Amazon is constantly updating the Alexa assistant on its Echo speaker range, offering new voice commands and features to make your smart home speaker even better. Here's what the latest Alexa/Echo update brings and how to use the new features.
Smart home speakers and assistants are a seriously hot topic this year, with Google and Apple already jumping on the bandwagon via the Google Home and HomePod. In fact, as you'll see from our round-up of the best smart speakers now and coming soon, everyone from Sony to Harman Kardon is set to release its own assistant-powered home device in the next few months.
However, Amazon's Echo speakers remain our favourites right now. Not least because Amazon keeps boosting the Alexa AI's smarts with worthy software updates, which continuously brings fresh new functionality.
Amazon has already added scheduled reminders and improved timers to Alexa in recent upgrades and the latest OTA update delivers multi-room support, so you can link up your speakers around your house. Here's all you need to know about this rollout, including how to get the update and when you can expect it to hit your device in the UK and other countries.
Read our Echo tips and tricks guide to find out about the best hidden features and Alexa easter eggs.
What new features does the latest Amazon Echo Alexa update bring?
Multi-room speaker support is the big new Echo feature delivered by the latest Alexa update. This involves playing music across more than one room in perfect synchronisation, from a single device such as a smartphone or streaming via the internet. So you can, for instance, walk from the kitchen to the living room and have the same beats playing.
Multi-room audio was certainly popularised by Sonos, although lots of speaker brands now offer multi-room support - and now you can add Amazon's Echo to that list. If you own two or more of the Echo devices, these can now be linked to play the same tunes, in sync. Great news if you have a bit of a house party on the go.
This works right now with Amazon's own music services and TuneIn, with support for the likes of Spotify coming very soon.
For all you need to know, head to our in-depth feature on the Echo's multi-room speaker support.
How do I download the new Amazon Echo Alexa update?
The good news is, all you need to do is make sure that your Amazon Alexa app is up to date and you'll find you have the multi-room functionality.
When is the Amazon Echo Alexa update coming to the UK?
This update is already available, so what are you still reading this for? If you have more than one Echo in your home, go try it out for yourself.
Do I need to have an Amazon Echo speaker to use Alexa?
Not at all. In fact, you can now use Alexa on any Android phone that you own. Handy if you need a bit of hands-free assistance or functionality - for instance, when you're driving.
Of course, the Echo is still the best way to get involved with Alexa (so to speak) in your home. After all, those built-in mics are powerful enough to recognise your commands and orders from across the room, something you won't get from your mobile phone. So for true hands-free help, we'd recommend picking up Amazon's smart speaker.
What other big updates have come to Alexa so far this year?
Amazon's updates are coming thick and fast, and here's some of the best new features that have been added to Alexa in the past few months.
Before this Alexa update, you could set a single timer when cooking or performing some other time-sensitive activity. Not very useful if you're fixing a full-on feast however, with lots of things cooking at the same time.
Thankfully an Echo update from June 2017 added named timers, so you can set a number of different ones simultaneously. Assign each one a specific title and you'll be informed when they hit zero - so Alexa will tell you when the 'rice timer' is up, with the 'lamb curry timer' still ticking away in the background.
You can check your list of active timers from within the Alexa app, if you want an overview of everything at once. Alexa can also update you on the status of any timer on demand, or cancel them if needed.
To find out how a timer's doing, just say: “Alexa, how much time is left on my [name] timer?”
To cancel a timer, just say: "Alexa, cancel the [name] timer."
After that June Alexa update, we were also able to schedule reminders about any upcoming events or random tasks you need to carry out - something we're surprised wasn't in there from the beginning.
For example, you can tell Alexa, "remind me to give the cat a massive squishy hug on Friday at 4pm." When the time ticks around, a blue light ring will appear on the Echo device and Alexa will remind you as commanded.
You can also ask Alexa to remind you of something after a short period. For instance, "remind me to eat that massive sausage roll in 40 minutes."
Head to the Alerts & Alarms section of the Alexa app and you can see all set reminders. You can create new ones from within the app too, if you happen to be away from your Echo device at the time.