A few years ago a “smart speaker” would have maybe been considered a speaker that connects automatically to Bluetooth. But ecommerce giant Amazon turned the phrase on its head with the release of the first Echo.
Echo is the company’s wireless smart speaker powered by a digital assistant known as Alexa. Not only does it play all your music from streaming services like Amazon Prime, Spotify, Pandora, and more by just using your voice to tell it to, the tiny speaker acts as the central point of your smart home. Since launching the original Echo, Amazon has also released other Echo devices, including the Echo Spot Smart Clock. While the devices each have different hardware features, the voice commands are the same.
You can ask the Echo questions and Alexa will give you answers. Or you can ask it to read you books or tell you the news or give you the latest weather and traffic updates. It’s no exactly Tony Stark’s JARVIS, but it’s the beginning of it.
But the real power in Echo, and Alexa, is that third-parties can tie into the speaker to add new abilities to it. Amazon calls these new abilities “skills” and you can think of them as voice-controlled UI-free apps. The more you add, the more proficient and useful Echo becomes. Here we’ve put together the top tips we love that make Echo even better.
Not an Echo fan? Google’s Home smart speakers can do some pretty amazing things too! And be sure to check out the Best Smart Speakers Of The Year.
1) Force A Software Update
Echo will check for new software updates each night, but if you want to, you can force Echo to search for updated software right away. To do this simply press and hold the mute button on the top of Echo and let it sit in mute mode for 30 minutes.
2) Access Echo’s Settings From A Web Browser
Alexa has smartphone apps that allow you to access its settings, but did you know you can also access some of its settings from the web? Simply go to http://echo.amazon.com.
3) Use Echo As A Calculator
Yeah, you can ask Echo to perform maths calculations for you. Great for homework.
4) Listen To Music From Accounts Of Different Family Members
Echo isn’t built to be a device like a smartphone, which generally only has one user. As a product built for the livingroom, Echo knows there may be multiple people using it. Multiple people usually mean multiple music libraries—for example, you might have one Amazon Prime account with music and playlists and your wife might use another account.
Echo can handle multiple accounts and you can find out which is active simply by asking “Alexa, which profile am I using?” After Alexa answers you all you need to do to switch profiles is say “Alexa, switch to [NAME]’s profile” and it will switch to that profile. You’ll then have access to all the music and streaming services that person has access to.
5) Force Echo To Go Completely Silent
Echo is always listening to you for you to say its wake word “Alexa” at which point it knows to pay attention to what you are saying. However, there may be times you don’t want Alexa to be listening to anything you say. Thankfully, Amazon lets you disable Echo’s listening capabilities for however long you choose. Simply hit the mute button on top of Echo and its ring will turn red. When the ring is red Echo won’t be listening to a word you say.
6) Echo Easter Egg Games
Seems the developers behind Echo’s Alexa software have a sense of humor. Echo features a ton of games hidden as Easter eggs, as this Reddit thread shows. Some of our top favorites:
- “Simon says…” = Get Alexa to repeat anything you say by using the command “Alexa, Simon says…”
- “Alexa, play Bingo” = This command enables Alexa to look up and download free printable bingo cards. You can then ask Alexa to start a Bingo game with you.
- “Alexa, ask Word Master to play a game” = This is a word-based game. Alexa will say a word and then you have to say with a word that starts with the last letter of the word Alexa said.
- “Alexa, start Animal Game/Capital Quiz” = Another game, but this time 20 questions with the subjects of animals or geography.
- “Alexa, start Star Wars quiz” = Yep, there’s a built-in Star Wars quiz game!
- “Alexa, play Jeopardy” = A Jeopardy-style trivia type of game where you must answer queries in the format of a question.
- “Alexa, roll the dice” = Alexa will tell you what the virtual die landed on. Great if you are playing a board game and have lost the dice!
- “Alexa, open the Wayne Investigation” = And awesome Batman easter egg. This is a chose-your-own-adventure game that leads you from clue to clue about who murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents.
7) Bonus: Listen To Some Fun Replies From Alexa
As you can see from above, the Alexa software developers have a sense of humor. If you’re bored, try asking Alexa random questions and you’ll get pretty funny answers. My favorite is “Are you Skynet?”
Apple expert and novelist, Michael Grothaus has been covering tech on KnowYourMobile for the best part of 10 years. Prior to this, he worked at Apple. And before that, he was a film journalist. Michael is a published author; his book Epiphany Jones was voted as one of the best novels about Hollywood by Entertainment Weekly. Michael is also a writer at other publications including VICE and Fast Company.