Alexa – A Complete Know How

Alexa – A Complete Know How [ Guide & Technical Details ] 

Hello and welcome to our discussion on Alexa, Amazon’s smart home assistant. This is going to be a detailed no-holes-barred study, so sit back, relax, and maybe make yourself a cup of coffee or tea to keep you company.

Following are the topics we will be covering :

  1. What is Alexa?
  2. How does Alexa work?
  3. How to get started with Alexa?
  4. Features:

This will further be divided into :

  1. Communication
  2. Entertainment
  3. News and Information
  4. Productivity
  5. Shopping
  6. Smart Home Hub
  7. Home Security
  8. What are skills? How are skills created?
  9. What are Routines? How are Routines created?
  10. Alexa FreeTime and FreeTime Unlimited
  11. Alexa for Users with Accessibility Needs
  12. Alexa Privacy Settings
  13. Alexa Hunches
  14. Whisper Mode
  15. Multilingual Mode
  16. Alexa Monthly Roundup

Let us begin.

What is Alexa?

What is Alexa

Alexa is a cloud-based virtual assistant developed by Amazon. It is an interactive voice-enabled program designed to offer a comfortable and personalized living experience. The intelligent assistant can stream music, make calls, control smart gadgets, do mathematical calculations, read the day’s news and even keep an eye on your house when you are away.

Powered by Artificial Intelligence and machine learning, the Alexa software is capable of Natural Language Processing, a technology that converts speech into words, sounds and ideas. When you speak to your Alexa device, your spoken request is forwarded to the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) which is the brain of Alexa where all the processing happens. Here, in the AVS, your verbal command is broken down word for word and analyzed minutely to generate an appropriate response and successfully execute the order.

The whole cycle starts with Signal Processing. This is when the device identifies the target signal which is your voice. A typical Alexa device has 5 or more microphones to detect your voice amidst the background noise (TV sounds, people talking, dogs barking) and assess from which direction it is coming so that it can focus on it better. It then proceeds to clean the signal by removing ambient sounds and echoes. Only the relevant parts of the signal are retained and the rest are discarded.

The next step is Wake Word Detection. This is where the device tries to see if the signal contains one of the wake words it is programmed to need to start up its engines. If the wake word is Alexa and you say it at the beginning of your request, it is the device’s cue to wake up and start paying attention to the ensuing words.

In the third step, the signal is recorded and dispatched to the speech recognition software in the cloud where it is converted into text format. This is where the AVS takes over. It analyzes every word closely, and even studies the pitch and frequency of the voice to understand the true meaning of the uttered words. The program might ask you follow-up questions to remove any doubts it might have. AVS mimics natural language so you feel as if you are talking to an actual person. If needed, it might rope in third-party vendors to work on the signal and carry out the command.

To use Alexa you need two things: the Alexa app and an Alexa-enabled device like Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc. But that is not always the case. Alexa comes pre-installed in devices like the Echo Auto, and third-party gadgets like Fire TV, Sonos One speaker and LG InstaView refrigerator.

To round up, Alexa is a cloud-driven program. When you talk to Alexa, you basically engage with an intangible AI-powered service that acts as your assistant and helps you do your job. To avail of the services of this assistant, you need an Echo device or a supported smart gadget.

Here is a snap shot of the Echo family.

Smart speakers: Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Dot with Clock, Echo Dot Kid’s Edition, Echo Plus, Echo Input and Echo Flex. Some of these speakers are available in two or three generations depending on how many times they have been upgraded since their launch.

Smart Displays: Echo Show, Echo Show 5, Echo Show 8 and Echo Spot.

Echo on the Go: Echo Auto, Echo Buds, Echo Frames, Echo Loop and Amazon Tap.

Echo Audio Companions: Echo Sub, Echo Studio, Echo Link and Echo Link Amp.

Please note this is not a comprehensive list and there are many more products that support Alexa.       

How Does Alexa Work?

