Every smart home needs a smart assistant, and Amazon’s Alexa is at the head of the pack. Acting as a central pillar to your smart home, Alexa can play music, control your lights, and order food — using only the sound of your voice.
Alexa can do a lot of out the box, but the Echo really shines when you add new skills. Since developers release new abilities regularly, we’re going to round up our recent favorites.
Big News on the Skills Front
While new skills are making their way to the Echo, there are exciting developments on the technical end, too. Amazon recently published an article explaining big updates to Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML). Like HTML for website text, SSML is a language that controls how speech on devices like the Echo sounds.
These new voice abilities include whispers, expletive beeping, emphasis, and more. As these and similar updates make SSML better, so will smart speakers gain more abilities. When speakers have more speech patterns available, they’ll speak more clearly and naturally when performing specific skills.
A Refresher on Skills
After you set up your Echo with your Amazon account, it can do a few cool tricks. You can ask it to look up facts for you, play music from your Amazon library, or set timers and alarms. But thanks to skilled developers, the Echo can do so much more. The Skills marketplace is full of extra abilities you can add to your Echo for more functionality.
You can find new skills by browsing the Alexa Skills page on Amazon, or by opening the Alexa app on your phone and choosing Skills from the left menu. Just choose a skill and click Enable to add it to your Echo. It might take a few minutes before it’s available.
Start With These Amazon Alexa Skills
Which skills should you add? We searched through the Alexa skill page and found 18 new skills that range from useful to ridiculous and everywhere in between. Sure, some of the skills might seem useless, but others may quickly become a part of your daily routine.
It’s always a good idea to review the description of a skill before you add it. That way, you know its purpose, and what to say to Alexa to activate it. We’ll mention a few keywords to control each skill, but please check the linked pages for full details.
1. Time Tone
Alexa already has a basic timer, but it only beeps after a set amount of minutes. Time Tone expands this ability by making a sound every second so you can keep track of how much time has elapsed.
This skill provides two modes. The first beeps every second and announces the time elapsed every ten seconds. Mode two makes a water droplet sound every second and thunder on every tenth second. While the first mode runs for five minutes, the second runs for an hour. This makes the first useful for time-specific tasks like a quick workout, while the second can provide background noise while helping you keep track of time.
Say: “Alexa, ask time tone to play” or “Alexa, ask time tone for second”
Ever have trouble falling asleep? This skill can help. It creates background noise so you can relax or fall asleep more easily.
Saying stop in an hour will set a timer instead of playing the noise indefinitely. The developer is regularly adding new sounds, so shoot him an email if you’d like to see a new one.
Say: “Alexa, open ocean sounds” or “Alexa, start city sounds”
3. Fish Jokes
Like jokes? Prefer them to only be about marine creatures? This is the skill for you. Ask Alexa for some jokes, and you’ll get some knee-slappers about marine life. Don’t be shellfish; share them with your friends.
— IABD Presents (@IABDPresents) May 5, 2017
Say: “Alexa, ask fish jokes to tell me a joke”
Whether you’re working on learning a new language or just want to pick up a few words for fun, Translated is a great Echo companion.
This skill can translate words or short sentences from English into more than 30 other languages. After getting a translation, you can say slow down to hear it in more detail. If you speak a language other than English, this app unfortunately won’t work.
Using Translated, you can hear translations into German, Greek, Spanish, Polish, Chinese, and more.
Say: “Alexa, ask Translated how to say ‘Good Morning’ in Italian” or “Alexa, ask Translated what is hungry in Spanish?”
This one is a good idea, but its implementation falls short. Asking your Echo if you’re ready to go results in this skill giving you a checklist of reminders, such as grabbing your keys and wallet. The problem is that if you forget to ask the app for a reminder, you’re out of luck. It would be more useful if it automatically reminded you to grab everything at a set time.
Say: “Alexa, ask Remember Your Keys if I am ready to go”
Positive thinking is key to having a positive attitude. This skill helps you in your endeavor by giving you a quick uplifting thought to dwell on during the day.
Repeating these thoughts will help you to keep a positive mindset, which will make you more productive, happy, and energetic.
I am becoming better at recognising POSITIVE or NEGATIVE THOUGHTS, confidently choosing what to accept or dismiss. #affirmation
— Daily Affirmations (@Life_Affirming) May 6, 2017
Ask Alexa for a refresher if you need to hear the day’s affirmation again, and get into the habit of beginning your day with positive words.
Say: “Alexa, open Daily Affirmation”
Podcasts are a great alternative to music that provide background noise, help you learn about new topics, and are usually entertaining. We’ve recommended some great podcasts in the past, but how do you find brand-new ones?
TryPod has an answer. Just ask Alexa to try a new podcast, and the speaker will start playing the latest episode of something that’s likely new to you.
