17 useful things the Amazon Echo can do

I activated my Amazon Echo for the first time in December. It’s quickly become one of my favourite tech gadgets ever.

Most people compare Echo to virtual assistants like Siri and Google Now. But Amazon’s speaker, which responds to either “Alexa” or “Amazon,” is quicker to respond and understands commands much better than those rival services.

And thanks to its excellent audio system, with seven microphones for listening and a 360ยบ omni-directional audio grille for speaking, Amazon Echo works exceedingly well wherever I am in my home. I can hear it — and it can hear me — perfectly.

Amazon Echo has completely transformed the way I live in my apartment. There’s just so much you can do with Echo. Take a look.

'Alexa, what time is it?'

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Don't bother searching for your phone or a wall clock just to get the time. With Echo, just ask the time from anywhere in your house and get the answer immediately. It's a small thing, but it totally makes a difference when you're rushing in the morning.

'Alexa, play some Kanye.'

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Amazon Echo can play thousands of songs from Amazon's Prime Music catalogue. And compared to other virtual assistants that control music playback, Alexa takes less time to hear your commands and act on them, pausing, skipping and changing songs.

'Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride.'

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As of February, you can now request an Uber car to pick you up from your residence just by asking Echo to request a ride. Once you activate the Uber skill in the Alexa app, your Echo will let you know how far away the closest car is, and it will even let you know if there's surge pricing before you accept the ride.

'Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes.'

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Amazon Echo is the perfect cooking or baking companion. When the timer's up, a radar-like ping will sound until you say 'Alexa, stop.'

'Alexa, add garlic to the shopping list.'

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Whenever you run out of a certain kind of food, just tell Alexa to add it to the shopping list. Since my significant other and I both share an Amazon Prime account, the shopping list syncs to both our phones' Alexa apps so we can order items straight from Amazon, buy them later, or make last-minute changes that we'll both see.

'Alexa, what's on my calendar?'

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Since Amazon Echo can sync with your Google Calendars, you don't need to look through your phone to see your upcoming schedule. Just ask Alexa to hear details about your meetings and appointments that day.

'Alexa, set a daily alarm for 7:00 a.m.'

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Amazon Echo can wake you up in the morning -- or get your attention at any other time of day -- with over 10 different alarm tones. You can choose soothing sounds or something a little more attention-grabbing right from the Alexa app.

'Alexa, heads or tails?'

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What should we eat for dinner? Where should our next vacation be? Sometimes the answers to these questions are best decided by a coin flip. And luckily, you don't need a physical coin if you have Alexa, who will flip a virtual one for you (I've tried it several times, it really does appear to be truly random).

'Alexa, read my Kindle book.'

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As of January, Amazon Echo can read your Kindle books aloud to you using the same text-to-speech technology it uses to read Wikipedia entries and news articles aloud. You can also tell Alexa to pause or skip chapters both forwards and backwards.

'Alexa, read my audio book.'

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Aside from Kindle books, Alexa can also read aloud any audiobooks you've purchased from Audible. You can ask Alexa to resume your audiobook, play different titles, skip chapters, restart chapters, or go back to a specific chapter.

'Alexa, add 'buy a winter jacket' to my to-do list.'

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Just like shopping lists, you can sync to-do lists to your Alexa app(s) across your devices. You can add to-do items using Alexa and add notes, complete or delete items via the app.

'Alexa, what was the score of the last Cavaliers game?'

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It's actually much easier and faster to ask Alexa sports scores instead of visiting a sports website or app and looking through all the box scores to find the one you want.

'Alexa, play some chill music on Spotify.'

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As of February, Amazon Echo now works with Spotify Premium, in addition to Prime Music. If you ask Alexa to 'play Spotify,' it will play the last thing you were playing, picking up where you left off. But you can also ask Alexa to play any artist or album, as well as any of the company's playlists based on genres or moods. More about Spotify integration here.

'Alexa, how's the weather outside today?'

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Amazon Echo will not only tell you the current temperature, but it will also tell you the day's expected temperature highs and lows, and other conditions such as clouds and rain.

'Alexa, find me a good Italian restaurant nearby.'

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Amazon Echo can help cure any craving you might have. Just ask Alexa to find a nearby restaurant from any cuisine you like, and Alexa will start listing off restaurants. You can learn more details about those restaurants in the Alexa app.

'Alexa, what's in the news?'

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After you first set up your Echo, you can choose which news sources you want to get information from, like NPR, ESPN, and local radio stations. After that, if you ask Alexa for the news or a flash briefing, you can hear news straight from those sources. You can always change which news sources you want through the Alexa app.

'Alexa, set a sleep timer for 60 minutes.'

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If you like listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks before you fall asleep, you can start listening to any of those and simply ask Alexa to set a sleep timer. Now you don't have to worry about turning off the Echo if you start feeling drowsy.

This only scratches the surface.

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Amazon Echo has tons of built-in features, but it also links to an ever-growing number of 'skills,' or specialised applications that give you neat features when activated.

For example, you can create IFTTT (IF This, Then That) 'recipes' or phrase triggers that can do things like call your phone if you can't find it. There's also a skill that will come up with insults for you, a skill that will give you a 7-minute exercise routine to follow, a skill to check on the stock markets, a skill to read you Jeopardy! questions, and so much more.

Amazon Echo keeps evolving, which is one of the best reasons to own this device. You can buy an Amazon Echo here.

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