How Does Alexa Work

Alexa performs its tasks with the help of pre-installed functions and additional functions developed by third-party vendors. The first kind of functions are basic functions like setting alarms and making to-do lists. The second kind of functions are called skills, and these are specific to products and services. For instance, when you say, ‘Alexa, turn on the lights in the bedroom’ you are requesting it to switch on a specific gadget by a specific brand and for that Alexa needs to have the necessary capability to engage with that product. This capability is called a skill, and as Alexa becomes smarter and capable of working with numerous appliances and services, the list of its skills also grows. As of April 2019, Alexa has over 90,000 skills and functions which users can download on their Alexa devices.

To put it simply, preset functions and skills are voice prompts that Alexa understands. When you say, ‘Alexa, call mom’, it is a command that Alexa can recognize and act upon to successfully place a call to the contact on your phone Alexa identifies as being your mom. When you ask ‘Alexa, how many nanometers equal a meter?’ it is a question that Alexa comprehends and is able to dip into its cloud-based knowledge to come up with the right answer. Any spoken sentence that Alexa recognizes and is able to process to fulfil a request or answer a query, is a function or a skill.

We will talk more about skills in a later part of this article. For now, let us focus on the basics and gradually build our way towards more complex concepts.

Our next topic is:

How to Get Started with Alexa?

As mentioned already, to use Alexa, you need the Alexa app and an Alexa device. If you have an Echo Dot, here’s what you need to do to get started.

Step 1: The first thing you do is download the Alexa app on your mobile phone (both iOS and Android versions are available). If you already have the app, you might want to update it before starting.

Step 2: Plug in the Echo Dot to a power source.

Step 3: Open the Alexa app and go to the More Menu and select Add Device, then Amazon Echo, then Echo Dot.

Step 4: Follow the rest of the instructions to complete the set up process.

All Echo devices do not have the same setup method. The Echo Show and Echo Spot have a slightly different process. Here’s how it goes:

Step 1: Place the device in a convenient location so the screen is easily viewable. Connect the included power adapted to a power socket and then the device.

Step 2: Follow the onscreen prompts to complete setup.

Step 3: Select the language.

Step 4: Connect to the Wi-Fi network.

Step 5: Log into your Amazon account.

Step 6: Confirm you address and time zone.

Step 7: Select a name and wall paper for your device.

Step 8: Review the available offers as guided by the onscreen instructions.

Step 9: When the pages on the screen start rotating, your device is ready to be used and you can start interacting with Alexa.   

Here are some common questions on the setup process.

What do the light rings on the Echo device mean?

What do the light rings on the Echo device mean

You will notice that your Echo Dot has light rings. And that the light keeps changing. These lights are the device’s way of communicating its status to you. Here’s what each light means.

Yellow: When you see a slow pulsating yellow ring it means you have received a message or notification, or that you have missed a reminder. Just say, ‘What are my notifications?’ or ‘What are my messages?’ and the Echo Dot will tell you. You can tweak your notification and reminder settings on the app to suit your preferences.

Blue: A blue ring means Alexa is processing your request.

Red: A red light comes on when you have either activated or deactivated the camera or microphone or both. Red also means error. If Alexa is not available, or if there is an issue with the Wi-Fi, a red light will alert you.

Orange: This color is seen when the device is trying to set up, or when it is trying to connect to the internet.

Green: A pulsing green light means you have an incoming call. A spinning green light means you are on an active call, or you are on an active Drop In on your Alexa device.

Purple: A purple light indicates the Do Not Disturb mode is on. It also comes on if an error has occurred in the Wi-Fi connection.

White: Finally, if you see a white light, it means the device is adjusting the volume. A spinning white ring indicates the Guard function is on Away Mode.

How to Connect Your Echo Device to Your Wi-Fi Network?

Echo devices are compatible with dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz) networks that use the 802.11a / b / g / n standard. They do not support ad-hoc or peer-to-peer networks.

To connect your Echo device to the home or office Wi-Fi, open the Alexa app, select Devices, then select Echo & Alexa. Click on your device and under Wi-Fi network, select Change and follow the guidelines. If you are unable to view your Wi-Fi network, click on Add a Network to include hidden networks. You can also do a Rescan.

How to Pair Bluetooth Gadgets with Your Echo Device?

