Get News on Your Amazon Echo With Flash Briefing Skills

Get the latest news headlines on your Amazon Echo from from national, international and local news sources with the Alexa Flash Briefing. Here’s how to set up a personalized news feed on your Echo and what Alexa skills to add.

 

Get News on Your Echo or Echo Dot With Alexa Flash Briefings

Your Echo comes pre-installed with a service called “Flash Briefings”. Flash briefings are like mini-podcasts of headlines and stories from news sources. When you ask Alexa to tell you the news, she start playing pre-recorded updates from popular broadcasters, the latest news headlines from The Associated Press, and weather information from AccuWeather.

Quick, try it now:

“Alexa, what’s in the news?”

“Alexa, read my Flash Briefing”

Some news feeds (like BBC and NPR) update hourly, while others (such as NBC Boston) update just a few times per day.

Therefore, you can ask Alexa for the news anytime you’re passing through the kitchen, and she’ll probably have something new to tell you.

Keep reading to find out how to get local news on Echo with Alexa Flash Briefing skills.

Get Custom News on Echo by Customizing Your Echo News Feed

The best part about Flash Briefings is that you can customize them to include only the news you’re interested in. I love technology and sports, so I’ve added the Engadget and Fox Sports radio sources. But if you don’t care about sports, you can remove all the sports sources.

The default feeds that are pre-added in Alexa give you a very simple view of what’s possible. The Alexa Skills Marketplace is stocked with hundreds of free news sources, and seems to be adding more daily.

Adding new sources to your Flash Briefing:

Flash Briefing sources are created by developers, and are completely free. Adding a new source to your Flash Briefing is as easy as it is to add a new Skill to your device, with one small difference.

Flash Briefing Settings

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Then, click “Get more Flash Briefing content”
  • Find a source that you want to add and click to see it’s details
  • Then, click “Enable Skill” to add it to your Flash Briefing

Adding weather to your Flash Briefing:

Flash Briefing Weather

If you’ve read my Alexa Ultimate Guide, you know that you can ask Alexa for the weather anytime. But did you know that you could include it as part of your Flash Briefing?

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Search for “weather”
  • You’ll get back 600 results, but the weather app that Amazon built should be right on top
  • Click on the source to see it’s details
  • Click “Enable Skill” to add it to your Flash Briefing

The Amazon Weather skill uses the address you’ve set in your configuration. For a more accurate weather forecast, verify that your address is correct by going to Settings > Device’s Name > Device Location

To change the order your Flash Briefing sources are played:

Flash Briefing Reorder

The sources included in your Flash Briefing play in the order that they were added. But sometimes, you just want to know if the Bruins won first!

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Click “Flash Briefing”
  • Click “Edit Order” in the top right corner
  • Using the little hamburger on the right side of the item, drag your source to it’s new location.
  • Click “Done” in the top right corner

To remove sources from your Flash Briefing:

Flash Briefing Disable Source

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone and click settings
  • Click “Flash Briefing”
  • Click the toggle on the right side of each source. Flip it off to disable it from your Flash Briefing.

Sources that you’ve disabled will be moved to the bottom of the page. To re-add a source back to your Flash Briefing, just click the toggle button again.

Some sources include multiple feeds. For example, the NPR From TuneIn source is actually NPR Business Story of the Day and an NPR Technology Podcast. Turning off the “main” feed disables all of them, but you can enable each one individually.

Popular Flash Briefing Sources for News on Your Echo

I want to get a quick hit of what’s going on as I pass by my Echo Dot in the living room. My perfect Flash Briefing includes the global headlines, some local news, sports scores of the teams I follow, and the weather.

Flash Briefing Sources

These are the sources I’ve included in my Flash Briefing:

I like to order my Flash Briefing sources by how often they’re updated. This lets me get the most recent information first.

My favorite sources have a recording of someone reading the news. The Alexa text-to-speech is fine, but it’s a little robotic (understandably so). I’d listen to 90 seconds of a recording over 30 seconds of computer any day. I hope more sources move to uploading a recording instead of relying on text-to-speech.

PS: if you’re looking for a sports source, stay far away from the ESPN skill. Whatever they’re uploading has the volume cranked to 11.

Read Next: The Complete Guide to Every Alexa Command

Alexa Commands: 233 Things Alexa Can Do (Updated)

Alexa powers the Amazon Echo DotAmazon’s Alexa is slowly taking over homes across the country, especially now that you can get an Alexa device for less than $50. So, everyone is looking for a list of everything Alexa can do.

