You got an Amazon Echo for the holidays — here are the first things you should do


David Limp, senior vice president of devices and services at Inc., presents the Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker during an unveiling event at the company’s Spheres headquarters in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018.

Andrew Burton | Bloomberg | Getty Images

You may have received an Amazon Echo as a gift during the holidays. If it’s your first one, or even a second or third, you may be curious about some of the things it can do. While most folks may use it to ask the weather or about sports scores, Alexa can do a lot more thank you might know.

Here are some fun Amazon Echo tips and tricks to get you started.

How to change the default music service

If you ask your Amazon Echo to play music it will default to Amazon Music. But you can change that to one of many services like Spotify, Apple Music, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, Pandora, Deezer, Tidal and Vevo.

Here’s what you do:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the “More” button on the bottom right.
  • Choose “Settings.”
  • Select “Music & Podcasts.”
  • Tap “Default Services” at the top.
  • Under “Music” tap “change” and select the music service you want to use. You may be prompted to sign into your music service of choice, so have your password ready.

You can also change the default service for when you speak commands like “Play music by Bruce Springsteen,” or “Play classical music” or “Play a rock station” and the default podcast app in this menu.

How to call people

You can use an Echo to call anyone’s phone or Echo, and it’ll double as a big speakerphone when you do it. To do this, just configure a few things first:

  • Open the Amazon app
  • Tap the menu button then tap “Contacts.”

Once you’ve confirmed a contact is in your address book, you can call that person by asking Alexa to call someone’s phone or Echo. Here are the commands to use. (I put my own name in, but swap it out for who you’re trying to call):

  • “Call Todd Haselton’s Mobile.”
  • Or you can call your contact’s Echo by saying “Call Todd Haselton’s Echo.”

How to share your shopping list with friends or family

Amazon recently added a feature that lets you share your shopping list with friends and family. Suppose you want to share your shopping list with a spouse, for example. You can do that by following these steps:

  • First, you need to create a shopping list.
  • You can do this in the Alexa app for iPhone or Android, tapping “more” and opening the “Lists & Notes” menu item and adding items under “Shopping.” Or you can just tell Alexa to add items to your list by saying “Alexa, add soap to my shopping list.”
  • Next, you share the list by opening the Alexa app and tapping the Alexa button on the top of the screen and then speaking “Alexa, share my shopping list.”
  • Alexa will ask who you want to share it with. Then, speak the name of your friend or family member.

How to use your Amazon Echo as an in-home intercom

You can use your Amazon Echo as an in-home intercom and announce things to every Echo in your house. That way people will know if dinner is ready, or if you just want to let the kids you’re running out to the grocery store and don’t want to shout. Here’s what to do:

  • Say “Alexa make an announcement.”
  • Speak your announcement by saying something like “Hey everyone, dinner’s ready!”
  • Alexa will make an announcement to all of the Echos in your house with the message you spoke.

How to order stuff from Amazon with your Amazon Echo

  • Say something like, “Alexa order coffee.”
  • Alexa will begin to list items that you might be interested in, including products from previous orders, and the price. Say “yes” to confirm you’d like to buy that item, or “no” to hear another suggestion.
  • You can also order specific goods by speaking something like “Alexa, order me an Amazon Echo Plus.” Alexa will confirm the price before you decide to buy it or not.

How to get a news briefing

Alexa can give you a quick news briefing from news outlets like CNBC. Here’s how to set it up:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the menu button on the bottom right of the screen.
  • Choose “Settings.”
  • Tap “News.”
  • Choose “Flash briefing.”
  • Toggle the news outlets you want to hear news from and tap “+” to add new sources.
  • Now, say, “Alexa play my flash briefing.”
  • Alexa will give you the highlight news from the sources you picked.

How to customize Alexa with routines

Alexa lets you create custom routines for certain phrases you speak. So, if you say “Alexa, good evening,” it might automatically turn off some lights, turn on others and lock your doors. Or you can create a custom routine to start playing music and hear the weather in the morning.

Here’s what to do:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the menu button on the top-left of the app.
  • Tap “Routines.”
  • Tap the top button that says “When this happens.”
  • Choose “Voice.”
  • Enter the phrase “Good morning.”
  • Tap “Save.”
  • Now choose “Add action.”
  • Tap “Weather.”
  • Tap “Add.”
  • Now tap “Add action”
  • Tap “Traffic.”
  • Now tap “Add action” again.
  • Tap “Music.”
  • Enter in an artist, like Bruce Springsteen.
  • Choose your music provider, such as Spotify.
  • Tap Next.
  • Tap “Create.”

How to set multiple timers

Maybe you’re cooking dinner and need to set multiple timers for different parts of your meal. Here’s what you do:

  • Say, Alexa set an oven timer for 45 minutes.
  • Then speak another timer, like, “Set a marinade timer for 3 hours.”
  • You can check in a timer by saying “Alexa, what’s the oven timer?” Or “Alexa, what’s the marinade timer?”
  • Alexa will alert you when the specific timer has ended.

How to play music on multiple Amazon Echos at the same time

Your Amazon Echo can play music in different rooms of your house at the same time. It’s easy to set up:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap Devices tab.
  • Tap the + button on the top-right.
  • Tap Combine speakers.”
  • Create a group name, such as “upstairs.”
  • Choose the Echos you want to include in the group.
  • Tap “Save.”

How to set your Amazon Echo to detect sounds like glass breaking or smoke alarms

This feature is useful if you want to get notifications about sounds your Amazon Echo hears when you’re away from home. If you get an alert about a glass-breaking noise or a smoke alarm, you might want to have a neighbor check in on the house or check a camera to see if everything is OK. Here’s how to set it up:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the Devices tab on the bottom.
  • Choose Guard.
  • Tap the settings icon on the top-right.
  • Select Sound Detection.
  • Turn on options for “Smoke & CO Alarm Sounds” and “Glass Break.”

How to set your Amazon Echo to automatically turn on smart lights when you’re away from home

Your Echo can help control your smart lights to make it look like you’re home even when you’re not. Do this:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Tap the Devices tab on the bottom.
  • Choose Guard.
  • Tap the settings icon on the top-right.
  • Choose “Away Lighting.”
  • Input your zip code so Alexa knows when the sun sets at home.
  • Choose the smart lights you want to automatically turn on when you’re away.

How to delete the recordings of things you’ve said to Alexa

You can delete recordings of all of the things you’ve asked Alexa. It’s a built-in privacy feature that lets you review everything your Amazon Echo has picked up and regularly delete those requests. Here’s what to do:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone.
  • Choose the “More” tab on the bottom-right.
  • Select “Settings.”
  • Choose “Alexa Privacy.”
  • Select “Review Voice History.”
  • Choose “Filter by Date” and select “All History.”
  • Select “Delete all of my recordings.”

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