If you want to pair your mobile phone or Bluetooth speaker with your Alexa device, you first need to put your Bluetooth device on pairing mode. Then open the Alexa app, go to Devices, click on Echo & Alexa, choose your device, then Bluetooth Devices and then Pair a New Device. This is the initial setup process. Subsequent pairings are automatic. Just keep the Bluetooth on your phone or speaker turned on and it will automatically pair with the Echo device when it is within range. If it doesn’t happen on its own, just say ‘Pair Bluetooth’ and the connection will be established.

To disconnect a Bluetooth device, follow the same steps on the app up to Bluetooth Devices and then click on Forget Device.

How does an Alexa Device update its Software?

All Alexa-enabled gadgets automatically update their software when they are connected to the internet. The latest software versions introduce new features and improve the overall performance of the device. To update the software on your Echo device, say ‘Check for software updates’ and Alexa will do it. You can also check the current software version on the Alexa app under the About tab.

How Can You Change the Name of Your Echo Device?

Open the Alexa app, go to Devices, then Echo & Alexa, select your device, and click on Edit Name.

How to Troubleshoot Snags During Setup?

If your Echo or Alexa device is not getting started, try doing the following:

Step 1: Check if the device is properly connected to the Wi-Fi network.

Step2: Update your Alexa app.

Step 3: Restart your device. If your Echo device is not responding, unplug it from the power output and plug it back in. If your device runs on removable batteries, take out the batteries and put them back on again.

Step 4: If restarting the device doesn’t help, try doing a factory reset. Now remember, this step will be different for different Echo and Alexa devices. Say you have an Echo Dot 3rd Gen. To reset it, you will have to press and hold the Action button for about 25 seconds till the light ring turns orange. At first, the ring will briefly turn off, then turn blue and finally turn orange again. That is when you know the reset is complete and the device is on setup mode.

What to Do If Alexa is Unresponsive?

If Alexa does not respond to your request or if she says she doesn’t understand what you are saying, do not worry. Follow these simple steps to diagnose and fix the issue.

Step 1: Make sure you are using the included power adapter. This is very important.

Step2: Ensure your internet is working fine.

Step 3: Check if the device is on mute. If it is, the light indicator will be red.

Step 4: If your device does not have a screen such as the Echo Dot, press the Action button to see if you can elicit a response.

Step 5: Where you place the device, matters. Avoid corners and cramped spaces. Do not place it too close to the wall, speakers or the TV. Help Alexa hear your better.

Step 6: Speak clearly and naturally without fumbling. Do not talk too fast or too slow. Make sure each word is intelligible.

Step 7: Make your questions more specific to help Alexa understand you better. For instance, a bunch of places around the world are named San Francisco. So, if you want to know the temperature in San Francisco, California, say ‘Alexa, what is the temperature in San Francisco, California?’ to get a correct response.

Step 8: If you are still facing problems, try saying ‘Alexa, did you hear me?’

Step 9: If the problem persists, restart the device.

Can You Ask Alexa To Explain Herself?

Yes, you can. Suppose you did not understand what Alexa said, you can ask her to repeat herself by saying ‘What did you say?’ If you want Alexa to explain her response to your request, say, ‘What did you do?’ or ‘What just happened?’

You can also check your past voice history on Alexa. If you want to know what Alexa heard, you can ask it to repeat your last voice request.    

These are just some of the basic things one needs to know to get started with Alexa. Of course there are numerous other things involved and we suggest you visit the Alexa website to know more.

Here we conclude our discussion on the setup process. We shall now move to our next main topic which is Features.

Features of Alexa

Features of Alexa

Features are the things Alexa can do. Needless to say, the list is exhaustive. For better understanding, we will divide this segment into categories. Our first category is Communication.

Communication

Alexa helps you stay connected with friends and family. It can put you in touch with anyone on your contact list in seconds. Here’s a quick look at what Alexa can do in terms of communication.  

Calls

One of the primary things Alexa can do is place, receive and terminate calls. You can ask Alexa to call your mom or sister or a colleague and it will make that call to that person’s Alexa-enabled device, Alexa app, or their landline or mobile phone for free provided they are in the US, Canada or Mexico.

For this you first have to verify your phone number and sync your contact list on the Alexa app. You can then place calls hands-free by requesting Alexa to call a contact simply by mentioning their name, like ‘Alexa, call Bob’.

