Get more from your Amazon Echo with these brilliant skills – now with Echo Show skills
So, you’ve caved in and bought an Amazon Echo in the sales — or perhaps an Echo Show or Dot. Now, what can it do?
We’ve got to laud Amazon for its most recent upgrade to Alexa, namely a feature that allows you to control and synchronise music across a range of Amazon Echo devices in your home. The upgrade allows users to target just a single device or a group of devices, according to preference. If you’re having a refined dinner party downstairs, but your pre-teen is angling for Katy Perry upstairs, this new feature provides just the ticket for multiple-listening households.
It doesn’t stop there either, with two new tools in the pipeline. First up, Alexa Voice Service (AVS) Multi-Room Music SDK, a platform that allows AVS device makers to integrate with Amazon Alexa Multi-Room Music. If you’re in possession of an Echo and other standalone AVS devices, you can synchronise across all of the separate entities. Secondly, there’s a tool that allows device makers with connected audio systems to control music playback using Alexa. Echo-owners can play music throughout their homes on their connected audio systems, in a partnership that encompasses the titanic likes of Bose, Sonos and Samsung.
Playing music is, of course, one of Alexa’s primary capabilities, but her potential doesn’t stop there. The Alexa app is your gateway to around 7,500 skills that can enhance the Echo in all sorts of useful, fun and surprising ways. Here’s our pick of the best.
Best Alexa skills: Most practical
The Echo works wonders as a standalone device, but if you have other smart devices in your home it can also make it easier for you to control them. For example, the Hue skill allows you to turn your Philips Hue lights on or off and change the room’s “mood.” You can also regulate the space’s ambience, with commands like Relax, Concentrate, Energise and Dimmed.
Similarly, you can use voice commands to change the temperature with the specially made skills for Hive and Nest smart thermostats. After a list of compatible smart home devices?
Alexa also lets you talk to the wider world, right from the cosiest corners of your home. Several skills, such as Mastermind and Scryb, can be used to send text messages hands-free. Or, communicate with a group of people at once using a skill such as Starfish dico. To use this skill, your entire family, or the group you want to reach, will need to download the corresponding app; once that’s done, you can tell Alexa to send a message like “Dinner is ready” or “Stop drinking all of my Pimm’s” and the people you’ve defined as family members will get an instant notification on their phones.
Other skills can make Alexa your best friend in the morning when you seem to be perpetually running late and in a bad mood. Alexa allows you to get news briefings from publications such as The Guardian, updates on public transportation’s status and hear what’s on your calendar for the day. Select Hyundai cars can even be started, locked and unlocked via Alexa’s Blue Link skill — so when the colder months’ chill sets in, you can warm up the car before even leaving your house.
Best Alexa skills: Fun and useful
Some of Alexa’s capabilities are cool but not exactly necessary. That’s the essence of technology, though, and it can make life easier even when it comes to basic everyday decisions. Though, it is quite funny to imagine adults looking to an inanimate object for guidance.
For example, Alexa has skills that can answer your most pressing questions like “Should I go out tonight? or “What the heck should I make for dinner? – so in the future, you can save your mental capacity for loftier issues.
The voice assistant can also educate you about all sorts of fascinating topics, with skills such as Panda Facts, Scottish Mountain Facts, Zumba Facts and Sausage Facts — which is humorously listed as a skill with “dynamic content” on Amazon’s website.
Alongside the nonsense, there are some really useful things Alexa can do that you probably wouldn’t expect. One of its skills tries to talk you out of having a cigarette when you call on it; another motivates you to work out in moments of weakness. If you need more direction, it can talk you through a seven-minute workout. There’s also Breathe, a skill that helps you do exactly that. This breathing coach guides you through quick five-minute exercises to help calm your mental state.
Lastly is Uber. I almost plonked this one in the essential’s section, given how many times I’ve been forced to use this in conjunction with public transport woes, but Uber is certainly one of the best skills you need to use. Just say the right words, and your chariot will be at your home in a matter of minutes. Handy.
Best Alexa Skills: Echo Show
Given the Echo Show is the only Echo device with a screen plonked on the front, there are a number of different apps exclusively available on Amazon’s latest. The first, and certainly the most fun, is Jeopardy! One of the first set of skills on the Alexa platform, this visual-style Jeopardy! is even more like the TV show.
Another great addition is, so long as you own one, the Ring doorbell skill. Someone at the door? You can check who it is on your Show, and talk to them through the microphone. Be gone, insurance salesman!
Lastly, we quite enjoy using the Food Network skill on our Echo Show’s With this, you’ll receive daily recipes, and all sorts of different culinary training. perfect for foodies.
In short, with Alexa, your daily tasks will grow simpler – and your days will probably get lazier. But we humans love our convenience, so why not give it and some skills a try?