Her commercials show someone in a furry suit ordering an Uber, ordering flowers while putting out a fire, and an owner finding her cell phone inside of her dog.

Those are just 3 examples of the 223 238 commands I’ve found for Alexa, so far. The list gets longer every day, and so do the number of skills Alexa can learn, so I’ll update this list frequently.

Here is anything and everything you can ask Alexa to do (238 commands, so far):

If you’re unfamiliar with Alexa, start with our ultimate Alexa guide.

Command Type:Say to Alexa:Alexa's Action:
AssistantAlexa, when is the Super Bowl?Will tell you when the Patriots and the Falcons are playing in Super Bowl 51
AssistantAlexa, set a timer for 15 minutesWill sound an alarm at the specified duration.
AssistantAlexa, set a second timer for an hourWill sound a second alarm after the specified duration.
AssistantAlexa, set an alarm for 5amWill sound an alarm at the specific time.
AssistantAlexa, cancel my alarmCancels an active alarm.
AssistantAlexa, cancel my timerCancels an active timer.
AssistantAlexa, cancel my second timerCancels an active second time.
AssistantAlexa, add bacon to my shopping listAdds the item to your Amazon shopping list.
AssistantAlexa, I need to buy salsaAdds the item to your Amazon shopping list.
AssistantAlexa, what's on my shopping list?Tells you what's on your Amazon shopping list.
AssistantAlexa, ask Uber for a rideOrders an Uber from your home location.
AssistantAlexa, ask Lyft for a rideOrders an Uber from your home location.
AssistantAlexa, what's on my calendar for today?Reads you what's on your calendar for the day, when connected to a Google Calendar through the Alexa app.
AssistantAlexa, add Andrew's birthday party to my calendar for tomorrow at 2pmAdds an event to your Google Calendar, when connected through the Alexa app.
AssistantAlexa, send that to my Fire tabletSends the information to your connected Fire tablet.
AssistantAlexa, send that to my tabletSends the information to a connected Fire tablet.
AssistantAlexa, send that to Kim's tabletSends the information to a specific connected tablet.
Easter EggAlexa, give me a Groundhog Day movie quote.
Easter EggAlexa, who is Puxatawney Phil?
Easter EggAlexa, will the groundhog see his shadow?
Easter EggAlexa, do you ever have deja vu?
Easter EggAlexa, happy Groundhog Day!Be sure to ask a few times.
Easter EggAlexa, set phasers to kill
Easter EggAlexa, my name is Inigo Montoya
Easter EggAlexa, party on Wayne
Easter EggAlexa, show me the money
Easter EggAlexa, surely you can't be serious
Easter EggAlexa, are you SkyNet?
Easter EggAlexa, party time!
Easter EggAlexa, open the pod bay doors
Easter EggAlexa, when am I going to die?
Easter EggAlexa, don't mention the war
Easter EggAlexa, what is your cunning plan?
Easter EggAlexa, beam me up
Easter EggAlexa, tea. Earl Grey. Hot.
Easter EggAlexa, what's the first rule of Fight Club?
Easter EggAlexa, what's the second rule of Fight Club?
Easter EggAlexa, what is your quest?
Easter EggAlexa, nice to see you, to see you
Easter EggAlexa, this is a dead parrot
Easter EggAlexa, why is the sky blue?
Easter EggAlexa, Simon says "Jump"
Easter EggAlexa, why did the chicken cross the road?
Easter EggAlexa, self-distruct
Easter EggAlexa, speak like yoda
Easter EggAlexa, do you have any new features?
Easter EggAlexa, up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start
Easter EggAlexa, rap for me
Easter EggAlexa, I want the truth
Easter EggAlexa, how much is that doggy in the window?
Easter EggAlexa, what is the prime directive?
Easter EggAlexa, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Easter EggAlexa, what does RTFM stand for?
Easter EggAlexa, use the force
Easter EggAlexa, is Santa real?
Easter EggAlexa, more cowbell
Easter EggAlexa, what is war good for?
Easter EggAlexa, I am your father.
Easter EggAlexa, I've got a need
Easter EggAlexa, who you gonna call?
Easter EggAlexa, tell me a joke
Easter EggAlexa, is the cake a lie?
Easter EggAlexa, this is Ghost Rider, requesting a fly by
Easter EggAlexa, what are the laws of robotics?
Easter EggAlexa, which comes first: the chicken or the egg?
Easter EggAlexa, tell me a dirty joke
Easter EggAlexa, see you later alligator.
Easter EggAlexa, do you know Glados?
Easter EggAlexa, do you have a boyfriend?
Easter EggAlexa, sing me a song
Easter EggAlexa, do aliens exist?
Easter EggAlexa, who lives in a pineapple under the sea?
Easter EggAlexa, where do you live?
Easter EggAlexa, sing happy birthday
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to fight?
Easter EggAlexa, what is love?
Easter EggAlexa, where are my keys?
Easter EggAlexa, how many roads must a man walk down?
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to fight?
Easter EggAlexa, to be or not to be?
Easter EggAlexa, who is the walrus?
Easter EggAlexa, what's the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow"?
Easter EggAlexa, do you really want to hurt me?
Easter EggAlexa, heads or tails?
Easter EggAlexa, who is the fairest of them all?
Easter EggAlexa, give me a hug
Easter EggAlexa, who let the dogs out?
Easter EggAlexa, guess?