If you have an Echo screen device like Echo Show, you can video call your contacts. When you get an incoming call, the green light on your Echo device pulsates and Alexa announces who is calling. You can then ask Alexa to answer the call or ignore it.

Messages

You can direct Alexa to send a text or voice message to anyone on your contact list for free. If you have a message waiting in your inbox, Alexa reminds you about it. Say ‘Alexa, what are my messages?’ and it reads them out to you.

Drop In

Drop In is an optional feature for communicating instantly and hands-free with members of your family in different parts of the house. It is like a phone call but between two Alexa devices, or an Alexa device and an Alexa app. Say you have two Alexa devices, one in the bedroom and the other in the kitchen, you can use the bedroom device to Drop in on the kitchen device to talk to whoever is in the kitchen. It works like a two-way intercom system. You can ask questions and have full conversations. It’s useful for short correspondences like enquiring when dinner will be ready or asking your son or daughter to turn down the volume of their music player. If you have just one device at home, you can drop in from your Alexa mobile app to your device to talk to whoever is at home. You can also use Drop In to speak to relatives or close friends but you will first have to give them access to Drop In.

Announcements

Announcements is for quick hands-free one-way broadcasts. It is best used to get a message across to the entire family in one shot. For instance, if Grandpa just dropped in, just say, “Alexa, announce that Grandpa’s home’ and ‘Grandpa’s home’ will play in your voice on all your supported Alexa devices around the house. It is a quick way to let everyone know something. And like Drop In, you don’t need two Alexa devices, just one is enough as long as you have the app on your phone. Say you are on your way home. You can announce from your Alexa mobile app that you’ll be home by so and so hour and your message will be relayed to your family through the Alexa device at home.  

Entertainment

Music

Alexa is your window to a universe of music, movies, podcasts, audio books, games and radio stations. Want to listen to a favorite song, just ask Alexa. Alexa can stream songs from Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora and more. It also manages your smart speakers and subwoofers for you. Some common playback functions Alexa can control are play, pause, resume, skip and stop. It can turn up and turn down the volume, regulate the EQ settings and even mute the speakers.

Amazon has membership benefits. Prime members enjoy 2 million plus ad-free songs, specially selected radio stations and curated playlists by in-house music experts.

Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers get access to tens of millions of songs completely ad-free. They can download songs to listen offline and request for Song of the Day.

Amazon lets you set another streaming service as your default music service. But you can still listen to songs on Amazon Music. All you have to do is add the words ‘on Amazon’ at the end of your request like ‘Alexa, play Hotel California on Amazon.’ If Amazon Music is your default music service and you want to play a song on Spotify, just say ‘Alexa, play Words by Boyzone on Spotify’.

If you have the Echo Show, you can directly ask Alexa to play music videos. You can request specific artists, genres, albums or songs.

Multi-room music

Multi-room entertainment is one of the most fun aspects of Alexa. Ask Alexa to play your chosen music in different rooms of the house or in a specific room and watch your compatible Alexa devices spring to life. To customize your multi-room experience, open the Alexa app, select Devices, tap on the + button on the top right corner, and click on Set Up Multi-room Music. Then select the Echo devices on your Wi-Fi network, give your group a name or click on a preset name on the app and press Save. That’s all; your multi-room Echo group is now active. Say ‘Alexa, play pop music everywhere’ and pop music will start playing simultaneously from all the devices on the group.

Radio Stations and Podcasts

Alexa puts you in touch with thousands of radio stations and podcasts across the world. Look for your favorite radio stations on the Alexa app to get started.

Games

You can play a ton of different games on Alexa. Play by yourself or with a group of friends – the choice is yours. Alexa has skills for interactive adventure games, kid’s games, TV game shows and all-time favorite games like Jeopardy. You can even create your own customized game with Alexa Skill Blueprints.

When it comes to playing games, Alexa offers unique gaming experiences. For instance, the Echo button can be synced with other supported Echo devices for a hands-on games experience. Press the glowing Echo button to play over 50 interactive games on Alexa.

Jokes, stories, poems and more

Alexa is your friend and companion. It tells you stories and cracks jokes. It regales you with fairy tales, bedtime stories and ghost stories. All have to do is ask. From fun facts to riddles to Easter eggs, Alexa has countless skills in its kitty to keep you and your family entertained.

