“Mommy, do I need a jacket?”
“Mommy, what’s for dinner?”
“Mommy, what time is practice?”
“Mommy, can I have a play date?”
“Mommy, what’s 21 divided by 9?”
“Mommy, what is Joe’s phone number?”
Ever had one of those days when you wished you could put your mom duties on autopilot? Wished you had someone to answer the barrage of questions from both your kids—and your spouse? When did you inherit the job of “all-knowing being” anyway?
Tell your family you’ve changed your name from “mommy” to “Alexa”
Alexa, from Amazon Echo, can literally answer all the of the above questions, plus help with a litany of other unexpected tasks and routines such as distributing chores, suggesting dinner menus (or ordering in for that matter), serving as a household intercom, turning on and off lights, music, and appliances (“coffee!”)—even when you forget and you’re away from home.
At the most basic level, Alexa delivers instant information from the internet and her own database. She also plays music, news, weather, entertainment, stocks, jokes, and shares upcoming events. However, the REAL magic happens when you connect other apps, devices and create your own personal routines.
Here are a few of our favorite ways we love using Alexa.
Track everyone’s schedule
If you don’t already have your family on Google Calendar (ideally, each person with a separate calendar), take a moment right now and create your free account. This makes schedule-juggling way easier. Next, connect your account in the skills section of the Alexa app. You and your kids can ask her things like, “What’s on my schedule today?”, “Am I free next week?”, “What time is my hockey practice?” and if you ask nicely, she will remind you in advance when it’s time to leave.
Customize daily routines
You can create custom routines using simple rules for Alexa to do when prompted. For example, “When X happens” (you speak a voice command, arrive or depart from a location, an event happens, or smoke is detected) then Alexa will do “Y”—call the fire department! This can also be a series of actions. For example, when Alexa hears, “Good Morning,” she could: 1. Turn on the lights 2. Say, “Good Morning Sunshine! Rise and shine! You are awesome! Go have an amazing day” 3. Turn on the coffee pot 4. Report the weather 5. Announce your schedule 5. Play your favorite uplifting song. The possibilities are endless.
Set timers and reminders for everything
This is handy for cooking, for homework, for taking turns, for waking up, for bedtime, for working out, and for working more efficiently. Keeping your household running on time and smoothly is the beginning of a happier and stress-free home.
Create grocery lists, shopping lists, and to do lists
True, you can use SIRI’s Reminders app on your iPhone to do the same, but there’s something magical about speaking items to-be-purchased into the air, have them added to your list, and then later sent to your phone by text or email. If you want to sync your Amazon To Do list and Grocery List with your iPhone Reminders list, you can do that, too, using a separate app called IFTTT. It’s very cool—check it out.
Get new meal ideas
Enable Meal Idea in the skills section of the Alexa app. When you say, “Alexa, open meal idea,” she’ll give you ideas using basic, every day ingredients you already have in your pantry or fridge.
“Drop In” on a room using an intercom
Hmm. Is it too quiet in there? Use Alexa to drop in on a room to hear what’s going on. You won’t be a complete stalker as it sounds an alert announcing Alexa is listening in, but the feature does come in handy, especially when you don’t feel like making your way upstairs and down the hall to deliver a message. You can make household announcements like, “Dinner time,” “Remember to make your bed,” or “We’re leaving in five minutes.” You can also drop in on a room when you’re away from home to make kissy sounds for your sweet poochy, kitty or parrot. They’ll be glad to hear your voice.
Bored kids? Play family Bingo
Here’s an easy, wholesome way to unplug, with the help of automation—ironic isn’t it? Make up your own Bingo cards and enable Alexa’s Bingo skill. Say the word “next” to hear the next letter and number combination until you have a winner.
Let them play twenty questions with Alexa
Enable Twenty Questions, and let your kids keep Alexa guessing for a change as to what they have in mind. She’s quite intelligent and usually capable of guessing what they’re thinking once she’s given enough clues.
Can’t sleep? Count sheep
Kids and grownups alike can have trouble falling asleep. Enable the skill Sheep Count and listen to Alexa count sheep for you. The sound effects are fun, charming, and repetitive enough to softly lull you into the zone.
Play an audio bedtime story
When you’re running short on creative bedtime stories, ask Alexa to help out. Enable The Magic Door, Short Bedtime Story, or a series of other story apps in the skills section of the app.
Play your favorite song or playlist
If you have a paid Spotify account—which is so worth it—Alexa will play exactly the song or playlist you want to hear. It’s like having instant radio, without commercials. Otherwise, for free music, connect to Pandora or a breadth of other music partners in the skills section of the Alexa app.
Plays nicely with Amazon Fire TV
Amazon Firestick is like Apple TV, but with all the free movies you get with your paid Amazon Prime account. You can also talk to your TV screen pulling up everything from your connected apps, just mentioned above.
Choose from a number of free guided meditations in the skills section of the Alexa app. You can start your day with a mindful morning session, or drift off to sleep with an evening meditation in bed. If you have a paid Headspace account (also worth it), Alexa will connect and play a specific meditation on command.
Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are the two top products among the various Amazon products available. I recommend the Echo Dot for its discreet, compact size, excellent sound quality, endless functionality, and irresistible price. During Christmas, the Echo Dot retailed as low as $20. Now, prices range from $22-$44 for the newest 3rd generation model, depending on whether you want a clock on the front or not.
Do you have a smart home? Are you connecting through Amazon, Google or Apple? What devices have your connected? What’s your favorite functionality? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.