Easter EggAlexa, what is the sound of one hand clapping?
Easter EggAlexa, high five!
Easter EggAlexa, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
Easter EggAlexa, how high can you count?
Easter EggAlexa, are you lying?
Easter EggAlexa, where's the beef?
Easter EggAlexa, knock knock
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to go on a date?
Easter EggAlexa, do a barrel roll!
Easter EggAlexa, I shot a man in Reno
Easter EggAlexa, do you know the muffin man?
Easter EggAlexa, why so serious?
Easter EggAlexa, who loves orange soda?
Easter EggAlexa, your mother was a hamster!
Easter EggAlexa, take me to your leader
Easter EggAlexa, are we in the matrix?
Easter EggAlexa, never gonna give you up.
Easter EggAlexa, klattu barada nikto.
Easter EggAlexa, roll for initiative
Easter EggAlexa, how many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?
Easter EggAlexa, how tall are you?
Easter EggAlexa, I'm tired
Easter EggAlexa, tell me a riddle
Easter EggAlexa, I like big butts
Easter EggAlexa, can you pass the Turing test?
Easter EggAlexa, that's no moon
Easter EggAlexa, you're wonderful
Easter EggAlexa, play it again, Sam.
Easter EggAlexa, are there UFO's?
Easter EggAlexa, say a bad word
Easter EggAlexa, say the alphabet
Easter EggAlexa, warp 10
Easter EggAlexa, I want to play global thermonuclear war
Easter EggAlexa, what color is the dress?
Easter EggAlexa, twinkle twinkle little star
Easter EggAlexa, happy holidays!
Easter EggAlexa, what is your favorite color?
Easter EggAlexa, I hate you.
Easter EggAlexa, roses are red...
Easter EggAlexa, cheers!
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to build a snowman?
Easter EggAlexa, why is six afraid of seven?
Easter EggAlexa, are you happy?
Easter EggAlexa, what's your sign?
Easter EggAlexa, meow
Easter EggAlexa, can you smell that?
Easter EggAlexa, one fish, two fish
Easter EggAlexa, what do you think about Google Now?
Easter EggAlexa, what number are you thinking of?
Easter EggAlexa, what do you think about Siri?
Easter EggAlexa, who is the mother of dragons?
Easter EggAlexa, where's Waldo?
Easter EggAlexa, volume 11
Easter EggAlexa, what would Brian Boitano do?
Easter EggAlexa, have you ever seen the rain?
Easter EggAlexa, this statement is false
Easter EggAlexa, do you believe in love at first sight?
Easter EggAlexa, who's on first?
Easter EggAlexa, wakey, wakey!
Easter EggAlexa, what is best in life?
Easter EggAlexa, how are babies made?
Easter EggAlexa, who loves ya baby?
Easter EggAlexa, make me a sandwich
Easter EggAlexa, when does the narwhal bacon?
Easter EggAlexa, what is the answer to live, the universe and everything?
Easter EggAlexa, who stole the cookies from the cookie jar?
Easter EggAlexa, testing 1-2-3
Easter EggAlexa, why is a raven like a writing desk?
Easter EggAlexa, how many fingers am I holding up?
Easter EggAlexa, did you fart?
Easter EggAlexa, roll the dice
Easter EggAlexa, do you want to take over the world?
Easter EggAlexa, Marco!
Easter EggAlexa, do you feel lucky, punk?
Easter EggAlexa, will pigs fly?
Easter EggAlexa, are you horny?
Easter EggAlexa, what does the scouter say about his power level?
Easter EggAlexa, am I hot?
Easter EggAlexa, you remind me of the babe
Easter EggAlexa, play "paper rock scissors"
Easter EggAlexa, what's up?
Easter EggAlexa, how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Easter EggAlexa, execute order 66.
Easter EggAlexa, f*** you
InformationAlexa, give me a random number between 2 and 18Gives you a random number between two numbers
InformationAlexa, wikipedia Bobby OrrReads you the abstract from a Wikipedia page.
InformationAlexa, what's my commute look like?If you've provided a "work" location in the Alexa app, gives you an estimate on commute time to get there.
InformationAlexa, what's 2 times 3?Answers math queries.
InformationAlexa, how many tablespoons are in a cup?Answers basic conversion queries.
InformationAlexa, what's the definition of deplorable?Tells you the definition of a word.
InformationAlexa, how do you spell recommended?Spells a word for you.
InformationAlexa, can you say unqualified?Reads back the word she thinks you told her.
InformationAlexa, how do you say sad in spanish?Attempts to translate your word to a different language.
InformationAlexa, what movies are playing?Tells you movies currently playing locally.
InformationAlexa, what comedy movies are playing tonight?Tells you comedy movies currently playing locally. (Try action, drama, etc.)
InformationAlexa, tell me about the movie The Big LebowskiGives you a synopsis of the movie.
InformationAlexa, who plays The Dude in The Big Lebowski?Tells you the actor or actresses name that played the character.
InformationAlexa, who sings The Pretender?Tells you the artist of a song.
InformationAlexa, who is in the band The Eagles?Tells you the band members of a specific band.
InformationAlexa, what time is it?Tells you the current time.
InformationAlexa, what day is it?Tells you the current day and date.
InformationAlexa, when is Easter this year?Gives you the date of an upcoming holiday.
InformationAlexa, what time does the Marshfield General Store close?Tells you the business hours for a business.