Books

Alexa gives you hands-free access to your library of books on Audible and Kindle Books. It is a great way to multi-task. You can do your chores while listening to your audio books. Saves time and you stay relaxed. Alexa lets you switch between devices too. If you were last listening to an Audible book on your smart phone, or reading on Kindle, just request Alexa to pick up where you left off.

You can also customize your reading preferences. Just ask Alexa to read faster or slower, or go back and read you a paragraph again. You can skip chapters and browse through audio books like you would a paperback.

Movies, Videos and TV shows

If you are a Prime Member with an Echo Show or Echo Spot, you can enjoy your favorite movies and TV shows on Prime Video. Alexa supports Prime Originals and Prime Channels like Showtime, HBO and Starz. Use your voice to conveniently control all playback and search options. Alexa provides movie and show summaries, timings of TV shows, and even tells you which movies are currently showing in the theatres near you.

Productivity

Productivity

Alexa aids productivity and resourcefulness. It helps you organize your tasks better and optimize your time. Let’s take a look at how Alexa does this.

Alarms, reminders, timers

Alexa helps you streamline your activities. It sets your alarms, reminders and timers for you. It assists you in completing your tasks on time and makes sure you don’t forget any commitments. Whether you are baking, watching a movie or taking a nap, Alexa always watches out for you, sending timely reminders and notifications to alert you about various things.

Calendar

Alexa is programmed to set calendar appointments and remind you about upcoming events. Simply link your calendar account on Google, Outlook.com, G Suit, Office 365 or iCloud to Alexa and it will take it up from there. From scheduling new meetings to joining a meeting to ending a meeting, Alexa does it all on your behalf with effortless ease.

Emails

You can request Alexa can check your inbox and read out your emails to you. It can also be directed to reply to your emails, delete, archive or flag emails, and do numerous other tasks to help you manage your correspondences. Alexa is like your virtual personal secretary who organizes your meetings and sends out replies to your emails.

Lists

Alexa is great at making lists. Whether it’s a shopping list or a simple to-do list, just ask Alexa and it will be done. You can also edit and delete lists. All your saved lists can be accessed through your Alexa device, and mobile apps like Any.do, AnyList or Todoist.

Calculations and Spellings

Alexa is a math genius. Ask it to do any calculation, even currency rate conversions, and it will give you the answer in seconds. It also has a huge vocabulary. So if want to know the meaning of any word or idiom, just ask Alexa.

Assistant in the Kitchen

If your hands are grubby, you can ask Alexa to set the timer for the cake you just popped in the oven. It provides you instant access to recipes from around the world while you cook. If you have the Echo Show or Echo Spot, you might also simultaneously watch the cooking videos. Ask Alexa how many teaspoons there are in a tablespoon, or how many grams there are in two pounds, and pat comes the reply. It is your assistant in the kitchen helping you cook better.

News and Information

Alexa is a hub of news and information. It helps you stay connected with the rest of the world. Let’s find out how.

News

Alexa brings to you news from your neighborhood and from across the globe. From daily headlines to traffic news to weather updates, Alexa brings you all the latest that’s there to know. Whether it’s politics, sports, science or pop culture – you get access to unlimited news and analysis on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Reuters, Bloomberg, Fox News and more.

Set up your flash briefing preferences to get regular updates from your favorite news channel. On the Alexa app, select the news agency of your choice to set it as your default news briefing source. Once you are done, just say ‘Alexa, what’s my flash briefing?’ and it will read you the top headlines from that source. Alexa also recognizes your voice and gives you only the newest updates and skips the older news you may have already listened to earlier in the day.

Weather                                                                                                         

Alexa helps you plan your day better with weather and traffic updates. Want to know if you should carry an umbrella to work? Ask Alexa. Alexa provides you with timely weather forecasts that helps you avoid difficulties. It also helps you plan bigger events like holidays and weddings better.

Sports

Alexa brings to you live and recorded sports news from around the world. Want to know the score of the Red Sox game, just ask Alexa. Want to know the NBA highlights, ask Alexa. Anything you want to know about sports, from timings to scores to medals tally to post game analysis, Alexa is your one-stop-shop for all information.