Tell a friend about your favorite podcast. Show them how to listen. Watch them to ensure they listen. Watch for as long as it takes. #trypod
— Night Vale podcast (@NightValeRadio) March 1, 2017
This skill makes it easy to discover something fresh without endlessly browsing through descriptions. And you can specify a genre, too.
Say: “Alexa, ask TryPod to play a technology podcast” or “Alexa, ask TryPod to list genres”
Fans of Abraham Lincoln will love this oddly specific skill. Launch it, and Alexa will read Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address. We can’t think of too many uses for this one unless you’re trying to memorize the address, but why not give it a listen?
Say: “Alexa, Gettysburg Address”
9. Memory Blast
Want to improve your memory in just a few minutes? Memory Blast is a simple skill that plays a list of single-digit numbers, then asks you to repeat them. If you perform well, the list gets tougher, with a similar adjustment if you have trouble.
It’s a basic app, but using it a few times a day just might help you forget less often.
Say: “Alexa, play Memory Blast”
10. Go Green
Want to work on conserving energy and resources in your everyday life? This skill can help. Enable Go Green, and you can ask your Echo to share a tip on how to help out the planet.
Say: “Alexa, ask go green for a random tip” or “Alexa, ask go green for a tip on saving energy”
11. Time Machine
Time Machine lets you step back into history — not literally, but through news headlines. Ask your Echo to start it, and it will pick out today’s date at a random year as far back as 1851. Then, you’ll get to hear news headlines from that day (provided by The New York Times) like they’re happening right now. It’s a neat way to learn what happened on a particular day of history, and a nice break from the current depressing news. cycle
Alexa, this is great, but I asked for the time, not a time machine.
— Glennui (@glenncanon) January 9, 2017
Say: “Alexa, open Time Machine”
Ever have a funny feeling and think something might be wrong with you? Medical Assistant can give you an idea of what’s going on with your health. The skill provides you with a diagnosis if you share a symptom you’re feeling, and can also share general advice about certain diseases.
Of course, web advice is not a substitute for seeing a real medical professional. Talk to a doctor about serious medical questions, and call 911 for emergencies. This app is for informational purposes only!
Say: “Alexa, ask Medical Assistant what to do in case of malaria” or “Alexa, ask Medical Assistant to give me my diagnosis”
13. Who Is Right?
Alexa doesn’t just fetch information for you — she can back you up if you’re feeling unsure of yourself. With this skill, your Echo will provide reassurance that you’re correct about anything. We can’t recommend basing decisions on the universal approval of a robot, but if you need that extra push, we won’t judge you.
Say: “Alexa, am I right?”
While Time Tone builds on a basic Echo ability, Just The Temperature scales one back. By default, when you ask for the temperature Alexa spouts off the high/low and weather conditions for the day. If this takes too long for you, use this skill instead, and you’ll get a quick response with only the temperature.
I can't afford an Amazon Echo so I just scream "Alexa, what's the temperature?!!!" until a passerby responds.
— Stephanie Gutierrez (@stephaniesits) March 19, 2017
Say: “Alexa, open just the temperature”
15. Overwatch Facts
Overwatch is (rightfully) one of the most popular shooters available today. While it’s an online-only game, there’s plenty of lore contained in the game’s backstory.
If you love the game and want to learn more about your favorite characters, install this skill and go to town. Make sure to review our Overwatch beginner tips if you’re new!
Say: “Alexa, open Overwatch Facts”
16. Animal Finder
Learning about animals is easy with Animal Finder. While it won’t help you locate your lost dog, it will tell you basic statistics about any species on Earth. Say the name of an animal, and you’ll learn its Latin name, current population size, and endangered status.
Say: “Alexa, open Animal Finder” or “The species is a snow leopard”
Silly is right in the name of this skill. If you want to learn some strange-sounding words, this is the place. It might be worth a download just to hear Alexa botch the pronunciations.
Say: “Alexa, open Silly Words”
18. Jason Finder
We don’t know who Jason is, but if you do, this skill will help you find him.
Say: “Alexa, ask Jason Finder where is Jason” or “Alexa, ask Jason Finder is Jason in Cleveland?”
What Skills Do You Use Most?
We’ve checked out some recent Alexa skills, both useful and dumb. This list shows that even if you don’t have other Smart Home devices, the Echo is still powerful (and fun!) when used solo. Many of these skills are more useful than a smartphone app, and even the dumb ones have some use.
Don’t believe those who say that Alexa is stupid!
Now we want to hear from you, Echo owners. Which Alexa skills are you digging? Are there any stupid ones that made you chuckle? Add to our list by leaving a comment!
Image Credit: Zapp2Photo via Shutterstock.com