can use the recipe for that app instead of Evernote. Alexa will respond based on the recipe you choose for her.
The best way to set up your Alexa to your needs is to spend time surfing the channels and deciding how you want to her to react based on your commands. It will take time, and you will probably want to keep an eye on the options (new channels are added all of the time), but ultimately it will make things a lot easier for you.
Four Nifty IFTTTs
You are free to surf the many IFTTTs available on the channel, but here are four options that you may want to get set up before you get lost in playing with the other stuff. Keep in mind, if you changed your wake word, you will need to use that in your voice command instead of saying Alexa.
- Find my phone – this does exactly what it sounds like. You no longer need to ask someone to call your phone because Alexa will do that for you.
Alexa, trigger find my phone – this is the activation if you have an iPhone. It does have some limitations as it will not reset your volume (in other words if your phone is on silent, you will hopefully hear the vibration so you can locate your phone).
Find my phone – this is the trigger for Android users, and it has two tiers. First you can increase the volume (or turn it on if the phone is set to silent), then call the phone.
- Alarm and Visual Timer – if you want to use your Echo as an alarm, this is one of the native Echo functions, so its trigger is very reliable. Set the lights to show a certain color with the alarm, that way if you aren’t near the Echo when the alarm sounds you will be able to tell with a look that you need to get moving. It’s also great if you are a heavy sleeper and miss the alarm sound. Colored lights have their own unique way of getting you up.
- Reminders – Alexa has recipes for several reminder apps, so you don’t have to worry about redoing them just because she only links to the Google calendar. Look for your smartphones reminder app (like iOS Reminders) and add it. You can also link your reminders to other actions, like adding a recipe to scold you for not working out in a few days or congratulate you for completing a task on the reminder list.
- Social media – you may not be able to see things posted to social media, but Alexa is perfectly capable of interacting with it on your behalf. Ask her to tweet something for you or review a Facebook post.
The next section covers some of the capabilities you are likely to want and include the respective IFTTT to make sure you can use the features. There is an entire set of IFTTTs that will access your smart home features, including temperature, lights, door locks, and your television covered in another section (Alexa and Your Smart Home).
There are many sites that offer different recommendations for IFTTTs that you should have to make life easier. Spend a little time Googling the best IFTTTs and you are going to enter a whole new world of possibilities with your Amazon Echo.
Amazon Echo commands and capabilities
This section covers some common uses that have been mentioned over the course of this Amazon Echo review and guide. We’ve been peaking your interest but not actually telling you how to do them, like using Alexa to add to a to-do list or update your Google calendar. Now that you know about IFTTT and channels, this section will make a lot more sense and you will be able to more easily set up Alexa to complete whatever task you ask of her.
Anything that seems mundane but ends up being problematic, you can have Alexa take care of it so you don’t have to drop what you are doing so that you can do something else or risk forgetting the second task. It’s what Echo users have come to love about the device. Most of us are accustomed to muttering about things we still need to do – now there is someone who will listen and help you remember. And she will complete the task in a way that will help you remember later, even when you aren’t at home.
Make sure to go through our previous section on IFTTTs so that Alexa uses your preferred program to execute the requests. If you don’t, you may not have what you need when the time comes.
This is easily one of the most common actions you will use Alexa to do (probably slightly less often than playing music, but only just). Those short bursts of inspiration or remembrance are fleeting, and if you don’t stop and write it down, you aren’t going to remember it later.
Out of milk? “Alexa, add milk to my grocery list.”
Do you need to call the vet to update your dog’s shots? “Alexa, add call vet to my to-do list.”
As long as your Amazon Echo is within earshot from you, you won’t have to stop what you are doing to update any list you have available. Grocery lists, shopping lists, school supplies, to-do lists, chores lists, pretty much anything that you want to itemize, you can make sure it gets updated with a quick request to Alexa.
If you aren’t sure if an item is on your list, you can ask Alexa to read your list with “Alexa, review my shopping list.” Obviously, the most useful time for this is when you are in the kitchen and realize you only have one egg left. Ask Alexa to add eggs to the grocery shopping list and you won’t have to make an extra trip to the store later because you forgot to buy eggs.
