Views: 6,186 | Last updated: January 2019
The VoiceBrew 22 is a living list of the best everyday uses for Alexa.
The list is based on research, VoiceBrew’s data on the most rated Alexa skills, data from user surveys and wisdom from the Alexa and Amazon Echo Reddit communities. VoiceBrew has confirmed that each use case below works as expected.
Why? Music is the killer app for smart speakers, and playing music just by saying a song, artist or genre is awesome. With Alexa, I listen to music more than ever because it’s so easy to turn on whatever I want to listen to.
How? “Alexa, play Despacito” or “Alexa, play Bruce Springsteen songs” or “Alexa, play country music.” You can also say “Alexa, skip song,” “Alexa, turn it up!” or “Alexa, turn off the music”
Set-up (easy and a must-do): See 5 Alexa Settings You Should Update Now for how to listen to music from your preferred music service (Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, etc.).
Pro Tip #1: A lot of people have trouble playing their Spotify playlists with Alexa. A good workaround is to create an Alexa routine where the trigger is “Alexa, play [insert playlist name]” and the action is to play the playlist. You can easily set this up in your Alexa app by tapping the hamburger (3 horizontal lines) icon on the upper left corner > Routines > + in the upper right corner to set up a new routine. Go to When this happens > Voice > and type “play [insert playlist name]” and tap the Save button. This will bring you back to the New Routine tab where you will now go to Add action > Music > enter name of playlist (e.g., Summer Music 2013) and select Spotify as the provider. And you’re done! This workaround works best with playlists that have more specific names (like “Summer Music 2013”) but is temperamental for playlists with more generic names (still can’t get it to play my “Latest” playlist so I’ll probably change the name!).
Pro Tip #2: Connect your Echo to external bluetooth speakers (such as Sonos) if you have them because the sound quality will be better. The Echo Show sound is pretty good while the Echo Dot sound is mediocre (can’t expect too much from a dot-sized speaker) and Echo is somewhere in the middle.
Why? Alexa timers are a game changer, especially when it comes to cooking. No more punching in timers on your stove or pulling out your phone. Alexa can do it for you, and she can handle multiple timers.
How? “Alexa, set 20 minute timer” and then when the time is up “Alexa, stop” to turn it off
Pro Tip #1: If you set multiple timers (maybe one for baking cookies and one for cooking pasta a few minutes later), you can name the timers so you don’t get confused. Just say “Alexa, set 30 minute timer for the cookies” and “Alexa, set 8 minute timer for the pasta.”
Pro Tip #2: If you’d rather not have to turn your timers off with an “Alexa, stop,” you can instead set a reminder as your timer by saying “Alexa, set reminder for 10 minutes for the pasta.” 10 minutes later, Alexa will announce twice that the time is up but not beep repeatedly like a timer.
Why? Asking Alexa is faster than looking it up on your phone and lets you multitask while you’re doing something else (making breakfast, putting finishing touches on the day’s outfit, etc.).
How?“Alexa, what’s the weather today” or “Alexa, what’s the weather in Ft. Lauderdale tomorrow?”
Pro Tip #1: If you ask Alexa for the weather but don’t specify location, she’ll give you the weather for the location associated with your Echo device (likely your home or maybe office address).
Pro Tip #2: If you want real feel, forecast for the next hour, sunrise and sunset times, wind gusts, humidity and more, Big Sky will have it for you. Just say “Alexa, ask Big Sky what the weather is today.” Big Sky is free for the location associated with your Echo, but you have to pay for weather information on other locations so I recommend just using the default Alexa weather skill for that.
Why? Have you ever been tying up your shoelaces rushing out of the house and remembered you totally forgot you to text your aunt a happy birthday message? You can tell Alexa to set a reminder for a specific time, and she’ll send your phone a push notification and notify you via your Echo speaker.
How?“Alexa, remind me to text Aunt Susie happy birthday today at 3pm”
Pro Tip #1: You can also set reminders based on your location (for any one of the locations stored under Settings > Your Locations). You could say “Alexa, remind me to text Aunt Susie happy birthday when I get to work.” Check out some more awesome uses for Alexa location-based reminders.
Pro Tip #2: You can also see your reminders in the Alexa app by tapping the hamburger (three horizontal lines) icon in the upper left > Reminders & Alarms.
5. Turn the lights on and off
Why? Because controlling smart lights with your voice is magical.