InformationAlexa, what's the phone number for the Village Market in Scituate?Tells you the phone number for a business.
InformationAlexa, tell me a factTells you a random fact
InformationAlexa, how tall is Mount Everest?Tells you the height of something.
InformationAlexa, what is the capital of France?Tells you the capital of a location.
InformationAlexa, what's 64 to the 64 power?Tells you the very long answer to this math question.
InformationAlexa, what's the square root of 16?Tells you the square root of a number.
InformationAlexa, how far is it to the moon?Tells you the distance from your current location to the stated location.
InformationAlexa, how old is Tom Brady?Tells you the age of a celebrity.
InformationAlexa, when is the next solar eclipse?Tells you the date of the next solar eclipse.
Music and MediaAlexa, play (song/genre/playlist)Plays music from Amazon Music Unlimited, or any music you've uploaded.
Music and MediaAlexa, stopStops the currently playing audio.
Music and MediaAlexa, I like this songLikes a song when playing iHeartRadio or Pandora
Music and MediaAlexa, keep goingResumes stopped or paused audio
Music and MediaAlexa, play Born in the USA on PandoraPlays a song from a connected Pandora account.
Music and MediaAlexa, is it going to rain today?Tells you the rain forecast for today in your area.
Music and MediaAlexa, what's the weather this weekend?Gives you the forecast for the weekend in your area.
Music and MediaAlexa, play the This American Life podcastPlays the specific podcast.
Music and MediaAlexa, knock it offStops the currently playing audio.
Music and MediaAlexa, shut the f*** upStops the currently playing audio.
Music and MediaAlexa, turn it upTurns the volume up.
Music and MediaAlexa, turn it downTurns the volume down.
Music and MediaAlexa, turn it all the way upTurns the volume all the way up.
Music and MediaAlexa, shuffle music by (artist)Plays music by that artist.
Music and MediaAlexa, play Bohemian Rhapsody on SpotifyPlays a song from a connected Spotify account.
Music and MediaAlexa, I don't like this songDislikes a song when playing iHeartRadio or Pandora
Music and MediaAlexa, what's playing?Tells you the name and artist of a currently playing song or podcast.
Music and MediaAlexa, volume fiveon a scale of 0-10
Music and MediaAlexa, play the song that goes "I just walked in to see what condition my condition is in"Plays the song that has those lyrics.
Music and MediaAlexa, set a sleep timer for 30 minutesWhile something is playing, this will set a sleep timer to automatically shut Alexa off after a set amount of time.
Music and MediaAlexa, louderTurns the volume up.
NewsAlexa, what's my flash briefing?A personalized list of news, weather and sports. You can set or manage what you hear in your Flash briefing in the Alexa app.
NewsAlexa, what's in the news?Reads you the top news headlines.
NewsAlexa, good morningGives you weather, news and information relevant to start your day.
ShoppingAlexa, where's my stuff?Tells you the shipping status of your Amazon orders.
ShoppingAlexa, order more AA batteriesOrders an item from Amazon.
ShoppingAlexa, what are your deals?Reads you the current Alexa-only deals from Amazon.
ShoppingAlexa, buy this songBuys the currently playing song on Amazon Music.
ShoppingAlexa, buy this albumBuys the currently playing album on Amazon Music.
SkillsAlexa, enable Seinfeld TriviaInstalls a skill from the Alexa skill marketplace.
SkillsAlexa, disable Seinfeld TriviaUninstalls a skill from the Alexa skill marketplace.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn Andrew's room up to 71 degreesChanges the temperature of a thermostat that has been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on the lightsTurns on lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn off the living room lightsTurns off lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, dim the lights to 50 percentDims the lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app.
Smart HomeAlexa, dim the kitchen lights to 50Dims the lights that have been connected to Alexa in the Alexa app in a specific room.
Smart HomeAlexa, connect to the bluetooth speakerConnects to a bluetooth speaker.
Smart HomeAlexa, disconnect from the bluetooth speakerDisconnects from a bluetooth speaker.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on Movie TimeTriggers a HomeKit, SmartThings, Wink or Wemo automated scene.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on the TVTurns on a TV through a connected Harmony Hub.
Smart HomeAlexa, turn on NetflixTurns on Netflix through a connected Harmony Hub.
SportsAlexa, what's the score of the Bruins game?Tells you the score of a current game, or the final score of the previous game.
SportsAlexa, when do the Red Sox play?Tells you the next date and time the team plays a game.
SportsAlexa, give me my sports updateGives you the latest scores of the teams you set in the Alexa app.
SportsAlexa, did Oklahoma State basketball win?Tells you the score of the last game that team played.
WeatherAlexa, what's the weather today?Gives you the forecast for today in your area.

