Amazon Echo Dot’s Alexa has more than 15,000 skills and the overwhelming amount is causing many Echo users to miss Alexa’s most useful capabilities. Find out about Alexa’s top 10 skills that you can use right now – without having to purchase any additional gadgets.
The Amazon Echo Dot is a smart speaker (like Google Home) that is always listening to you and ready to follow your voice instructions. Alexa, which is Amazon Echo’s voice service, does not only answer any questions but also lets you order food, control your smart-home devices, gets you an Uber or Lyft ride, or does online shopping for you.
All you need to do to get Alexa to complete a task is say her wake name. In your Amazon Alexa app, you can choose the name “Alexa,” “Echo,” “Computer,” or “Amazon.”
Unfortunately, the Echo’s stand-by listening mode can get utterly annoying because it does respond every time it hears its wake name. Whether the name is mentioned in a television commercial, a YouTube video, or in a phone conversation, the Echo will respond.
Alexa’s magic mute button
Once you push the mute button (available on all Amazon Echo devices), the irritating problem is resolved. A bright red light will not let you forget that your device is on mute.
On the Echo Dot 2nd Generation (height 1.3 inches, diameter 3.3 inches), the mute button is on the top. The same applies to the taller All-new Echo 2nd Generation (5.8″ x 3.4″) and the Echo Plus (9.2″ x 3.3″). Since the stylish Echo Spot looks like a round alarm clock and has a screen, the mute button is on the back in the middle between the volume up and volume down buttons. The Echo Show also has a screen but is rectangular (7.4″ x 7.4″ x 3.5). Echo Show’s mute button (which also turns off the camera) is on the left side.
Since we are mentioning the five Echo devices, here is a brief comparison. The Echo Dot 2nd Generation is currently available on Amazon for $49.99. The taller All-new Echo 2nd Generation costs $99.99, Echo Plus costs $149.99, Echo Spot costs $129.99, and Echo Show costs $179.99. Prices are subject to constant change.
The cost differences between the five products are due to the speaker sizes and quality, the availability of a screen and thus capability of playing videos (Echo Spot and Echo Show only), or a built-in hub for smart home devices (Echo Plus only).
All five Amazon Echo devices can be used to stream Wi-fi music (for example Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora,), to make free calls to the U.S., Mexico, or Canada, and to control smart home devices. Except the rectangular Echo Show (Bluetooth only), all other four devices can be connected to external speakers or headphones through a 3.5 mm stereo cable or Bluetooth.
When you say your device’s wake name and ask a question, Amazon’s Echo (powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine) will provide you with an answer. In contrast to Amazon’s Echo, Google Home is powered by the Google search engine.
Since Echo devices are on standby mode and stream your voice to Amazon’s cloud service, many people have expressed concerns over their privacy. To ensure that no one is listening in, turning the device off with the power button is one option. We prefer the mute button because it shows with a big red light that Alexa is muted.
Make hands-free phone calls to landlines or smart phones
Except the mute and power button, everything else is hands free on the Echo Dot. If you are listening to music or an audio book (the smart speaker can read Kindle or Amazon books to you), you can change the volume by simply saying “Alexa, volume up” or “Alexa, volume down.”
To make a call to a landline or mobile phone, just say “Alexa, call [say the phone number including the area code]. Alexa will repeat the number to you and then make the call. If you do not include the area code, Alexa will tell you that it cannot call the number but that it can make phone calls in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
You can also make a call by using a person’s name from your smart phone contact list. Say “Alexa, call Tom’s mobile,” or “Alexa, call Tom’s home” to specify which number you want to use.
For kids and seniors, it is a great idea to list yourself as “mom,” “dad,” or “daughter” in your smart phone’s contact list. This way, all a child has to say is “Alexa, call mom’s work.” A senior can just say “Alexa, call daughter’s work.”
Hands-free Alexa to Alexa call
Alexa-to-Alexa calls are made from one Amazon Echo device to another. The Alexa contact list is different from your mobile contact list and only includes people who also have an Amazon Echo device.
To see who is on your Alexa contact list, go to the Amazon Alexa app, click on the bubble in the center on the bottom of your screen, then click on the person icon on the right hand top.
When installing and setting up your Amazon Alexa app, make sure you enable the “calling and messaging” feature!
If you are trying to call someone with your Echo device and the other person (even though he or she has an Echo-compatible device) is unable to get your call, it is usually because they did not enable their calling and messaging feature.
You can control who can “drop in” and who cannot drop in via Echo. If you do not want someone to be able to call you via Alexa, click on the person’s name in your Alexa app contact list and turn off the option “This contact can Drop in to your Echo devices.”
Alexa’s “drop-in” feature does not require having to use your mobile phone or Alexa app. To make an Alexa-to-Alexa call, simply say “Alexa, call Tom.” To stop the call, just say, “Alexa, stop.”
Making a video call
Even though Amazon’s Echo Dot does not have a screen like the Echo Spot or Echo Show, you can still make a video-to-video call to a person by using your Alexa app.
Open your Amazon Alexa app, click on the bubble on the bottom of your screen, click on the contact icon on the right top of your screen (a person), and choose a contact. Under your contact’s name, it shows you the bubble (which allows you to read and listen to previous messages), make a call (the phone icon) or make a video call (the camera icon).
