Find out everything you ever wanted to know about Alexa and Amazon Echo smart speakers—plus, check out our room-by-room Alexa guide to learn new ways it can make your life easier.
Ultimate Guide to Alexa and the Amazon Echo Family
Getting to know Amazon Alexa
"Alexa, what are you?"
What is Alexa?
Alexa has many jobs: personal assistant, butler, playmate, and parents' helper—but what exactly is Alexa? It's a hands-free voice service by Amazon—Alexa responds to your voice to help you do things.
Alexa follows your voice commands to dim the lights, turn up the thermostat, set a timer, turn on the TV, or make a shopping list (and that's just the tip of the iceberg!).
Because Alexa operates in the cloud, it's constantly adding new skills and routines. The more you use Alexa, the better it gets—Alexa learns your speech patterns and adapts to your personal preferences.
How does Alexa work?
Alexa uses an online service run by Amazon to interpret your vocal commands. It sounds complicated, but you don't really need to understand the tech behind Alexa to make it work for you.
Buying an Amazon Echo is the easiest way to get Alexa. To get Alexa's attention, you say the wake word: "Alexa." You can also set it to "Ziggy," "Echo," "Computer," or "Amazon."
After waking, the Echo records everything you say and sends it to Alexa Voice Services, where artificial intelligence processes your request and carries it out. It's a lot of work, but Alexa's so fast that you won't even notice.
In addition to basic requests, Alexa also works with a slew of other technologies in your home, car, and beyond so you can use Alexa for everything from starting a pot of coffee to ordering an Uber.
Compare Echo speakers
Amazon Echo smart speakers have an array of microphones that help you ask Alexa anything, even in a noisy room. While every Echo comes with a built-in Alexa voice assistant, the more expensive models give you bigger speakers for better sound quality. There are extra smart home controls in the top-tier models to make you mad with power over your smart home.
Zigbee smart hub
|Best for budget|
|$49.99||1.6 in. speaker||3.5 mm line out|
|View on Amazon|
|Best for smart home|
|$99.99||0.8 in. tweeter (2)|
3 in. woofer
|3.5 mm line in/out|
|View on Amazon|
|Best for music|
|$199.99||1 in. tweeter|
2 in. mid-range (3)
5.25 in. woofer
|3.5 mm or mini-optical line in|
|View on Amazon|
Turn your home into a music party by creating Echo speaker groups that play music on multiple Echos at once. It's also great for family storytime with your favorite audiobooks.
The Echo Dot is Amazon's most popular Alexa speaker because it’s quite affordable and has decent audio quality (it was the cheapest Echo smart speaker before the Flex came out—though that's unavailable currently). Still, it's one of the most attractive Echos, and its compact size blends into its surroundings.
The small size and low price make the Amazon Echo Dot ideal for checking the weather from your bed or for catching up on the latest news during breakfast in the kitchen.
There's even an Echo Dot Kids with cute animal designs (and added parental controls) to grab your child's attention while they play games with Alexa. For adults in need of a simple alarm clock, there's a Dot with a sleek built-in clock.
The Echo is the flagship Amazon Alexa device. It has impressive sound quality compared to its cheaper siblings, making it a great choice for blasting music while catching up on your chore list. Not into music? Use your smart speaker to get a more engaging experience as you binge on your favorite podcast.
The latest Echo has a feature previously found in the Echo Plus: a Zigbee smart hub. This lets it communicate directly with smart home products like Philips Hue smart lightbulbs and August door locks. It's great for folks who want to kit out their homes with the latest smart device tech, minus the clunkiness of added apps.
The Echo Studio is Amazon's answer to the Apple HomePod and Google Home Max†. It's an all-in-one speaker system for music lovers, but you can also connect it to Amazon Fire TV devices to give your movies an extra kick with Dolby Atmos surround sound. It's a great alternative to a soundbar or home theater speakers.
