Once again, one of the most popular gifts of the holiday season was one of Amazon's Echo devices. Those smart assistants everyone knows as "Alexa."
Amazon says most people use the devices to get the weather, play music, or set timers. But these Echo devices are much more powerful than that.
If you're not using these skills, you're missing out on some helpful features, and fun.
Change Her Name
There are lots of reasons you might want to change her name from Alexa. Maybe someone in your house has a similar sounding name, maybe she's listening every time an Alexa ad comes across TV. Maybe you just don't want someone else talking to her without permission. You can change your device name to Amazon, Computer, Echo, or Ziggy. Go into the Amazon Alexa app, choose the device you want to change, choose settings, and "wake word." The options are Amazon, Computer, Echo, or Ziggy. You can also go up to one of the devices and ask her to change her name to one of the other options. You can change the name of every individual device in your home.
As An In-Home Intercom System
If you have Echo devices all over the house, you can drop in on any room by asking her to "drop-in" and the name of the room it's in. Whoever's there can hear you and can talk back to you. Like a home intercom system. You don't have to enable a skill for this, Amazon recognizes the prompt and will immediately open the speaker and microphone in the other room. You can also make an announcement that goes out to every device in your home such as, "dinner's ready", by saying "Alexa, make an announcement."
As a Security System
Alexa can act as a security system when you're not home. Just ask "Alexa, guard my house". If a smoke detector goes off, or glass shatters, she'll sound an alarm and send you a notification.
Help Fall Asleep
She can help you fall asleep or focus by playing nature sounds in the background. Just say "Alexa play rain sounds". This is a skill you may have to enable and some of the skills cost extra.
Smart Home Controller
If you have smart lights, she'll turn them on and off for you. Philips, GE, and a host of other bulbs and strips respond to Ziggy and Google Assistant. If you don't have those, Sylvania and Amazon have plugs that turn any light bulb set or lamp into something smart.
Get Your Day Started
You can set up a series of activities for when you say "Alexa, Good morning". In the app, tap Create Routine, then add actions. You can set up smart lights or a TV to turn on, get today's news headlines, what's on your calendar, play music, or get traffic information. All of that happening, when you say Good morning.
Create Your Own Q&A
You can create your own skill with Blueprint. This is my favorite. In the Alexa app and under skills, find and tap "Blueprint". You simply type out the question you'll ask, and the answer you want Alexa to give. An example is "Who's the best mom?" and Alexa will give the answer as your mom's name. This is a great surprise for birthdays and special occasions.
There are thousands of Alexa skills to enable and you'll find them in the Alexa app. If you're only asking about the weather or trivia, you may find something there to impress your friends. Or just amuse yourself.