PS: Know a command that isn’t listed here? Please let me know!

PPS: If you want to see everything your Echo or Echo Dot can do, visit SayThisToAlexa.com

What next?

Amazon Music Unlimited Review 2017

Amazon Music Unlimited is the Best Value for Streaming Music (But Nobody Knows It)

Amazon Music Unlimited launched in October 2016 as Amazon’s answer to the streaming music trend. Like Apple Music and Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited allows you to stream millions of songs directly from the Internet.

However, unlike Apple Music or Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited lets you stream this music through Alexa to your Echo, Echo Dot or Tap for less than $8/month.

The Amazon Music Unlimited Catalog is Just As Full as Spotify or Apple Music

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon boasts a vague “tens of millions of songs”, while Apple Music claims to have “30 million” in it’s catalog. On the surface, this seems like Amazon is trying to downplay their catalog size.

However, in my experience, everything I’ve wanted to play through Amazon Music Unlimited has been available.

Literally, everything.

The Amazon Music App is Not iTunes (and That’s a Great Thing)

I have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. I love that it’s where all of my music lives, and it’s already installed on my computer and phone.

But I actually hate iTunes. It’s slow and the user experience is clunky, at best. I hate how iTunes blurs the lines between my personal library and Apple Music, and I constantly find that I’m not able to play certain songs because iTunes logged me out.

Since Amazon Music Unlimited doesn’t intermingle with your personal music library, you will never get the annoying “You don’t have authorization to play this file on your computer” iTunes error. This is reason enough to consider ditching iTunes for Amazon.

What’s the Difference Between Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify and Apple Music?

