Monday, April 12, 2021

our weekly take on the best commands, tips, tricks and Skills – Which? News

our weekly take on the best commands, tips, tricks and Skills – Which? News

If you think you’ve mastered your voice assistant, you’re probably wrong. The wide range of things you can do with Alexa is astonishing, and it’s learning all the time.

To make sure you don’t miss out on genuinely useful tricks you can experiment with, each week our experts will be selecting their favourite Alexa commands for you to try out, plus sharing some helpful tips too.

Find out below what made the cut and be sure to check back next week for more.

Not on board yet? Browse all our reviews of smart speakers with voice assistants to get started.

Alexa trick of the week

Sharing and switching Alexa accounts with each other

Are lots of people using your Alexa account this Christmas? It’s not always best for everyone in your household to use just one Alexa account. Alexa customises itself to you over time, and sometimes it can be useful for people to access their own Alexa accounts for certain services, like purchases from Amazon or their Spotify playlists.

Thankfully, it couldn’t be easier to switch between Alexa accounts – all you need to say is: ‘Alexa, switch profile”. To get started creating more than one Alexa account, in the Alexa app head to Settings, then Alexa Account, and finally Amazon Household. Here you can enter the Amazon account details of new person. And if you ever want to know which account you’re logged in with, simply ask: ‘Alexa, which profile am I using?’

To avoid forgetting to switch the profile back, if the person is only going to use the Alexa device for a short time, you can use Alexa’s Guest Connect feature. This allows you to temporarily connect to the Alexa device. You’ll need to set this up first, by having ready an Alexa account, Alexa voice profile, and a phone number linked to your Alexa account. With those set up, all you need to say is: ‘Alexa, connect to my account’ to get started with Guest Connect. You’ll be prompted to give your phone number for verification, and then you’ll have access to your personalised music and news. When you’re finished, to disconnect simply say: ‘Alexa, disconnect my account.’

Alexa tip of the week

Alexa Skill Blueprints

Did you know you can use templates to create your own personal Alexa skill in minutes? There are a whole range of templates to choose from, including custom games, unique stories, or household lists.

For example, you can make a trivia skill of funny facts about your family members to share this holiday season, and say: ‘Alexa, open My Family Trivia’ to play it with your family whenever you like. Simply head to the Alexa Blueprints page, and select Trivia under the Fun & Games heading. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete your trivia questions.

Alexa Skill of the week

Myth Buster

Think you have what it takes to spot fake news? Put your skills to the test with Myth Buster. This still will read out a fact and ask you to guess whether it’s true or false. It’s win-win, because even if you lose, you learn something new. After you’ve installed the skill, say ‘Alexa, open myth buster and give me a myth’.

Voice assistants are an integral part of a smart home, but there’s a wide range of possibilities if you’re looking to invest. Read our guide on how to set up a smart home, including the best smart speakers and household products to buy.

Our top 10 things to ask Alexa

These are our experts’ favourite and most frequently used features and commands.

  • Set a reminder for a time and activity ‘Alexa, remind me to take the bins out tomorrow at 8am.’ You can also set recurring reminders: ‘remind me every Tuesday at 8am to take the bins out.’ Reminders can be more useful than alarms, since you can tell Alexa what they’re for: ‘Alexa, remind me in 20 minutes to add the sauce’ is more useful than ‘Alexa, set an alarm for 20 minutes’.
  • Build a shopping list ‘Alexa, add milk to my shopping list’. You can also create new lists through the Alexa app, for example ‘Poundshop’ – then just ask: ‘Alexa, add clingfilm to my Poundshop list.’ You can even now add multiple items at once, and they will appear separately: ‘Alexa, add milk and cheese to my shopping list.’

  • Listen to the radio ‘Alexa, play BBC Radio 1’. Alexa can play dozens of radio stations by default and you can use Alexa Skills to add more.
  • Set a sleep alarm If you like listening to music or other audio before bed, tell Alexa to set a sleep alarm. It will stop playing automatically so you don’t disturb yourself telling Alexa to ‘stop’. Just say: ‘Alexa, set a sleep alarm for 20 minutes.’
  • What’s the weather like? Most people know you can ask this, but you can also check the weather tomorrow, for the following week or even for a different location. Say ‘Alexa, what’s the weather like in Marseille next week?’.
  • Get help planning trips ‘Alexa, how long will it take to get the train to Bristol?’ If you’re wondering what to do at the weekend, get the lay of the land with some approximations from Alexa, without having to look it up.

