Keeping Up With Alexa Commands

Keeping Up with Alexa Commands: July 20th

Learn ways you can use Alexa and Echo devices in this weekly series. Highlighted below are all the new or newly-promoted Alexa commands that Amazon released this week. While duds are rare, I weed out the good from the bad, so you don’t have to. So if you’re wondering what new things to say or ask Alexa, you’ve come to the right place.

Today’s post covers 20 commands, growing the series’ current list of over 300 commands to give Alexa. Keep scrolling to see the full list or use the table of contents to skip to a category that most interests you. And if you’re pushed for time, jump to the highlights section at the end.

Keeping Up with Alexa

Welcome new readers. As a brief refresher, each week Amazon releases Alexa commands—whether brand new, newly-updated, or newly-promoted—within its promotional eblasts. But these feeds aren’t for the faint of heart. Amazon omits instructions for how to use each command and sometimes throws into the mix either duds or entirely broken commands that are likely to make you frustrated. 

That’s why I created this weekly roundup called “Keeping Up With Alexa.” Each Monday, you’ll see not only the full list of Alexa commands that Amazon releases, but also a thorough walk-through of how each works with added commentary from me on which commands are actually worth using. 

What Can Alexa Do

Welcome to the 3rd newsletter of July. In case you missed it, the July 13th newsletter sparked some great reader discussions in the comments. I welcome you to kick us off with your thoughts or feedback on this week’s commands in the comments below. I’m all ears. 

What’s also worth noting is if a command has already been covered in a previous newsletter, I’ll include a link to the original walk-through. Otherwise, all other Alexa commands Amazon released this week are covered directly within this post. Ready? Let’s get started.

Alarms

“Alexa, wake me up at 6 AM with bedroom lights”

Right off the bat, I arrive at my favorite command for the week based on its usefulness for how it integrates with other smart devices in your home. The command showcases some of the cool experiences made possible by combining Alexa with things like Smart Lights. Essentially with this command, you’re able to create alarms with Alexa that turn on Smart Lights for you.

For instance, when I use this command with a light called “Computer Room Light,” Alexa quickly responds with: “alarm set 11:10am with Computer Room.” I used 11:10am instead, as that’s close to my current time. 

In the Alexa App, the alarm looks a bit different, showing a setting called “Wake-up Light.”

Alexa Alarm with Wake-up Light
Alexa Alarm with Wake-up Light

Here’s when the real magic happens: 10 minutes before the alarm time, the light I targeted turns on, and with each passing minute, it slowly gets brighter.

When the alarm time arrives, the alarm goes off as normal. My Echo Show chimes, while telling me “Good Morning.” In the end, the light is at 50% brightness. 

For those of you who like waking up a bit more naturally, this capability will help, especially if you set your light color to soft orange or yellow to mirror the sunrise. And if you want to add to this experience even more, you can ask Alexa to set your alarm sound to a preferred playlist, like waves crashing or birds chirping for the full sunrise effect.

Alexa Skills

“Alexa, find skills to try”

When I give this command, Alexa tells me about different Alexa Skills I could try.

Alexa doesn’t make these recommendations specific to your interests, so expect to hear similar suggestions each time you use this command. On the bright side, Alexa has a ton of skills to potentially recommend, so you could find a good one to try that you wouldn’t normally have known existed. 

But for those who prefer a quicker scan of their options, I’d recommend going to the skills store directly and exploring from there. 

“Alexa, help me sleep”

Here’s a command that offers very different behavior based on what Alexa-enabled device you use. So before trying this out, first consider the device you have on-hand and the type of help you’re wanting for falling asleep. 

When I use this command on an Echo Show, Alexa begins playing a video from Wikihow. The video offers a handful of tips to help with sleep, such as rhythmic breathing exercises, and ironically, suggesting limiting all screen and video time. So watching a video while you’re trying to sleep might not help you as much. 

When instead I use this command on an Echo Dot, Alexa asks me what options I’d like to try: Audible, sleep sounds, or podcast skills. From there, Alexa lists out a variety of skills and their brief descriptions and asks which I want to try out. In essence, Alexa has me exploring Alexa Skills, much like with the previous command. The problem you may run into with this similarity is your intent has changed, as I have the assumption that you, much like myself, want to sleep now—not in 30 minutes after shopping for a new skill. So this experience might not help you either. 