 Amazon Music UnlimitedSpotifyApple Music
Catalog Size"Millions of songs"20 million songs30 million songs
Price$7.99/mo for Amazon Prime Members
$9.99/mo for non-Prime Members
$9.99/month$9.99/month
Family Plan$14.99/month$14.99/month$14.99/month
Can Stream to Echo or Echo Dot?YesYesNo
Sound Quality256 Kbps320 Kbps256 Kbps
Playlist and Radio Station QualityGreatDecentLow
Free Option?NoYesYes
Trial Period30 days30 days3 months
Better Than iTunes?Yes!Yes!No 🙁

What’s the difference between Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music?

The difference between Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited is the number of songs.

Amazon Prime Music is included with your Amazon Prime account, and includes about two million songs. Amazon Music Unlimited is an additional $7.99/month and includes “tens of millions” of songs.

Alexa and Amazon Music Unlimited Work Great Together

Alexa makes it really easy to find and play music instantly.

White Amazon Echo

If you want Thunderstruck, you simply say “Alexa, play Thunderstruck”. If you want to hear the entire Bruce Springsteen catalog, say “Alexa, shuffle songs by Bruce Springsteen”. These are only available with Amazon Music Unlimited.

But that’s not even the best part.

Amazon’s staff has categorized the music catalog so well, you can ask Alexa to help you find music.

Let’s say you’re not sure what you want to hear, but you know that it’s something fun from the 90’s.

Simply say “Alexa, play music from the nineties with a beat” and she’ll kick off a personalized playlist for you.

Even that’s not the best part. This is the best part.

Let’s say you’re in the mood for some classic rock, but you can’t quite remember the name of the song. It’s been stuck in your head for days, though.

Say “Alexa, play the song that goes ‘is this the real life is this just fantasy'” and she will start playing Bohemian Rhapsody.

That’s magic.

Playing Amazon Music Unlimited on Your Laptop or Phone

Amazon Music on Phone

You can listen to any of the songs, playlists or radio stations in the Amazon Music Unlimited catalog your computer by installing the Amazon Music app directly from Amazon.

The Amazon Music app is a great way to listen on your phone. You can install the app by visiting the iOS App Store, Google Play or the Amazon App Store.

Streaming Your Own Music on Echo

Alexa powers the Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Music Unlimited gives you the ability to stream Amazon’s library of music. Included in that membership is the ability to upload 250 songs from your own library. Those songs are then available for streaming through Alexa or the Amazon Music app.

If you want to upload more than 250 songs, you’ll need to subscribe to an Amazon Music Subscription for $24.99.

Bottom Line: Do it.

Amazon Music Unlimited is just as good as Spotify or Apple Music, but at a lower cost. It’s app is polished, it works really well with Alexa, and it’s not iTunes.

View on Amazon

Read Next: Alexa Commands: 127 Things Alexa Can Do (And Counting!)

 

Alexa: The Ultimate Guide to Amazon’s Virtual Assistant

Alexa, who are you?

Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant. Similar to Siri on iOS or Google Now on Android, Alexa is summoned and interacted with by your voice. This means that it (she?) can complete tasks and answer questions without ever needing a keyboard, mouse, computer or phone.

Alexa powers the Amazon Echo Dot

Alexa, are you the same thing as the Amazon Echo?

Alexa is not the same thing as the Amazon Echo. Alexa is the virtual assistant inside the Amazon Echo and the rest of Amazon’s smart speakers. The Echo, Echo Dot and Amazon Tap are essentially delivery vehicles for Alexa functionality.

The Echo, Dot and Tap are smart speakers that sit on a counter or table. While the Echo and Dot are “always on” and listening for you to interact with them. When you want to use Alexa, you simply say her name, followed by the command.

The Tap is closer to a portable bluetooth speaker. It has Alexa capabilities, but you can’t activate Alexa with your voice – you need to press a button.

The Echo is the speaker, and Alexa is the virtual assistant in the cloud waiting to execute your command.

Alexa, play music.

One of the most popular features of Alexa is her ability to find and play music.

You can ask her to play a certain kind of music (“play dinner music”), music by a specific artist (“play music by Bruce Springsteen”), or a specific song (“play Born to Run”).

She will also let you control the music with your voice. You can tell her to skip the song, replay the song, and even turn the volume up and down. Amazon boasts that the Echo, Dot and Tap can hear you over the music, so you shouldn’t need to yell at her to replay Bohemian Rhapsody.