  • Listen to audiobooks With a subscription to an audiobook service, Alexa can be the perfect companion for an evening read. For example, ask: ‘Alexa, read Treasure Island from Audible.’ Amazon’s service Audible has a 30-day free trial.
  • Broadcast messages around the home If you have more than one Alexa device at home, no need to shout to your family – simply use the broadcast feature with the ‘announce’ command to send your message to all the Alexa devices in your home. Say ‘Alexa, announce: takeaway has arrived!’

  • Call friends If you have an Amazon Echo device (this isn’t supported on all third-party Alexa devices), you can call most UK mobiles and landlines for free once set up in the Alexa app (excluding emergency numbers). ‘Alexa, call Diane.’
  • Get some culinary inspiration Alexa can give you some easy fresh ideas and even take you through the recipes step by step. ‘Alexa, find quick dinner recipes.’

Other great tips, tricks and skills for Amazon Alexa

Best Alexa tricks

  • Whisper mode – ‘Alexa, turn on Whisper mode’. Whisper to Alexa, and she’ll whisper back.
  • Send a hug ‘Alexa, send a hug to Mum’. Send a hug that will appear as a message on both the voice assistant and the phone of one of your contacts. 
  • Wake up to your favourite tunes – Tell Alexa to ‘Wake me up at 8am to…’ and then name a song or artist you like.
  • Master Lists – Create new lists for any topic you choose: for example, ‘Alexa, create a packing list’. Say ‘Alexa, add sun cream to my packing list’ to add items to that list.
  • Routines – Simplify repeating the same set of voice commands every day with Alexa Routines. Just say one command – such as ‘Alexa, good morning.’ – and it will trigger all your regular commands in one go. To set up a Routine, head to the Alexa app, tap the menu button and select Routines.
  • Follow-up mode – Go into Settings in the Alexa app, choose your device and enable ‘Follow-up mode’. Then you’ll only need to say ‘Alexa’ for the first command you make in a sequence.
  • Follow your favourite sports teams – In the Alexa mobile app, head to the main menu and tap Settings. Under Sports, run a search for your favourite team. For example, try tapping in ‘Arsenal’ or the name of any other teams you’d like to keep an eye on – there’s a range of sports on offer. Then, try saying ‘Alexa, give me my sports update’.
  • Turn your Alexa device into an intercom – If you have more than one Alexa at home, you can speak into one and have your voice played out through another in a different room. Just say ‘Alexa, Drop In on [device name]’ or ‘Alexa, Drop In everywhere.’ You can also Drop In on devices outside your home owned by any Alexa contacts you’ve added in the Alexa app.
  • Personalise Alexa for multiple users – Alexa can personalise its responses to different people using Alexa Voice Profiles. Say: ‘Alexa, learn my voice,’ then follow Alexa’s prompts. You’ll then be able to customise responses, such as your Flash Briefing news report, so it’s unique to you (based on your settings) next time you say ‘Alexa, what’s in the news?’
  • Set Alexa to automatically delete your recordings  In the Alexa app, go to Settings, Alexa Privacy, then Manage Your Alexa Data. Under ‘Manage your voice recordings,’ use the ‘Automatically delete recordings’ toggle to make your recordings delete, with options for after three and 18 months.
  • Choose your own wake word for Alexa  Although you can’t change Alexa’s name, you can decide which word wakes the assistant up from a nap. Open the Alexa app, select Devices, choose a gadget and tap on Wake word.
