Digital Skills Help: Alexa

Quite a few Leuchie guests have told me that they have been given an Alexa but haven’t really used it as they don’t know what it can do. I thought I could put down a few ideas to start you getting use out of Alexa.

You can ask Alexa any questions you can think of, such as:

"Alexa, what's the weather like?" (it will use your location, if you have allowed it to)

"Alexa, what's in the news?"

"Alexa, what time is it in [city or country]?"

"Alexa, what movies are playing?"

"Alexa, what's yesterday's [team name] score?"

"Alexa, how do you spell [word]?"

"Alexa, tell me a joke"

Playing music through Alexa

Most people use Alexa to play music, myself included. We have an Echo dot at home and have set up playlists on Spotify and Amazon Prime music, but also listen to the radio, which is free with Alexa. We have an Echo Dot, which doesn’t have a great speaker itself, plugged in to our stereo system speakers. The Amazon Echo has a better speaker and doesn’t need to be connected to external speakers.

Guests will be familiar with the Leuchie ‘Alexa’ in the quiet room, often used to play music and for quizzes, which is an Amazon Echo. Leuchie currently pay for a Spotify Family account so that we can use Spotify throughout Leuchie.

You can access limited free music based on songs, artists, eras or genres, saying things like, “Alexa, play the [artist/song/etc.] station.” Alexa will keep recommending you purchase Amazon unlimited music after every few songs you play but try out these other options...

Choose one of the free pre-set playlists, including Fuego Latino, Classical for Reading, Natures Sounds for Sleep, Folk Love Songs, Country Heat, 50 Great Rock Guitar Solos. Alexa, play ‘Folk love songs’.

If you want to purchase a music service, Spotify is currently £9.99/month and Amazon Unlimited music starts from £3.99/month.

Alexa, the Echo and Echo Dot's built-in talking digital assistant, can help you listen to any number of radio stations, both in the UK and abroad, thanks to the device's built-in TuneIn app and UK RadioPlayer 'skill', that can be enabled on your Echo or Echo Dot using a smartphone or web browser to set up the skill if it hasn’t been automatically enabled.

The TuneIn and, when enabled, RadioPlayer apps react to your voice commands, and will start playing radio stations when you call out Echo's wake word 'Alexa' and the station's name; for example: 'Alexa, Play BBC Radio Four Extra' or 'Ask Radioplayer to play BBC Radio Four'.

Some basic commands for playing music are:

Alexa, play.”

Alexa, stop.”

Alexa, pause.”

Alexa, Volume up / down.”

Alexa, set volume to level [number].” 1 to 10, where 0 is mute.

Alexa, who sings this?”

Alexa, what song is this?”

Alexa, when did this song/album come out?”

How to create a new playlist using your voice

*This can only be done with Amazon Music*

To start, you have to create a new playlist. To do this, say:

"Alexa, create a new playlist."

"Alexa, create an 'Easy Listening' playlist."

You can begin adding songs to the playlists as songs play. If you hear a song you like, just say, "Alexa, add this song to my playlist," or "Alexa, add this song to my [playlist name] playlist." This is a way to save songs that play on a station that you want to remember.

Play podcasts on Alexa

Ask Alexa to play a podcast. For instance, "Alexa play This Week in Tech" or "Alexa, play Rationally Speaking," will play the latest episode of each podcast respectively. Alexa will immediately begin playing the latest episode.

Alexa plays podcasts from, so if you can't play the podcast you want, it's probably because tunein doesn't have it.

To play a previous episode. Say, "Alexa, play the previous episode," and Alexa will skip to the previous episode. You can repeat this command as many times as you like to go back to further episodes, but currently, there is no command to play specific episode numbers.

Jump to a specific time in a podcast: “Alexa, [fast forward/rewind] 5 minutes.”

Play a specific episode: “Alexa, play episode 65 of ‘Criminal'” or, “Alexa, play ‘Serial’ chapter 1 episode 8.”

Skip forward or back an episode: “Alexa, play the [next/previous] episode.” Jump to the first or last episode: “Alexa, play the [newest/oldest] episode.”

Reset your listening history (so episodes don’t pick up where you left off): “Alexa, start over.”

Listen to BBC Sounds on Alexa

With the BBC skill, you can listen live to all BBC radio stations and play all of on-demand content, including programmes, podcasts and music mixes.

For me, this works without having to set up the skill and without logging in to the BBC, but you may have to add the skill through your Alexa app. Give me a call if you want to talk through setting this up.

If you've been listening to something on the BBC Sounds app or website, ask Alexa for the podcast or on-demand programme you were listening to, for example, "Alexa, ask the BBC for The Infinite Monkey Cage."

Likewise, if you've been listening to something on Alexa and want to pick up from where you left off on the BBC Sounds app or website, just scroll to the Continue Listening section and click on the programme title.

Control your Wi-Fi or Bluetooth smart tech through Alexa

For example, if you have wifi lightbulbs say 'Alexa, turn on [living room] lights’

If you have a smart plug, say ‘Alexa, turn on [kitchen] smart plug

Play audio books from Audible through Alexa

Audible commands for listening to books on Alexa

Make phone calls through Alexa

Set up contacts in the Alexa App (it will download them all from your smartphone or you can enter them manually) and then you can call through Alexa, ‘Alexa, call Elizabeth’, and you can also hang up phone calls here by saying ‘Alexa, hang up’, something you still can’t do using voice assistants on smart phones.

There are so many things to do with Alexa, and there are many more. I hope this post inspires you to try something new on Alexa!

While Leuchie currently only use Amazon ‘Alexa’ speakers, there are many other smart speaker manufacturers are on the market with other popular ones being Google, Apple, and Sonos.

by Elizabeth McDowell, Digital Skills Assistant