Amazon's fully aware that some music doesn't feel right unless it shakes the walls and rattles the windows. The Echo Sub is a six-inch subwoofer accessory that doesn't have voice controls but connects via another Amazon Echo device. The Echo Sub works with the latest versions of the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, and Echo Studio.
|Best for budget|
Echo Show 5
|View on Amazon|
|Best for video calls|
Echo Show 8
|View on Amazon|
|Best for smart home|
Echo Show 10
|View on Amazon|
|Best for movies|
Fire TV Cube
|$119.99||HDMI out to TV||4K|
|View on Amazon|
Amazon's Echo Show smart displays take everything great about Echo speakers and add a touchscreen so you can watch videos (including ones from Ring doorbells), make video calls, and control a smart home device with ease.
Echo Show's sizes offer a lot of flexibility for placement of your smart display. You might put an Echo Show 5 by your bedside to replace your alarm clock or an Echo Show 10 in the kitchen to help with recipes, and an Echo Show 8 in the playroom. (Because grownups deserve the grownup-size big screen to themselves sometimes, right?)
Fire TV Cube
We like the Fire TV Cube since it's essentially an Echo you plug into your TV. Its square shape is a clever nod to the cylindrical Amazon Echo while showing that it’s not your typical Alexa device.
The Fire TV Cube's first purpose is entertainment, allowing you to watch 4K movies and TV shows from Amazon's library as well as your favorite streaming sites like Netflix and Disney Plus. You can also use it to ask Alexa to control the TV, show the weather, or view live video from your security cameras.
The Fire TV Stick is an affordable alternative to the Fire TV Cube. It has almost all of the same features except 4K video output (there's a 4K version too) and always-on Alexa controls. To use Alexa with a Fire TV Stick, press the microphone button on the Alexa Voice Remote before speaking your command.
Room-by-room guide to Amazon Alexa
Here are some tips for turning your house into an Alexa smart home, one room at a time.
Imagine waking up gently to the perfect temperature and lighting that doesn’t blind you the second you open your eyes. When you mix Alexa with compatible devices, you can slumber (and wake) to the ideal environment every day. Find out how Alexa transforms your bedroom into a relaxing utopia.
A. Set the alarm.
Tell Alexa to set the alarm each night or make life even easier with a repeating alarm. You can even use Alexa’s celebrity voices if you like the idea of Samuel L. Jackson greeting you each morning.
B. Adjust the temperature.
Nothing’s worse than crawling out of a warm, cozy bed into a chilly house. Ease the pain by telling Alexa to turn up the heat on your thermostat before your feet touch the floor.
C. Figure out what to wear.
Alexa can tell you the weather anytime, so you always know if the day calls for rain boots or flip flops.
D. Dim the lights.
Set the perfect scene for relaxation when you combine Alexa’s voice control with smart lightbulbs. You can limit blue light before bed and set your lights to greet you with ideal illumination in the morning.
E. Replace the remote.
Alexa can completely replace your universal remote when you have a Fire TV Cube. With Alexa in charge of your TV, simply say, “Alexa, turn off the TV,” and you’re on your way to a sweet slumber.
F. Close the shades.
Don’t worry about getting in and out of bed to close the shades. With smart controls and Alexa on your side, you can tell the shades to close themselves.
If you fantasize about hiring a nanny to help out with the little ones, Alexa brings you a little bit closer to that goal. Although Alexa doesn’t provide direct supervision, you can get an Echo Dot Kids or Echo Show 5 Kids to give the kids a convenient new playmate.
A. Tell jokes.
What kid doesn’t love a joke? Alexa has an ever-growing library of jokes, including everything from knock-knock jokes to hilarious puns.
B. Play a game.
C. Tell a bedtime story.
Need an extra five minutes to load the dishwasher? Alexa can get the bedtime routine going. The Short Bedtime Story Alexa skill turns your Echo into a personalized storyteller.
D. Get the wiggles out.
E. Get silly.
Sometimes your kids need a little laugh. Alexa delivers with Laugh Box (ask for anything from a baby laugh to a villain laugh) and 4AFart, which gets kids, large and small, rolling with giggles on the ground.
F. Help with homework.
It’s super convenient to have Alexa look up references or help with specific questions without having to leave the document or webpage your teen’s already working on.
G. Set timers.
Whether you want to make sure they brush their teeth for a full sixty seconds or that they get off the computer in five minutes, Alexa timers make sure things in your home run on schedule.