  • Create a music playlist without using your phone – Alexa can help you set up a playlist from scratch and you can add songs to at any time. Just say: ‘Alexa, create a new playlist’ – it’ll ask what you want to call the playlist, then simply start adding your favourite tracks. When Alexa’s playing a song, just say: ‘Alexa, add this song to my playlist’.
  • Track your Amazon packages – You can track your Amazon deliveries easily with your voice. Just ask: ‘Alexa, track my order.’ or ‘Alexa, where’s my stuff?’ You can also enable notifications so Alexa flags to you when an item has been left by your front door. Head to the Alexa app, tap on the menu icon, then Settings, Notifications, Amazon Shopping and enable the Delivered option, and Out for Delivery too to keep full track of your deliveries. Toggle Say or show item titles to keep the content of your deliveries private or a surprise.
  • Track your Amazon packages – Track your Amazon deliveries easily with your voice. Just ask: ‘Alexa, track my order.’ or ‘Alexa, where’s my stuff?’ You can also enable notifications so Alexa flags to you when an item has been left by your front door.
  • Add contacts to the Alexa app – If you’re planning on ringing or messaging friends and family through the Alexa app, you’ll need to add them to your address list. Open the Alexa app and select Communicate. Head to the Contacts icon in the top-right corner and choose Add contact. Enter a name and phone number and hit save.
  • Control your smart lights with voice commands – To configure Philips Hue smart lights to work with Alexa: Go to the Skills menu in the Alexa app, search for Hue, enable the Hue Skill and sign in with your MyHue account, select Discover devices. Once complete, say: ‘Alexa, turn on [light bulb name]’.
  • Make Alexa your default voice assistant on Android devices – On a Samsung Galaxy phone, open the settings menu in the Alexa app and choose Advanced Features, tap Device assistance app, Device assistance app again and tap Alexa. On other Android devices, open the settings menu and choose Apps. Tap the three dots at the top right and choose Default apps. Tap Device assistance app and then select Alexa. The only limitation of Alexa on Android is that you have to hold down on the home button on your device to activate Alexa –you can’t just say ‘Alexa’ at any time and expect it to respond. Apple iOS users still need to go into the Alexa app if you want to use Alexa on Apple devices.
  • Connect a larger speaker to your Alexa device – Using Bluetooth, you can connect your Alexa speaker to a larger Bluetooth speaker or other audio device with Bluetooth, such as a hi-fi system or sound bar. Go into the Alexa app, head to Settings, then Device Settings and select the Alexa device you’d like to connect up. Then tap Bluetooth and choose to connect to a new device. With the wired option, you’d need to buy the cable, but then it’s simply the case of plugging your Alexa speaker into your separate speaker or hi-fi system.
  • See your Facebook photos on the Echo Show – To enjoy your favourite snaps on the Echo’s display, you can either use the Amazon Photos service or sync through Facebook. Linking your Facebook account to the Echo Show is a simple process. On the Alexa app, head to Settings > Home & Clock > Clock > Personal Photos > Background > Facebook. From there, pick your favourite photo albums and you’re all set.
  • Control your Christmas tree lights – If you buy an Alexa-compatible smart plug (the £25 Amazon Smart Plug, for example) you can use your voice to easily turn the lights on or off. To set up a smart plug, open up the Alexa app and tap Devices, then the Plus icon and Add device > Plug. Follow the instructions to complete the setup.

