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.

Menu screen for Amazon Alexa voice training

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.

Amazon Alexa menu for changing wake word

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.

pages of a dictionary
iStock

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.

Flipping a coin
iStock

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).

Man and daughter playing guitar
iStock

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.

Amazon Alexa flash briefing menu

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.

Traffic
iStock

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.

pizza with toppings
iStock

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.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

Turn Your Favorite Photos Into Works of Art With Google’s Art App

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Edvard Munch's "The Scream"
Edvard Munch, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

If your local art museum is closed, a new app from Google Arts & Culture will make the photos in your camera roll worthy of gallery consideration. As Gizmodo reports, the Art Transfer feature uses artificial intelligence to reimagine any image you upload in the style of a famous artist.

If you've already downloaded Arts & Culture for Android or iOS, hit the camera icon at the bottom of the app and select Art Transfer. From here, you can either snap a photo or choose an existing picture saved on your phone. Google then gives you a variety of art styles to choose from. You can transform your cat into Edvard Munch's The Scream, for example, or turn your brunch pic from last month into a piece of Yayoi Kusama pop art.

The feature doesn't just apply filters; it uses machine learning to edit the colors, textures, and even shapes in the image you upload.

Dog image inspired by Man from Naples.
Michele Debczak/Mental Floss, Google Arts & Culture

Pizza picture inspired by The Scream.
Michele Debczak/Mental Floss, Google Arts & Culture

Two years ago, Google Arts & Culture rolled out a similar feature that matched users' selfies to their art lookalikes. The difference with this one is that instead of showing you existing art, it creates an entirely new image by combining your photo with a famous artwork.

You can download Arts & Culture for free today from the App Store or Google Play. After having fun with the new feature, you can use the app to virtually explore landmarks, museums, and other cultural institutions from the comfort of your home.

[h/t Gizmodo]

The Top 25 Bestselling E-Books on Amazon Right Now

Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
Is she reading Harry Potter for the 15th time?
grinvalds/iStock via Getty Images

Right now, the ability to access books on your tablet or phone—without leaving your house or waiting days for an order to arrive in the mail—seems more magical than ever. With just about every book at your fingertips, however, it might be a little difficult to decide which one to choose.

You could ask for recommendations from friends and family, or use this website, which specializes in personalized reading lists based on books you’ve already read and loved. Or you could check out Amazon’s current list of bestselling e-books—updated by the hour—to see what the general population just can’t get enough of. As of this morning (March 31), Elle Marr’s highly anticipated thriller The Missing Sister sits in the number one spot; since its publication date isn’t until April 1, that means it’s gotten to the top of the list on pre-orders alone.

There are several other riveting thrillers on the list, including Dean Koontz’s latest, In the Heart of the Fire, and Christopher Greyson’s murder mystery The Girl Who Lived. Plenty of other genres are well-represented, too, from Stephen R. Covey’s classic self-help book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People to Jory John’s charming children’s story The Bad Seed.

And, of course, it would hardly seem like a bestseller list if Harry Potter didn’t make an appearance or two. According to this data, more than a few people are spending their quarantine time reading (or re-reading) J.K. Rowling’s beloved series—Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets are at number seven and number 17, respectively.

Look through March 31’s top 25 below:

  1. The Missing Sister by Elle Marr // $5
  1. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis // $13
  1. Wall of Silence by Tracy Buchanan // $5
  1. The Bad Seed by Jory John // $13
  1. The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms // $2
  1. Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Last Bathing Beauty by Amy Sue Nathan // $5
  1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey // $6
  1. When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal // $5
  1. Rough Edge by Lauren Landish // $4
  1. The Library at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy // $1
  1. If You Tell by Gregg Olsen // $2
  1. Now, Then, and Everywhen by Rysa Walker // $5
  1. The Girl Who Lived by Christopher Greyson // $10
  1. Rain Will Come by Thomas Holgate // $5
  1. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling // $9
  1. The Other Family by Loretta Nyhan // $5
  1. In the Heart of the Fire by Dean Koontz // $2
  1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng // $10
  1. Pete the Cat and the Missing Cupcakes by James Dean // $8
  1. The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson // $15
  1. Unlimited Memory by Kevin Horsley // $10
  1. Lift Her Up by T.S. Joyce // $1
  1. In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn // $5

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

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