The Amazon Echo has finally launched in the UK, with the smart speaker hitting homes 28 September and the smaller smart-enabled Echo Dot arriving in October.
The Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot are smart, really smart. Equipped with seven microphones and connected to the cloud, they use Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant to not only play music but arrange takeaway deliveries for you, control your home and even try and organise your life.
This isn’t all Amazon’s doing, though – it’s opened up to third-party app manufacturers which means that the list of services you will be able to use with your new Echo will continue to grow. In the US, for instance, there’s now 3,000 apps that work with the Amazon Echo.
These services are called ‘Skills’ and can be found by going to the Alexa app and clicking on the Skills section. There you will see the many different Skills on offer.
As the Echo is brand new in the UK, the Skills list will be smaller at launch but this is our pick of the services you should be using with the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.
Music and audio
Given the Amazon Echo is a smart speaker, music and audio services will be the most used on the device. While there’s noticeable absentees here – Google Play Music and Apple Music aren’t currently supported – there’s plenty more that are….
“Alexa, play Ed Sheeran for me” is something you should never say, ever. But if you really wanted to listen to the ginger whinger you can do through the Echo by muttering the magic words.
This is an obvious one. Amazon is baking in as many Amazon-related services into the Echo and Echo Dot as it possibly can – given that’s where its money lies. Prime Music is one that will work straight away with the Echo. Just say something like: “Alexa, play tawdry ’90s tunes that will make me reevaluate my life and wish I had really learned something at school on Amazon Prime please.” If that doesn’t work: “Alexa, play Colplay on Prime Music” will.
Amazon Echo will also work with TuneIn, which is a big bonus if you are someone who likes to hear some of the more obscure radio stations the world has to offer. “Alexa, play Obscure Fm on TuneIn” will no doubt be muttered in homes across the UK in no time.
Radio Player is the much more UK centric radio app, made in conjunction with the BBC. Which means you can get awesome stations such as 6 Music just by asking Alexa for them in your dulcet British tone.
Another Amazon company, Audible is the biggest proprietor of audiobooks around and now you can listen to them through an Echo, just by asking Alexa for the book – making it the most hands-free (non)reading experience yet.
There’s an array of travel-related Skills available for the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, which may seem strange as these aren’t portable devices. But the idea is you can get travel information from the device and even book services as well…
BMW is a launch partner, with the car company linking its own BMW Connected personal assistant up with the Echo. This means you will be able to get battery and fuel level information before you set foot in your car, as well as the ability to lock your car remotely.
That’s right, Alexa will now tell you the inevitable: your train IS late and it’s because of leaves on the train, or other such nonsense. Having National Rail functionality means that you can plan your journey in advance without having to go into the National Rail app – Alexa will just tell you the bad news instead.
Uber is always first to jump on innovations and that’s what’s happened here. One of the first Skills you will be able to download for you Echo will be the ability to order an Uber by asking Alexa nicely. Perfect if you are still in your house, not so perfect if it’s 3am and you’ve stumbled out of a club into the middle of nowhere. Shouting “Alexa, Alexa!” at this time will merely garner strange looks from drunken folks munching on their kebabs.
The brilliant SkySkanner app will be available through the Echo. So you can search for flights with a voice command and Alexa will notify you of any bargains that may be worth snapping up.
Food and drink
If you ask Alexa nicely, it will order a takeaway for you, thanks to Just Eat. And you can be really lazy with it too – it’ll even take the command: “Alexa order the last thing I had from Just Eat again.”
This ‘prawper nawty’ Skill means that you won’t have to touch your smartphone or tablet with food-encrusted hands again. Mr Oliver has made his recipes available through Alexa and the Echo, so the recipes will be recited to you, rather than you having to scroll through them. You can’t blame Alexa if your food doesn’t taste quite like how Jamie envisioned it, though. That’s down to your own terrible baking skills.
Whether it’s good or bad news, Alexa and Echo is there if you want to hear breaking news snippets before heading out of the house into the scary big world…
Alexa and Echo will also offer up sports information that comes with a UK slant. Anything you need from the Premier League and beyond will be available through the Sky Sports Skill – even if skill is something that’s lacking in the latest Sunderland game.
If you are a fan of the Telegraph and its definitely-not-Tory-skewed rhetoric then you can get all the latest world goings-on from Alexa in this way. Just mutter: “Alexa, ask the Telegraph for the top stories” and get ready for a Bexit-fest.
The Guardian is also available through Echo and Alexa. “Alexa, ask the Guardian for headlines” will shower you with a more left-leaning news offering.
Given Sky News throws around the words ‘breaking news’ like they are confetti, you may regret asking for the main stories of the day, but you can do so through Alexa, just by asking for Sky News.
Home is where the smart is when it comes to the Amazon Echo and Alexa. The smart speaker really wants to be the centre of the smarthome and that’s why Amazon has teamed up with a whole array of smarthome makers…
Hive has slowly but surely become a powerhouse in the UK smarthome sector. Owned by British Gas it has branched out into smart heating systems, smart bulbs and sensors. Its partnership means that saying “Alexa, tell Hive to set the temperature to 22 degrees” will do just. You can also control the lights in the room with your voice, as well as anything connected to a Hive active plug. Smart stuff.
EDF Energy has teamed up with Echo so you can check your meter readings, billing etc by asking Alexa. Warning: hearing about your electricity bills will be as painful as reading about them.
Another smarthome contender has joined the dots with Alexa. The Netatmo Smart Thermostat can be controlled by your Amazon Echo, just by asking to turn up or down the temperature.
Wemo is already part of Apple’s HomeKit so it makes sense that it is available through the Amazon Echo and Alexa too. Wemo specialise in smart plugs and lighting so you will be able to switch off Wemo integrated appliances by asking Alexa.
As well as launching in the UK, the Amazon Echo is also now available in Germany – a place where Tado is huge. It’s also gaining traction in the UK too, and will have Alexa integration. Tado deals in the hot area of smart heating.
Philips has done wonders with Hue, its smart bulb business. While they are a little pricey, the ability to control the lighting in your home and offer an array of fancy colours is great – and now you can do all this with your voice, thanks to Alexa.
The Amazon Echo works best when it is trying to essentially sort out your life. You can ask it what the weather is going to be like, what meetings you have and it’ll even sort your washing out for you…
Laundry isn’t the sexiest thing to do – no matter what those old Levi adverts tried to tell us – so the ability to get someone else to do it through an app is fantastic. And it’s now even better you can ask Alexa to wash your filthy smalls for you.
There’s many smart things you can do with the Amazon Echo, such as setting alarms, but having calendar integration is one of the best. Alexa will tap into your Google Calendar if you let it and tell you when you have big meetings coming up.
Okay, so this is pretty much the antithesis of productivity but if you are bored, then you can also play a little game of Jeopardy with Alexa. Say, “Alexa, play Jeopardy” and you will be saying “What is the new smart speaker system with Alexa on board?” in no time.
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