Amazon's Echo speaker boasts the brilliant voice-activated Alexa home assistant, which offers impressive command recognition and loads of features to make your life easy. Here's our tips and tricks guide to getting started with the Amazon Echo, including popular commands, hidden features you might not know about and some cool little easter eggs.
Months after its UK launch we still love the Amazon Echo smart speaker. Having a robotic assistant in your home is pretty damn exciting, but using it effectively is quite another thing, especially if you're just getting started.
Knowing the best features and understood commands means you can get the most from your Amazon Echo. This tips and tricks guide aims to help you avoid those irritating fail messages that can lead to utter infuriation and your Echo being hurled at the nearest wall. We'll show you the most popular commands and best Alexa features, as well as some hidden easter eggs that are great fun to try out.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: What is Amazon Echo and how does it work?
The Echo is a 9.25-inch tall cylindrical speaker crammed full of microphones (seven to be exact) that make its listening capabilities very impressive. Those mic listen out for you to bark commands, which the Echo then responds to by offering up info and more besides.
Amazon has also released a similar-looking Echo Tap model, which is a bit smaller and can't be activated using our voice; you need to push a button on the device to issue a command. And the third member of the Echo family is the Amazon Echo Dot, an even smaller unit that allows you to use the voice control system in more rooms.
The Amazon Echo devices use the Amazon Alexa smart assistant software to understand speech and carry out the relevant response. They can connect to your smart home devices to give you total hands-free control, as well as access even more information.
So good is Alexa that Sonos uses the Echo devices with its speakers, rather than attempting to employ its own voice control system.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to use IFTTT
One great way to push the limits of your Alexa-toting device is to use the If This Then That (IFTTT) service. This is essentially an online back-end brain that connects your smart devices together and allows you to control them from one central place. For example, you could set up a “recipe” which turns on your Sonos and smart lights when your Nest detects that you’ve entered the house.
Read next: Best IFTTT recipes to simplify your life
Adding Alexa to this mix means you can control lots of things at once. For example, you could setup a command like “Alexa, time for bed” which turns off your smart lights and music and shuts the power off to any connected devices.
IFTTT is free to use with an account and even has plenty of app combinations already setup, ready for you to try.
While lots of smarthome devices are already supported by Alexa, the IFTTT platform is a great way of pulling in other third party hardware to work with it also.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to deactivate Alexa's wake word
When you say Alexa, the Echo device listens up and follows whatever command you issue next. That means no button pressing, and you can use the Echo from anywhere in the room. What is also means is the Echo is creepily always listening.
The simple fix here is to press the mute button on top. This shuts off the microphone array listening skills so you have complete privacy; the Echo even lights up red, so you know it’s definitely not listening. Of course, that also means the Echo is basically just a useless lump of interior art until you un-mute it, but if you need some privacy to discuss that secret plan to take over the world, it may be worth the sacrifice.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to change Alexa's wake word
Alexa is a good choice of wake word, presuming you don’t have a family member with that name. Otherwise you’ll likely rarely have it come up by mistake. But if you do need to change it, the process is not too difficult.
Before you get too excited and start changing it to a filthy word, you’re currently limited to Alexa, Amazon or Echo as the wake words. Star Trek style “Computer” commands will have to wait, for now. To change the word, simply use the Alexa app, or echo.amazon.com. Go to Settings, then Wake Word to make your choice and hit Save.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to force an update
While your Echo is constantly connected to the internet and can update automatically, sometimes you may need to give it a nudge. Perhaps you’ve read about a new feature that your device doesn’t appear to have and want to make sure the software is the latest? Here's how to get the update staight away.
By pressing the mute button, your Echo will not only stop listening but it will also keep busy by taking care of any available updates. This kicks in after a minimum of 30 minutes, so do this when you don’t need Alexa listening - like before you head to bed.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Repeat a response
If you missed what Alexa’s response was to your voice command, you can get a quick repeat. Simply say either “Alexa, can you repeat that?”, or “Alexa, can you say that again?” and she will do exactly that as often as you need.
If you want to check out recent responses, you can see those in the Home tab of the Alexa app.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Make a call with Alexa
With a recent update, you can now call up your besties using a quick Alexa command. This trick works on the full range of Echo speakers, as well as phones with Alexa support. However, you can only call or message other Alexa users, who have the most recent version of the app or firmware installed on their smart device.
You can see which of your contacts are reachable by heading into the Alexa app on your mobile.
Say 'Alexa, call [name]' and your call will go ahead, while you can also message your buddies by saying 'Alexa, send [name] a message'.
If you're receiving a call, Alexa will light up your Echo's ring or buzz you if she's on your smartphone. Just say 'Alexa, answer the call' to pick up. You can also check for messages with 'Alexa, play my messages'.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to set up multi-room music streaming
One of the more recent Alexa software upgrades allows you to stream your music to two or more Echo devices scattered around your home, in perfect synchronisation.
