13 Amazon Echo Hacks to Get the Most Out of Alexa

Whether you just set up your Amazon Echo ($214) or you’ve had one for years, you’re probably not using the smart speaker to its full potential. Sure, you can ask Alexa for weather updates, set a timer while cooking, and use it to play music, but that’s just scratching the surface of what the AI assistant can do. Here are 13 things you might not know your Amazon Echo is capable of, from personalized traffic updates to tuning an instrument.

1. TRAIN ALEXA TO RECOGNIZE YOUR VOICE.

The Amazon Echo is already pretty good at voice recognition, thanks to its seven built-in microphones. But if the speaker is still having trouble understanding what you’re saying there’s an easy fix: Just open the Alexa app on your phone and head to Menu > Settings > Your Voice > Begin to start the process, which includes 25 different phrases you’ll need to say.

2. RENAME ALEXA.

There are plenty of reasons why you might want to call your Echo something other than “Alexa.” Maybe it sounds too similar to your own name so you keep triggering the speaker by mistake, or maybe you just don’t like the way it sounds.

Either way, you’ve got options. You can rename Alexa to Amazon, Echo, or Computer by opening the Alexa app and heading to Menu > Settings. Then tap on the Echo device you want to change and click on Wake Word. You should see a drop-down menu with all the other names you can choose from. Pick the one you want and hit Save to confirm.

3. FORCE AN UPDATE.

Amazon updates the Echo’s software on a regular basis automatically, but if you’re missing out on some important new software there’s a way to force an update right now. All you have to do is press the physical button on your speaker to mute the microphone. Then leave it like that for 30 minutes, and that's it—your Echo should be updated when you switch the microphone back on.

4. MAKE YOUR ECHO REPEAT THE LAST THING IT SAID.

If you ask Alexa a question but you don’t catch the answer there’s an easy way to replay the last thing Amazon’s AI said. Just say “Alexa, can you repeat that?” to hear that last response again.

5. ASK ALEXA HOW TO SPELL A WORD.

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If you can’t remember how to spell a word you don’t need to look it up online or bother someone else in your home. Instead, just ask your Echo. All you need to do is say, “Alexa, how do you spell [BLANK]?” and Amazon’s AI will spit out a response.

6. FLIP A VIRTUAL COIN.

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Flipping a coin is a great way to settle simple disputes (like who should do the dishes or which show to watch), but what if you don’t have a coin to flip? Your Amazon Echo can help you settle the score with a simple virtual coin flip. Just say “Alexa, heads or tails” and you’ll get an impartial judge.

7. TUNE YOUR GUITAR (OR ANY OTHER INSTRUMENT).

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If you play the guitar, you’re probably used to tuning it on a regular basis, but you still might need some help every once in a while. All you have to do is say “Alexa, tune my guitar” and the smart speaker will cycle through the six notes used for regular tuning. You can also customize this skill based on your instrument and the key you’re playing in by saying something like “Alexa, ask the Violinist for a C.”

8. CUSTOMIZE YOUR NEWS BRIEFING.

You can ask your Echo for a news briefing by saying "Alexa, what's new?" or "Alexa, read me the news," but before you do you might want to pick and choose the sources it plays. Otherwise, your news briefing could last for a while, and you might end up hearing about a topic you don’t care about.

To customize this feature, open the Alexa app and go to Menu > Settings > Flash Briefing. You should see a list of media companies covering various topics, and opening "Get More Flash Briefing content" will open up another menu with more options. Select the ones you want so the next time you ask Alexa you’ll get the exact news you’re looking for.

9. GET PERSONALIZED TRAFFIC UPDATES.

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If you drive to work every day you might want to ask your Amazon Echo for a traffic update before leaving the house each morning. Thankfully, Alexa is more than up for the task, but you’ll have to share some personal information with the AI assistant first.

Just go to Menu > Settings >Traffic and then type in your home and work addresses. Now you can just say “Alexa, how is traffic?” or “Alexa, what’s my commute?” and Amazon will tell you what to expect from your drive.

10. MAKE SPOTIFY YOUR DEFAULT MUSIC SERVICE.

The Echo automatically defaults to playing music through Amazon’s streaming service, but if you’d rather listen on Spotify, that’s an option too. Just go to Menu > Settings > Music & Media > Customize My Music Preferences > Choose Default Music Services > Spotify.

Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t work for Apple Music or other streaming services, but there’s still an easy way to listen to Apple’s streaming service on your Echo. All you have to do is connect your phone to the smart speaker over Bluetooth and then stream the music directly from your phone instead.