How? “Alexa, turn on [insert lighting setting such as bright] in [insert room name such as bedroom]”
Set-up (disclaimer: it’s not that easy but 100% worth the effort): Here are the 2 posts you need to set up smart lights and connect them to Alexa:
- Guide to setting up Philips Hue smart lights (The Ambient)
- How to connect your smart lights to Alexa (The Ambient)
Pro Tip: If you want to control your lights (or any device that plugs into an outlet and turns on and off) without the hassle of setting up smart lights, the Amazon Smart Plug may be for you. It lets you turn lights that are plugged into it on and off with Alexa voice commands and as part of an Alexa routine. Compared to setting up smart lights, the plug’s set-up is a piece of cake (you pretty much just have to plug it in and open the Alexa app). Check out VoiceBrew’s guide to setting up and using the Amazon Smart Plug with Alexa for more on how to use it, set-up and pro tips like how to rename them and how to tell if your device will work with the smart plug.
6. Reordering from Amazon
Why? Because it’s an unbelievable time saver. For example, I noticed as I was making breakfast this morning that I was running low on walnuts…
- I said “Alexa, buy more walnuts on Amazon”
- Alexa said “Based on your order history, I found Nut Cravings California Walnuts […some other brief product info], and it’s $11.95 on Amazon. Would you like to buy it?”
- I said “Yes” and the order was confirmed!
How? “Alexa, buy more [insert item you want to reorder] on Amazon”
Set-up (less than 30 seconds): Open your Alexa app and tap the hamburger (three horizontal lines) icon on the upper left > Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing and toggle Purchase by Voice on. You’ll also need to have an Amazon Prime membership to be able to take advantage of this feature. See How To Buy Stuff with Alexa and Why You Should Try It for more detail.
Pro Tip #1: For those of you with mischievous little ones running around, you can also require a 4-digit voice code to confirm Amazon purchases and payments. Go to Settings > Alexa Account > Voice Purchasing and toggle Voice Code on to set your code.
Pro Tip #2: Say “Alexa, where’s my stuff” to track your recent Amazon orders.
Pro Tip #3: If you have an Echo Show (Echo with a screen), Alexa works great for non-reorders too because she will show your purchase options on the screen so you can flip through them. Give it a try!
Why? It’s easy, you can set multiple alarms (if you’re like me and want one alarm 15 minutes before you need to get up and another to tell you that 15 minutes is up) and the alarm wake-up sound is nice too.
How? “Alexa, set alarm for 7am tomorrow” and “Alexa, stop” when the alarm goes off
Pro Tip #1: You can also set recurring alarms, for every weekday, for example, by saying “Alexa, set 7am alarm for every weekday.” Or you can open the Alexa app, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner > Reminders & Alarms where you can add (or delete) an alarm or adjust the repeat settings there.
Pro Tip #2: If you want to get fancy, set a music alarm by saying “Alexa, wake me up to Otis Redding at 7am” (insert song or artist of your choice!).
8. News / radio / podcasts
Why? Whether it’s sports, markets, celebrity gossip or political news, we all need our daily news fix (or maybe a few of them). Alexa makes it easy to get news updates just by asking. Flash briefings are 2 – 3 minute compact news updates which are great when you want something fast.
How? “Alexa, play the Fresh Air podcast” or “Alexa, play ESPN radio” or “Alexa, play my flash briefing” and “Alexa, stop” when you want to turn it off
Set-up (super easy, especially if you have a news source in mind already): Customize your Alexa flash briefing so it provides an update from the news sources you actually want to hear from. Open your Alexa app, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner > Settings > Flash Briefing (under the Alexa preferences section) > Add Content. Once you find the flash briefing of your choice, tap on it and then tap Enable To Use. You can add as many flash briefings as you’d like!
Pro Tip #1: Unfortunately, asking Alexa to to speed up a podcast or news update (I usually listen to my podcasts at 1.25x or 1.5x speed from my phone) doesn’t work. If you want to play podcasts over your Echo at a faster speed, you can play the podcast through your phone on your favorite podcast app using your Echo as a bluetooth speaker.
Pro Tip #2: I recommend the AnyPod skill (instead of the default TuneIn skill) for listening to podcasts because it lets you subscribe to podcasts. “Alexa, ask AnyPod to play the Fresh Air podcast” or “Alexa, ask AnyPod to subscribe to the Fresh Air podcast” or “Alexa, ask AnyPod what my subscriptions are.”
