My husband and I were gifted an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas last year. Admittedly it’s not a thing either of us had every thought we’d need; however, the number of Amazon Echo tricks and hacks I’ve discovered playing around with the thing since it arrived has definitely changed my tune. To be fair, I was similarly unenthusiastic about the idea of the iPod when it was first released back in 2001; my immediate thought upon witnessing one for the very first time was, “Why on Earth would I ever need that?”, and, well… famous last words and all. I have a feeling my relationship with our Dot is going to follow the same sort of trajectory.
Even though I’ve warmed up to it in the months since we set up the Dot, I’ll be honest: I don’t think it’s going to revolutionize our home or our lives. The world is still at a point where voice-activated digital assistants like Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and so on are novelties; they’re not built into the fabric of our lives yet.
But that’s not to say that they won’t ever be. I mean, heck, when I was a kid (yes, I’m old, and yes, back in my day, we had to walk to school uphill! Both ways! In the snow!), we had no idea the internet would become absolutely essential to our everyday lives — and look where we are now. Although there can certainly be a dark side to it, technology is fascinating — and the way it evolves is even more so.
In any event, here are 12 useful Amazon Echo tricks and hacks. Go ahead and give ‘em a shot — thy might end up making all the difference for you.
1Change The Wake Word
Echo’s default wake word is “Alexa,” but you can change it to another option if you like; switching it to something else might cut down on some confusion if you know an actual person named Alexa. Just open up the Alexa app, go into “Settings,” select the name of your device, scroll down, and select “Wake Word.” From there, you can pick from one of four choices: “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo,” and “Computer.” My husband and I went with “Echo,” since that’s the word that we’re least likely to say in other contexts, but hey, the choice is yours. Unfortunately, you can’t change the wake word to anything you like yet… but maybe that’s a good thing. I have a feeling that that way, chaos lies.
2Stop Echo From Listening For The Wake Word
Useful tip: Echo devices come with a mute button. On the Dot, it’s right on the top of the thing; it looks like a crossed-out microphone. All you have to do is press and hold that button until the light ring around the top of the device turns red, and your Echo will stop listening to everything — including the wake word. This feature is especially useful if you conduct meetings via phone or video at home; there’s no danger of your Echo hearing its wake word and yammering on about your to do list while you’re in the middle of something important. To unmute it, just press the button again until the light ring turns blue.
3Turn Your Echo Into A Jambox
Or a Jawbone, or whatever your Bluetooth speaker of choice is. The point is this: If you tell your Echo to play you some music, and you don’t have a great sound system set up in your house, it’ll get the job done and then some. If you tell it to “Play music,” it’ll default to whatever music you have in your account you’ve purchased from Amazon; however, it’s also capable of doing much more. For example, if you have a podcast on your phone you want to listen to on your Echo, make sure your phone’s Bluetooth option is turned on and say, “Echo, pair.” After you’refinished, say, “Echo, disconnect” to disconnect the devices.
Personally, a lot of my Echo usage comes from Spotify — because hey, guess what? You can link premium Spotify accounts to your Echo. To do so, open the Alexa app on your phone, go to“Settings,” go to “Music & Media,” tap “Spotify,” and tap “Link account.” You’ll be prompted to enter your Spotify username and password; you can also log in with Facebook if you created your Spotify account through Facebook. Once you’re all connected, just say something like, “Echo, play ‘Seagulls’ by Bad Lip Reading on Spotify,” and rock out to your heart’s content.
You can also run your Spotify account through your Echo from your computer if they’re connected to the same WiFi network. When you’ve got Spotify open on your desktop, select the “Connect to a device” option in the bottom right hand corner, select the name of your Echo, and then hit “play” from your computer. The music should pipe through your Echo.
4Make Your Home Into A Smart Home On The Cheap
Nicole Nguyen at BuzzFeed has a pretty thorough rundown of how to set this one up, so I’ll send you on over there to read her take on it — but suffice to say that if you’ve ever longed to live inside a Disney Channel Original Movie, now’s your chance to make Smart House come to life. All you need are a couple of smart plugs to get you started. Once you set them up and pair them with your Echo, you can control anything plugged into them with a simple command.
5Teach Echo How To Understand You Better
Accents and regional differences in how we all handle language can result in some hilarious miscommunications. This is as true for digital assistants as it is for actual humans, except that the digital assistants have a trick up their sleeves humans don’t necessarily share: They’re easily taught. You can train your Echo to understand you better by opening the Alexa app, going into “Settings,” and selecting “Voice Training.” You’ll be given a series of 25 sample commands to read aloud, which Echo will record in order to learn your unique linguistic quirks. Hoorah for machine learning!
6Delete Your Voice Recordings
One of the things that makes some folks nervous about digital home assistants is that that they’re pretty much always listening. Whenever you say the Echo’s wake word and then issue a command, it records that interaction. Why? To help it learn: After an interaction is complete, you can go into the Alexa app on your phone, tap “Settings,” scroll down, tap “History,” then tap the interaction to note whether your Echo did what you wanted it to do.
