Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant, comes loaded with a variety of features. But it’s the “skills” that really allow you to customize your experience to your liking. Skills are the Echo’s (and Dot’s, Show’s and Spot’s) version of apps: Programs that, when enabled, provide some extra functionality. There are currently tens of thousands of skills available on Amazon’s site, and more are added every day.
Some of these skills are specifically designed to interface with Alexa-compatible products — i.e., thermostats, lights, remotes — while others take a stand-alone approach to voice control. Below are some the more useful ones, whether you’re looking for your phone or a cocktail recipe.
It’s a great kitchen assistant
Alexa comes preloaded with the ability to add items to a master grocery list. On its own, being able to quickly shout to Alexa that you just ran out of cayenne pepper as you cook is incredibly handy, but skills like My Chef goes several steps further. It pairs with the Chefling app and allows you to track and read recipes, send shopping lists, and track expiration dates. It will even remind you what you have in your pantry while you’re out shopping. If you prepare a lot of meals at home and tend to be forgetful while out shopping, My Chef will save you a lot of frustration. There are also several other great skills for the kitchen.
It can plan your Instant Pot cuisine
Got an Instant Pot? Alexa can instantly pull up Instant Pot recipes for you to try out, and all you have to do is enable a skill. What makes this skill really useful is that there are many different ways in which you can filter through the recipes. Go by cuisine, diet preference, difficulty level, or even ingredients (so you can finally clear out those almost-expired foods in your fridge). You’ll be able to quickly put dinner on the table, and you can effortlessly find new recipes to try out that may become a permanent addition to your home cookbook.
It can help you eat healthier
Keeping track of your calories? Whether you’re trying to lose weight, gain weight, or just maintain a healthy weight, keeping tabs on your calorie intake can be really important. Do that easily with an Alexa skill. With this Track by Nutritionix skill, you can say things like, “Alexa, tell food tracker to log a glass of milk,” or “Alexa, ask food tracker for my calorie report.” Instead of counting your calories on a notebook that can be easily misplaced or forgotten, you can simultaneously log calories while preparing a meal.
It can find your phone
It’s easy to misplace your phone or have it slip out of your pocket into the depths of the couch. If someone else is home, your first instinct is likely to frantically ask them to call it. With its Where’sMyPhone skill, Alexa can do that for you, so you don’t need to wait for a roommate or spouse to get home.
It can call an Uber or Lyft
If you’re a heavy public transportation user, chances are you’ve found yourself running late and trying to call a ride with one hand while getting dressed with the other. Once you set this skill up on Alexa — the app needs to know the location of your Echo — you can desperately scream for a ride while showering and thinking of what excuse for being late you’re going to tell your boss this time. These are the kinds of things voice-activated systems were made for.
It can keep you updated on your favorite sports teams
Although it’s a default skill, you might not be aware that you can go into your settings via Alexa and customize your sports news. You can add your favorite professional or college teams and get updates on schedules and scores.
It can read you a short bedtime story
This one is for any parent who gets tired of reading the same bedtime stories over and over. You might not like the idea of a robot reading your child to sleep, but your kid will love it. The app also lets you customize the story to include your child’s name. Each of the stories clock in at under a minute (and Alexa’s monotone reading voice is no substitute for yours), but it’s worth enabling if you ever need a rest for a night.
It can let you dictate text messages without your phone
By default, Alexa doesn’t have access to your devices and contacts. But the ‘SMS with Molly’ skill will allow you dictate text messages when your phone isn’t within reach. It does require a fair bit of setting up — creating a profile is painless, but you’ll have to add contacts manually. Still, if you’re a frequent texter, you’ll get a lot of mileage out of this.
It can read you customized news briefings
We’re not referring to a specific skill, but rather the ability to customize the news you get every day. By default, asking Alexa for a ‘flash briefing’ runs you through the top news stories from a few handpicked sources. But you can enable everything from The Wall Street Journal to an (unofficial) Reddit app, if you should so desire. The settings page on the Alexa companion app will let you add or remove sources until you have a flash briefing tailored to your liking.
It can play you music
Want to listen to music, but don’t have speakers in the house? Your Alexa-enabled device functions as a music player, and once you register the device to your Amazon account, you’ll be able to play music from your Amazon Music library. Prefer to stream music from a service like Spotify? You can do that, too, and even use the Spotify app on your smartphone as a remote control. Like listening to some gentle, relaxing music while you fall asleep? You can ask Alexa to stop playing music after a certain amount of time, so the music will stop once you’re in la la land.
It can book you a reservation with OpenTable
Set up a profile and then quickly make a dinner reservation at your favorite spot while keeping your eyes glued to your video games. Like the mobile app of the same name, this skill will let you make, modify, and cancel reservations, and now, you can do this on your Echo Show, too. You can either use your voice, or tap the touchscreen of the latest Alexa-enabled smart home hub to ask for a reservation at your favorite restaurant. If the skill is unable to find your exact match, it will provide a list of alternative options. Sadly, it’s not as robust as the full app. There is no search functionality.
It can learn 12,000 cocktails and tell you what wine to drink
“The Bartender” skill gives you access to more than 12,000 cocktail recipes. If you’re watching TV and see someone order an unfamiliar cocktail, or if you just don’t know what’s in your favorite mixed drink, the app will rattle off the ingredients for you. You can also reverse engineer a concoction by telling The Bartender what you’ve got on hand to make a drink with.
“MySomm” also lets you know what kind of wines pair best with what you’re having for dinner. If you tend to entertain and have a well-stocked liquor cabinet, you’ll be using these constantly. It’s worth noting that “MySomm” asks you to activate it by referring to it as “Wine Gal,” which means said company will probably make fun of you.
It can call your friend in an emergency
‘Ask My Buddy’ is a helpful skill for anyone who might find themselves in a situation where they need help but can’t access their phone. It can call or text a specific contact (or all programmed contacts) quickly and easily in case of an emergency. It does not call 911 or other emergency services, however.
It can let you listen to ‘The Tonight Show’
Even if you don’t watch the show religiously, this app is great for listening to the show’s opening monologue and a few choice bits. If you’re a Jimmy Fallon fan, it’s some nice, light entertainment to listen to while you’re brushing your teeth or cleaning up around the house.
It can help you navigate the NYC Subway
There are a variety of skills for public transportation hubs similar to ‘NYC Subway.’ Enabling these skills will allow Alexa to rattle off delays along specific lines, so you know just how much time you’ll need to get where you’re going.
It can let you play games
Got a geography buff in the house? There are plenty of Alexa skills that offer fun trivia games. If you like geography trivia, enable the WhereInTheWorld skill. This game will ask you the capitals of countries, where specific languages are spoken, and a whole lot more. Practice your geography knowledge with this Alexa skill.
It can tell you intricate details about the weather
Alexa does give you local forecasts by default, but this Dark Sky-based skill called ‘Weather Sky’ gives incredibly detailed breakdowns. If you want to know the sunrise and sunset times, for example, or what the weather was like a year ago, this app can do that for you.
It can walk you through a workout
Gym memberships and personal trainers don’t come cheap, but fortunately, you don’t need to shell out loads of cash to get in great shape. Your voice assistant Alexa can narrate a workout for you, and it’s totally free. Let Alexa walk you through sit-ups, push-ups, and bicep curls — just don’t be surprised when you’re sore the next morning.
Quality of the pizza notwithstanding, ordering food without stopping what you’re doing has never been easier. Both skills require you to set up a customer profile, but once you do, Alexa can order your favorite ‘zas with a simple voice command.
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