Since its introduction at the end of 2014, the Amazon Echo has done an excellent job of blending simplicity and intelligence—so much so that shouting voice commands across the living room almost seems normal now (or at least Google thinks so).
The brains behind the Echo (and its siblings the Echo Dot and Amazon Tap) is of course Alexa, Amazon's smart assistant. This AI can keep you informed about everything from the weather to upcoming appointments through tens of thousands of voice commands (or "skills").
That number may seem overwhelming, especially because Alexa adds more skills every day. So we collected 20 useful commands that anyone can tackle. Ten of them will work immediately, and you can add the rest through the Alexa app.
10 commands to try out of the box
These voice commands come built in to Alexa and will work as soon as you switch on your Echo device.
"Alexa, add milk to my shopping list."
"Alexa, add cut the grass to my to do list."
Alexa comes with a built-in to-do list app, or you can link it to the third-party app of your choice. This lets you verbally add items to lists, and have those items read back to you whenever you need to jog your memory.
5. Set up timers and alarms
"Alexa, set a timer for one minute."
"Alexa, set an alarm for 6 AM."
Alexa works as an alarm clock too, even without the aid of a screen. Just speak out the duration of your timer, or the time of your alarm. For more options, see the Alexa app.
6. Call up your calendar
"Alexa, what's on my schedule?"
"Alexa, what am I doing on Wednesday?"
Head into the Alexa app on your phone, and you can link any of your Google or Microsoft calendars to your Echo, which means you can hear the device read out your schedule.
7. Get sports updates
"Alexa, what were yesterday's NBA scores?"
"Alexa, when is the next Mariners game?"
Alexa excels with sports scores, news, and fixtures. Go into the Settings section of the Alexa app to pick the teams and sports you're interested in and set up a daily briefing.
8. Plan your movie night
"Alexa, what's on at the movies?"
"Alexa, tell me about the film Beauty and the Beast."
You can ask Alexa what's on at the movies to hear a rundown of films in your area, or get more details about a particular title (such as who it stars or when it's playing).
9. Find answers from the web
"Alexa, what time is it in New York?"
"Alexa, who is Henry Ford?"
Anything that you might tap into a search engine on the web, you can also ask Alexa about, as long as the questions are unambiguous and the answers are relatively brief.
10. Hear a (bad) joke
"Alexa, tell me a joke."
"Alexa, why did the chicken cross the road?"
We can't vouch for the quality of Alexa's jokes, but they're here if you need them, and they might at least entertain the kids. If you're an aspiring comedian, you can even set up your own jokes on the device.
10 commands to add
Before you can use these third-party "skills," you must install and enable them through the Alexa app.
11. Call a cab
"Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride."
"Alexa, ask Lyft for a ride."
Alexa skills are available for your Uber or Lyft account. Simply configure a few settings inside the app (like your pickup location), and you can call a cab from your Echo.
12. Drift off to sleep
"Alexa open Sleep Sounds."
"Alexa ask Sleep Sounds to play Thunderstorm."
Get some help getting to sleep with the Sleep Sounds skill, featuring more than 20 different sounds for nodding off, from forest birds to a nearby thunderstorm.
13. Order a pizza
"Alexa, open Domino's and place my Easy Order."
"Alexa, ask Pizza Hut to place an order."
Nothing says living in the future like ordering a pizza by shouting at a robot servant. These skills from Domino's and Pizza Hut let you do just that.
14. Check your fitness stats
"Alexa, ask Fitbit how I'm doing today."
"Alexa, ask Fitbit how I slept last night."
Fitbit is now available on Echo devices. If you have a Fitbit account set up, you can pull out various statistics with a voice command, including how many steps you've taken that day.
15. Start a quick workout
"Alexa, ask Random Workout to pick a workout."
"Alexa, ask Random Workout to pick an exercise."
Speaking of fitness, a lot of skills lead you through brief workouts. We like Random Workout, which is simple to use for beginners and includes a good range of workout types.
16. Control your smart home
"Alexa, dim the living room lights."
"Alexa, what is the temperature in here?"
Alexa is smart home savvy and works with a number of different devices, including Samsung's SmartThings range. You can dim the lights, adjust the temperature, and more.
17. Book a vacation
"Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $500."
"Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly from New York to Boston."
Smart travel-planning service Kayak also has an Alexa skill: It lets you check on flight delays, price up trips you've got in mind, and hear flight options tailored to your budget.
18. Learn something new
"Alexa, ask TED Talks to play the latest talk."
"Alexa, ask TED Talks for something funny."
The educational TED Talks are now available through an Alexa skill, so you can pipe talks on a whole range of topics through your Echo speaker—free of charge.
19. Get recipe ideas
"Alexa, ask Allrecipes for a grilled salmon recipe."
"Alexa, ask Allrecipes for a recipe with chicken, bacon, and broccoli."
Allrecipes is one of several recipe-finding apps you can add to Alexa. We like the way you can ask for specific recipes by name, or just list some ingredients to get a matching dish.
20. Play games
"Alexa, play Jeopardy!"
"Alexa, open Twenty Questions and use an animal."
Echo speakers don't have screens, but you can still play a game or two using your voice. Two titles we'd recommend are the old favorites Jeopardy! and Twenty Questions.