Alexa primarily uses the Amazon Music service. Amazon Music is a catalog of about 2 million songs, and is included with your Prime membership. You can also access Amazon Music by purchasing an Amazon Music Unlimited membership for $9.99/month, or $7.99/month if you’re already a Prime member.

Alexa Can Play Music and Books

  • Can Alexa work with Spotify? Yes. Amazon lets you choose Spotify as the default music choice. This let’s you control Spotify with standard Alexa commands, but using the music from your Spotify library.
  • Can Alexa work with Apple Music? No, Apple Music doesn’t work with the Echo, Dot or Tap.
  • Can Alexa play iTunes? Sort of. You can’t control your iTunes library with your voice, but there are ways to play your iTunes music on your Echo device. You can use the Amazon Music app on your computer to upload your personal music collection to My Music. After it’s uploaded to Amazon, you can play it back using your voice through Alexa. My Music only allows 250 songs for free. If you want to upload more than 250 songs, you’ll need to buy an Amazon Music subscription.
  • Can Alexa control Sonos? Not yet, but soon. Sonos has partnered with Amazon to bring Sonos functionality to Alexa devices. There are rumors that Sonos functionality will be available in early 2017, but there has been no official word from either Sonos or Amazon.

What else can Alexa play?

  • Can Alexa play podcasts? Yes. In typical podcast players, you need to subscribe to a podcast to get the latest edition pushed to your device. However, with Alexa, you can just ask for the latest episode and it will play automatically. Just say “play the Planet Money podcast”.
  • Can Alexa play video? No. Neither the Echo, Echo Dot nor Echo Tap have a screen.
  • Can I use Alexa with a bluetooth speaker? Maybe. The Amazon Echo Dot can connect to a bluetooth speaker to play music and commands. (You can even tell it to connect or disconnect the speaker, which is particularly cool.) The Echo and the Echo Tap can only use their internal speakers.

Alexa Inside an Amazon Echo

Alexa, what is the weather?

Alexa knows your location and will respond with the current temperature and forecast for the rest of the day. I have found this surprisingly faster than using my phone, and equally as accurate.

Alexa, what’s the score of the Bruins game?

If a game is actively happening, she will respond with the score and time remaining (which is amazingly up-to-date). And when there isn’t a game currently being played, she will respond with the opponent and score of the last game played.

Alexa Shopping List

Alexa, add eggs to my shopping list.

Alexa will store a shopping list for you, which is helpful when you’re elbow-deep in cinnamon roll dough and need to remember to buy more cornstarch. While you’re near your Echo, it can read back the list to you.

What’s more helpful is that you can view and check off shopping list items inside the Alexa app on your phone or on the Amazon website. It will even print your shopping list, if she can find your printer.

What is an Alexa skill?

An Alexa skill is like an app on your phone: it’s a piece of software that adds functionality to your Alexa. Amazon has a marketplace of all available Skills on it’s website or inside the app on your phone. You can also enable or disable a skill from the website, through the app, or by speaking directly to Alexa, “add the (name) skill”.

Adding a skill lets you do things such as automating your home, listening to the news, and more.

Some skills are developed by Amazon, but the majority of skills are created by third-party developers. Amazon has created the Skills Kit to facilitate the development of these skills.

Alexa Skills

Alexa, automate my home.

Alexa lets you automate the devices in your home with your voice. This means that you can tell it to turn on the lights, change the thermostat or lock the house with just your voice. It’s similar to how a smart hub works.

Alexa Smart Home Skills

What smart hubs will Alexa work with?

  • Can Alexa work with SmartThings? Yes, through the SmartThings Smart Home Skill.
  • Can Alexa work with Wink? Yes.
  • Can Alexa work with Insteon? Yes.
  • Can Alexa work with HomeKit? Yes, sorta. Neither Amazon nor Apple have much incentive to make their systems work well together. Apple Homekit is powered by Siri, but Siri is a competing technology. You can make your Homekit-enabled devices available to Alexa if you use iDevices as a bridge. However, the Skills marketplace is fairly robust, so you can most likely find a skill that will control your device without necessarily using iDevices.

Alexa can work directly with smart devices through the Skills marketplace, as well.

Alexa, tell me the news.

Alexa offers an automated Flash Briefing, available on-demand. The Flash Briefing plays back the latest news updates from a number of popular broadcasters, like NPR or the BBC, the latest weather update and the latest sports scores from your favorite teams.