Best Alexa tips

  • Reorder your shopping lists Use an app called Anylist to sync your Alexa shopping lists, and you can reorder items for any purpose you like – for example to appear in the order of the aisles in your local store.
  • Link your calendar and email Visit Settings in the Alexa app, and choose Calendar & Email. Link these to Alexa and you can ask for updates on your schedule, and new emails.
  • Flash briefing Configure sources for your flash briefing in the Alexa Settings to choose the news she reports.
  • Check what Alexa has recorded – Go to Settings and then Alexa Privacy. Here you can review your voice history, play back these recordings or delete them. Read our investigation into Alexa and Google voice assistants, where you’ll find more tips on safeguarding your privacy.
  • Adjusting bass/treble – If you’re finding music sounds a bit tinny, try increasing the bass: ‘Alexa, increase the bass.’ and increase the treble to hear voices clearer: ‘Alexa, increase the treble.’
  • Make Alexa speak slower or faster Simply ask: ‘Alexa, speak slower.’ Or if you just missed what she said, try: ‘Alexa, repeat that.’ If you find Alexa’s answers too wordy, you can either speed her up – ‘Alexa, speak faster.’ – or use Brief Mode. With this enabled, Alexa will give shorter response.
  • Connect to another Bluetooth speaker To partner your Alexa device with another Bluetooth speaker, open the Alexa app, select Devices, then Echo & Alexa. Tap your device, then select Bluetooth Devices. From there, select Pair A New Device. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the setup.
  • Avoid accidental purchases – Making a purchase using Alexa can be sorted with a single voice command, so anybody in the house can make a purchase with your account. To make it much more secure, you can enable a PIN that needs to be said to make a purchase with your Account settings in the Alexa app.
  • Help Alexa know your locations – Alexa uses your current location for weather updates, traffic updates and more. Make sure it’s got this spot on. Select your device in the Alexa app, tap Location and enter your postcode. For traffic updates, set your start and end point. Under Alexa’s app Settings, tap on Traffic, then ask: ‘Alexa, what’s the traffic like right now?’
  • Set your default music provider – In the menu in the Alexa app, head to Settings, music, then tap Choose Default Music Services. Remember some music streaming services and features require subscriptions.
  • Have Alexa read your Kindle book to you – If you can’t quite find the time to settle down and finish that Kindle book you’ve been flicking through, have the Alexa voice assistant act as a narrator while you’re doing other tasks. Open up the Alexa app, tap Play at the bottom of the screen, scroll down to your library and select a book.
  • Activate Alexa’s wake-up sound – If you find it hard to tell when Alexa is listening to you, you can turn on a sound that’ll play every time Alexa hears you say your wake word – by default ‘Alexa’. In the Alexa app, head to Settings, select your device, then tap on Sounds, and choose Wake-up sound.
  • Use the Alexa app on your computer – If you don’t have a mobile device to hand, you can still access the settings available in the Alexa app through a web browser on your computer or laptop. Most web browsers are supported, such as Chrome and Safari (for Internet Explorer, version 10 and above). Head to and sign in to your Amazon account. Not every feature is supported in the web browser app, but it’s still a handy option or backup.
  • Silence your speaker with Do Not Disturb mode – This Alexa feature is particularly handy if you don’t want to be woken up by your speaker while you’re in the land of nod. Do Not Disturb mode can be enabled manually, or you can configure it to activate at certain times. To enable Do Not Disturb mode, open the Alexa app. Tap Devices, then Echo & Alexa and select Do Not Disturb. Or even more easily, you can toggle it with voice commands. Just say: ‘Alexa, turn on Do Not Disturb’, and to return to normal just say: ‘Alexa, turn off Do Not Disturb.’
  • Learn about local restaurants and businesses – Don’t know where to go for your meal out? Alexa can help you learn more about nearby restaurants. First check you’ve entered your home address in the Alexa app. Then simply say ‘Alexa, what restaurants are nearby?’, or ‘Alexa, find the phone number for [name of restaurant]’.
  • Play a song you don’t remember the name of – Got a song stuck in your head? Try singing some of the words to Alexa – she could well recognise the tune and offer to play it. For example, ‘Alexa, and the bells are ringing out for Christmas day’ will of course offer Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues. You can then ask cover versions of that song then, too.
  • Protect your privacy when giving away an old Alexa device – If you’re giving away or selling an old device, make sure it’s not registered to your account. In the Alexa app, go to Settings, then Device Settings and find the device you’re giving away. In the About section, tap the deregistration option.
  • Scan a barcode Just say ‘Alexa, scan barcodes’ and a marker will appear on the screen of the Echo Show. Line up the on-screen marker with the barcode of the product you’re holding and it’ll be instantly added to your Amazon grocery list.
  • Track your orders – If you’ve placed an Amazon order, you can check up on it by saying: ‘Alexa, where’s my order?’ You can also enable notifications for  when a parcel has been left on the doorstep. In the Alexa app, tap Settings, then Notifications. Select Amazon Shopping and then adjust the sliders with your preferences. To not spoil a surprise gift, tweak the settings in the Say or show item titles menu.

