When it comes to digital assistants — the internet-connected smart appliances that take verbal commands and connect us to our favorite online services — there’s one brand that rules the roost. Amazon’s Echo devices, featuring their smart assistant, Alexa, have set the standard for digital assistant appliances, and Amazon has continued to expand Alexa’s capabilities on a near-constant basis.
By default, Amazon Echo devices come with an impressive set of skills — they can read you the news, forecast the local weather, and even tell you jokes. But where Alexa truly shines is with the downloadable add-ons that Amazon calls “skills”: For example, if you’re a fan of cocktails, enabling the “Bartender” skill will allow you to ask for any drink recipe you can think of.
Amazon’s library of skills for Echo devices features more than 50,000 different skills, from trivia games to smart-home controls, so there’s definitely something for everyone. If you’re ready to get even more from your Echo, you’re in luck. Here are our favorite Alexa skills:
If you’re a telecommuter, you know the challenges of managing your time and attention. Thankfully, with the right skills, Alexa’s got your back. Install these skills to get organized and stay that way.
Slack. Many employers uses Slack, the ubiquitous group chat software, to keep employees in touch with one another and ensure constant access to key information. Slack for Alexa allows you to do all of that with voice commands, so you can stay engaged in professional conversations, conduct group business, or simply chat with a colleague — all without setting foot near your work computer.
1-Minute Mindfulness. Working from home means remembering to take care of yourself, but it can be a big challenge to find time in the day to relax. That’s where 1-Minute Mindfulness comes in: Once installed, all it takes is saying "Alexa, Open Mindfulness and Ask for a 1-minute meditation,” and Alexa will take you through a quick, relaxing guided meditation.
To download and enable new skills, use the Amazon Alexa smartphone app or Amazon’s website to search for available skills. Once you’ve found one you want to try out, select the “Enable Skill” option to make it active. Review the skill’s download page to learn the words and phrases you’ll need to use it.
Parenting is a hectic job — and it means constantly having your hands full, both literally and figuratively. Alexa’s parenting-focused skills solve part of that by giving parents the chance to ask for help with voice commands (no hands required). Here are the skills that are the biggest life-savers for parents.
Baby Stats. An essential for parents who want to track their baby’s life and health. In a baby’s infancy, it can be challenging to make sure your child is eating, sleeping, and pooping enough, but with Baby Stats, all you have to do is tell Alexa when an event occurs. After you’ve started to use Baby Stats to note when things have taken place, you can then use Baby Stat’s website to view reports and better understand your child’s internal schedule and habits.
Short Bedtime Stories. Short Bedtime Stories isn’t just a book-reading app: It’s a kid’s book personalization skill. With Short Bedtime Stories, you start by telling Alexa your child’s first name — and then she’ll read bedtime stories that make your child the hero. They even have a companion website where you can further personalize stories. Use Short Bedtime Stories to free yourself from the burden of the bedtime story, and give your child a personalized adventure while you’re at it.
If you’re an intense music fan, you’ll love all of the available music skills for Alexa, which can connect you to just about any internet audio service in the world. But even though it’s easy to get music on Alexa, there are still a few music skills that stand above all the rest.
Spotify. Spotify is the king of streaming music, and Alexa makes their entire massive catalog of artists accessible with a single voice command. Support for Spotify is baked in to Alexa by default, so there’s no skill to download — simply open the Alexa app on your smartphone, go to Settings, and then Music & Media, and sign in to your Spotify account (subscription required).
My Media. Alexa is great at streaming music from the web, but sometimes it’s more fun to listen to your own MP3 collection. If you have your own digital music library, install the My Media skill, and Alexa will be able to stream your personal music content from any computer or NAS on your network.