Multi-room streaming was originally the domain of Sonos speakers, although these days many speaker manufacturers have their own version which allows you to fill your house with the same audio, synced up perfectly. Many smart speakers are now launching with this functionality built-in, so it's set to become the norm.
Check out our full guide on setting up multi-room music streaming on Echo for full instructions.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to schedule a reminder
Amazon rolled out an Alexa update in June 2017 which allows you to schedule a reminder for the future, for any important upcoming events or random tasks you need to complete (such as posting birthday cards or giving the dog its medicine).
To do this, you can use one of the following commands.
"Alexa, remind me to [do this] on Friday at 4pm." Substitute in the day and time that you need, of course.
"Alexa, remind me to [do this] on June 12th." As above, substitiute in the date you actually require.
"Alexa, remind me to [do this] in 40 minutes." Again, you can make this however far in the future, be it in minutes or hours.
You can check all scheduled reminders in the Alexa app and also set new ones in there too, if you're out and about at the time.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to set several timers at once
The aforementioned Echo update also adds named timers, so you can now set more than one at the same time. All you need to do is assign each one a specific title, such as 'rice timer' and 'lamb shank timer', when you ask Alexa to start them.
To find out how a timer's doing: “Alexa, how much time is left on my [name] timer?”
To cancel a timer: "Alexa, cancel the [name] timer."
You can also check your list of active timers from within the Alexa app.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to order a pizza with a quick command
If you're a fan of Domino’s pizza, then good news! Amazon Echo will now actively contribute towards your expanding waistline, with the ability to order using a quick command.
First, you'll have to set up an Easy Order account over on Domino's website. This includes your standard order, so make sure to pick your favourite pizza and any essential sides.
Next, head to the Alexa app on your phone and enable the Domino's Skill, linking your accounts together. With that done, you're ready to order a steaming hot slab of cheesy goodness with just your voice.
When hunger and extreme laziness strike at the same time, just say “Alexa, ask Domino’s to feed me”. Your Echo will confirm your order and place it with your nearest kitchen. From this point you can also check on the progress of your order by saying “Alexa, ask Domino’s to track my order”. Your Echo can then let you know if your food is still being cooked or on its way.
Even better, Alexa supports Domino’s new GPS delivery tracking feature (in trial locations to begin with). So just say “Alexa, ask Domino’s where my pizza is” and you'll be updated on how far away your circular snack is.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to solve any problems quickly
One of the great ways that Amazon’s Echo makes you feel like you’re living in the future is by offering you computer-level brains. Maths is one great way to take advantage of that power.
Doing a conversion in the kitchen while cooking is always a messy-fingered faff. Thankfully Alexa can do the work for you, while the likes of maths equations, money conversions and other stuff is a piece of cake.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to set the default music player to Spotify
Amazon, of course, pushes its music services as the standard offering on Echo hardware. But it’s not a closed system and Echo allows you to change the default player, even to Spotify.
Just open the Alexa app, go to Settings, Music & Media, Choose default music services and pick the one you want. Simple. That means that when you ask Alexa to play something, even if you don’t ask it to play the found song on Spotify, it’ll use that service anyway.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Use Amazon Prime, track packages and get deals
Amazon Prime members get plenty of use from Alexa. You can now order anything from Prime using speech alone. It also allows you to order Dominos, Uber or Lyft in certain areas.
When you’ve ordered something you can track it simply by saying: “Alexa, where’s my stuff?”
Finally users can get Prime deals exclusively. Amazon runs deals occasionally for Echo owners only - usually on Prime Day though.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: How to upload your own music
One way of getting your downloaded songs onto your Echo is to use the cloud, since solid state memory isn’t an option.
Amazon allows you to upload up to 250 songs to its Cloud Player for free. Just head to the Amazon Cloud Player site and get uploading for quick access music via your Echo.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Check the traffic before you set off to work
You can now ask Alexa at breakfast how the traffic will be before you head off to work.
Simply set your home and work addresses via the echo.amazon.com website then ask: “Alexa, how’s the traffic?” And you’ll be informed on if you need to move or can squeeze in another full English.
Amazon Echo tips and tricks: Easter eggs
Amazon has had a bit of fun with Alexa and hidden some great little fun command responses into the Echo devices, if you know how to find them.
Try asking: “Alexa, what does WTF stand for?” or “Alexa, do you know Hal?” or “Alexa, up up, down down, left right, left right, B, A start” for some real geek joy.
There are also some fun games. We won’t ruin too many by revealing them all but if you try: “Alex, ask Word Master to play a game” Alexa says a word and you have to follow with a word that start with the last letter of that word. Or try: “Alexa, start Animal Game / Capital Quiz” for a game of 20 questions about animals or geography. Our favourite? Ask: “Alexa, start Star Trek quiz”.