Seven secret Alexa tricks that will help you wake up, cheer up, and settle a toss up

Alexa has improved a lot since it was released. While you might know many of Alexa's hidden secrets, here are seven more that might just make your life a little bit easier.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

I'm writing this while watching the Republicans gather for their quadrennial excuse to wear cheese hats and paper mache giant Ronald Reagan heads. Okay, I'll admit it. I get a twisted sort of morbid glee when politics goes very, very wrong. That's why I had such high hopes for this week.

See also: A dozen helpful Amazon Echo how-to tips and tricks

But after watching Donald Trump officially get nominated without the evening going completely off the rails, I felt slightly let down. As a political commentator, chaos like we've had this election season comes around very rarely.

I had hoped tonight would be high drama, but it was not to be. Everyone fell in line, and it proceeded with only a few minor hiccups and bits of plagiarism.

The whole thing left me feeling a bit sad, concerned for the future of our country, while simultaneously hoping for more sophomoric entertainment moments at the expense of our national leaders. So I said, "Alexa, cheer me up."

To my surprise, my faithful Amazon Echo advised me to take time to enjoy the small things. She said that someday, I might look around and realize that the small things were the only things that really mattered. Since my small puppy was sitting on my lap at the time, I couldn't help but agree.

That got me thinking. As a proud owner/potential Skynet victim of two Amazon Echo cans, I've noticed a number of neat tricks that you might like to know. They're small tricks, nothing deeply important. But as Alexa so wisely said, it's the small things that matter.

You now already know the first secret trick. Saying "Alexa, cheer me up" really works. But did you know that -- like choosing a President from two barely tolerable choices -- Alexa can help you make a decision? Yep. For our second and third secret tricks, I'll show you how Alexa can help you make a decision.

You might want to wait until November 8, 2016 to try this first one out. If, on that fateful day, you're still undecided, you can say, "Alexa, toss a coin." It's up to you which candidate you assign to tails, but Alexa can help.

Back on February 19, 2016, those fantasizing about a quiet, sedate, seemingly sane Republican primary could still hope for some kind of Jeb Bush revival. On that day, there were still six candidates for the GOP nomination: Donald Trump, Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, the aforementioned Jeb Bush and, wait, I know this... oh, yeah. John Kasich.

If you were a Republican in South Carolina that day, you were probably still trying to decide who to choose in the next day's primary election. To help you decide among the six remaining hopefuls, you could have asked, "Alexa, roll a dice." Alexa would have dutifully rolled a virtual die and returned a number for you. Then, all you would have had to do was rush off to the polls and dash poor Jeb's hopes forever.

But that's enough politics. Let's move on to something many of us use every day: Alexa's alarm.

Alarm tricks

There are a bunch of neat things you can do with Alexa's alarms and timers. Amazon has improved this capability measurably since the product first launched. One big improvement is the addition of multiple alarms or timers. You can simply tell Alexa to set alarms or timers for additional times or durations, and Alexa will dutifully add them to the alarm queue.

You can ask Alexa, "How many alarms do I have," and she will report them back to you. You can tell her to cancel your 10pm alarm, and she will. "Alexa, cancel my 10pm alarm." And it's just that easy.

Right before I go to bed, I like to tell Alexa to set my alarm. It's part of my bedtime ritual. But now, I don't have to. Alexa now has repeating alarms. You can set an alarm for each day by saying "Alexa, set a repeating alarm for 10am." She'll respond, "For which day?" Once you tell her, the alarm is set for the same day each week.


You can also say, "Alexa, set an everyday alarm for 10am." This will cause Alexa to set an alarm for each day of the week. You can tell Alexa, "Set a repeating alarm for Monday at 8am." Note that you can't say, "Alexa, set an alarm for Monday at 8am." You must use the word "repeating" in your command.

What's nice is you can differentiate weekdays and weekends. For example, "Alexa, set a weekday alarm for 8am," would work well. Just make sure you have a supply of coffee. You could then say, "Alexa, set a weekend alarm for 10am" and get a little extra shuteye on Saturday and Sunday morning.

Here's another trick. Can you imagine what it would be like to have Alec Baldwin wake you up every morning? No, neither can I. But, for some reason, you can choose from a variety (a very limited, very odd variety) of celebrities to wake you up -- including the First Baldwin. You have to do this from the Alexa app. Go to Settings, then Alarms, and then Celebrity Alarms.

I'll choose a Baldwin for my alarm sound when hell freezes over. Here, in 97-degree Florida, that would be a nice change. But did you know that if hell does freeze over (and the Internet goes out), your alarm will still sound?

That's right. While almost all of Alexa's functionality runs off the Amazon cloud and requires Internet connectivity, your alarms don't. If you set an alarm, and you lose your Internet connection, your alarm will go off. That's because the alarm is stored locally, in each Alexa unit.

However, if your connection is down, you won't be able to say "Alexa, stop." It won't. But hey, at least if you're Scott Baio, you won't miss your one opportunity to say that Chachi loves Trumpie to a stadium full of strangely-dressed people wearing funny hats. Yeah. I went there.

Let's wrap this up with what's more of a tactic than a trick. As you know, when you set an alarm, Alexa will respond with "Alarm set for 10am," or whatever time you set. That's a fine confirmation prompt -- unless your spouse is asleep in the bed when it's time to set the alarm. Then the confirmation might well be loud enough to wake her up.

While Alexa doesn't have a quiet mode, you can walk up to your Alexa unit and whisper to it, "Alexa, set volume to one." When you tell your Alexa to set a volume, the lights will flash, but it won't speak. Now, whisper the time you want Alexa to set, and Alexa will respond, but very, very quietly.

Once you've set the alarm, go ahead and reset the alarm to a louder volume. I like four or five. You'll have set the alarm without disturbing your spouse.

On the other hand, if you want to set an alarm completely silently and don't mind firing up your Alexa app, you can do that as well. When you set an alarm using the app, Alexa won't say anything. However, this only works if the Alexa you're setting is on your profile. If your bedroom Alexa is on your spouse's profile, speaking softly is your best bet.

Well, there you go. That's our seven tips. I'll end with a bonus tip: you can say, "Alexa, snooze" and your alarm will snooze for nine minutes. Nine, not ten. No, I don't know why. But hey, it's a bonus tip.

Stay tuned next week when the Democrats have their convention. I'm sure it will be as full of morbidly troubling fun as this week's Republican shindig.

"Alexa, tell me a Bernie Sanders joke."

What? Too soon?

"Alexa, cheer me up."

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