Traffic

Another hugely important update available on Alexa is traffic updates. If you are running late, just ask Alexa what is the best alternate route and it will guide you instantly. Save routes that you take regularly on the Alexa app by setting the starting point and destination. This will help you get quick traffic updates. Just say, ‘Alexa, what’s my commute?’ and it will tell you how much time your journey will take. Easy!

Local search

Alexa works with Yelp to offer you reliable information on local stores, restaurants and business. So if you are in the mood for some Vietnamese food, just say ‘Alexa, what Vietnamese restaurants are nearby?’ and it will tell you.

Shopping

Shopping

Alexa streamlines your shopping experience. It is capable of making shopping lists, adding new items to lists, deleting items from lists, reordering supplies, tracking your orders and notifying you when your order is out for delivery.

If you want to buy something you have not bought before on Amazon, try looking it up by name. Tell Alexa what it is you want to buy and the software will bring you the top-rated items from that category. You can ask questions about the price of the product, its customer ratings, best deals, etc., and Alexa will answers all your queries.

If you wish to reorder something, Alexa picks out the product from your old order, informs you what the current price is and asks you if you want to buy it again. If you say yes, it goes ahead and places the order. Alexa also notifies you when it is time to restock your supplies.

Prime members enjoy additional benefits when they shop at Whole Foods. If there is a participating Whole Foods outlet in their city delivering to their zip code, they can get ultra-fast delivery of the freshest organic produce.

Smart Home Hub

Alexa helps you create a smart home hub. It integrates with supported smart gadgets and acts as the controlling tower that oversees the functioning of these gadgets. From lights to thermostats to smart plugs, Alexa automates all your devices for a hassle-free living experience.

There are a few things you need to do before you get started on your smart home hub. First, download the manufacturer’s app on your mobile phone and install the gadget as directed. Open the app and look for the Alexa skill for that product and enable it. Say, “Alexa, discover my devices’ and it will detect the new device. You can do this last step manually through the app too.

Here are some smart devices Alexa is compatible with.

Smart lights

Alexa can turn on, turn off, dim and change the color of smart lights. Use your voice to direct Alexa or use the Alexa app to perform these functions.  

Smart Plugs

Smart plugs let you rope in your non-smart devices to the smart home network. All you have to do is plug the appliance into a smart plug, and you will be able to control it with your voice. Energy-monitoring plugs have the added advantage of quantifying how much power you have used which is great from a sustainable living point of view.

Thermostats

Thermostats are an effective way to lower your carbon footprint. They help you keep a tab on your HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) system. They allow you to remotely adjust the temperature of a room, and turn on or turn off the heating or cooling with Alexa voice requests or through the Alexa app. If you want to know the temperature of a room, ask Alexa. If you want to start up the heating before you reach home, tell Alexa through the app. Alexa makes managing your gadgets simpler.

Cameras

Improve your home safety with Alexa-ready smart cameras. It is the best way to keep an eye on activities inside and outside your house, especially if you have young children and differently abled people living with you. If you have an Echo Show, Echo Spot or Fire TV, you can instantly see the footage from each camera. To check in on your sleeping baby, say, ‘Alexa, show me the nursery’. If you want to know who is at the front door, say ‘Alexa, show me the front door’. Smart cameras also let you keep a tab on what’s happening in the house when you are away.

Guard

Alexa Guard is an incredible home security feature. It is a free Alexa feature that helps you keep your home and family safe. To enable Guard, go to your Alexa app and under Settings, click on Guard. Here are the primary functions of Guard.

Away Mode

Activate Guard when leaving the house by saying ‘I’m leaving’. As soon as Alexa registers this request, it puts all the supported Alexa devices on Away Mode. What this means is, while you are away, if any of the devices detect the sound of glass breaking or the sound of a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide alarm, it immediately sends you a Smart Alert on your mobile phone. It also encloses a 10-second audio clip of the event which you can listen to on the Alexa app. If you have Ring or ADT security system, you can even forward the Smart Alert to your professional security service provider. For a quick check, you can also Drop In on your Echo device at home to investigate what is happening in the house.