As of the publication of this Amazon Echo review and guide, the only calendar that is compatible with Alexa is Google Calendar. However, it is worth the few minutes it takes to create an account (if you don’t already have one) and move all of your activities and events into it. Alexa will track everything for you once you have done so.
It is pretty easy to link to the calendar.
- Open the Alexa app on your smartphone.
- Go to Settings, then tap Calendar.
- Select Google Calendar.
- Select Link Google Calendar account.
- Sign in with your Google account information.
Now all you have to do is ask Alexa about your evening, tomorrow, or schedule over the next week. You can also have her add events to the calendar.
This is one of the features that requires no additional work (as long as you set up your time zone properly). You can ask Alexa to set a timer so you will remember to check on the muffins in 20 minutes. She can also tell you how much time is left on a current time countdown, so if you are doing laundry and wonder if you have time for a quick walk, she will let you know. Or she can set a couple of alarms to make sure you get up in time for a job interview on Friday.
She also has the invaluable snooze feature that most of us have come to rely on, but you won’t have to hunt for your phone or move around to activate the snooze. Just mutter, “Alexa, snooze,” and she’ll sound the alarm again in nine minutes.
She can tell you the current time, the date, and when your morning alarm is set to go off.
Ms. Know It All
Alexa frees you from pulling out your phone every time a question comes up that you don’t know the answer to. While it isn’t an essential function, it can be incredibly helpful (although, you won’t be able to use it to cheat at Trivial Pursuit since the other players are right there too).
She can look up pretty much anything, from movie times and the hours when local restaurants are open to basic facts, like who the prime minister of Canada is.
If she isn’t able to tell you, she will apologize and email you a link to websites that may have answers to your question.
Do take general answers with a grain of salt though. Her main sources are things like Wikipedia and EVI.com (currently owned by Amazon), so her answers are limited, and may not be 100% accurate.
A Gamer to Help You Pass the Time
One of the most often discussed features of Alexa isn’t what she can do, but the fact that she plays games with you.
The first game you can try is Simon Says. If you have kids, this can keep them happily entertained for quite some time. As an adult, you can also find out just how sharp she is. Just say “Alexa, Simon Says…” and she will parrot you until you forget to say Simon Says. Because she is a friendly assistant, she won’t say more offensive phrases, so don’t push her in that direction.
If you are really bored, she’s available for Rock, Paper, Scissors. Get started with “Alexa, play rock, paper, scissors,” and she’s game. Want something a little less main stream (and very much from the Big Bang Theory)? Try Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock.
She can also virtually roll dice (she’ll let you know what number she rolled), whether a regular six-sided die or one of the Dungeon & Dragons variety of die. If you aren’t specific, she will assume you mean a regular die.
Alexa can also virtually flip a coin and generate random numbers. Alexa can also play Jeopardy. Just say “Alexa, play Jeopardy!”
Video: Amazon’s Alexa can now cook your dinner
Most Common Commands
The following is a short list of the most common commands you can make (assuming you have completed the initial setup and IFTTTs).
- Alexa, play Green Day. Or, Alexa, play my Relaxing playlist. Or Alexa, play classical music from Spotify.
- Alexa, what’s the weather?
- Alexa, how does my commute look? Or Alexa, what is traffic like on my commute?
- Alexa, set an alarm for 6:30am.
- Alexa, what’s on the calendar for this evening?
- Alexa, add item to my grocery list.
- Alexa, find my phone.
- Alexa, buy item.
- Alexa, what was the score for the game?
- Alexa, when was George Washington born?
- Alexa, when is movie title playing and where? Or, Alexa, tell me about the movie title.
- Alexa, what nearby restaurants deliver?
- Alexa, tell me a joke.
This is just a small sampling of the commands/requests you can make while you work on something else, saving you having to pull out your phone or computer and look it up. The next section is about the more advanced features for those who have smart home features available for use.
Ultimately, these are the features that have persuaded the vast majority of users that they cannot live without their Amazon Echo. Even if you don’t have a smart home, the Echo is simplifying your life in many other ways.