9. Ambient sounds
Why? Because they can help you relax — whether you’re taking a break from a busy day or trying to fall asleep at night. Ambient sound skills are 6 out of the 10 most rated Alexa skills (and that’s out of 70,000+ total skills). If you want to buy an ambient sound machine, it’s going to cost you about $20 or more. Alexa gives you a large selection of ambient sounds — from rain to a babbling brook to simple white noise — for free.
How? “Alexa, play Thunderstorm sounds” or “Alexa, play rain sounds”
Pro Tip #1: Different ambient sound skills turn off automatically after different amounts of time. Thunderstorm Sounds, the top ambient sounds skill, plays for one hour by default unless you say “Alexa, ask Thunderstorm Sounds to loop”. Some other ambient sound skills keep looping until you say “Alexa, stop” or set a sleep timer by saying “Alexa, set a sleep timer for 2 hours” (this would cause the the ambient sounds to stop after 2 hours).
Pro Tip #2: Check out this list of free relaxing sleep sounds for ideas about what you might like.
10. Wake-up and bedtime routines
Why? Imagine a world in which you can wake up peacefully as your lights gradually come on to help coax you out of bed while your favorite morning music plays softly. That world is here!
Set-up (it’s a lot easier than you might think): Open your Alexa app, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner > Routines and tap the + icon in the upper right corner. This will take you to the New Routine tab. First, choose the trigger for your routine by tapping “When this happens.” The trigger could be a specific time (such as your weekday morning wakeup time), a voice command (such as “Alexa, good night”), your arrival home (yes, locations can be triggers too!) and more. If you choose a specific time or a location for the trigger, you can also customize when you want it to repeat (weekdays only, Wednesdays only, etc.). Then choose the actions you want to happen in response to the trigger by tapping “Add action.” For example, the lights coming on, music playing, Alexa wishing you a good night or reporting the weather or traffic. Check out VoiceBrew’s comprehensive guide on how to easily set up and build an Alexa routine for more guidance.
Pro Tip #1 — Wake-up Routine: To get you thinking about a routine that could work for you, here is the simple weekday morning bedroom lighting routine I set up (I have Philips Hue smart lights). I have a 6:30am Alexa alarm set for every weekday morning, and after it goes off my morning bedroom lighting routine begins. At 6:35am my bedroom lights dim at the lowest level, and by 6:40am they become slightly brighter. At 7am the lights come on at full brightness (so if I’m not up, I now have no choice but to get up). And at 9am the lights turn off (so I don’t have to worry about turning them off). Even though it’s one integrated morning ritual, the easiest way to set it up in the Alexa app is to create 4 separate routines, one for each time and associated lighting action. For each routine, I selected “Weekdays” as the repeat option.
Pro Tip #2 — Bedtime Routine: When I say “Alexa, good night” she says “good night” back to me, turns off the lights and sets my Echo devices to “Do Not Disturb” mode until 6:30am to be sure I don’t receive any messages, calls or notifications while I’m sleeping. Because I want these 3 things to all happen at the same time when I say “Alexa, good night” I can set up a single routine with these 3 actions. Simple but magical.
Why? Everyone keeps lists — whether it’s a shopping list or a simple list of to-do’s. Creating lists and adding items to your lists by telling Alexa is a time-saver, and you can easily access all of them under Lists in the Alexa app when you’re on the go.
How? “Alexa, create a packing list” or “Alexa, add bananas to my shopping list” and then after a grocery store run “Alexa, remove bananas from my shopping list.” You can also create new lists and add or check off items easily in the Alexa app. Just open the app, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner and select Lists.
Pro Tip #1: You can ask “Alexa, what’s on my shopping list” or, if you have an Echo device with a screen, you can ask “Alexa, show my shopping list” so you can quickly scan it.
Pro Tip #2: You can easily text your list from the Alexa app in just a few easy steps. I use this handy feature to text my husband our shopping list when he does the grocery shopping.
Pro Tip #3: Check out VoiceBrew’s guide to making an Alexa shopping list like a pro for more tips. Includes how to delete items you added by mistake, hide the ones that you’ve already checked off, add multiple items in one Alexa voice command and more!
12. Check traffic
Why? Because we all want to know how long it’s going to take to get from point A to point B and the fastest route, especially for a morning commute.
How? “Alexa, how long will it take to get from home to the Empire State Building?” or for traffic on your daily commute simply say “Alexa, what’s the traffic?”