One of the most clever Echo accessories is the Echo Glow, a colorful lamp for children. You can set Rainbow Timers to remind your kids about bedtime or add a splash of color to music and storytime.
H. Provide an extra set of eyes.
The living room brings your household together, so it makes sense to enhance that special space with the power of Alexa. Check out everything Alexa can do to support your home’s central hub.
A. Catch up on the news.
Save time and keep up with current events by asking Alexa to read you the day’s headlines. Select your favorite news outlets to create a custom “Flash Briefing” that includes news that matters to you.
B. Host family game night.
C. Set the mood.
Whether it’s a movie night or a romantic evening, use Alexa to set the mood by controlling lights, temperature, music, and ambiance with your voice.
Movie night isn’t the same without a bowl of popcorn, so why not ask Alexa to make some in the AmazonBasics Microwave? Sure, it can reheat and cook other food, but that’s not popcorn.
D. Entertain your crew.
Hands-free TV is more accessible than ever with Alexa. You can tell your TV to fast-forward, rewind, record, control volume, switch input, or launch apps, all with the sound of your voice.
E. Keep things tidy.
If Alexa hasn’t impressed you yet, this might be the pièce de résistance. Use Alexa to control your robot vacuum, and you’ll never have to worry about even one dust bunny escaping.
F. Find lost keys.
Team Alexa with a remote tracker like Tile and a simple voice command is all you’ll need to pull your keys back from the cavernous confines of your couch.
Most of us don’t have a sous chef, but Alexa is the next best thing. Make sure your Amazon Echo is locked and loaded with kitchen skills. When you need a little extra help in the kitchen, here’s how Alexa can offer an extra “pair of hands.”
A. Get the coffee started.
When you combine Alexa with a Wi-Fi coffee maker, you can have the perfect cup of joe every morning. A simple “Alexa, is my coffee ready?” helps you start each day with the perfect jolt of energy.
B. Stock the fridge.
You can use Alexa to keep track of your grocery list. Not only can Alexa update the list when you notice something new to add, but Alexa can also order groceries and have them delivered.
C. Order a pizza.
When you can’t face the prospect of making dinner, Alexa can call Domino’s Pizza directly. Or use one of the many other delivery and takeout skills to get a hot, fresh dinner at your doorstep in minutes.
D. Use up all those leftovers.
You don’t have to stretch your creativity when Alexa’s on your side. When you have a fridge full of random ingredients or leftovers, just tell Alexa what you’ve got and ask for a recipe that uses them.
E. Mix a mean cocktail.
Impress party guests (and yourself!) with professional bartending guidance from Alexa. With this secret weapon, you can dare guests to try to stump your mixology skills.
F. Watch your waistline.
If you’re counting calories, Alexa can give you the breakdown of every morsel that passes your lips. Alexa can even calculate the caloric value of homemade recipes.
G. Help with recipes.
All you need is your voice to ask for the next step in your recipe, set a timer, or convert measurements. Alexa also helps find substitutions if you discover you forgot something halfway through the recipe.
We know what you’re thinking—the bathroom? How could a virtual assistant possibly help out in this most private of rooms? Well, read on! Here are the best things Alexa can do to make even the most personal parts of your life a little more indulgent.
A. Keep track of medications.
Use Alexa to keep track of medications—when it’s time for a dose and when you need a refill. You can set reminders for medications and learn common side effects.
B. Turn off the flat iron.
How many times have you wondered whether you left the flat iron—or any other hot styling tool—on? When you use Alexa with smart outlets and switches, you can eliminate potential fire hazards.
C. Order more TP (and other necessities).
Use Alexa to track household essentials (like toilet paper, tissues, body wash, cotton swabs, etc.) and reorder when you’re running low. This way you won’t have to ask someone to spare a square for you.
D. Transform bath time into spa time.
A day at the spa is a rare luxury. Use Alexa to simulate the spa experience in your very own bathroom. Dim the lights, play a relaxing tune, and even monitor the humidity in the room to avoid the frizz.
E. Answer the door.
Yes, you can do this from the bathroom when you combine Alexa with a smart doorbell. Find out who’s at the door and enable two-way talk so you can screen visitors without rushing your “business.”