Once you put Guard on Away Mode, your non-screen Echo devices animate with a rotating white light while your screen Echo devices display a shield icon on the home screen. This is an indication that Away Mode is on. When you are back home, say, ‘I’m home’ to switch from Away Mode to Home Mode.

Alexa’s capabilities in the area of home security are improving by leaps and bounds. Presently, the program can pick up the sound of footsteps, coughing, and doors opening and closing when there is no one at home. If it detects such a sound, it immediately sends you a Smart Alert.

Away Lighting

On Away Mode, Alexa activates Away lighting which automatically turns on and turns off smart lights, and non-smart lamps plugged into smart switches and smart plugs to make it look like someone is home. Alexa uses machine learning to understand the right lighting activity of your house based on past light usage. It does this to make it appear as if a human is switching the lights on and off so that anyone looking on from outside (possibly a burglar?) would think the family is home. Use the Alexa app to choose which lights you want to include in Away Lighting.

For more comprehensive security measures, there is Ring Alarm and ADT security system.

Ring Alarm

Ring Alarm is Amazon’s home security system. It works with Guard to monitor your property when you are not at home. Amazon does not offer professional security monitoring services. So if you receive an alert, it is up to you to decide what to do with it. This is where Ring Protect Plus comes in. For $10/month, you can get additional protection like requesting dispatch of emergency security response from the Ring app.

The Ring Alarm bundle comprises of the following devices: Echo Dot, Away lighting with Sengled 2-pack starter pack, keypad, base station, entry and monitor sensors and range extender.

ADT security system

ADT is a leading smart home security provider that supports Alexa Guard. It has advanced home automation capabilities like voice assistant integration and remote control through the ADT app. When you put Guard on Away Mode, Alexa arms your ADT security system. Like Ring Alarm, you can forward Smart Alerts to ADT which then alerts first responders. You can choose to send Smart Alerts to ADT automatically by setting your choice on the app, or send the alerts manually after analyzing them yourself.

The ADT bundle includes a security app, an Echo Dot, a wireless touch screen security panel, video doorbell camera, two smart light bulbs, two entry sensors, one motion detector and a key fob. ADT offers professional installation and setup, and a 6-month money back guarantee.

With this we come to the end of our discussion on Alexa features. We will now take up Skills.

What are Skills?

What are Skills

Skills are like apps that help you get more out of Alexa. They enable Alexa to engage with a variety of products and services. For instance, when you say, ‘Alexa, play rock music on Pandora’ it is a skill that Alexa is capable of and it helps Alexa get Pandora to play the song.

Skills are developed by third-party vendors (in this case Pandora). You can enable and disable a skill using the Alexa app or a web browser just like you would install or uninstall an app on your smart phone. You can add a new skill to your Echo device to start using a new product or service. You can also create a new skill.

How to Create a New Skill?

Amazon lets you make your own custom skills using Skill Blueprints. It is very simple and you don’t need to be a coder to be able to do it. There are over 30 easy-to-use templates. You just need to fill in the blanks and save the inputs. Once this is done, you can start using and publishing your skills. Amazon lets you personalize your skills too. You can also choose which devices you want your skills to appear on. It can be your own device or the devices of your friends and family.  

Popular blueprints include Custom Q&A that allow you to tailor Alexa’s responses to your questions. There is a blueprint for chores called Chore Chart which lets you schedule and track weekly chores for the entire household. You can create a Whose Turn skill to have Alexa tell everyone whose turn it is to do something. If you have an important event coming up, you can create the How Many Days skill to get Alexa to tell you how many days there are to the event. People with small kids might find the Babysitter skill useful as it helps the babysitter remember tasks and find things around the house.  

Visit the Skill Store to check out top skills, editor’s picks and trending skills.

What are Routines?

Routines get Alexa to do a series of activities with just one prompt. It is a bundle of Alexa actions that get triggered with a single request. In other words, it is a quicker and simpler way to get Alexa to perform a string of tasks which might involve multiple compatible Alexa devices and smart home devices.

A routine may include alarms, smart home gadgets, news, music, Alexa Skills, Alexa Guard and many more capabilities. For instance, if you have the Good Morning Routine set on your Echo device, when you say ‘Alexa, good morning’ the cloud-based program automatically turn on the lights, reads you your Flash Briefings, gives you the weather update and tells you a light-hearted joke to get your day started on a happy note. These activities of course can all be personalized on the app and you can choose what you want Alexa to do.