Set-up (will take about 1 minute): First, general traffic questions. In order for Alexa to give you traffic information, she needs to know the starting point, which defaults to the street address for your Echo device. To check that it’s correct, open your Alexa app, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner > Settings > Device Settings > [name of the device] > (scroll down to) Location (under General section). If it’s incorrect or not populated, you can update it here. Second, your daily commute. Go to Settings > (scroll down to) Traffic (under the Alexa Preferences section) and set the From and To fields. When you say “Alexa, what’s the traffic?” she will give you the traffic with the From address as the starting point and the To address as the end point.
Pro Tip: Alexa is not currently set up to provide public transit (e.g., NYC subway) directions like Google Maps does. I’m a New Yorker and take the subway everywhere, so I hope this changes soon.
13. Ask factual questions
Why? Random questions like “When is Mother’s Day?” or “What are the names of Beyonce’s daughters?” or “What’s the price of bitcoin?” pop up all the time, and Alexa can answer them. She does great with not-too-obscure factual questions where there is one correct answer. She doesn’t do as well for more complex questions like “How did Snoop Dogg get his name?” or queries with multiple results like “What are the best concerts in Austin this weekend?” For these types of questions, she’ll generally provide unhelpful information (e.g., she’ll read the beginning of Snoop Dogg’s wikipedia page but not answer the question) or she will tell you she doesn’t know.
How? “Alexa, what’s 103 times 34” or “Alexa, how old is Jennifer Lawrence” or “Alexa, how many cups are in a quart?” or “Alexa, what day of the week does July 4 fall on?”
Pro Tip: Expect Alexa to get better at answering questions following the announcement of Alexa Answers, which crowd sources answers to common questions Alexa doesn’t know, and a recent integration with Wolfram Alpha that will allow her to answer more science and math questions.
14. Whisper mode
Why? So you don’t wake up the [insert husband / wife / friend / roommate / baby / cat / you get the point]. It’s also pretty cool that Alexa can whisper.
How? Say anything to Alexa in a whisper and she will respond back in a whisper and at a lower volume.
Set-up (less than 30 seconds): Enable whispered responses by opening your Alexa app, tapping the hamburger icon in the upper left corner > Settings > Alexa Account > Alexa Voice Responses and toggle Whispered Responses on.
Pro Tip: While you don’t have to be right next to your Echo for Alexa to understand your whispered commands, if you have any background noise or you’re really far away (a distance where you’d normally be shouting a command so she could hear you), Alexa probably won’t understand you.
Why? It’s super helpful to be able to ask Alexa what’s on your calendar, and it’s one less thing you’ll need to pull out your phone for. Plus, if you have an Echo with a screen, it will show your upcoming calendar items.
How? “Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow” or “Alexa, add calendar event for next Wednesday for lunch with Rachel”
Set-up (easier than you might think, but requires account linking): Open your Alexa app, tap the hamburger icon in the upper left corner > Settings > (scroll down to) Email & Calendar > the calendar service name (Google, Microsoft, Apple, etc.) > toggle Calendar on (and Email on too if you’d like) > Connect Account > follow simple linking instructions.
Pro Tip: If you have multiple accounts connected to your Echo (for example, you, your partner, maybe your kids) in your Amazon Household (accessed under Settings > Alexa Account > Amazon Household), calendar info will be provided for the currently active user. Say “Alexa, switch accounts” to get calendar info for the another person in your household.
16. Listen to books
Why? Instead of listening with headphones connected to your phone, ask Alexa to read to you. She can pull up any book from your Audible library or read books from your Kindle.
How? “Alexa, listen to Crazy Rich Asians on Audible” or “Alexa, play the Kindle book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and Alexa will pick up where you left off on your Kindle
Pro Tip #1: If you have an Audible account, it will automatically be linked to Alexa. Same for Kindle. Go to the Play tab on the bottom navigation bar of your Alexa app if you want to see your Audible and Kindle library. As a heads up, when I asked Alexa to read my latest Kindle book, I had to ask twice and then it worked (the first time I get a message about Audible).
Pro Tip #2: If you’re listening to a book on Audible, you can speed it up and slow it down just like listening on your phone. Say “Alexa, read faster,” (takes you to 1.25x, 1.5, etc.), “Alexa, read slower” or “Alexa, read at normal speed.” These commands unfortunately don’t work if Alexa is reading you a book from your Kindle. You can also say “Alexa, turn up the volume.”
Pro Tip #3: Alexa’s ability to read from where you left off on your Kindle is a nice perk, but just remember that it’s Alexa reading, not a professional audio book reader like you get on Audible.