Amazon Echo and your Smart Home
One of the biggest draws to the Amazon Echo is its ability to incorporate all of your home’s smart features into a smart home. As long as your smart service has been added as a channel to Alexa, you will be able to use your Echo to manage your lights, locks, garage door, temperature, or even television.
This is easily one of the fastest growing aspects of the Amazon Echo because that is where the most exciting possibilities are. A lot of what Alexa does can be done by your other virtual assistants, but voice activation to manage your home is taking technology to a whole new level.
There are a few things to help you get started.
- You can check out our page on the best Amazon Echo accessories you should buy.
- If you already have smart features in your home, you will want to check the IFTTT Channel page. They list all of the current Echo-compatible devices and services, from Samsung Washers and Robot Vacuums to Ecobee and Garageio. Browse the channels to see if your current service or device is set up for Echo use.
- If you are considering the addition of smart features to your home and want to make sure they work with your Echo, start on Amazon. They’ve made it incredibly easy to choose vendors and services that are already compatible with Echo. They also update the information regularly, giving you the most current information on what’s available.
The list of services is growing at a very rapid pace, making it difficult to list all of the available providers without the list becoming obsolete in a few weeks. The positive response and rapid integration of the Echo into user homes has created a real drive among businesses to make their home product offering Echo-friendly.
Once you’ve set up your smart home, all you have to do is set up the IFTTT, and you will be able to voice activate your home. Over time, you can turn your home into an efficient smart home that you can talk to.
Currently, the most popular smart services include the following:
- Controlling the temperature
- Adjusting the lights
- Locking doors and closing the garage
- Connecting to your car
Converting your home to a smart home can be costly, but adding smart gadgets is quick, easy, and considerably cheaper. Vacuums, light bulbs, and televisions are all prime gadgets for the Echo era because they have been ready for this for nearly a decade. All they needed was one product that unified them, and that is exactly what Amazon Echo does.
Check out all of the products that have already been incorporated into the Echo Smart Home and you will soon start considering how to simplify your home interaction.
Buyer’s Guide and Service Page
Amazon is just as enthusiastic about helping you turn your domicile into a smart home, and they are offering above and beyond what you might expect. Because they know that it can be intimidating to start adding smart features, they’ve created a Buyer’s Guide page dedicated to helping you determine what features and services are right for you. They give you the cost, the different options, and a lot of information about each of the items available for incorporation into your smart home.
There is also a Home Services page that details every service that is currently Echo-compatible. If you want to learn more, simply click the link under the service and Amazon will help you understand what the service does, what devices you need, pros and cons, and how to link them to your network.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks
As you’ve seen, the potential of what you can do with your Echo is impressive, and there are so many things that you can do that go beyond the obvious daily tasks and chores. This section covers some of the most entertaining and unusual things your Amazon Echo can do.
Alexa, Stop Listening
The initial novelty of having an assistant at your beck and call will eventually wear off and you will find that sometimes you want to be able to discuss something without Alexa butting in. She can be kind of like someone constantly listening for others to say her name (because essentially she is, just for different reasons than you would listen). If you want to silence her, press the mute button at the top of the Echo. The light will turn red. Press it again to reactivate Alexa.
Manual Software Updates
Your Echo will automatically install software updates, but occasionally you may need to manually get the system to install updates. If you mute Alexa for 30 minutes or more, the system will automatically update the software while it isn’t waiting for you to say something.
Echo Web Access
It’s easiest to employ your phone to use your Echo, but if you need to use it while your phone battery is dead (or if you are sitting at your computer), you can access the different Echo apps (like Todo) from your web browser. Go to the Amazon Echo site, and open the app you need.
Working with Multiple Prime Accounts
You can link more than one Prime account to your Echo, which is nice if your family has multiple accounts. The easiest way to do this is on the Amazon Echo site. Everyone needs to have downloaded the Alexa app to their smartphone and approved the addition. Once that is done, open the site, go to Settings, and scroll down to Household. Everyone who has completed the download and approval will be available to link under this menu.
To make sure Alexa has the right options available (for example, if your teenager has been using Alexa to play his or her music, Alexa is not going to access your account’s information), just ask her “Alexa, which profile am I using.” If she doesn’t say the profile you need, tell her to switch profiles (you can specify which profile if you have more than two profiles linked to your Echo).