Once you click on the video camera icon, the person on the other end can answer your call with his or her smart phone and you have your video-to-video call.
Leaving someone a message with Alexa
To leave a message for another Echo device user, say “Alexa, send message to Tom.” You have to use the name that is shown in your Alexa app contact list (not your mobile phone contact list).
Alexa will prompt you for the message by saying “what is the message?” After Alexa has sent the message (ideally a short one), Tom will see a bright yellow ring on his Alexa device alerting him that someone has left a message.
Tom can say “Alexa, read message” and hear what the person had to say. The message can also be read and heard on Tom’s Alexa app.
The hands free Alexa-to-Alexa call works perfectly with the $29.99 Amazon Echo Dot and does not require any expensive additional gadget. When you purchase the Echo Dot, the device comes ready to connect to your Wi-Fi and the Alexa app is compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices. It is also accessible via any web browser.
Sending a reminder to yourself
Just as you are about to fall asleep, you are remembering that you have to do something important the next day. Instead of getting out of bed and writing it down, you can simply say “Alexa, remind me to …”
Alexa will ask you what time you want to be reminded. Add “p.m.” or “a.m.” because Alexa will remind you whatever comes next.
At the time of your reminder, Alexa will contact you and let you know what you said. The message will also appear on your smart phone and on your Alexa app Home screen. You can read and listen to the message again on your app.
How to make a list with Alexa
If you have more than one thing to remember and want to make a list (for example a shopping list or to do list), you can use the Echo Dot’s “list” feature.
You can say, “Alexa, make a list.”
Alexa will then ask you what you want to call the list.
After you tell Alexa the name of your list, it will create it and say “I’ve created your … list.”
Alexa will then ask you what you want to add to the list. After saying one item, Alexa will ask you if you want to add another item. You can add numerous items and when you are done, just say “I’m done,” or “that’s all.”
To view your list, go to your Amazon Alexa app, click on the three white lines on the left top, choose “Lists,” and click on the name of your list. You can manually add items to the list or delete any of them.
At any time, you can tell your Echo Dot the following: “Alexa, add to shopping list.” Alexa will ask you “what would you like to add?”
Where is my phone?
You are ready for your shopping trip but can’t find your phone? Just say, “Alexa, find my phone.”
To enable Alexa’s Find My Phone skill, say “Alexa, enable the Find My Phone skill.” In our case, all we had to do is give Alexa the smart phone number, receive a four-digit pin via text message, and tell Alexa the pin number. And that was it!
Now, whenever we can’t find our phone, we just say “Alexa, find my phone.”
The only difficulties some of our friends encountered was that one individual had his smart phone on “do not disturb,” and the other person had it “muted.” Of course, in either case, Alexa can call the phone but you would be unable to hear it.
Amazon’s description of how to use the Find My Phone skill is much more complicated. We did not have to install any additional app on our phones in order to use the feature.
Using Amazon’s Echo as a timer
Your smart speaker comes in handy when you do not want to forget about the time. Just say, “Alexa, set timer for 20 minutes,” and the device will ring after 20 minutes. Unlike other timers, there is no screen to look at or having to listen to the ticking of a timer.
We especially use the timer for things that we do not want to do. Cleaning the house? We set Alexa’s timer for 15 minutes and do whatever we can get done in that time.
Using Alexa to listen to the radio
Since Amazon’s instructions on how to listen to the radio with an Echo device were either too little or too much, we are choosing to list it as our number 10 of noteworthy Alexa skills.
Say “Alexa, play FM 89.5” and you have the radio station (in this case the national KPBS station) on your Echo device.
When we first tried to tell Alexa to play 89.5 FM (mentioning the FM after the number), she gave us a different radio station. We then tried “FM 89.5” and we got what we wanted. Quite interestingly, now that Alexa seems to know what we want to listen to, it doesn’t matter whether we say “89.5 FM” or “FM 89.5.”
Once your Echo Dot knows your radio station, you can simply say, “Alexa, play the radio.”
You can ask Alexa to play a radio station by name or by its FM/AM number. If you need more information about your favorite radio station, you can visit TuneIn’s website. TuneIn is an American audio streaming service and you can search the site for any radio station.
None of the above 10 Alexa skills required us to install any additional app!
When you visit Amazon’s Alexa Skills website, you see a list of what Alexa can do ordered by categories (Business & Finance, Communication, Connected Car, Education & Reference, Food & Drink, Games, Trivia & Accessories, Health & Fitness, Home Services, Kids, Lifestyle, Local, Movies & TV, Music & Audio, News, Novelty & Humor, Productivity, Shopping, Smart Home, Social, Sports, Travel & Transportation, Utilities, or Weather).
By visiting the Alexa skills webpage, you can also find out about the latest Alexa skills additions (during the last 7 days, the last 30 days, or the last 90 days) or see the skills listed by customer review ratings (1 to 5 stars).
In order to enjoy your smart speaker from the beginning, you do not have to do any reading but you can just interact with Alexa. Ask her, “Alexa, how are you?” and you will get a (sometimes amusing) answer. You can ask about the weather or time in another location, you can ask questions about movies or books, and you can even ask Amazon’s Echo Dot to tell you a joke.