How to get the best use out of your Alexa

This article is republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter dedicated to helping you discover the most useful websites and apps. Subscribe 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 though large models with glossy screens have popped up, 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 offer, with no subscription costs. Google’s nest mini Costs the same on offer. I have a Google device in my kitchen and an Amazon Echo Dot in my office. Read on for how I use them.


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


When I get home late and haven’t seen the news, I sometimes ask for a quick news recap to keep up with what’s going on. It’s easy to customize to your favorite outlets and themes. You can get global headlines from the BBC, domestic news from NPR, sports from ESPN – or whatever suits you.


When I’m washing dishes, I sometimes say “Hey Google, play the Planet Money podcast” or whatever I want to hear, like one of those 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 breakfast with the family during the weekdays, we love listening to our local New York City classic station WQXR and its amazing morning DJ. Jeff Spurgeon. (Yes, classic DJs have fans too). We used to have a radio in the kitchen, but a smart speaker can serve any radio station you want. We no longer have to fiddle with a radio antenna for good reception.


If you decide to bring umbrellas and jackets, ask for a local weather forecast. Or if you’re on the road, ask about the weather or traffic conditions at your destination.


If we’re amazed what a Sparklemuffin is having a discussion during a dinner or wondering when Isaac Asimov publishes Foundation, endowment (1951) We can get a quick response without having to pull out screens.

poems and jokes

When you need to pause with a quick riddle, joke or poem, a smart speaker can help instantly. The jokes tend to be youthful, but sometimes the wickedness of the jokes is funny. And listening to a random poem can be a welcome break from a busy day.


I was surprised to discover how many games smart speakers can play. During the pandemic, my daughters, my wife and I have been trying quizzes and sound guessing games. There are even adventure-style games where you have to choose where to go or what actions to take.

A few Alexa games to try: twenty questions, song quiz, general knowledge. Or attempts comfort my dog or calm my cat. “Listening to this music will help 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 didn’t try.

echo buttons Get tuned in to play game show style, though apparently they’re not available now. I 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 quizzes to how-tos.
  • Better range of music. Google’s smart speaker lets me listen to the entire YouTube music library, which Alexa doesn’t allow. You can customize any smart speaker 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”.
  • With the templates called, you can easily create custom apps Alexa Skill Blueprints. These are for you or your family only, not for public use. When my daughters were little, we had fun personalizing a fairy tale with their names and making up questions for our own trivia 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 tech publication Analysis of privacy issues via Alexa to learn more about it and about the Ambient piece about what smart speaker manufacturers do with your data. Disconnect a smart speaker to disable it. Or if the idea of ​​your voice being recorded worries you, simply avoid smart speakers.

If you already have Alexa and want to delete previous recordings of your voice commands, you can open the Alexa app on your phone and go to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History. Then go to All history and select > Delete all my recordings.

If you have people in your house who enjoy ordering things online, you can do that disable purchase so kids or pranksters can’t make purchases through your Alexa device.

This article is republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter dedicated to helping you discover the most useful websites and apps. Subscribe here.

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