(Pocket-lint) - It looks like a lot of people received new Alexa devices this Christmas, as evident by the Amazon Alexa app, which topped app charts this week.
It earned the No. 1 spot on the Apple App Store's Top Free chart for the first time and remained there throughout 25 December and 26 December 2017, though it currently sits at No. 2, having lost to YouTube. Everyone knows you need this app to set up an Alexa device, but, believe it or not, we've heard from many people that as soon as their Alexa devices are good to go, they hide the app and essentially forget it exists.
That's unfortunate. There are a tonne of buried features in the Amazon Alexa app, all of which expand the functionality and usefulness of your Alexa devices. So, to help you get the most out of your Alexa devices, we've outlined the different things you can do with the Alexa app.
- Amazon Echo: What can Alexa do and what services are compatible?
- Amazon Echo: First 7 things you should do to get Alexa started
- Amazon Alexa calling and messaging: What is it and how do you use it?
What is the Amazon Alexa app?
The Amazon Alexa app is a free mobile app from Amazon that allows you to set up Alexa devices, such as the Echo, and expand their functionality through the use of compatible services like Spotify, additional features like Alexa skills and smart home device integrations, and more. You can download it from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your smartphones or tablet.
What can you do with Amazon Alexa app?
Use voice control
A recent update to the Amazon Alexa app has added the ability to control Alexa on your phone using your voice in the same way you would a standard Amazon Echo device. That means all the things you can do with the smart speaker normally is now accessible easily with your voice on an Android device.
You can access voice control within the Alexa app by pressing the big blue Alexa button in the navigation bar. This then allows you to speak to Alexa and command her with your voice; triggering smart home skills, playing music, adding things to your shopping list, etc.
Unfortunately, you cannot currently use the "Alexa" hotword as you would with a standard Echo device and the Alexa app needs to be open to use the voice commands. But it's still a useful way to use Alexa when you're out of earshot of an Echo device or otherwise unable to speak to Alexa with ease.
View your activity feed
- See your Alexa device history
- View transcript and listen to interactions
The Amazon Alexa app makes it easy to see your Alexa device history. You can even view a transcript and listen to interactions you have with your Alexa devices. To see your history, open the Amazon Alexa app, then go to the Home screen (house icon from the bottom nav bar), and from there, you will see a chronological list of everything people have asked or done with your devices. It's a little creepy.
To delete any entry, tap More and then Remove card. Now, here's another way to listen to your dialogue history in the Amazon Alexa app: Go to the Menu (triple bar icon), then select Settings, and scroll to the General section and select History. You can then pick an interaction from the list, and then select the Play icon to listen to the interaction. To delete individual recordings, select Delete voice recordings.
Link your services to Alexa
- Connect music, video, and book services
- Choose a default service, like Spotify for music
You can connect your various music, video, and book services to the Amazon Alexa app. Doing so will allow you to access those services on your Alexa devices. For music services in the US, you have the option of Amazon's own music service, Music Unlimited, as well as third-party services like Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, and Sirius XM. For video in the US, you have Dish, Frontier, and Optic Hub.
As for books in the US, you can connect to Amazon's Audible and Kindle services. To link any of these services to your Alexa devices, open the Amazon Alexa app, then tap the Menu button (triple bar icon), and select Music, Video, and Books. At the top of this screen, choose your compatible device or Alexa device. From there, select a music, video, or book service to connect to that device.
You'll need to link your accounts for these services to the Amazon Alexa app, which involves entering your account username and password. Once you've done that, you can go back to the Music, Video, and Books screen to manage your services and playback content. For instance, when we tap Audible, we see our audiobooks, like A Game of Thrones, and can tap any of them to start playback on our device.
But you can also ask Alexa (via an Alexa device) to play content from your linked services. For Audible, say, “Alexa, read the Audiobook [title]." Now, if you want to designate default services so that your Alexa device always loads specific ones, open the Amazon Alexa app, then tap the Menu button (triple bar icon), and go to Settings. From there, Select Music and Media and tap Choose default services.
You'll then be able to choose default services for music and media. Be sure to tap the Done button to save your settings when finished.