Overall, it’s safe to say I’m not a fan of this command as it’s likely to keep you awake longer. Instead, I’d suggest skipping this all together and playing your favorite sleep sounds to catch quicker Zs.

“Alexa, how can I create my own skill?”

This command gives you an introduction into Alexa Blueprints, a service that lets you easily and quickly create your own personal skill, tailored to your needs.

I’m a big fan of Alexa Blueprints, especially as it’s helped my wife and I settle our spats with household chores. To hear more about this, view how I create my own skill with Blueprints from the May 4th newsletter.  

“Alexa, open Meditation Timer”

Think of this Alexa Skill as a combination of ambient noise and a sleep timer. For instance, when I use this command, Alexa asks me for a time duration and then starts playing ambient noise.

For a better idea of what this skill can do, check out the Alexa Skills section for my full May 4th walk-through.

But truthfully, I think it’s even more powerful to create your own sleep timer with whatever music you’d like. To learn more, view how to set up music timers from the July 13th newsletter. 

Audible

“Alexa, read me a mystery”
“Murder at Midnight” by Jeff Woodman
“Murder at Midnight” by Jeff Woodman

If you’re looking for a new—and free—murder mystery for your daily commute, this command is for you. See my original walk through of this Audible command from the June 1st newsletter. 

Information

“Alexa, give me a nutrition tip”

When I give this command, Alexa shares the below tip:

“Did you know that being thirsty often gets confused with being hungry? Drink a glass of water first and see how you feel afterwards. This little trick will keep you hydrated all day.”

This is good food for thought (see what I did there?) as I tend to over-snack and not drink enough water throughout the day. 

Alexa makes it easy to hear a handful of these tips with offering the follow-up command “next tip.” If you’re like me and need a gentle nutrition poke, give this command a shot. 

Jokes

“Alexa, beatbox for me”

Alexa drops some phat beats with this command. And each time you ask, Alexa gives you a different rhythmic sound to rap to. 

To be honest, I had a hard time categorizing this. Do you think it’s more of a joke or music command? Drop me a beat below in the form of a comment. I’m all ears. 

“Alexa, open the pod bay doors”
HAL

What’s this? Oh, you know, just a friendly robot who loves humans. 

Gulp… yep, totally friendly shade of red we have there. 

Something tells me this command won’t go as planned….

In case you missed the reference, this command is a quote from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.” And if the above internal dialogue isn’t warning enough, don’t expect Alexa to be kind to you once you give this command. 

By the way, if you’re a fan of amusing SyFy commands, check out the Jokes section from April 24th’s newsletter. 

“Alexa, what is your lucky number?”

What’s your guess—what number does Alexa like the most?

Here’s a hint: it’s not 42, which was my guess.

Music

“Alexa, follow Future on Amazon Music”

Amazon recently added the ability to follow artists on Amazon Music via Alexa. By following an artist, Amazon Music will send you notifications when he or she has something new to offer.

For more details, view the Music section’s writeup from May 25th’s newsletter. The biggest thing to note is this command is specific to Amazon Music. Other music providers, like Spotify, don’t support the “follow artist” Alexa capability yet—as much as I wish it did. 

“Alexa, turn up the bass”

With this command, Alexa increases the Bass setting on my Echo’s equalizer. Check out how to find this setting in the Alexa App.  

While we’re at it, here are a few other music commands that let you tweak your Echo’s sound quality:

  • “Alexa, turn up the mid” — Turns up the Midrange setting
  • “Alexa, turn up the treble” — Turns up the Treble setting
  • “Alexa, reset the bass” — Resets the Bass setting back to the default

Productivity

“Alexa, add ‘Family Dinner’ to the schedule tonight at 7 PM”

In my opinion, this command is a dud. It doesn’t add an event to your calendar, as you may expect it to, but instead adds an item to the To-Do list.

Sadly, this command and Alexa’s response isn’t new, either. I first uncovered the strange Alexa behavior in my walk-through on May 18th. 

“Alexa, join my meeting”

With this command, Amazon helps move Alexa into the conference room, not just the living room. Turns out, you can integrate Alexa with a bunch of popular video chat systems, like Zoom and Skype. From there, it’s easy to see how you can use an Echo Show to conduct video meetings.