You don’t have to keep Alexa to the interior of your house. There are plenty of things Alexa can do outside those walls. If you’re ready to unleash the power of Alexa beyond the front door, take a look at how it can help take care of the rest of your home.
A. Never leave the garage door open again.
No one wants to turn the car around to check the garage door. Save yourself stress and time by asking Alexa to control your smart garage door opener and kick off your morning commute without worry.
B. Lock or unlock the front door.
Garage doors aren’t the only ones we forget to lock. Combine Alexa with a smart lock and securing the front door will be as easy as saying, “Alexa, lock the front door.”
C. Keep an eye on packages.
Alexa can be your eyes in the home. Ask Alexa to show you live views from your outdoor security cameras to verify delivery—and catch a thief in the act if the worst happens.
D. Light up the walkway.
There’s no need to stumble in the dark when Alexa can turn on the porch light before you step outside. Whether you’re taking out the garbage or you left something in the car, Alexa can light your path.
Now that you’ve invited Alexa to work her magic outside the hallowed halls of your home, why not use an Alexa skill to dig into lawn care? If you’re more into relaxing on the patio than trimming the hedges, you’ll love what Alexa can do to boost your curb appeal and your free time.
A. Water the lawn.
You won’t need to worry about a thirsty lawn with a Wi-Fi sprinkler system. Ask Alexa to make quick adjustments for changes in the weather. If a storm moves in, all it takes is a voice command to add a rain delay.
B. Mow the lawn.
Say farewell to sweating under a hot sun to keep your lawn neat and trim. With Alexa and a robot lawnmower, all you exercise is your tongue—and you’ll still end up with a yard the neighbors envy.
C. Keep Fido safe.
Make sure your four-legged family members stay where they belong with a pet GPS tracker. Ask Alexa to alert you if your dog leaves a designated safe zone, and tap into GPS to find your furry friend quickly.
D. Grill the perfect steak.
Never again serve a medium-well ribeye to someone who prefers their steak medium-rare. All it takes is a holler to Alexa to track the time, and you’ll quickly become the neighborhood grill master.
Amazon Alexa FAQ
No, but you get more benefits if you have an Amazon Prime membership: Amazon Prime Music, Alexa shopping deals, and Prime Video.
Amazon has an optional home security subscription service for Echo devices called Alexa Guard Plus.
Yes, you can call landlines and mobile phones within the US, UK, Canada, and Mexico. You can also opt into a feature called Drop In that makes instant calls between Alexa devices.
Yes, Amazon lets you stream around 2 million songs for free. You can also use free streaming services to play music from Spotify and Pandora radio stations.
Yes, you need a smartphone and an Amazon account to set up your Amazon Echo devices. Once you connect your Echo to your Wi-Fi network, you don’t need the Amazon Alexa app unless you want to adjust settings. You can get the Alexa app on iPhones and Android phones.
For years, Alexa had only a single, feminine voice option, but Amazon recently launched a masculine voice. You can switch voices using the Alexa app or by asking, "Alexa, change your voice." There are also a variety of accents depending on the language.
While there are celebrity voices like Samuel L. Jackson, these don’t work with all of Alexa’s features (like reminders, to-do lists, Skills, and shopping).
In general, the functional differences between Alexa and Google are small, so it mostly comes down to your personal preference. Still, many people prefer Alexa for smart homes and as a digital assistant.
Our experience with Google Assistant is that it’s better at understanding commands than Alexa. It’s at its best when answering quick questions thanks to Google’s unbeatable search engine.
Check out our in-depth Google Home vs. Alexa article to see how these virtual assistants stack up.
Alexa constantly listens for its wake word and saves your requests in a database. But you can delete this information anytime. Visit Alexa Privacy Settings to manage this information and adjust other options.
Amazon uses encryption to secure your data as it travels between your device and Alexa’s cloud servers, which store your data under many layers of security.
You can also turn off the microphone array on your Amazon Echo to prevent unwanted awakening altogether. It’s easy to tell when the microphone’s off because the Echo’s light ring glows red. If you activate this option on Echo smart displays, it also disables the camera. The Echo Show 8 even has a physical slider for an extra way to block the camera.
To learn more, check out Amazon’s resource page about privacy on Alexa.
Contributing writer: Rebecca Edwards
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