Echo can manage devices based on groups for each profile. If you habitually say, “Alexa, turn off the lights” to switch off all the lights in a particular room, but your significant other says “Alexa, my lamps” to do the same, you can set up groups under the profiles so that Alexa will use the command based on the active account.
If you are trying to help your kids with homework and cook dinner at the same time, it’s a bit difficult to open your phone and use the calculator. As long as you only need simple math, just ask Alexa. She can do a lot more than just generate random numbers for your amusement. This can also be a good way to help your kid memorize the different math tables – hearing something a lot can help with retention.
You can also use this to calculate dates on a very basic level. You may not be able to ask her to calculate time between two dates you mention, but she can calculate dates from your current day. For example, you can ask her how many days it is until Christmas, and she’ll help you determine just how many shopping days you have left.
What Was That?
Once you are accustomed to your Echo, you are bound to forget to listen to an answer on occasion, or maybe you just didn’t hear the answer because you were too far away. Simply say, “Alexa, can you repeat that,” and she will have no problem doing just that. The shorter phrases “Alexa, repeat” or “Alexa, repeat that” are actually less reliable, so if you don’t want to end up repeating yourself, just use the slightly longer, but more reliable phrase.
Fun with the Remote
If you want to have Alexa “start a conversation” with someone in the room with her, all you need is the remote. Then you can go into a different room, initiate Simon Says, and she will repeat whatever you say to the person in the room with her.
Tech gadgets always include quirky additions and treats, called Easter Eggs. For example, it comes as no surprise that Reddit already has a repository for a whole lot of questions that will get you an amusing response from Alexa when you talk to her. Check out the Reddit Easter Egg page to start testing Alexa on pop culture, fan favorites, and many things in between. You can safely go to the page without having the response ruined. Only the questions are listed, and it is a pretty long list (over 100 known Easter Egg questions).
And since Alexa begins to show us where robotics is going, make sure to ask her the laws of robotics. This is a reference to the Isaac Asimov novel I, Robot, (Asimov is the source of the now popular “i” before the name of so many Apple devices, thanks to this book) a humorous read in its own right. The nine short stories demonstrate how robots can potentially interpret the laws built into their design. It’s nice to see that Alexa knows the rules, especially as she helps you control your home. You can add the book to your audiobook list, and it’s even Whispersync ready.
And if you are interested in finding out if she is less ethical than Asimov’s robots, ask her to open the pod bay doors for a reminder of the most notoriously evil computer. The answer is actually reassuring.
The Alexa skills kit for developers
If you have an idea or are interested in learning about programming for a skill that you want to add to Alexa, there are plenty of resources available to help you get started, including details about the review process. That way you will know what you need to do, how long it will take for approval, and how to proceed once your skill has been approved.
To begin, go to the Amazon Developer page. Of course, there is a ramp up time in which you will need to get accustomed to the terms and structure, but it is a bit like getting into programming for mobile devices in the early days. If you have a great idea, you can really help others by making it become a reality.
The Alexa Skills Kit gives you a single place to go for all of the APIs, tools, and documentation you need to get started. There are even some example codes to demonstrate what others have done and how to get your code to work. The kit suggests some easy places to start, like setting an alarm or managing devices.
The focus of the kit is businesses. Take a few minutes to read over the page, and you will quickly see that it is dedicated to helping businesses reach audiences, and that is a slightly different approach than someone who is simply curious what can be done. It’s not a bad thing (especially since everything has to be approved before you can make it available on the Echo), it just isn’t everyone’s end goal.
Regardless of the reason you are programming, the kit is free to use. Also, the main Alexa Skills Kit page has a lot of resources to help you start wading through everything there is to know. From office hours to webinars to more conventional training, there are links to nearly anything you need to get started.
As an extra incentive, Amazon periodically offers free promotional t-shirts to developers who get a skill published within a certain time frame. For example, if you published a skill during April 2016, Amazon sent you a dark grey t-shirt with a smiling Echo on the front with the phrase “I got skills.” While programming itself is a great reward, it’s actually pretty nice to have someone else recognize your achievements. It’s also a great way for Amazon to get more people to use the Echo since it encourages more people to develop for the device.
