By Patrick Lucas Austin
December 26, 2018
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Amazon’s Echo voice assistants have gone from expensive parlor trick of a gadget to the perfect stocking stuffer, so you probably weren’t surprised to see one of these smart home speakers wrapped up with your name on it. Well, maybe be a little surprised.

The Echo is a perfect first step or addition to a smart home, and taking advantage of some of its lesser-known features could take you from smart home skeptic to convert faster than you think.

Stop saying “Alexa”

Thankfully if you have a friend or family member with a name that sounds anything like “Alexa,” you can change the “wake word” that activates your new voice assistant. Download the Alexa app to your smartphone, then navigate to the Devices tab. Select “Echo and Alexa,” pick your Echo device, then select “Wake Word.” You can pick from Alexa, Echo, Computer, and Amazon. While it’s an admittedly limited selection of options, you’ll be happy to be rid of any false positives, and will feel like a Star Trek character each time you say “Computer!”

Get your Echo to read to you

Linking your Echo device to your Amazon account does more than personalize your experience. It links your Echo to the content you’ve already got from the company. So when you’re trying to wind down for the evening, your Echo can read you a story from your library of Audible content. You can also set sleep timers, so your book ends as you drift off to la-la land.

Get familiar with Alexa Skills

Voice assistants can tell you the weather, turn on your lights, and alert you to an upcoming appointment. But with the help of third-party developers, your Echo device can get a lot more interesting and entertaining when paired with the right Alexa Skills.

Alexa Skills are essentially apps you can enable on your Echo, and include offerings like trivia games, meditation timers, and news reports from major outlets. You can get started by asking your Echo device to “help me get started with skills.” Use Skills to learn a new word each day, play a round of Jeopardy!, or even find your phone when you misplace it.

Give everyone a voice

It’s your gift, but everyone in your home can benefit from your new Echo by giving each person their own personalized experience. You can ask your Echo to “learn my voice,” then go through a few minutes of repeating what your Echo says.

Teaching the Echo your voice means you can send and receive messages privately, skip over previously heard news stories, and bypass the shopping voice code needed for voice purchases. If you’re a member of an Amazon Household, you’ll also be able to link your services to the Echo device in question.

Use Alexa for quick decisions

Need an unbiased tiebreaker between you and your siblings over the last slice of pie? Even if you’re not a fan of voice assistants turning out your lights, locking your doors, starting your films or turning on your microwave, you can always use your Echo for the little things. Ask it to flip a coin, give you a random number between any two you pick, or play rock, paper, scissors to see who sits shotgun.

Whisper mode is your late-night home helper

Voice assistants aren’t the best at keeping it quiet, especially if you bumped up the volume up to listen to something earlier in the day. You can stop getting yelled at when you’re trying to keep the noise down by enabling the Echo’s Whisper Mode. Ask your device to “enable Whisper Mode” and it’ll turn the volume down and speak to you, well, in a whisper.

Delete your dumb questions

Whether you’re concerned about the voice data you generate being mishandled or just don’t want a record of you asking whether a pound of feathers weighs more than a pound of bricks, take control of your data by deleting it yourself.

Visit Amazon’s site and check out the Alexa Privacy section in the page. There you’ll see a list of every inquiry your Echo has recorded, and have the option to delete everything from start to finish. Even better, you can wipe the history and manage the access of other smart home device and Alexa Skills you may have forgotten about, too.

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at [email protected].

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