It’s been four years since Amazon launched Alexa, and in that time the cloud-based voice service integrated into the Amazon Echo, among other devices, has become a staple in many homes, with more than 100 million devices sold as of January, according to The Verge.
Most of us who use Alexa know our way around the basics — like for requesting a song to be played or searching the Internet, but there’s a lot more that Alexa can do — or so I hear. I’m new to Alexa and honestly, I don’t really know how to make the most of this so-called virtual personal assistant, and the amount of information online is seemingly endless — and just a bit overwhelming.
What are some simple, practical ways that Alexa can be put to work to make life at home easier for the whole family? We consulted an Amazon spokesperson as well as a number of Alexa users to compile tips to get the most out of this techy sidekick.
Wake up with Alexa (and no smartphone by your bed)
“One of the reasons I love waking up with an Alexa alarm is that I no longer have to rely on my phone as my alarm, so I can leave it to charge in the kitchen and get some much-needed no-phone time late at night and first thing when I wake up,” says Katherine Prescott, founder and editor of VoiceBrew, a digital media company focused on the voice space — specifically tips on optimal Alexa usage. “You can set as many alarms as you want (I set one at 6:15 a.m. and another for 15 minutes later so I know it’s actually time to get up), set a music alarm to wake up to your favorite tunes and even snooze by saying ‘Alexa, snooze.’”
Learn about how to use Alarms with Alexa here.
Program your morning routine
By using your Echo device and the Amazon Alexa app, Alexa can help you kick off and organize your morning routine.
“For instance, you can set the utterance ‘Alexa, good morning’ to prompt Alexa to tell you the weather, followed by the top news of the day, and then turn on your favorite playlist to pump you up,” an Amazon spokesperson told NBC News BETTER in an email. “Routines can be customized any way you like.”
This is a favorite trick of Jonathan Mendoza, Content Marketing Specialist at Fueled. “When I say, ‘Alexa, good morning,’ it triggers a series of events where she will say ‘good morning’ back, tell me what time it is, then what the weather forecast looks like for the day. This makes life easier because I don’t have to ask a series of questions throughout my morning, so I can go ahead and get all the info I need to start my day.”
Routines can also be triggered by a schedule, rather than saying a phrase, Mendoza adds — and you can set a time to repeat the routine.
Learn how to configure your morning routine with Alexa here.
And program your bedtime routine, too
Another smart way to use Alexa’s Routines feature is for getting the family ready for bedtime.
“Start winding down your smart home to let your kids know it’s almost time for sleep,” said Amazon’s spokesperson. “Set reminders so that five, 10 and 15 minutes before bedtime, Alexa reminds your kids that bedtime is near. With Routines, you can also have Alexa dim the lights with each reminder and turn off the TV if it’s plugged into a smart plug.”
Learn more about Alexa’s Routines feature here.
Use Alexa flash briefings to get your news on the go
“Flash briefings are two to four minute briefings available from all of your favorite news outlets, and they’re also available on niche topics from gaming to gardening,” says Prescott. “Flash briefings have become an integral part of my morning routine because they’re the best way for me to get news from all my favorite outlets in under 10 minutes while I’m getting ready for the day. You can add as many as you want to your personal flash briefing list so they’re queued up just like songs on a playlist when you say ‘Alexa, what’s the news?’.”
Learn about Flash Briefings here.
Schedule location-specific reminders and routines
“Ever wanted to remind yourself to defrost the chicken when you get home or print a document when you get to the office? With Alexa, you now can,” says Prescott. “Using your phone’s GPS, Alexa knows where you are and can remind you about something when you arrive (or leave from) a location. Alexa will send your phone a push notification with the reminder and announce it over your Echo speaker.”
Prescott walks users through how to use Alexa’s Location-Based reminders and routines here.
Get recipes for the specific foods you have
Got a bunch or ingredients in your fridge, but don’t know what to do with them? Ask Alexa.
“Using your Echo Show 5, you can find recipes based on the ingredients you already have in the fridge, [just say] ‘Alexa, tell me a chicken recipe’,” the Amazon spokesperson said. “Soon you can access Food Network Kitchen with live cooking classes, food content and experiences. You’ll be able to watch episodes of Food Network TV shows and always find inspiration in the kitchen.”
Learn about this AllRecipes skill for Alexa here.
Don’t have that ingredient on hand? Ask Alexa what else might work
Another useful in-kitchen service Alexa can provide is to help you to discover substitute or alternate ingredients, Prescott notes. You can ask, for instance, “Alexa, what’s a substitute for olive oil?”
Create shopping lists
“Alexa is great at creating lists to keep my life organized,” says Melissa Cid of MySavings.com. “I can tell her to create a grocery shopping list, to do list and my kids’ Christmas list. You can easily view these lists on your Alexa app when you are out shopping.”
Learn how to create and edit lists with Alexa here.
Do your Amazon Prime shopping
“The coolest thing is the Alexa shopping feature — not so much for buying things you haven’t ordered before, because you might need to compare a few products and determine the best option, but for reordering certain products on Amazon,” says Mihai Corbuleac, senior IT Consultant at StratusPointIT. “You just say ‘Alexa, buy more [any product you ordered before] on Amazon’. Alexa will say, ‘Based on your order history I found the product you are looking for and its current price on Amazon. Would you like to buy it?’ Confirm by saying ‘Yes’.”
Learn how to get started with Alexa’s shopping feature here.
Make announcements to be read aloud by Alexa — great for dinner time
“If I need to get someone’s attention at the other side of the house or in the break room at the office I can open up the Alexa app, click ‘Communication’ and then ‘Announce’. Then I simply type the message and Alexa will read it aloud from all of my Alexa devices,” says Jason David, CEO of Software Portal. “No matter what room they’re in, I can get the message to them quickly. I can also choose individual devices if I want a more direct message.”
Learn more about Alexa Announcements here.
Get homework help for the kids
“I have two children in grades 3 and 6 and Alexa is a life saver for me when it comes to homework time,” says Cid. “My children use her to check their math problems, ask for spelling help, definitions of words and even historical and science questions. She has become my children’s virtual tutor, [allowing] me to focus my time on other stuff like work and dinner.”
There are a trove of Skills by which Alexa can help kids with their homework. We recommend the following to start: Smart Dictionary for vocabulary assignments, SayHi Language Learning for foreign language study, Busy Hands for science projects and Spell Check.
Access tooth fairy tutorials, bedtime stories and peaceful sleep sounds
“Encourage kids to brush their teeth by using the Chompers skill, which has helpful tooth brushing tips, reminders and funny jokes during the process,” said the Amazon spokesperson. “Plus, it lasts for the full two minutes that dentists recommend.”
Learn more about Chompers by Gimlet here.
Alexa can also help you discover new bedtime reading material for kids, along with peaceful sleep sounds.
“Simply ask, ‘Alexa, open Amazon StoryTime,’ and the StoryTime Skill will begin,” said the Amazon spokesperson. “And, if you’d like additional help getting to sleep, just ask, ‘Alexa, open Sleep Sounds’ or ‘Alexa, play lullaby music.’”
Learn how to use StoryTime here and Sleep Sounds here.
More from BETTER
Want more tips like these? NBC News BETTER is obsessed with finding easier, healthier and smarter ways to live. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.