How to make the most of your Alexa

    This article was republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter that helps you discover the most useful sites and apps. register here.

    Last year Amazon and Google sold 73 million smart speakers. Since Amazon introduced Alexa in 2014, competitors have emerged, including Apple and Google. Even if large models with glossy screens have appeared, I still prefer the smallest, screenless models. The minis take up less space, look better, offer the same features and cost less. Alexa’s Echo Dot sells for $30 or less on sale, with no subscription fees. google’s Nest Mini cost same for sale. A Google device is in my kitchen and an Amazon Echo Dot in my office. Read on for how I use them.


    Set a timer for pasta, your morning routine on busy weekdays, or anything else. I like to keep my phone in another room to avoid distractions, so it’s nice to just be able to say “Hey Google, set a timer for 5 minutes.” You can also use your voice to control smart home devices such as lamps or a TV.


    If I come home late and haven’t seen the news, I sometimes ask for a short news summary to catch up. It is easy to adapt to the outlets and topics you prefer. You can get world headlines from the BBC, domestic news from NPR, sports from ESPN – or whatever suits you.


    Sometimes when I’m doing the dishes I say “Hey Google, play the Planet Money podcast” or whatever I feel like listening to, like one of these great shows. It’s nice to just start listening and not have to fiddle with a podcast app or put on headphones.


    When we have family breakfast during the week, we like to listen to our local classical music station, WQXR in New York City and his great morning DJ, Jeff Spurgeon. (Yes, classical DJs have fans too). We used to have a radio in the kitchen, but a smart speaker can control any radio station you want. We no longer have to fiddle with a radio antenna for good reception.


    When choosing umbrellas and jackets, ask for the local weather forecast. Or if you’re traveling somewhere, ask about the weather or traffic at your destination.

    To ask

    If we are stunned at what a glittering muffin is during a dinner discussion or wonder when Isaac Asimov published Foundation (1951) we can get a quick response without having to take out screens.

    Poetry and Jokes

    When you need to take a break with a quick riddle, joke, or poem, a smart speaker can help right away. The jokes tend towards the youth, but sometimes the badness of the jokes is funny. And listening to a random poem can be a welcome break from a busy day.


    I was surprised to find out how many games smart speakers can play. During the pandemic, my daughters, wife and I tried trivia and guessing games. There are even choose-your-own adventure games where you have to choose where to go or what action to take.

    A few Alexa games to try: Twenty questions, song quiz, General knowledge. Or try comfort my dog or calm my cat. “Listening to this music will make your dog (or cat) feel more relaxed and calm,” the app makers say. Thousands of strong reviews agree. I don’t have a pet, so I haven’t tried it either.

    Echo Buttons lets you buzz to play game show style although they are apparently not available right now. I’ve used them to play trivia games with students.

    Google’s Nest Mini vs. Amazon’s Echo Dot

    Google benefits:

    • Smarter, more reliable answers to questions, from trivia queries to how-tos.
    • Better music selection. Google’s smart speaker allows me to listen to the entire YouTube Music library, which Alexa doesn’t allow. You can customize both smart speakers to play music from Spotify or Pandora.
    • Has a clear switch to turn off the microphone.

    Amazon Benefits:

    • Simple, fun games are part of an extensive collection of Alexa ‘Skills’.
    • You can easily create custom apps with templates called Alexa Skill Blueprints. These are for you or your family only, not for public use. When my daughters were little we had a lot of fun customizing a fairy tale with their names and coming up with questions for our own quiz game.

    Disadvantages and Concerns

    Privacy is an important consideration when you have a device that listens to your voice and stores recordings. Read MakeUseOf’s technical publication analysis of privacy questions on Alexa for more on this, and the Ambient’s part about what smart speaker makers do with your data. Unplug a smart speaker to turn it off. Or if the idea of ​​your voice being recorded worries you, just avoid smart speakers altogether.

    If you already have an Alexa and want to delete previous recordings of your voice commands, you can open the Alexa app on your phone and choose Settings > Alexa privacy > View voice history. Then navigate to All History and select > Delete All My Recordings.

    If you have people in your house who like to order things online, you can disable purchase so kids or pranksters can’t shop through your Alexa device.

    This article was republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter that helps you discover the most useful sites and apps. register here.

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