Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo have now become almost commonplace in people's homes, and for good reason. These small voice-controlled gadgets let you do some incredibly useful things from controlling your home's heating and lighting with your voice to staying in touch with loved ones.
At its core is Amazon's voice assistant, Alexa. Using microphones built into the speaker you can ask Alexa to carry out thousands of tasks from requesting any song you can think of, turning down the lights in your home to getting the latest scores from your favourite team.
1. Control lights and heating
We used Hive in our test, allowing us to control both the heating and any Hive smart bulbs that were connected as well. Changing the temperature is as simple as saying "Alexa, change the temperature to 20 degrees."
Adjusting the lighting is just as simple, all you have to do is say "Alexa, turn down the living room lights."
2. Control your music
Simply shout out, ‘Alexa, play the Rolling Stones’ and their hits will play. You can choose to shout out a specific song title, artist, album and even playlists. Commands such as ‘next’, ‘pause’ and ‘shuffle’ also work.
Amazon recently started an Amazon Music Unlimited subscription service too, which will work with the Echo. To access it on Echo devices alone, it costs just £3.99 a month, while all devices costs £9.99 a month (or £7.99 if you’re an Amazon Prime member).
If you don’t have any of these, you can still connect other streaming services or downloaded music you might have on a smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth. ‘Next’ and the other usual commands will still work but you won’t be able to shout out for specific songs, artists or albums.
Don’t have any of those? There’s also the free radio app TuneIn – simply say, ‘Alexa, play Radio 2’ and the live stream will start. You can listen to just about any radio station from across the world, live and free.
3. Call friends and family with Skype
4. Create your own personal assistant
Alexa Blueprints is a tool that lets you create your own questions and answers for Alexa. For example, a babysitter could ask “Alexa, where are the nappies?” and hear your custom reply: “They’re in the bathroom cupboard under the sink.”
Other examples include creating your own bedtime story. You can write the story into Blueprints and even add your own sound effects and then when the children ask for a bedtime story, it will read what you’ve written aloud.
These Blueprints are only applied to your Alexa assistant, so don’t worry about anyone else finding out where you keep the nappies. If you create one that you’re really proud of though, you can choose to share them with others.
5. The latest news headlines – including UEFA Champions League results
There are a number of news providers to choose from, including BBC Minute, which provides a roundup of the world’s news in 60 seconds. All you have to do is set up your default news provider in the Alexa app and after that you can simply shout, ‘Alexa, what are the latest news headlines?’ (Or any other sentence to that effect.)
More recently, Amazon has added everything UEFA, so you can ask for all the latest scores from the Champions League, Europa League and European qualifiers.
6. Ordering your favourite local takeaways and even Domino's Pizza
If you have a favourite takeaway you order regularly through Just Eat, you can instantly order it again with the Amazon Echo.
Simply shout ‘Alexa, ask Just Eat to re-order China Garden’ and it’ll carry out the order for you. Saying ‘Alexa, ask Just Eat where’s my food’ will also provide an update on your order’s status.
Unfortunately you can’t make completely new orders through Just Eat yet, but the company is working on new commands for the future.
And if you love pizza, look no further than Domino's Pizza who have recently joined the party. Simply shout, “Alexa, ask Domino’s to feed me," when you're craving a slice. There's also. “Alexa, ask Domino’s to track my order” and “Alexa, ask Domino’s where my pizza is” commands to be used as well.
7. Doing your shopping
Like to shop on Amazon? Prime members can now order products instantly using their voice. Simply say, ‘Alexa, order dog food’ or anything else of interest and it’ll do it for you.
If you’re shopping elsewhere, be sure to use the handy shopping list tool – called a Skill - too. Just say, ‘Alexa, add bread, milk, tea bags and deodorant to my shopping list’. Then when you’re out, open the Alexa app on your phone and it’ll be listed there for you.
8. Traffic updates
If you’re worried the busy roads will make you late in the morning, Alexa will keep an eye on your commute. Just ask ‘Alexa, what’s the traffic like right now?’ for the latest updates.
If you use the train to get around, you can also keep an eye on your route. Set up a regular route to work using the Alexa app, and every morning just ask, ‘Alexa, ask National Rail to check my commute’. You’ll then know if everything’s running smoothly or if there’s trouble on the line.
9. Controlling your TV
Logitech's Harmony remote already makes it easier to control your smart home at a click of your button, but by hooking up with Alexa you can control your TV with your voice.
Simply say, "Alexa, tell Harmony to change to BT Sport 1" and it'll change over. You can also ask for the TV to be switched on and to adjust the volume.
10. Controlling everything from your car
If you're driving, the last thing you want to do is fiddle with your phone - it's illegal after all - so Logitech’s ZeroTouch might be the answer.
ZeroTouch is a handy car mount with voice control and Alexa integration, meaning you can use all the same commands you would at home directly from your car.
Some newer cars have support for Amazon Echo built in, but the beauty of ZeroTouch is that it uses your existing smartphone so it really doesn't matter how old your car is.