Control media playback
- See what's in your play queue
- Link your Fire TV or Fire TV stick
This is one of the most simplest aspects of the Amazon Alexa app: You can use it to view and control playback for music and media, show what's in your play queue, and review your playback history. Open the app, select the Player screen (sound bar icon from the bottom nav bar), and choose the Alexa device you want to manage. After that, you can toggle between Player, Queue, and History.
From the Player tap, you can play or pause music you're currently listening to, while the Queue tab shows you the next song that’s going to play if you told Alexa to play an album or a playlist. History, of course, shows you a list of songs that have recently played on your selected device. You probably won't use the Player screen too much, since Alexa devices are meant to be controlled via voice commands.
However, the option is nice, especially if you ever find yourself in the position of wanting to remotely control your Alexa device. Also, if you're a Fire TV or stick owner, you'll find the Amazon Alexa app really useful for controlling media playback. Head over to the Menu (triple bar icon), then select Music, Video, and Books, and tap Fire TV. From there, you can link your Fire TV in order to control it through voice commands.
You can say something like, "Alexa, watch Transparent," and it'll launch the appropriate streaming app and content on your Fire TV.
Manage lists, reminders, alarms, and timers
- Remotely access your shopping and to-do list
- Remotely manage your reminders, alarms, and timers
You can ask Alexa via your Alexa device to keep shopping lists and to-do lists as well as set reminders, alarms, and timers. If you ever want to manage these things remotely, like maybe access your shopping list while you're actually at the grocery store but away from your Echo, you can simply fire up the Amazon Alexa app on your mobile device. Everything will be listed there and can be managed there, too.
To access your lists, go to the Menu (triple bar icon), then select Lists, and choose from Shopping or To-do. Under Shopping, you can select an item to delete or press the arrow next to it to search Amazon or Bing for that item. Similarly, under To-do, you can select an item or press the arrow next to it to delete it from your list. Now, to access your reminders, alarms, and timers, you need to back out from here.
Go to the Menu (triple bar icon), then select Reminders and Alarms, and choose a device from the top of the screen. From there, you can toggle from Reminders to Alarms to Timers to see the different ones you have scheduled. Under Reminders, you can add and delete more entries, while under Alarms and Timers, you can set them and change their volume and sound. Basic stuff here, folks.
Set up household profiles
- Allow each person in your house to have their own profile
- To switch accounts, say, "Switch accounts to [person's name]"
Let's say you have four people in your house but only one Alexa device, like an Echo Show. Did you know you can set it up, using the Amazon Alexa app, so that each person can use that device and have access to their own linked services (like music), preferences, (like news), and features (like shopping and to-do lists)? To add a person, go to the Menu (triple bar button) and select Settings.
From there, scroll to the Accounts section and select Household Profile. Follow the on-screen instructions. As part of this process, you'll be prompted for the other user's account information - simply pass your mobile device to the other user so he or she can personally enter it. Keep in mind, you are authorising that person to use credit cards associated with your Amazon account.
However, you can require a confirmation code for voice purchases in the Amazon Alexa app. Alexa will then ask for the confirmation code before completing purchases. You can also remove a person at any time. Now, to switch to another profile, just say, "Alexa, switch accounts to [person's name]." To check the profile you're currently using, you can say, "Alexa, which account is this?"
And, finally, when browsing a content library in the Amazon Alexa app, use the drop-down menu at the top of the screen to toggle between users.
Set up voice profiles
- Alexa will learn your and other users' voices
- Doing so delivers a more personalised experience
Voice profiles give you the ability to teach Alexa your voice, so that, when you interact with a compatible Echo device, Alexa will be able to recognise your voice from other people in your home. You can set up voice profiles on the Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, and the latest Echo devices. Once you set it up, Alexa will learn your and other users' voices, so it can deliver a more personalised experience.
You’ll need to set up an Alexa voice profile through the Amazon Alexa app. This involves voice training. In other words, you’ll be asked to choose an Echo device to train with, whether that is an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Show, and then, after you’ve read out 10 sample phrases, the voice profile will be complete. Everyone in your household should do the same thing so that Alexa will know who is who.
To set up your voice, open the Amazon Alexa app, then go to the Menu (triple bar button), and select Settings. Go to the Accounts section and select Your Voice. Select Begin. Use the drop-down menu to select the device you want to interact with, like your Echo, to teach Alexa your voice. Then, select Next, say the on-screen phrase when prompted, and select Next again to go to the next phrase.
