With industry praise like “A Perfect 10” (ZDNet) and “Love at first sight” (Re/code), it’s no surprise Amazon Echo ($179) is one of the “must have” devices in your home.
This cylindrical-shaped, cloud-connected speaker sits in a room, such as a kitchen or bedroom, and you simply use your voice to ask a question or give a command. Using the wake word “Alexa,” a sensitive microphone picks up the request and dishes up the info you want in a human-like voice.
Also supported on other products like Amazon Tap ($129), Echo Dot ($49), and Fire TV ($99), there are hundreds of things you can ask of your virtual assistant, such as “Alexa, play songs from the ’80s,” or “What’s the score of the New England game?” or “What’s the square root of 8,100,” and so on.
Here is a look at five lesser-known Alexa “Skills” as they’re called — third-party add-ons — that enhance your experience even further.
No strings attached.
For guitar players like USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham, your Alexa device can now help you tune your instrument. In the Skills menu, search Guitar Tuner. Then, on any Alexa-powered device, say something like “Alexa, ask Guitar Tuner to tune my guitar.” This will start a series of tones, starting on the low E string and going up A, D, G, B, and ending on the high E. Match your tone and you’re ready to rock.
Bank on it.
You can now use your Alexa device to ask about or conduct transactions tied to your bank account, credit card, mortgage payments and auto loans. With the Capital One Skill, you can ask “When’s my credit card payment due?,” “Pay my credit card bill,” “How much money is in my checking account?,” “Make a mortgage payment,” or “How much more until my car is paid off?” If you’ve got housemates and want to ensure this is secure, you can use the optional personal key or PIN, to access your account.
You might know you can order an Uber using your voice, but what about your own wheels? If you’re a car enthusiast, ask Alexa for updates on your car through the Mojio Skill, which allows you to locate your vehicle, track driving habits and distance driven, view engine status, and gauge fuel levels. Simply install the 3G- and GPS-powered Mojio device ($149) into any car’s On-Board Diagnostic (OBD-II) port, which is standard in all cars from 1996 onward. The price includes one year of service.
That’s the ticket.
Want to play the lottery, but hate choosing the numbers? Why not ask Alexa to generate your Powerball numbers at random, and get the latest results with the Powerball Number Generator Skill. Simply say, “Alexa, ask Powerball Helper for a good selection for Powerball” or “Alexa, ask Powerball Helper, what should my lottery numbers be?”
If you’re running out of things to discuss at the dinner table or need to break the ice on a first date, Alexa can come up with suggested topics to keep the conversation flowing to avoid the awkward silence — or maybe just to have a little extra fun. Ask Alexa to enable “Conversation Starter” and she’ll suggest interesting topics for you to discuss, such as your greatest fears, who’s your hero and why, or the best day of your life. If you don’t like the topic, you can skip to the next one.
Follow Marc Saltzman on Twitter: @marc_saltzman. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.