Best Alexa skills

  • Sleep and relaxation sounds A skill with over 125 nature sounds to choose from. 
  • Find my phone Get Alexa to ring your phone so you can locate it.
  • Question of the day Test yourself with a daily question and pick up some general knowledge.
  • 1-Minute Mindfulness – This beginner-friendly skill aims to detach you from stresses and strains in just one minute.
  • 7-Minute-Workout skill – This skill will suggest exercises to boost your metabolism, give you more energy and remove fat.
  • My Better Nutrition. Offers daily advice and pep talks, including product recommendations and new recipes to try. You’ll find advice for kids, how to boost your immune system and hear about some good options for when you’re on the go.
  • Red Riding Hood Download the Red Riding Hood Alexa skill and you can enjoy an immersive, interactive story with your little ones. There are two tales to choose from, both of which allow you to make decisions along the way that affect the story. To get started, simply say ‘Alexa, open Red Riding Hood’ or ‘Alexa, open Hansel and Gretel’.
  • Song Quiz Test your knowledge of the most popular songs from the past 60 years – download the Song Quiz app and call out the correct song title or artist for points before time runs out. To get started, just say ‘Alexa, start Song Quiz’.
  • Ingredient Sub – Have a lovely recipe idea but missing one ingredient? This handy skill saves the day. Simply ask: ‘Alexa, Open Ingredient Sub’ and you’ll be given good options you can use as a substitute.
  • Red Burglar DeterrentIf you’d love a deterrent that even the Home Alone burglars wouldn’t crack, Burglar Deterrent is the Alexa skill for you. It’ll set Alexa to play sounds out of your connected devices to simulate people carrying out their everyday tasks in the house, in earshot to anyone who comes to the front door.
  • Akinator Akinator is a free game that tries to guess what celebrity you’re thinking of just by asking a series of yes or no questions. The character you think of can be real or fictional, and the challenge comes from trying to think of a person or animal that Akinator hasn’t heard of. Start the game by saying ‘Alexa, start Akinator’ or ‘Alexa, play Akinator’.
  • Trivial Pursuit Tap – just like the popular board game, this Alexa Skill fires fast-paced questions in your direction. To win, conquer a question from each of its six different categories, with a bonus round that’s even trickier. Owners of Amazon’s internet-enabled Echo buttons can use those as buzzers with up to three other quizzers. Get started by saying ‘Alexa, open Trivial Pursuit Tap’.
  • Night Light – This handy skill allows any of Amazon’s Echo speakers which have a light ring to be used as a subtle night light. Just say: ‘Alexa, open Night Light’ or ‘Alexa, open Night Light for 45 minutes’, and stop it at any time with: ‘Alexa, stop.’
  • On This Day – Learn something new each day with this skill that tells you interesting things that happened on today’s date in the past. Simply add it and say: ‘Alexa, open On This Day.’
  • Voice of the day – This free Alexa Skill challenges you to identify the famous voice from a short sound clip. To try Voice of the Day for yourself, simply say ‘Alexa, open Voice of the Day’. To repeat the sound clip, just say ‘Alexa, play the clip again’.
  • Pointless – Fans of Pointless on BBC One can put themselves to the test with this free Alexa Skill to find the most obscure correct answers possible. Say ‘Alexa, play Pointless’ or ‘Alexa, ask Pointless to explain the rules’.
  • Star Wars Quotes – Missing going to the movies? Bring the magic from Star Wars into your home. Just say: ‘Alexa, open Star Wars quotes’, and then ask: ‘Alexa, ask Star Wars Quotes for a quote.’ May the Force be with you.
  • Headspace Enabling the Headspace Skill gives you instant access to daily meditation and sleep exercises. When you’re away from home, you can swap over to the smartphone application for walking and running guides. To get started, try saying ‘Alexa, open Headspace’ or ‘Alexa, tell Headspace I’m ready to meditate’. Note that if you want to give the Headspace Skill a go yourself, you’ll need to create an account for free.
  • Wonderland –Winter Wonderland serves up some cheesy Christmas jokes to give you a chuckle and you can hear some lesser-known facts and stories related to Christmas. Ask: ‘Alexa, ask Winter Wonderland to give me a Christmas joke’ or ‘Alexa, ask Winter Wonderland to give me a Christmas Story.’

Browse more commands, and get some tips for Siri and Google Assistant devices, in our guide to Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa commands

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