Select Complete when done. Now, Alexa will be able to send and play your messages without asking who you are, and you can shop confidently, knowing Alexa recognises your voice. To learn more about voice profiles and how to set them up, check out Pocket-lint's in-depth guide.
Set up multi-room music
- Play music across multiple Echo devices in your home
- Works with Amazon Music, TuneIn, Spotify, and other services
Amazon's Echo devices support multi-room audio. Technically, Amazon is calling the new feature "multi-room music", but it works similarly; you can use the feature to play music across multiple Echo devices in your home at the same time. But there are caveats: the feature is only available in a few countries at the moment, and it only supports music, specifically, as well as certain devices and services.
You can register two or more Alexa-enabled devices to one Amazon account. Once you do that, you must put them all on the same Wi-Fi network, and then you can get them set up for multi-room music using the Amazon Alexa app, which includes creating a group for them. Go here to learn how to properly set up your Amazon Echo devices and then go here to get them connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
When ready, open the Amazon Alexa app, then select Smart Home from the menu, and select the Groups category. From there, tap Create Groups to create a group and then tap on Multi-Room Music Group. Select a pre-set group name (or tap "Create Custom" and enter a name). Tap Next. The app will confirm it created your group. Once enabled, say: "Play [song or artist] on [Echo devices' group name]".
You can use Alexa to control multi-room music from Amazon Music, TuneIn, and Spotify. Users in the US can also listen to iHeartRadio and Pandora, with support for SiriusXM coming soon. However, the feature does not support any Bluetooth connections while streaming, such as to external speakers, unless it's a wired connection to an external speaker (like from the Echo Dot).
To learn more about multi-room music and how to set it up via the Amazon Alexa app, check out Pocket-lint's in-depth guide here.
Control your smart home devices
- Add smart home devices and group them together
- Discover and use Scenes from other companion apps
Many people now own smart devices that are compatible with Alexa. For instance, the TP-Link Smart Plug lets you remotely control anything that's plugged into it, whether that be a light or coffee pot. This plug also supports Alexa, which means you can add it through the Amazon Alexa app and then use Alexa commands to turn it on or off. You can also add it to a group of other devices through the app.
Doing so will allow you to control them all with a simple command. And finally, you can also manage your existing smart home Scenes in the Amazon Alexa app. If you have a Philips Hue Scene named "Bedtime," which lowers the brightness of all your bulbs when you give the command at nighttime, you can find and add the Scene to Alexa. Then, say, "Alexa, turn on Bedtime," and the Scene will start.
To connect a smart home device from the Amazon Alexa app: Go to Menu (triple bar icon), select Skills, browse to find the skill for your device, and select Enable. Follow the on-screen instructions to complete the linking process. You can also ask Alexa to discover your device (say, "Alexa, discover my devices) or select Add Device in the Smart Home section of the Amazon Alexa app. Easy.
To create and use a smart home device group in the Amazon Alexa app: Go to Menu (triple bar icon), select Smart Home, select Groups, select Add Group, and then select a group type. You'll then need to enter a name for your group or select from the list of Common Names. Just remember to give your group a recognisable name for Alexa to identify, and give each group a different name if you have multiple ones.
Select the smart home devices you want to add to the group, and then select Save. Once you're done, you can control them with a command like, “Alexa, turn on [group name]." Lastly, to create and manage smart home Scenes, you need to go through the smart home device manufacturer's companion app. However, Scene names show in the Amazon Alexa app - just go to Smart Home > Scenes.
Create a routine
- Use a single command to control devices and get news
- It's like a Flash briefing and a smart home Scene combined
Alexa routines are similar to a Scene you might create with your Philips Hue companion app. But now you can play news and weather updates and control your entire smart home, all with a single command. To create your first routine: Go to Menu (three bar icon), select Settings, scroll down to Accounts, and tap Routines. Tap the plus sign in the top-right corner and then tap When this happens.
From there, select When you say something or At scheduled time. If you select When you say something, type in a phrase, like "Good morning".