11. ORDER A PIZZA.

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Craving a pizza, but don’t feel like lifting a finger? You can do it with a voice command. All you have to do is download the Domino’s Alexa Skill and link your account using the pizza-maker’s app. Then, when you’re hungry, just say “Alexa, open Domino’s” to launch the skill. From there, you can re-order your last pizza or opt for a pre-selected Easy Order.

12. CONTROL THE TEMPERATURE IN YOUR HOME WITH NEST.

If you have a Nest thermostat ($214) installed in your home, you can control the temperature with nothing but your voice. All you need to do is download this applet for If This Then That. After setting it up, you’ll be able to crank up the heat by simply saying, “Alexa, turn the temperature up.”

13. CLEAR YOUR VOICE RECORDINGS HISTORY.

Once you’re using your Amazon Echo like a pro, you may occasionally want to clear all the personal information it records. Thankfully, Amazon makes it easy to delete those voice command recordings. Just open the Alexa app and head to Menu > Settings > History. From there you can delete any individual recordings that might be a little too personal by tapping on the quote and selecting More > Delete Card.

If you’d rather clear your entire history at once, you can do that too. Just open this Amazon link in your browser. Then, select Your Devices, pick the Echo speaker in question, and select "Device Actions" and then “Manage voice recordings.” Finally, click on Delete to clear them all at once.

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Kodak’s New Cameras Don't Just Take Photos—They Also Print Them

Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Your Instagram account wishes it had this clout.
Kodak

Snapping a photo and immediately sharing it on social media is definitely convenient, but there’s still something so satisfying about having the printed photo—like you’re actually holding the memory in your hands. Kodak’s new STEP cameras now offer the best of both worlds.

As its name implies, the Kodak STEP Instant Print Digital Camera, available for $70 on Amazon, lets you take a picture and print it out on that very same device. Not only do you get to skip the irksome process of uploading photos to your computer and printing them on your bulky, non-portable printer (or worse yet, having to wait for your local pharmacy to print them for you), but you never need to bother with ink cartridges or toner, either. The Kodak STEP comes with special 2-inch-by-3-inch printing paper inlaid with color crystals that bring your image to life. There’s also an adhesive layer on the back, so you can easily stick your photos to laptop covers, scrapbooks, or whatever else could use a little adornment.

There's a 10-second self-timer, so you don't have to ask strangers to take your group photos.Kodak

For those of you who want to give your photos some added flair, you might like the Kodak STEP Touch, available for $130 from Amazon. It’s similar to the regular Kodak STEP, but the LCD touch screen allows you to edit your photos before you print them; you can also shoot short videos and even share your content straight to social media.

If you want to print photos from your smartphone gallery, there's the Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer. This portable $80 printer connects to any iOS or Android device with Bluetooth capabilities and can print whatever photos you send to it.

The Kodak STEP Instant Mobile Photo Printer connects to an app that allows you to add filters and other effects to your photos. Kodak

All three Kodak STEP devices come with some of that magical printer paper, but you can order additional refills, too—a 20-sheet set costs $8 on Amazon.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Slow-Motion Picture: Netflix Is Rolling Out New Playback Speed Controls

You can stay in the Daredevil universe just a bit longer with the slower playback options.
You can stay in the Daredevil universe just a bit longer with the slower playback options.
Netflix

Netflix is now letting some users adjust the playback speed of its content, meaning you can finish The Irishman in a mere fraction of its 3.5-hour run time (or make it last even longer).

As The Verge reports, viewers will have the option to watch videos at 0.5, 0.75, 1.25, or 1.5 times their normal speed, and the feature will be available for regular streaming content and offline downloads. So far, Netflix is only offering it to Android mobile users, but tests are in the works for iOS devices and the web app, too.

When Netflix shared plans to develop playback speed controls back in October 2019, some leaders in the entertainment industry voiced their opposition. Filmmaker Judd Apatow, for example, took to Twitter to explain that distributors like Netflix shouldn’t be allowed to alter content created by others. The streaming giant didn’t abandon the idea, but it did take the negative feedback into consideration. In a July 31 press release, Netflix explained that it was limiting the number of speeds to just four, and each program will always start playing at the normal speed—that way, viewers will have to consciously choose to speed up or slow down videos on a case-by-case basis.

And while content creators may dislike the thought of having less control over how people experience their work, it’s not a new concept. As Netflix pointed out, DVD players and DVRs have long included playback speed options—the feature has also been available on YouTube for years. More importantly, speed controls give users with vision impairments the opportunity to accelerate the audio—since some can process audio faster than sighted folks—and it gives deaf and hard-of-hearing users the chance to slow down the subtitles. Both the National Association of the Deaf and the National Federation of the Blind have endorsed Netflix’s new feature.

While you’re waiting for Netflix to expand the offering to iOS and web users, here are 25 other hacks to enhance your Netflix viewing experience.

[h/t The Verge]