Almost two years ago, the Amazon Echo found its way into our home and has become a cherished member of our family. This article was originally published way back in 2015. Since then, we adopted two Alexas, one who lives in our main room and one in our bedroom. Even though they can be dumb as rocks sometimes, there are a few things (turning on and off the lighting, basic math, weather) that have provided a level of incremental convenience we've become totally accustomed to.
Over the course of our relationship with the Alexa twins, we've found some interesting tips and tricks that you might find useful as well. In this update to the original 2015 article, I'll help you understand some of my favorite tricks.
1. How to stop the Amazon Echo from listening for its wake word
Despite some wacky articles humorously linking Amazon's always-listening Echo to the NSA or any other 3-letter government agencies, the device doesn't respond until it hears its wake word (in most cases, that's "Alexa").
But if you want the device to go completely radio silent and respond to absolutely nothing, even by accident, there's a mute button on the top of the can. Press it and a red ring will highlight and Alexa will stay mute until you press the button again. I use this when I go into important meetings or do webcasts, because I don't want Alexa to start spouting off right in the middle of a serious discussion.
Bonus tip: The Alexa devices now respond to four wake words: Amazon, Alexa, Echo, and Computer. If you want the whole Star Trek experience, nothing beats telling Computer what to do. Here at Camp David, we still call our two black cans of joy "Alexa" and let hilarity (and some confusion) ensue.
2. How to control devices using your Alexa
When we first published this article, device control from Alexa was rather limited. My wife and I had just a few Hue lights connected. But we now control almost all the lights in our home through a combination of Philips Hue bulbs and Belkin Wemo Light Switches. We also control our entertainment center using the Logitech Harmony Hub.
The secret to setting up all these devices is using the Smart Home section in the Alexa app and binding it to an ever-growing list of devices that your Alexa can control, which now include lighting and fans, thermostats, locks, and a lot more.
3. How to give your Alexa thousands of new capabilities
Unlike Siri, which remains relatively locked to third party solutions, Amazon opened up the Alexa API to developers worldwide. As a result, your Alexa is capable of undertaking thousands of new and interesting tasks.
Today, for example, I learned that you can ask Alexa how much gas you have left in your car (and it will tell you). The way you do this is connect a device from Automatic that reads your car's internal data to your Alexa through a "skill," Amazon's name for what are essentially plug-ins for Alexa.
To add this, or any of the other skills, just open the Skills section of your Alexa app, search for the capability you want, and enable it. You might also need to login to any accompanying service to connect your account to your Alexa.
4. How to control the Amazon Echo from a different Amazon account
I don't have any music in my Amazon account. Our entire digitized CD collection is in my wife's account. She also has the Pandora account. So if we want to listen to her collection, or otherwise access her settings, we need to switch profiles.
To find out what profile you're currently using, say "Alexa, which profile am I using." To switch profiles, say either "Alexa, switch profile" and it will move to the next profile or "Alexa, switch to David's profile" and it will switch to the profile you just named.
Note: Alexa will also control Spotify, but as of at least the time of writing, if you have a family Spotify account, Alexa will only let you access the music of the primary account holder. Hopefully this will change sometime soon.
While we're talking about profiles and devices, it's important to note that you can use different accounts with your Alexa. That's next.
5. How to control different devices (or use different device names) based on one Amazon Echo profile
Each profile will recognize devices connected to the Amazon Echo. But if you want to set up profile groups (for example "Desk lights" turns on and off three lamps), you'll have to set up the groups and group names for each profile.
Here's a quick tip within a tip: can't remember to call them "desk lights" instead of "desk lamps"? Set up two groups, one with each name, controlling the same devices.
This works well with profiles. For example, one user could define "my lights" as one set of lamp devices while another user could define the same "my lights" group to turn on a different set of lights.
Let the switch profile battles begin!
6. How to force a software update for the Amazon Echo
Like all modern digital devices, the Echo has a CPU at its core, and that means it's running software. That, in turn, means it needs updating (hey, even my light bulbs need updates these days).
Amazon tells me that Alexa looks for updates every night, but if you want to force an update (for example, my unit came unable to control home devices), just hit that same mute button we discussed earlier, let it sit that way for at least 30 minutes, and you'll have your update.
7. How to link your family Prime accounts into the Amazon Echo
You can link your family Prime accounts to your Echo by pointing your browser at echo.amazon.com. What you'll need to do is go to Settings, scroll down the page, and set up your Household. It helps if the people you're linking to are both either Prime members or share Prime membership.
The shared member will also have to download the Alexa app to his or her smartphone and agree to join the household.
8. How to help Alexa understand your personal speaking style better
Alexa does an astonishingly good job understanding the spoken word, but she does sometimes have difficulty with individual voices, accents, and speaking styles. If you want to improve your Alexa's voice recognition, you can use a quick Voice Training tool that's found right in the Settings section of your Alexa app. It's quick, it's easy, and it does help.
Here's a bonus tip: You can also improve Alexa's understanding by going to History under Settings in the Alexa app and clicking on any of voice command listing that didn't work properly. You can tell Alexa that she didn't understand what you wanted by tapping "No" to the question "Did Alexa do what you wanted." That will help the Alexa team improve recognition.
9. How to delete all those voice commands from Alexa's (and Amazon's) history
That's right. Amazon and Alexa do retain a history of all voice commands you've given to Alexa. Fortunately, it's possible to delete that history if you wish. To delete any one command, go back to the Alexa app, hit Settings, then History, and then the item you want to delete. There's a Delete Recording button at the bottom of the screen.
To delete all recordings, log into your Amazon account online, and go to Manage Your Content and Devices. Click the Your Devices tab, find your Alexa, and click the ... button to the left of its name. A card will pop up, with a link that says "Manage Your Recordings." If you click this, you'll have the opportunity to delete all recordings on your device.
10. How to get the Amazon Echo to repeat an answer
If you don't record the answer to your question quickly enough, Alexa is happy to repeat it. Simply say "Alexa, can you repeat that?" and it will. I've found that "repeat that" alone doesn't seem to work reliably, but "can you repeat that" seems to always work.
11. How to speak to a human to get help with the Amazon Echo
Believe it or not, there are actual real humans out there who will answer questions about your Amazon Echo. Just visit http://echo.amazon.com/#help/call, type in your number, and someone will call you back. At least for now, the people I've spoken to even seem to have a clue.
12. How to find 50 more Alexa tips and tricks
Since I've had my Alexas, I've had the opportunity to talk with her a lot. I wrote an article about a bunch of fun little alarm and news tricks, another article with 25 helpful things you can ask Alexa, and yet another article about 18 completely useless but incredibly fun things you can ask your Alexa. I'll leave you with my favorite. Tell Alexa, "Alexa, sing a song." Make sure it's "sing" and not "play." She's a talented little can, that's for sure.
So there you go. A dozen good tips for getting the most out of your Echo. Stay tuned. In a future article, I'll share with you a really odd productivity hack I've set up with my Echo. I'm just waiting on some bulbs, colored gels, and a light stand.
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