- I activated my Amazon Echo for the first time in December 2015, and it's since become one of my favorite tech gadgets ever.
- I've outlined my favorite features to get the most out of Amazon's Echo devices.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Amazon's family of Echo speakers are some of the most popular gifts right now, so many people are activating their Echo units for the first time.
Here's what you need to know: These speakers, which can respond to either "Alexa,""Amazon," or even "Computer" (for those "Star Trek" fans out there), are extremely quick to respond, and understand your commands far better than any other device I've used.
Thanks to its excellent audio system, with seven microphones for listening and a 360º omni-directional audio grille for speaking, Amazon Echo works exceedingly well wherever I am in my home. I can hear it — and it can hear me — almost perfectly.
Amazon's Echo has completely transformed the way I live in my apartment. Take a look at some of my favorite ways I use it.
"Alexa, what time is it?"
Honestly, the best use cases for Amazon Echo are the simplest ones. With the Echo, I don't need to bother searching for my phone just to get the time — you can ask for the time from anywhere in your house and get the answer immediately. It's a small thing, but it totally makes a difference when you're rushing in the morning.
"Alexa, how's the weather outside today?"
Again, it's a simple task, but it's way quicker and better than pulling out your phone and opening your favorite weather app. Amazon Echo will not only tell you the current temperature, but also the expected high and low temperatures throughout the day, and other conditions such as clouds and rain.
"Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes."
Amazon Echo is the perfect cooking or baking companion because it's totally hands-free. When the timer's up, a radar-like ping will sound until you say "Alexa, stop."
"Alexa, play some Kanye."
Amazon Echo can play thousands of songs from Amazon's Prime Music catalogue, and Alexa works quickly to pause, skip, or change songs whenever you want.
"Alexa, play some chill music on Spotify."
Amazon Echo also works with Spotify Premium, in addition to Prime Music.
If you ask Alexa to "play Spotify," it'll play the last thing you were playing, picking up where you left off. But you can also ask it to play any artist or album in Spotify's extensive catalogue, or any of Spotify's fun playlists, including Discover Weekly, or any of the ones based on genres or moods. You can learn more about Spotify's integration with Amazon Echo here.
"Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride."
Need a ride to the airport? You can request an Uber car to pick you up from your residence just by asking Echo. Once you activate the Uber skill in the Alexa app, your Echo will let you know how far away the closest car is, and it'll even let you know if there's surge pricing before you accept the ride.
"Alexa, add garlic to the shopping list."
Whenever you run out of food, just tell Alexa to add stuff to the shopping list. Since my significant other and I both share an Amazon Prime account, the shopping list syncs to both our phones' Alexa apps so we can order items straight from Amazon, buy them later, or make last-minute changes that we'll both see.
"Alexa, what's on my calendar?"
Since Amazon Echo can sync with your Google Calendars, you don't need to look through your phone to see your upcoming schedule. Just ask Alexa to hear details about your meetings and appointments that day.
"Alexa, set a daily alarm for 7:00 a.m."
Echo can wake you up in the morning — or get your attention at any other time of day — with over 10 different alarm tones. You can choose soothing sounds or something a little more attention-grabbing right from the Alexa app. And as of April, you can create recurring alarms that repeat daily, the same day every week, or just for the weekdays or weekends.
"Alexa, heads or tails?"
What should we eat for dinner? Where should our next vacation be? Sometimes the answers to these questions are best decided by a coin flip — and you don't need a physical coin if you have Alexa, who will flip a virtual one for you (I've tried it several times, it really does appear to be truly random).
"Alexa, read my Kindle book."
Amazon Echo can read your Kindle books aloud to you using the same text-to-speech technology it uses to read Wikipedia entries and news articles aloud. You can also tell Alexa to pause or skip chapters both forwards and backwards.
"Alexa, read my audio book."
Aside from Kindle books, Alexa can also read aloud any audiobooks you've purchased from Audible. You can ask Alexa to resume your audiobook, play different titles, skip chapters, restart chapters, or go back to a specific chapter.
"Alexa, add 'buy a winter jacket' to my to-do list."
Just like shopping lists, you can sync to-do lists to your Alexa app(s) across your devices. You can add to-do items using Alexa and add notes in addition to completing or deleting items via the app.
"Alexa, what was the score of the last Cavaliers game?"
It's actually much easier and faster to ask Alexa sports scores instead of visiting a sports website or app and looking through all the box scores to find the one you want.
"Alexa, find me a good Italian restaurant nearby."
Amazon Echo can help cure any craving you might have. Just ask Alexa to find a nearby restaurant from any cuisine you like, and Alexa will start listing off restaurants. You can learn more details about those restaurants in the Alexa app.
"Alexa, what's in the news?"
After you first set up your Echo, you can choose which news sources you want to get information from, like NPR, ESPN, and local radio stations. After that, if you ask Alexa for the news or a flash briefing, you can hear news straight from those sources. You can always change which news sources you want through the Alexa app.
"Alexa, set a sleep timer for 60 minutes."
If you like listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks before you fall asleep, you can start listening to any of those and simply ask Alexa to set a sleep timer. Now you don't have to worry about turning off the Echo if you start feeling drowsy.
"Alexa, ask Capital One to pay my credit card bill."
Amazon has a handful of skills that allow you to access your banking information, which were made by companies like Capital One. Yes, you can use Echo for banking purposes: You can check your recent transactions, pay your credit card bills, and more. It’s also secure: You can create a 4-digit “personal key” so every time you ask a banking related question, you’ll be prompted to recite your personal key before you’re given any access.
"Alexa, ask KidsMD about vomiting."
Another Amazon Echo skill you can download, developed by folks at Boston Children's Hospital, can field and answer your questions about illnesses, especially if you have children. With the KidsMD skill enabled, you can ask if symptoms warrant a call or doctor's visit, or find out dosing information about ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
This only scratches the surface.
Amazon Echo has tons of built-in features, and it's constantly getting better all the time. Amazon continues to add new features and outside developers continue producing "skills," or specialized applications that give you neat features when activated — and Amazon rounds up all the new features and skills in a neat little email you'll get every Friday.
The ongoing evolution of Amazon Echo is one of the best reasons to own this device. You can buy an Amazon Echo here.