How are Routines created?

There are two ways to create a routine. You can either manually create a custom routine from scratch or you can enable a pre-configured featured routine by entering your preferences.

To manually create a new routine, open the Alexa app, go to the More menu, select Routines, then the + icon, then When this Happens, and choose how to trigger the routine. For example, enter the phrase good morning, select Add Action and then select which actions you want Alexa to do and which devices you want it to control. This is where you decide what you want Alexa to do and say, when you say good morning. Once this part is over, tap Create and you are done. You can modify or delete a routine too.

To enable a featured routine designed by Amazon, you need to follow links for Alexa Routines you received through email, text message, social media or on the internet. You can also do it by scanning a QR code with your phone. First, download the Alexa app on your phone. Then, select the link or scan the QR code for the routine. Next, search for options in yellow text. The yellow text means that your input is required to complete that action. Follow the rest of the instructions and click on Enable to activate the routine.

Alexa FreeTime and FreeTime Unlimited

FreeTime is a free mode on Alexa that lets parents create a personalized experience for their kids. It helps them screen the content their children consume on their devices. There are filters to remove explicit songs from supported platforms like Amazon Music, Spotify, etc. Advanced parental controls allow parents to set daily time limits and monitor their kid’s online activity.

FreeTime Unlimited is a monthly paid subscription on Amazon. It gives children between the ages of 3 to 12 access to over 20,000 kids-friendly books, educational apps, games, movies, Audible books and TV shows from top children’s networks like Disney and Nickelodeon. Children can also access FreeTime Unlimited content on Echo Show, Fire TV, Kindle, iPhone, iPad and Android devises.

Alexa for Users with Accessibility Needs

Alexa has special accessibility features for people with vision, hearing, mobility and speech challenges. For example, users with impaired hearing can enable Alexa captions on Echo devices with screens to be able to read what Alexa is saying. People with speech impediments, can customize wake words, and activate Tap To Alexa, a function that switches the mode of communication with Alexa from speech to touch. For people with challenged vision, there are special large fonts, high contrast, voice overs and audio instructions for making it easier to interact with Alexa. Users with mobility issues are supported through far field voice recognition technology and keyboard navigation on the app and web browsers.

There are many more features of Alexa that aid accessibility. We suggest you visit the Alexa website to know more.

Alexa Privacy Settings

Alexa has multiple layers of privacy protection that offer you more control over your devices. These settings are designed to safeguard your interests and make your interaction with Alexa more transparent. To begin with, you can turn off the microphones and cameras on your Echo or Alexa device whenever you want. You can view, listen to and delete your past voice recordings. You can check if Alexa misheard you by saying ‘Alexa, tell me what you heard’ and it will repeat the last voice request it recorded. Alexa can also give you a brief explanation of its response too. Just say ‘Alexa, why did you do that?’ and it will tell you why.

Alexa Hunches

Hunches is a default setting of Alexa which alerts you if any of your supported Alexa devices or smart home devices is not working as it should. The alert is sent through voice and mobile push notification. For example, if you say ‘Alexa, good night’ and one of your smart lights is still on in another room, Alexa asks you if you want to turn it off. If you say yes, it turns it off for you.

Whisper Mode

Alexa has a special Whisper Mode for when there is someone sleeping in the room. On this mode, Alexa understands whispers. You whisper your request to it and it responds in like manner.

Multilingual Mode

Echo devices can be operated in English or Spanish or both using Multilingual Mode. Alexa replies in the language you speak to it in.

Alexa Monthly Roundup

Alexa is always evolving and learning new skills. To help you stay up to speed, Amazon sends you a monthly report summarizing the latest developments. In this monthly roundup, you get know all about the newest Alexa features, routines, tips, events and the launch of new Alexa devices. For instance, here’s a look at Alexa’s July 2020 Roundup.

Conclusion:

Alexa is an intelligent smart home assistant. It is your virtual companion watching over you and your family. As you shuttle between home and office, Alexa fills in for you and takes care of your routine tasks. As a result, you have more time for your human connections, and for the things that really matter.

And that is the power of Alexa.

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