Updated March 7th 2017 with a video overview: The Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot are forecast to be amongst the break-out products of Christmas 2016. Millions of us will be waking up Christmas morning to Amazon’s virtual assistant come bluetooth music player, and its wide array of ‘Echo skills’. Today we wanted to identify the most useful Amazon Echo skills and to make you aware of everything that this cool new device can do.
See our video below – which shows you the Echo Dot in action
What is the Amazon Echo?
The Amazon Echo is a bluetooth enabled speaker at its core, and it is worth considering that its current c. £150 price tag represents good value for it as a standalone speaker. However its real selling point is its ability to connect with other autonomous home and smart home products in order to bring voice control to them, as well as a subset of ‘skills’ which come baked into its software. These skills allow you to ask Alexa questions and return live responses in audio format.
The best skills in the Alexa app
When you first buy )or open the box) of an Amazon Echo, you need to download the companion app in order to set the device up and to connect it to your wifi network. Within the Echo app are a series of different apps, much like an app store on for example iOS, where third party developers have created their own voice enabled tools. Today we are diving into the very most useful Amazon Echo skills – so lets dive in
What is it? Just Eat for the uninitiated is a food ordering app, and now it has connected up with the Amazon Echo to bring voice controlled take away ordering. Yes that is right, the lazy man’s culinary dream is here folks. The Just Eat Echo app relies on orders that you have already made previously, so if you have a ‘go to’ curry order, or Chinese order, or Pizza order, or wings order… you get the picture.
What is its useful Amazon Echo skills? Whilst the reliance on only being able to reorder is a downside, it does make the whole process much easier for those who do have a go-to staple. We really like the fact that you can also check the status of your Just Eat order too, so if the delivery is taking a little longer than you’d expected, you can chase it up quickly.
Ordering products from Amazon
What is it? The fact you own or are very interested in buying an Amazon Echo probably means your familiar with the idea of ordering on Amazon, the worlds largest online marketplace. The fact you’re reading this article means that you likely don’t live in a cave, so you also likely ‘get’ the benefits of Amazon. Increasingly we use it for buying everything from the original offerings (books) through to groceries and household supplies. Well now you can place orders using your new Echo.
What is its useful Amazon Echo skills? We spoke a little while ago about the Amazon Dash buttons and in some ways this is almost the evolution of them (albeit they are a new offering). The Dash buttons are a physical button that you use to reorder household staple goods – from laundry detergent to bathroom supplies to condoms. Now you can achieve that through your Echo. You simple ask ‘Alexa, reorder a 12 pack of Budweiser beer’ and she will get to work, and you’ll get your beer within a couple of days – if not faster if you have made the jump into the wonderful world of Amazon Prime. This is really useful and allows you to immediately order something whilst you remember, without having to be sat by your computer or on your smartphone.
What is it? For those unfamiliar, Laundrapp is taking the convenience laundry market by storm in cities across the U.K, with the biggest focus somewhat naturally on London at the moment. This app has been described as the ‘Uber for laundry’ and that serves to illustrate its mission quite nicely. In essence, you use the Laundrapp to order to a clothes cleaning service. They come to your home and collect your dirty laundry and then they take it away, work their magic and bring it back all clean and pressed. We love it and now its come to the Echo.
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? The combination of the repetitiveness of the orders (assuming you only have one home, they will always collect and bring back to that one abode and most people are creatures of habit when it comes to their laundry) and the simplicity of the ordering process make this the ideal prototype for the Echo and its voice controlled ordering. The ability to simply instruct the Echo to place a laundry order makes this a really useful Echo skill.
Your daily briefing
What is it? A customisable news broadcast, made just for you. You set up your favourite news providers, from the likes of Sky News and the Telegraph newspaper, and Alexa will deliver you your flash briefing when you request it
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? Simply ask “Alexa, what is my flash briefing’ and you will get the run down before you ever have to fire up your phone, TV or laptop. I’m usually dashing in the morning, but like to be up to speed. This skill lets me stay up to speed whilst i get on with getting ready in the morning.
What is it? We’re likely now at the stage where Uber needs no further introduction. If it does, then here we go – Uber is a simple to use app which allows you to order on-demand taxis. The app uses your location to help direct the driver directly to you, and the glorious ability to input your destination means that you can keep awkward taxi driver chit-chat to a minimum. Payment is handled through the app, meaning that you don;t have to scrap around for your cash at the end of the journey or worse yet, have to trust some of the London cab drivers very suspect looking chip and pin solutions.