If you select At a scheduled time, set a time and choose which days it should repeat. Click Done to continue, then tap Add action, and choose between News, Traffic, and Weather. This will play just like in your Flash Briefing, but you can also add Smart Home actions.
These include turning on a Scene or controlling individual devices, like turning on or off smart lights. Click Add to add an action and repeat until all actions are added to the routine. Then, select which Alexa device the routine will play audio from. If you use a scheduled routine, you will have to select a device, but if you create a routine based on a phrase, you can designate that you want it to play from any device.
To finish setting up a routine, click Create. Once a routine is created, you can edit it by going back to Settings > Routines in the Amazon Alexa app and tapping on a routine. You can remove or change actions, add new actions, temporarily disable the routine, and more. Unfortunately, routines are limited to smart-home control and news, weather and traffic updates.
Alexa Calling and Messaging
- Place calls to your Echo devices and friends' Echo devices
- You can also send voice messages and text messages
This service was first introduced on the Amazon Echo Show in May 2017, but it has since expanded to other Echo devices. It essentially allows you to place audio or video calls to your Echo devices and friends' Echo devices. Not only can you place a call using the service, but you can also leave a voice message or text message. The best bit about the service is that it's free to use, as it works over Wi-Fi and mobile data.
You need an Echo device, Amazon account, a mobile phone number, and the Amazon Alexa app. Open the app and then go to the Conversation screen (chat bubble icon from the bottom nav bar). You'll need to confirm your name, enable access to your contact list, and verify your number via SMS. Alexa uses your phone's address book to find your friends who have the Amazon Alexa app or an Echo device.
So, there's no need to manually enter your contacts. Anyway, you can then call a contact through the Amazon Alexa app. Just select the Conversation icon on the home screen, then tap the Contact icon in the upper corner, and tap on any contact. From there, tap the phone icon. To call with your Echo, say "Alexa, call [name of contact]" - but say their name exactly how it appears in your contacts.
When you call someone, it will ring their Amazon Alexa app and Echo device. All your incoming calls or messages are also put through to your Amazon Alexa app and Echo devices. Your Echo devices will sound an alarm, while your Amazon Alexa app will serve up a notification. Just say, "Answer," or answer from your phone to accept the call. Alternatively, you can say, "Ignore," or ignore it from your phone.
When you want to end a call, you can say, "Hang up," or tap the end button on your phone. While a call is active, the lights on your Echo device will glow green. If you'd like to learn how to send voice messages and text messages from the Amazon Alexa app, see our in-depth guide here.
Drop In audio and video calls
- Instantly connect to an Echo device
- You can place audio or video Drop Ins
Drop In is a feature that lets you instantly connect with an Echo device, including a contact's, as long as they have granted permission for you to do so. For instance, you can Drop In on any Echo device you own, or you can Drop In on a Echo device that your parents own. When you Drop In on an Echo device, the device's light ring will pulse green and then the device will bleep and bloop automatically connect.
You will be able to hear anything within range of the device. Similarly, if you and your contact are using Echo devices with screens, you both will see anything within range of your devices. You both will also hear an alert sound and then see a frosted glass video that transitions to a clear video shortly after connecting, which gives everyone time to prepare for the abrupt video call. (Phew!)
Anyway, once you've signed up for Alexa Calling and Messaging through the Amazon Alexa app, you can then enable Drop In for a contact and have that contact enable Drop In for you. Go to the Conversation screen (chat bubble icon from the bottom nav bar), select Contacts (person icon), tap one of the available contacts, and then toggle on the "Allow Drop In" switch at the bottom of their contact card.
Also, when you enable Drop In and grant permission to your Echo devices, it will apply to all your household members. In other words, if you grant permission to grandma, she will be to Drop In on you and any one in your Amazon Household. So, if your Echo Show is on your husband's profile or your kid's profile for a moment, grandma can still Drop In on your device at any time to say, "Hi".
You can Drop In and call between all the Echo devices in your home (say to your Echo device, "Alexa, Drop in on Home") or Drop In with your contacts who also own an Echo device (say to your Echo device, "Alexa, Drop In on [contact's name]." See Pocket-lint's in-depth guide for more about how Drop In works, including how to initiate a Drop In call directly from the Amazon Alexa app.