However, the Echo also stores the recordings, which you can listen to from the “History” menu as well. If you want to delete an individual interaction, tap on the interaction within the app and select “Delete Voice Recordings.” If you want to delete your entire recording history, go to the Manage Your Content and Devices page on Amazon in your browser, click on over to the “Your Devices” tab, and click the three dots next to the name of your Echo. If you select “Manage Your Voice Recordings,” you can delete all of them.
7Make Your Commute Less Aggravating
Admittedly, painful commutes are, uh, not a problem for me, since I work from home — but for those of you who commute daily, this trick might be a boon. Go into the Alexa app, then into “Settings,” then select "Traffic." Your home address should already be in there, so all you have to do is tap “Add address” and type in the address of your workplace. Then give the command, “Echo, traffic update” — Echo will tell you what the fastest route is and how long it will take.
You can also use Echo’s traffic capabilities to map out other routes; both the origin address and the endpoint can be changed, and stops can be added along the route. Odds are the daily commute angle will be the most useful for many, though, as once you input a route to map, it stays there until you manually change it.
8Force A Software Update
Like most electronic devices, Echo updates its software automatically; according to ZDNet, Alexa scans for updates on a nightly basis. If you want to force an update, though, word on the street is that you just need to put the device in mute mode (see: Stop Echo From Listening For The Wake Word), and then leave it alone for around half an hour. It will apparently download and install any available software updates. I haven't tested this one out myself yet (I'm working on that), so you might want to take it with a grain of salt — but it might be worth a shot.
9Set A Timer — Or Multiple Timers
Setting a timer constitutes probably a full 50 percent of what I use my Echo for, thanks to the fact that you can set pretty much as many timers as you like simultaneously. (What's the other 50 percent, you ask? It's split between Spotify usage, as previously mentioned, and asking Echo what the weather is.) I find this particularly useful for cooking: If I’m multitasking, no longer am I limited to just the microwave and oven timers. I can have two things on the stove and a thing in the oven, all of which need to be removed from heat at different times, and set all three timers on the Echo. It is the best.
Just say, “Echo, set a timer for…”, followed by however long you need the timer running, and the device will take care of it. You can repeat the process for as many timers as you need — and if you want to check how much time is remaining, just say, “Echo, how much time is left?” The device will tell you exactly how much time remains on every timer you’ve set.
10Keep Track Of Your Life
Y’know. Just… generally speaking. Because you can link up your Google Calendar with your Echo — yes, even your G Suite calendar, AKA the thing you probably use to keep track of literally everything at work — and that is rad. To do so, go into the “Settings” section of the Alexa app and select “Calendar.”From there, tap “Google,” then “Link your Google calendar account,” and you’ll be taken to the standard Google login screen. Log in with the username and credentials of your choice, and voila! Your calendar will sync with your Echo. How To Geek has a super detailed rundown of how to set the whole thing up, so head on over there for more information.
There aren’t currently a ton of Google Calendar commands you can use with Echo, but the three main ones will cover most of the bases for the majority of people: You can ask, “Echo, what’s my next event?” and it will tell you what it is before asking if you want to hear more events you’ve got coming up; you can ask, “Echo, what’s on my calendar?” and it will tell you the next four events you have coming up; and you can say, “Echo, add an event to my calendar,” and it will lead you through some follow-up questions to get the event details put on your schedule. You can also get a little more specific with these last two commands, asking what’s on your calendar on a specific day at a specific time or telling the device to mark down a particular event on a given day and time.
11Set Up A Household For Your Echo
Do you share a household with other people? Would you also like to share your Echo with your housemates? Good news: You can create multiple profiles via individual Amazon accounts and join them together in a Household. It’s kind of a involved process, and both people need to be physically present for it to happen (here’s an excellent tutorial that’ll walk you through what it entails), but with each person in the Household being able to access their own profiles, you can customize your Echo and Amazon needs for everyone. To check whose account the Echo is currently using, say, “Echo, which account is this?”; to switch accounts, just say, “Echo, switch accounts.”
However. This is important: Note that anyone who has a profile in your Household also has access to the Echo’s purchasing abilities. Unless you really, really trust whoever you’re living with, I’d recommend turning off the voice purchasing capability before you set up additional shared profiles. Do this by going into “Settings” in the Alexa app, then selecting “Voice Purchasing.” You can toggle the ability to buy things by issuing Echo commands on and off here.
12Choose Your Own Adventure
OK, no, this Skill — Skills being apps for the Echo, essentially — is perhaps not the most useful one you could install. It is, however, a heck of a lot of fun, especially if you were a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books or text adventure computer games when you were a kid. To access this one, first, enable the Magic Door Skill in the Alexa app; then tell your Echo to enable the Skill with a voice command; and then, tell Echo to “open the magic door,” and your Echo will begin telling you a story. When Echo stops talking, tell it what you want to do — go to the forest, look around, whatever.
Beyond the Magic Door, though, Skills are the key to getting the most out of your Echo. You know how there's an app for pretty much anything you might want to do with your smartphone? The same is true for Echo. They can be found here. Go ahead. Explore. And have fun!