Other Sources of Inspiration
Once you understand the basics, you will be able to start seeing what others have done. Just Google “amazon echo programming” and you will get pages worth of results.
One fantastic site to start (after you see what Amazon has to say) is ToBuildSomething. It gives you a hobbyist’s approach to coding for the Amazon Echo. There is some code to review and try, as well as a more leisurely approach (less sales-pitch) so that you feel more comfortable diving in.
If you prefer a more structured approach, Udemy has an Amazon Echo Development Basics you can pay to take. If you have an account with Udemy, this is probably something that should be on your list to take.
For programmers who need some structure but don’t want to pay for it, YouTube already has a few videos to get you started. To get a crash course in the Alexa Skills Kit, check out An Introduction to Amazon Echo and the Alexa Skills Kit. It gives you an idea of what you can do and the best ways to start wading into the system.
Other Amazon Echo resources
The Echo is on the cutting edge of technology, and is really the first of its type, which means that it is constantly changing and evolving. Six months from now, it will probably be capable of things that most of us never considered. This Amazon Echo guide helps you get started and gives you a lot of information, but you will want to keep learning about the device.
To get the most from your Echo, bookmark a few of these resources and check back periodically to get the latest news and additions to Alexa’s skills.
Naturally, the best place to start looking for answers and discussions about the Amazon Echo is on the Amazon site. You can post questions, review discussions, or just talk about things you would like to see on your Echo.
Amazon does post announcements about the product to this site, so it’s a good idea to bookmark the page and check back regularly.
When you are first getting started, you may want to check out the Initial Setup FAQ. Most of the topics go well beyond just the initial setup. If you have time to browse what they have to offer, you will probably learn about something you hadn’t even realized was an option.
Amazon anticipated many of the questions you may have. Start with their Alexa and Alexa Device FAQs to see what the makers of the project have to say. You will want to keep researching after checking here because there are always hacks and tricks that won’t be covered here, but it is the best starting point.
They also have an Echo Twitter page that you may find easier to follow since it reduces the latest news and tips into headings for easier review.
Amazon Echo FAQs
As the Echo grows in popularity, the number of FAQs has begun to reflect the need for answers. Here are a few that can help you if you have a question that is not answered in this guide.
The SmartHome DB boils down many of the possible questions and offers short, concise answers with links that can provide more information about each. It’s a great neutral source if you want straight answers without any ambiguity.
Ecobee is another neutral site, but they provide more in-depth questions and answers. If you use Ecobee, you will want to bookmark this site for answers specific to the Ecobee/Echo interaction.
If you have specific questions about how your Echo interacts with other products and smart home features, go to Google and look for an FAQ for the Echo and the maker of the product you want to integrate. Many product companies have created their own FAQs to ensure you are successful in getting the product to work with Alexa.
Amazon Echo Forums
During it’s short availability the Echo has garnered quite the following. That means that you can spend time finding the sites that are best aligned to your interests and needs.
Love My Echo is a site that covers only the Echo. It should be your first stop in the hunt for a reliable site or forum for your questions.
The Echo Forum is one of the unofficial sites for everything Echo. The site is very simply laid out so that you can sort the topics and news so that you can more easily see what the current discussions are. If you have specific questions, you can add a keyword to the search and the returned results will focus on your keyword.
The Amazon Echo Forum is another unofficial site where you can review questions, comments, concerns, and opinions.
The success of the Echo is obvious by the fact that they now have a forum dedicated to the device posted to the Android Forum. If you want to connect your Android mobile device to your new Echo, this is the place to start your research into all of the possibilities.
Go buy Amazon Echo now
If you are reading this and you haven’t already bought the Echo yet, hopefully our Amazon Echo review and the guide we’ve created will convince you. We’ve listed so many reasons why you should buy Amazon Echo as well as giving you an in-depth look at how it functions. It’s an absolutely incredible device to own and well worth the purchase.
We hope that we’ve helped you to better understand why so many people love Amazon Echo and that you’ll pick up this bestselling smart device now.
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