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? I’m talking here as a Londoner, and as a result we try and avoid using the roads as much as possible. Walking and the tube are our go-to solution, and failing that, the cheap price of the bus means that the price can make it an o.k alternative to the faster and more direct options. The roads here are so backlogged that we avoid them where possible. Uber therefore becomes a last minute solution, and if i am taking it from home, it probably means i’m running late and typically, i’m most likely using it to get to a friends house or to head for a night out. The ability to use the Echo therefore to order it whilst sorting out hair, brushing teeth and generally dashing to get out of the door saves a few precious seconds compared to entering pass keys into your smartphone, fumbling open the Uber app, waiting for it to connect and find drivers, then going through the ordering process. This really is taking Uber to the next level and is a very useful skill.
What is it? Amazon’s ever-so-slightly crowbarred in competitor to Apple music and the original, Spotify. The problem with Spotify is that it only works if you have a premium account. Yes Apple Music is also paid for (you get a free trial and are looking at £3.99 a month) but the ease of ordering it directly through the Echo makes it a win. Its catalogue is not Spotify deep, but its price is also a bit lighter. As a longtime Spotify user i felt a bit bad becoming a paid customer of Amazon around their pioneering product, but for ease and the idea of connecting Amazon software with Amazon hardware – i was onboard
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? Complete voice control over your music. Whatever your mood, there is always music to match, and the voice control works really well on this product. You simply instruct ‘Alexa, play some Ed Sheeran’ and she will spark into life and kick your music in. Feeling festive, simple ask ‘Alexa, play some Christmas music’. You can use your voice to turn the volume up and down too, with simple commands like ‘Alexa, Volume up 50 percent’.
7 Minute workout
What is it? this is an Echo skill which does what it says on the tin. Have Alexa guide you through an intense seven minute ‘High intensity training’ workout.
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? I am a keen ‘gym goer’ but you’re not going to make the gym as often as you would like. Sometimes life gets in the way or (especially in the wintertime) you just don’t want to leave your home. Step forward the seven minute workout. The Echo skill guides you through an intense home workout, providing detailed instructions and timings. Typically such workouts will require, for example, a 45 second plank. Doing this without a device which acts as your personal trainer makes it hard to time – but having a virtual-PT makes it much easier to focus on executing the moves and not on how long you have left. This really is a great way to start your day and don’t be fooled by the seven minutes – believe me, seven minutes can feel like a lifetime when you’re in a backwards plank to be followed by 2 side planks and a tonne of press-ups!
What is it? a simple way to quickly ask Alexa what the weather forecast is
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? You can simply ask for the weather forecast and it uses your location to tell you about your localities outlook. However you can request weather forecasts for anywhere, so if you’re travelling you can keep abreast of the weather whilst its top of mind. I find this scratches an itch that i simply would not always be bothered to search for online to answer.
What is it? Phillips Hue is a smart lighting solution which made our list of the 30 smart home products you must consider this year. Its a oft-unknown fact that Phillips started life in the lightbulb space and a nice circle of business which has brought them back to this space with their smart lighting solution. Hue lets you manage the colour (hence Hue name) and intensity of lights via their companion smartphone app. It can do some funky stuff around making the lights match the beat of music and other party tricks, but most of us use it to turn on the lights when we’re slouched on the sofa and would rather not move!
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? Now thanks to the Echo, you can voice control your lights. Ever found yourself shouting at home to see if your partner/housemate/mother will turn on the lights as they enter a room? Now you can do that all the time, and Alexa never tires of executing the command. Simply ask ‘Alexa, turn on the living room light’ or ‘Alexa, dim the bed side light by 50 percent’.
Nest and other smart thermostats
What is it? A smart thermostat which learns your heating usage patterns in order to use energy more efficiently. Nest helps you heat your home more intelligently and saves you money whilst doing so. Other similar products include the Hive Active heating (we compared the Nest learning thermostat 3rd generation with the Hive Active Heating 2 here) and Nest verses Tado here. These are considered to be amongst the most popular smart home products through 2016 and into 2017
What is its most useful Amazon Echo skills? Now you get the benefit of Nest (or alternative) but with the added bonus of voice control. Simple instruct Alexa to turn the temperature up 2 degrees and she will kick into action.