For instance, after I give this command, Alexa lets me know that I can add meeting information on a calendar invite. And if Alexa sees this info, Alexa will attempt to automatically join the video call for you.

If you’re looking for more info on how to use Alexa for video conferencing, check out Amazon’s update on the AWS blog.

“Alexa, make a note… My driver’s license expires on December 3rd, 2020”

Here’s an old but solid command, and coincidentally, a favorite Alexa capability of mine. If you want to see some useful ways Alexa can understand notes, view April 17th’s newsletter. 

Shopping

“Alexa, remove milk from my shopping list”

When I use this command, Alexa checks off the item called “milk” from the list called “shopping list.” The item isn’t removed, like I first expected, and if I don’t have an item named “milk,” Alexa simply does nothing.

If you’re a fan of this command, check out similar shopping list Alexa commands from May 11th. 

Smart Home

“Alexa, add the lamp to the living room group”

Once you have more than one or two Smart Lights, controlling them individually can become annoying. That’s why groups are invaluable in the Smart Home space.

While you can make groups with the Alexa App, if you’re in a pinch for time, you can use Alexa instead to add smart devices to your groups. This command is especially handy for when you’re setting things up but forget to add a smart device.

“Alexa, enable the good morning routine”

Here’s a simple introduction to Alexa routines. When I use this command, Alexa tells me the “good morning” routine is enabled. Now I only need to say “good morning” to trigger it. And if I want to customize it, I just have to go to the Alexa App.

On my phone, I see a notification that sends me right to the settings for my good morning routine.

Default Good Morning Routine
Default Good Morning Alexa Routine

From there, I can see what will happen when I say the command “good morning.” For instance, the routine will: 

  1. Tell of something new about Alexa
  2. Give a weather report
  3. Start Flash Briefing

Pretty useful, right? While routines are certainly more advanced, they’re worth the small learning curve to set it up in crafting your own commands. If you’re interested in me sharing a full walk-through of Alexa routines, please let me know in the comments below. 

“Alexa, what am I holding?”

This command is meant to be used on an Echo Show, as Alexa claims to be able to identify objects that you put in front of your camera. 

To test this out, I use a Magic 8 Ball. Let’s see how well Alexa does.

When I use this command, Alexa starts an Alexa Skill called “Show and Tell.” I’m then given a rather lengthy explanation of how it works and how I should position what I’m holding in front of the camera so Alexa can see it.

But right off the bat, I hit a bug. The first two times I tried the command, Alexa closed the camera while telling me to place an item in front of it, leaving me scratching my head with nothing happening. I ultimately had to ask the command three times, each of which restarted the lengthy skill explanation. 

Not a good start, and while I’d love to say the time spent was well worth it for the conclusion, sadly, Alexa didn’t completely identify my object. 

While Alexa did know that the Magic 8 Ball was made by Mattel, Alexa only called the item in my hands “8.” No bueno. The amount of effort and time it took to have Alexa identify this was far too long.

Instead, if you’re looking to identify an item, or look for it on Amazon, I’d suggest trying the feature built into the Amazon App. Learn about this better shopping feature in April 24’s newsletter. 

Timers

“Alexa, cancel my 10 minute timer”

Have you started a timer that you no longer need? Cancel it with this Alexa command.

Learn more about finding active timers in the Alexa App from April 3rd’s newsletter.

Highlights

Command Category Breakdown

It’s no surprise Alexa Skills tops the category list for having the most commands from this week. But with the growing marketplace, it’s common to feel overwhelmed with just how many options and new commands there are to learn. If you’re looking to get the most out of customizing your Alexa experience, I’d suggest jumping to Blueprints and skipping the rest. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the Alarms section ranked lowest this week for offering new Alexa commands. That said, it featured my favorite command on how to use your smart lights as a sunrise alarm clock. Jump to it here

What perhaps is most surprising of all is that the Smart Home section bulks up this week with new commands. If you have several smart home devices, jump to the section to learn how Alexa can help with groups.  

Beyond this week’s commands, I’d like to shout-out about Alexa Live 2020 next week where Amazon will hopefully unveil new Alexa features. Stay tuned for my recap. 

Did you learn a new Alexa command this week? Or would you like to weigh in on any of the highlights from above? Leave a comment below.

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