17. Make intercom announcements across your home
Why? Because no one wants to go from room to room telling the family that dinner is ready if they can help it. With Alexa, you can broadcast a message over all of the Echo devices in your household.
How? “Alexa, announce that dinner’s ready”
Pro Tip #1: You can exclude certain devices from receiving announcements. We set up an Echo dot for my mother and father in law under our household, but we don’t want them getting our “time for dinner!” and “I’m coming home!” announcements. Open your Alexa app, go to the Devices tab on the bottom navigation bar > Echo & Alexa > select the device you want to exclude > Communications (under General section) > Announcements (under Features section) > toggle Enabled off.
Pro Tip #2: Next time you’re on the way home, try announcing “I’ll be home soon!” from the Alexa app. Go to the Communicate tab on the bottom navigation bar > Announce > then press the microphone icon and say what you want to announce or type it as a message.
18. Alert friends and family you need help
Why? We can’t predict when we’ll need help. The Ask My Buddy skill lets you immediately alert someone via a text and a phone call that you need them to check on you. While this is a skill that I believe all Alexa users should enable, it’s particularly helpful for elderly Alexa users.
How? “Alexa, ask My Buddy to send help”
Set-up (easy but a little annoying because you need to set up an Ask My Buddy account): Open your Alexa app, tap the upper left corner hamburger icon, go to Skills & Games and tap the magnifying glass icon in the upper right corner. Search for Ask My Buddy, tap the Enable Skill button. This will bring you the Ask My Buddy login page. Tap the Register button at the bottom and go through the sign-up flow. You’ll need to go to the contacts section of the Ask My Buddy website and fill in the people you would want contacted when you say “Alexa, ask My Buddy to send help.” I recommend doing this last part on a computer because the mobile website is a little clunky.
Pro Tip: Alexa wasn’t able to understand my husband’s name when I tried to alert him. If you really need help, the last thing you want to do is worry about enunciating a name just right so Alexa understands. I recommend just saying “Alexa, ask My Buddy to send help” which will alert all of the people you added in contacts (this is probably just 1 or 2 key emergency contacts anyway). In an emergency situation, call 911.
19. Play Song Quiz
Why? Why play any game? Because it’s fun. And a lot of people agree: Song Quiz is the 3rd most rated Alexa skill out of all 70,000 skills and has an outstanding 4.8 rating. If you’re playing by yourself, the game assigns you another Alexa user as your opponent (I last played against Mike from Florida) to guess the song or artist or both based on music clips. Otherwise, you can play against the people you’re with.
How? “Alexa, play Song Quiz”
Pro Tip: Link your Amazon account to Song Quiz for access to 500 more songs.
Why? The Amazon Storytime skill is a wonderful (and free) way to listen to short stories with kids. The stories have fun and spirited recordings in which each character is read by a professional. There are more than 100 stories for bedtime, if you’re just looking for something silly, to read with family and friends and more. There are also original stories from LEGO®.
How? “Alexa, ask Amazon Storytime to tell me a LEGO® story” or “Alexa, ask Amazon Storytime to tell me a bedtime story” and “Alexa, pause” when you need to
21. Find my phone
Why? Enable this skill now so that the next time you lose your phone you can ask Alexa to call it. When you find your phone and answer the call, you’ll hear “Glad you found your phone” on the other end of the line.
How? “Alexa, find my phone”
Set-up (easy!): The first time you use the Find My Phone skill, it will ask for your phone number and text you a 4 digit code to make sure it’s you. Next time you ask “Alexa, find my phone,” Alexa will call your phone.
Pro Tip: When you say “Alexa, find my phone,” be sure that Alexa is in the account associated with your phone number (when I was playing with this feature, I was in my husband’s account by mistake so he kept getting these creepy calls that said “Glad I found your phone”).
22. If you have an Echo with a screen, Chop Chop
Why? Some fruits and vegetables are challenging to cut up (squash and mangoes always get me). Chop Chop can help! Chop Chop shows you how to cut up 40+ different fruits and vegetables in brief videos that have great personality and helpful pro tips. You can use Chop Chop on a regular Echo or Echo dot, but the skill really comes to life with video.
How? “Alexa, ask Chop Chop how to cut up a butternut squash?”
Pro Tip: If Chop Chop doesn’t have the fruit or vegetable you want to chop yet, send them a chop request, and they’ll get to it!