The Amazon Echo almost needs no introduction, that gateway to a world of connected fun. Posing as a cylindrical speaker, the Amazon Echo is likely to be one of the hottest gadgets of 2016, with Alexa getting in on the action as your new helpful AI assistant.

The Amazon Echo can make to-do lists, set alarms, stream podcasts, play audiobooks, read PDFs, provide weather forecasts, warn you of traffic, answer trivia, and serve up other information in real-time. 

We've been living with the Echo, Dot and Alexa for some time and here's how to get the most out of this cool smart home accessory.

The magic of the Amazon Echo comes from its connection. After a quick set-up process, which involves plugging it in, taking control of it via the Alexa app (Android, iPhone, Desktop) and connecting it to your home Wi-Fi network, Alexa will listen to your voice and respond accordingly, either returning information found online, or through a number of partners that work with the Amazon Echo.

You need to be online to use the Amazon Echo, but it's simply a case of asking questions and issuing commands.

There are three different versions of the Amazon Echo:

  • Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Echo Dot
  • Amazon Echo Tap

The Echo is the full-sized speaker, the Dot provides the microphones and Bluetooth or physical connection to existing features and the Tap is a portable Bluetooth speaker (not available in the UK). 

We've broken down the different skills of these devices in a separate feature, explaining all the pros and cons if you need to know more.

Amazon Echo is always listening for the word "Alexa". Whenever you say it, the Echo will listen, consider what you're saying and respond. But if you don't want the Echo to wake and respond, there's a mute button on the top of the speaker that you can press to mute Alexa.

Press it again to unmute her. Simples.

If you happen to have someone in your house called "Alex" or similar, then you'll find the Echo responds when you say that name too. You can choose another word, either Amazon or Echo. 

Head into the Alexa app > settings > select your Echo > Wake Word and pick a new word from the list.

There are a couple ways you can control your Echo, as well as your to-do and shopping lists. The first, as we mentioned, is through the Alexa app. The second way is through the web. Just visit this site in your browser: http://echo.amazon.com and you'll be able to log-in and control your device without needing a phone.

The Echo is compatible with a range of music services, not only Amazon's own. If you'd rather use Spotify, head into the Alexa app > Settings > Music & Media.

In this section you can link music accounts and pick the default. Then, when you say "Alexa, play Phil Collins" it will use Spotify rather than Amazon music, for example.

There are lots of things that the Echo will do by default, but sometimes you'll have to enable a particular feature to get more. These are called skills, and basically give Alexa access to particular information. In the Alexa app head into Skills and you'll find a range of compatible apps and features. It's here you can enable control of your Hive heating or access to your BMW Connected app, for example. 

From the Amazon website you can link your family Prime accounts. With a feature called Household Profiles, you can add another adult to your Amazon Household to listen to either his or her content (for instance, music and audiobooks) and manage shared features (like lists).

Go to Settings, scroll down the page, and set up your Household. Shared members will have to download the Echo app and agree to join the household. You can also the app to setup your household too. More information about Household Profiles is at this support page.

Thanks to Household Profiles, Amazon Echo can be synced with more than one Amazon account. To find out which profile you're currently using, say "Alexa, which profile am I using?" To switch profiles, say either "Alexa, switch profile" (moves to the next profile) or "Alexa, switch to David's profile" (moves to the profile you named). More information about Household Profiles is at this support page.

You can control some smart home devices with Alexa (see a list of compatible devices here).

After you say "Discover my devices", or use the Alexa app to discover and pair smart home devices, you can ask Alexa to do things like "Turn on/off [smart home device name]" or "Dim the light to [##] per cent" (see a list of commands here).

You can also setup groups (see here) so that saying "house lights" turns on/off several lamps. Alexa works with many common connected devices, like Philips Hue.

Amazon Echo has a CPU and software running it that needs updating. The speaker looks for updates every night, but if you want to force an update, just hit that same mute button we discussed earlier, then let Echo sit for at least 30 minutes, and the speaker will update.

Here are some examples of things you can do with Echo/Alexa, along with links to their relevant Amazon support pages:

Alexa responds to a wide number of fun Easter eggs. This Reddit thread aggregates several interesting commands you can issue to Alexa. We've picked out a few of the more interesting ones and listed them below, but not all will work in all locations:

  • "Simon says...": You can get Alexa to repeat anything you say if use the command "Alexa, Simon says..."
  • "Alexa, play Bingo": Look up and download some free printable bingo cards, and ask Alexa to start a Bingo game with you.
  • "Alexa, ask Word Master to play a game": This is like Geography. Alexa says a word, then you have to follow with a word that starts with the last letter of the word she said.
  • "Alexa, start Animal Game/Capital Quiz": This lets you play 20 questions about animals or geography.
  • "Alexa, start Star Wars quiz": Self-explanatory.
  • "Alexa, play Jeopardy": Trivia geeks will love these game-show style questions. Don’t forget to answer in the form of a question.
  • "Alexa, roll the dice": Missing the di to your board game? She’ll roll 6-sided, 10-sided, 20-sided, and other dice as well.
  • "Alexa, open the Wayne Investigation": This starts a chose-your-own-adventure game that immerses you into the world of Gotham.

Ask Alexa these questions and we promise you'll love her responses:

  • "Alexa, what does WTF stand for?"
  • "Alexa, Up Up, Down Down, Left Right, Left Right, B, A, Start"
  • "Alexa, how much is that doggy in the window?"
  • "Alexa, Is Santa real?"
  • "Alexa, do you know Hal?"
  • "Alexa, Who shot first?"
  • "Alexa, which came first: the chicken or the egg?"
  • "Alexa, what is love?"

This website suggests more hilarious questions you can ask. 

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