Smart speakers are brilliant devices. They’ll play music on request, answer questions and even let you set a timer so you know when you’re dinner is ready.
In the UK, 22% of homes own a smart speaker and with 100 million devices already sold, the Amazon Echo series, with the Alexa voice-assistant, is incredibly popular.
In this guide we take a closer look at the Amazon Echo app to show you some of the brilliant things it can do, you might not be aware of.
Download the Amazon Alexa app
This is going to be the app you use to customise your Amazon Echo speaker and so it’s vital to make sure you have the latest version of the app installed.
Depending on your device, you can install the Amazon Alexa app here:
Alternatively you can change many of these settings on your laptop or computer by visiting Amazon's Alexa portal.
This is the home screen. From here you’ll see four main sections listed along the bottom of the screen. They are:
Home: This shows recent activity, local weather and gives you tips on how to make the most of your Echo speaker. Simply scroll through the cards to find out more.
Communicate: From here you can make calls and send messages to your friends or family who also have Echo devices or the Alexa app installed on their phone.
Play: Browse your music library or select an audiobook from your Audible collection and then have it play through one of your Echo devices.
Device: Control smart home devices that are compatible with Amazon Alexa such as smart lights or smart thermostats from Nest or Hive. From here you can control devices individually or control them as a whole room by grouping them together.
How to be more organised
View recent activity:
If you want to see a history of what your Echo speaker has been up to, simply tap on the Menu icon in the top left-hand corner of the home screen, then tap on Activity.
Create and view your lists
This feature is perfect for creating a shopping list that you can take with you or creating a list of your favourite films or things to do.
Tap on the Menu icon - Lists - Create List. Give your list a name and now every time you want to add to it say: “Alexa, add to my Films list”.
Manage your alarms and reminders
With Lists and Reminders your Echo speaker can wake you up in the morning or remind you take the bins out when you get home.
Tap on the Menu icon – Reminders & Alarms. There are three sections: Reminders, Alarms and Timers. From here you can manually change each one or you’ll see instructions on how to do it using just your voice.
Example: “Alexa, add a reminder”, or “Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes”
Add your calendar
Adding your calendar to your Alexa app means that all your Echo speakers can know your weekly schedule, handy for finding out what you’ve got coming up or for adding something new.
Tap the Menu icon – Settings – Calendar. You can choose between adding a Google, Microsoft or Apple iCloud calendar. Select the one you want to add and then enter you login details for that account.
Get traffic updates
By adding your home and work address to the Alexa app, you can get live traffic updates from your Echo speakers simply by asking.
Tap on the Menu icon – Settings – Traffic – Now enter your home and work address.
To get a traffic update simply say “Alexa, what’s my traffic?”
How to set up recognised voices
Alexa can actually tell the difference between you and your family members. As a result it can give you a personalised news briefing in the morning and even play personalised music choices (through Amazon Music) based on what you listen to.
Tap the Menu icon – Alexa Account – Recognised Voices – Your Voice – Consent. Now make sure you’re in a quiet room with the speaker, stand within 1.5m of it and say: “Alexa, learn my voice.”
Make a phone call or send a message
One useful feature of the Amazon Echo is that it can send voice messages or make calls. It should be noted that calls will work with any Echo device, landline or mobile number however messages can only be sent between Alexa-enabled devices.
Tap Communicate at the bottom of the screen, you can then tap Call and select the contact you want to call. If they have an Amazon Echo it will ring.
Tap Communicate at the bottom of the screen and then tap Message, select the contact and then type your message and finally hit Send. The recipient's Echo device will shine green and Alexa will read out your message on request.
If you have multiple Echo speakers in different rooms around the house, enabling this feature turns them into an intercom. Once enabled simply tap Drop In and then select the speaker you wish to contact.
Skype calling with Alexa
You can now make video and voice calls to your Skype contacts through all your Echo speakers. It’s easy to set up and it means you can video call people who don’t have Echo devices but do have Skype on their phones, tablets or computers. Skype also gives you 200 free minutes to call landlines and mobiles but after that you’ll have to top up your account with calling credit.
Tap the Menu icon and then tap Settings – Communications – Skype – Sign In.
Once activated you can call any of your Skype contacts by saying:
“Alexa, Skype Mum”
“Alexa, call Mum on Skype”
“Alexa, call Dad’s mobile on Skype.”
If you have a favourite sports team you can tell Alexa what it is and then going forwards your Echo speaker will give you updates on your favourite sport, or teams.
Tap on the Menu icon – Settings – Add a Team.
Now, every time you say “Alexa, what’s my sports update” you’ll get a personalised response. If you have an Amazon Echo Show you’ll also get customised score updates on the screen.
Your Echo speaker supports a range of different music services including: Amazon Music Unlimited, Amazon Prime Music, Spotify and TuneIn.
To add a music service tap on the Menu icon – Settings – Music – Select your music service and sign in.
Once signed in go to Menu icon – Settings – Music – Choose default music services and select the one you’ve just signed into.
How to pair a new speaker
To add a new speaker or smart home device to your Alexa app tap on the Menu icon and then tap on Add Device.
You’ll see a range of options including some specific brands that are popular among Echo users. Simply pick the device you want to add and follow the instructions on screen.
How to set up multi-room speakers
You can add speakers to specific rooms and then group them together for true multi-room audio. Note: you’ll need to have added your speakers to the app already using the instructions above.
Tap on Devices on the bottom right-hand side of the screen, then tap on the + symbol in the top right-hand side an tap Add Multi-Room Music Speakers.
How to set up a Routine
One of the most useful features hidden within the Alexa app is the ability to create Routines. These are effectively instructions which tell different devices around your house to do things using just one instruction. A perfect example is that you’ve come home and you want the lights to come on, the temperature to be turned up and your favourite playlist to start playing.
Simply tap on the Menu icon - Routines – + symbol.
First choose the action that starts your Routine by tapping on When this happens. It could be a voice command, schedule or Echo button. The best option here is a voice command e.g. “Alexa, I’m home.”
Next choose what you want to happen next by tapping on Add action. Options include reading the news, getting the weather, playing music, getting a traffic update or activating a smart home device like a light bulb.
Finally tap Save in the top right-hand corner and your Routine will be transferred to all your Echo devices.
How to add skills
Your Echo speaker is already pretty intelligent but thanks to Alexa Skills it can learn new tricks ranging from playing games to giving you more control over your smart home devices.
To add a skill tap on the Menu icon and then Skills & Games. Here you can browse the most popular skills or search for one that’s more relevant to you. For example if you have a Philips Hue lighting kit you can gain complete control over your lights using your voice by adding the Hue Skill.