You can add new content sources to your Flash Briefing by adding new skills from the Skills marketplace. Some of the popular options are the Wall Street Journal, This Week in Tech, or The Skimm.

Alexa, entertain me.

Despite what it may seem, Alexa does more than just act as your assistant. She has a number of games and trivia available to play:

  • My favorite is Seinfeld Trivia, where it will ask you six questions from the TV show Seinfeld, and give you a score based on your response.
  • She also offers a game called The Magic Door, that’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure style game that you navigate with your voice.
  • There is a Twenty Questions game in which she gives you up to 20 questions to guess the celebrity.
  • And of course, there’s Jeopardy!, where you need to answer in the form of a question.

Alexa can also help you become a better bartender. By adding a Skill called The Bartender, you can ask what ingredients are in a drink (“ask the bartender what’s in a Tom Collins?”) or what drinks can be made with a particular ingredient (“ask the bartender for a drink with pineapple juices”). And if you’re feeling lucky, you can ask The Bartender to surprise you, and she will return the name and ingredients for a randomly-selected drink.

Can Alexa control my TV?

Alexa Controls Your TV With the Harmony Hub

Now that you’re starting to get the hang of the basic things that Alexa can do to change the way you interact with your home, let’s talk about some of the more advanced options.

There are some devices that may not be able to be controlled directly with Alexa, such as most TVs or every cable box. Most “smart devices” have a wifi chip embedded in them, and software that lets them communicate with the Internet. While most TVs these days include wifi, they are lacking the the “controlling” software. You experience this every day, since you probably still control your TV using a remote control that blasts infrared (IR) signals to turn it on, change the channel or change the volume.

The Harmony Hub is a black box that you connect to your home network via wifi. Like most smart hubs, you can control it with your phone. However, the Harmony Hub also includes “IR blasters” that connect to your TV. These IR blasters allow the Harmony Hub to control your TV, via your phone.

You can see where this is going: Alexa can control the Harmony Hub via wifi and your Harmony Hub can control your TV via IR. Therefore: You can control your TV with your voice via Alexa.

Alexa, turn on the TV and change the channel to ESPN.

  • “Alexa, turn on the TV” will turn on your TV via the Harmony Hub.
  • “Alexa, turn off the Xbox” will turn off your Xbox via the Harmony Hub.
  • “Alexa, tell Harmony to pause” will pause your DVD or Blu Ray playback via the Harmony Hub.
  • “Alexa, tell Harmony to set a sleep timer for 15 minutes” will turn off your TV and equipment after 15 minutes. This may be my favorite functionality, since my TV doesn’t have a sleep timer built in.

And if you want to get even more advanced, the Harmony Hub also works with Roku devices. If you have a Roku device and Netflix account, Alexa will let you turn on the TV, turn down the lights, turn up the volume and start a movie with just your voice.

Alexa, what else can you do?

Alexa Has a Lot of Skills

Amazon spent a lot of time making Alexa useful to you anywhere in the house. Some of the most commonly used functionality in our house includes:

  • “Set a timer for 20 minutes.” Unbelievably handy in the kitchen when your hands aren’t clean enough to deal with your phone.
  • “Buy more laundry detergent.” Your Alexa is connected to your Amazon account, so Alexa can help you buy things with just your voice.
  • “What’s on my calendar?” After linking your Google calendar, Alexa can tell you what your next event is, give you the schedule for the day, or add events to your calendar for you.
  • “When was Queen Elizabeth II born?” With great Wikipedia and search abilities (powered by Bing), she can answer most questions you throw at her.
  • “Tell me a joke.” They’re not the best jokes, but they’re not the worst, either.

And since Amazon has opened the development of Skills to third parties, the opportunities are virtually endless.

You don’t have to be a software developer to create custom functionality for Alexa. IFTTT offers a channel of “recipes” to extend the functionality beyond the home. Many of the recipes are built by Amazon, but you can add your own easily through the IFTTT website.

You can also find a complete list of commands here.

Is Alexa worth it?

Yes, Alexa is the best way to make your home smarter. The wide array of abilities available to it via Skills (with more being added every day), along with the multi-directional microphone make it a very useful virtual assistant.

And at about $50, the Amazon Echo Dot is the best (and actually cheapest) way to add the power of Alexa to any room in your house.