Alexa, Amazon‘s artificially intelligent voice assistant, is massively popular, with more and more useful Alexa skills rolling out every day. Today, you’ll find it in robots, vacuum cleaners, not to mention thousands of third-party apps that use Alexa for voice recognition. While voice search features were once limited to a few flagship smartphones, the Alexa app brings these features to many Android devices and iPhones in some form.
Here we look at how to use the Alexa app on any smartphone, and explain how it works.
If you’ve never used an Alexa-enabled device before, it’s worth taking a few minutes to customize it. Tap the three-line menu icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen to access the following:
- Routines: Alexa lets you set up a series of actions to perform at specific times or under specific circumstances so you can use a single command to turn on lights, switch on a radio station, turn up the heat, and other actions with a single command. The app recommends featured sequences like “Alexa, good morning” and “Alexa, I’m home,” for example.
- Reminder & Alarms: You can add an alarm directly from the app or adjust alarms and timers you’ve set using your Alexa-supported device — for example, cancel or make adjustments to a timer.
- Lists & Notes: Here’s where you’ll see items you’ve added (via voice command) to your Amazon shopping and to-do list from the Alexa app.
- Skills & Games: You can browse, enable, and manage the thousands of third-party apps that extend Alexa’s functionality from categories like Business & Finance, Food & Drink, Health & Fitness, and many more. See which ones you’ve installed by tapping the Your skills button in the top-right corner of the screen.
- Settings: This menu lets you set up your profile, location, and preferences like Music & Podcasts, TV & Video, Sports, Reminders, Photos, Notifications, and more.
You can tap the three-line menu icon, and select Settings to review your various Alexa-enabled devices and set names for them, as well as locations, time zones, and preferences for temperature and distance measurement units.
Amazon builds Alexa into several smartphones these days and they come in two varieties: Hands-Free and Push to Talk. With the hands-free models, you can just tell Alexa to play music, read the news, and check the weather wherever you are. With push-to-talk models, you must first double press the power button to request something and have Alexa respond.
Among the current crop of hands-free models for sale are the OnePlus 8 Pro, Moto G7, LG G8 ThinQ, Moto Z4, Moto G6, Moto Z3, Moto Z3 Play, LG V35 ThinQ, and the Sony Xperia 1. Among the push to talk phones are the Moto G7 Power, Moto G7 Play, Motorola One Action, LG Stylo 5, and Moto G6 Play.
Older HTC U11, Huawei Mate 9, and Moto X4 models also allow for a hands-free voice search. The Mate 9 was the first phone to ship with native Alexa support, and the HTC U11 was first to allow hands-free Alexa commands with its always-on mic. You can say, “Alexa” followed by a command even when the phone’s screen is off. The Alexa on the Mate 9 and U11 behave in a similar way to Amazon’s Echo speakers, though the apps can’t do everything the Echo speakers can do.
What you can do with Alexa on the smartphone
The Alexa app can tell the time, deliver a weather report, or provide a daily sports and news summary from NPR, CNN, the Associated Press, and more. Here are some commands that Alexa supports:
- Alexa, what’s the time?
- Alexa, what’s the latest news?
- Alexa, flip a coin.
- Alexa, 10 dollars to pounds.
- Alexa, 15 times 32.
- Alexa, how’s the weather outside today?
- Alexa, set a timer [X] minutes.
- Alexa, add milk to my shopping list.
- Alexa, what’s on my calendar?
- Alexa, start a seven-minute workout.
- Alexa, tell a bedtime story to [your child’s name].
The Alexa app is compatible with Amazon’s Kindle and Audible services. If you ask, “Alexa, read my Kindle book,” you’ll hear an audiobook recording or text-to-speech transcription of the most recent addition to your Amazon library. Asking, “Alexa, read my audiobook” prompts the assistant to start or resume any audiobook you’ve purchased from Audible.
You can pair a variety of home appliances and electronics with the Alexa app, not to mention commands over your automobiles. If you have a Philips Hue or Samsung SmartThings device, Alexa can switch on lights or change TV channels. You can remotely start vehicles, change the interior temperature, run on-demand diagnostics and alerts, search destinations, and remotely locate your car using Hyundai’s Blue Link platform. Here’s a list of all the Alexa-supported Internet of Things devices.
Alexa and Amazon’s shopping platform are tightly integrated, allowing you to place an order for anything on Amazon Prime, including Amazon Fresh groceries, Amazon Prime Pantry non-perishables, and Amazon Prime Now 2-hour delivery items. You can pull up the status of shipments due for arrival with the simple verbal command, “Alexa where’s my stuff?.” Investing in Alexa software will also grant you special bargains on any number of goods and services that pop up throughout the year through numerous companies.
Many apps fall within Amazon’s collection of skills, meaning that Alexa can enable these apps through voice recognition. A particularly useful one is the Chef app, which can read recipes, send shopping lists, and track expiration dates. Uber and Lyft’s apps can summon rides to your approximate location and Fitbit’s app can tell you how many steps you’ve taken. The Capital One app details your bank balance, while apps from Dominos, Pizza Hut, and Grubhub allow you to get food delivered.
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