Smart Home

Amazon's Alexa does way more than you expect

This smart assistant will turn on your lights, and so much more.

Amazon Echo on table Credit: Amazon

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You've seen the TV ads for Amazon's Alexa-enabled devices, and you know you can ask her to do, well, just about anything. What really is Alexa, though, and how can she make your life easier?

Amazon's smart assistant at your service

Alexa is Amazon's own smart assistant and can be found on any Alexa-enabled device. This can be a smart speaker, like the Echo Dot, the Echo Plus, or the Echo; or a smart display device, such as the Echo Show or the Echo Spot. There are a handful of other Amazon devices that use Alexa, such as the Amazon Fire Stick.

You can also download the Alexa app on your smartphone and chat with her there, too, and it will function just like Alexa on your other devices.

So now that you know where to find Alexa, what can she actually do?

Alexa is loaded with features

Amazon Echo Dot
Credit: Amazon

Amazon's Echo Dot provides Alexa in a small, yet robust, package.

To get started, you can simply say, "Alexa, how are you?" You can ask her for the weather forecast, movie showtimes, sports scores or schedules, nearby restaurants, and random facts. You can pair Alexa with another device via Bluetooth—if you, say, wanted to play specific songs from your cell phone—and you can ask her to talk like Yoda or sing the national anthem. She can tell you stories, a limerick, how to spell a word, and how to say "dinner" in another language.

Also, Alexa features skills, which are very similar to apps. They have to be enabled to be enjoyed, but if you're looking for something specific, Alexa will let you know if a skill is available and help you enable it. You can also enable specific skills through your Amazon account and visit the skill store to browse.

Specific Alexa abilities

Woman setting timer
Credit: Amazon

You can do multiple tasks with Alexa, such as set a timer without using your hands.

Alexa is great at entertaining you, for starters. You can ask her to play music, audiobooks, radio stations, podcasts, games, or jokes. You can fully control the playback of your music, for example, by asking her to pause, resume, skip, turn the volume up, and even adjust the equalizer. Alexa has a similar capability with audiobooks, and Alexa owners get one free Audible title a month with no membership required—all you have to do is say, "Alexa, what's free from Audible?"

Alexa also helps you communicate easier. You can "drop in" on Alexa-enabled devices, even from your Alexa app on your cell phone. This makes it easy to ask the kids what they want for dinner if they're in the playroom and you're upstairs, for example.

"Alexa, what's free from Audible?"

You can also make announcements to all your connected devices via Alexa ("Dinner's ready!"), or make phone calls through your device after you verify your phone number—and it's free.

One of the neatest hands-free features of Alexa is the ability to set a timer from anywhere. You can also ask her to set an alarm—either for one day, or a repeating timer every weekday. You can even set the alarm to music, which is a fun feature.

Alexa can connect to your calendar, so you can find out what you have planned today. You can add events to your schedule hands-free, and you can also easily set reminders and add items to your shopping list.

Alexa is just handy (and fun)

Smart home connectivity is one of the handiest aspects of Alexa. Alexa can connect to a wide number of smart devices, from lightbulbs to wall switches to smart plugs to thermostats to cameras. Many of these items can be controlled not just with your voice and your device at home, but away from your house with the Alexa app.

Alexa is a great smart assistant and can not only provide entertainment for the whole family, but it can really help your household run smoothly—not bad for a small device that sits on your counter.