Keeping Up With Alexa Commands

Keeping Up with Alexa Commands: May 11th

Learning Alexa commands is crucial to getting the best out of your Amazon Echo, Echo Show, or other Alexa-enabled devices. But keeping up with the latest tips and tricks can be daunting. After all, how do you cut through all the noise to find the commands actually worth using? That’s where this week’s roundup comes in.

Learning all the new–or newly promoted–commands for Amazon’s Voice Assistant doesn’t have to be a slog. I’ve done all the slogging for you by reviewing Amazon’s newsletter and highlighting which are worth trying out below. 

So go ahead, keep scrolling to see the full list or toggle to specific categories that interest you.   

Keeping Up with Alexa

Welcome to May’s second weekly roundup. As a refresher, each week I compile all the new–or newly promoted–Alexa commands that Amazon releases in its weekly newsletter and other promotional feeds. I then test each command to weed out the good from the bad (and rarely ugly), so you don’t have to. 

In case you missed it, Keeping Up with Alexa Commands: May 4th featured commands relevant to Space Day and Star Wars Day, or training as a Jedi with Alexa.

Now with introductions out of the way, grab a seat and let’s get started. 

What Can Alexa Do

Reader Note: not all 19 commands listed below are “new-new,” as Amazon typically promotes a mix of new, newly-updated, or newly-promoted commands that are older but aren’t well known. While it may be new to you, I’ll certainly do my best to mention if a command isn’t in fact new to Amazon’s platform.

Alexa Skills

“Alexa, open Box of Cats”
Red Flag
This command earns a red flag!

Box of Cats is an Alexa Skill that causes Alexa to sound like a cat, meowing at you via different cat and kitten sounds. But parents beware: before letting your kids try this, know that this skill includes premium features that are really easy to accidentally purchase. Your young ones, if left unattended, will likely breeze through premium setup, leaving your wallet a bit lighter.

So, how does this command work? When I use this command, Alexa starts meowing. Then she asks me to say “meow” back. After a few cycles of this back-and-forth, Alexa mentions a premium feature called “Unlimited Meows.” For just a dollar, Alexa will loop multiple cat sounds instead of just one. 

The “gotcha” here is in Amazon’s low barrier to entry before it starts charging you. All you need to do is say “yes” twice when asked if you want to hear about the premium feature and if you accept the charge. Luckily, this premium feature is a one-time fee, so at least you—or your kiddos—won’t make the purchase more than once. But after looking at recent reviews, there does appear to be more premium features that the skill upsells you on, thereby racking up the charges.

To be fair, the skill has solid reviews from over 16,000 users with a 3.5 out of 5 star rating. However, many of the recent reviews are of parents that got stuck with these unexpected charges after their kids tried this skill.

Overall, this command isn’t something I’d recommend. I feel it’s primarily targeting kids to get a few dollars from your Amazon account through Alexa. If you’re really looking for cat sounds to play, try out Cat Sounds instead by saying: “Alexa, start Cat Sounds.”

If you do end up using Box of Cats, I’d at least recommend looking at the Voice Purchasing settings in the Alexa App. From there, you can disable purchase by voice entirely (which is on by default) or setup a passcode to give before being charged. You can also setup Parental Controls for Kid Skills. This setting is a bit more iffy, though, as not all skills are correctly labeled “Kid Skills”–like this one.

How to find Voice Purchasing in the Alexa App:

  1. Open the Alexa App
  2. Tap on Settings
  3. Tap on Account Settings
  4. Tap on Voice Purchasing
Voice Purchasing Settings in the Alexa App
Voice Purchasing Settings in the Alexa App
“Alexa, launch MoonPie MoonMate”

MoonPie MoonMate is a new Alexa Skill that launched this week. The skill offers light-hearted conversations that you can expect to have with a roommate (or “MoonMate”), with promotional comments sprinkled in about MoonPies.

After a quick Google search, you’ll find a number of articles–seemingly sponsored by Moonpie–promoting the new skill. What I find interesting is this trend for companies to create branded chatbots with Alexa Skills. 

Overall, the skill itself is not particularly useful. When I tried the command, I got a ton of “sorry, I don’t understand” replies. What’s more, the recent reviews seem suspect as they don’t feel genuine.

“Alexa, turn on Song ID”

Song ID is Alexa’s way to identify songs that are playing. Amazon highlighted this command back on March 27th. You can check out the recap via the Alexa Skills section.

Communication

“Alexa, call mom”

If you didn’t call your Mom yesterday, you may want to try this command… and probably send some flowers. On April 3rd, Amazon highlighted “Alexa, make a call” in the Communication section. That’s really similar to this command. The difference here being you specify who you want to call. 

If you want to give this one a shot, don’t forget to first make “Mom” a contact in the Alexa App. If you don’t setup this contact, Alexa will ask you for the exact name in your address book instead.

“Alexa, join my meeting”

Amazon already highlighted this command last week in the Communication section. The command itself isn’t very useful for everyday consumers, unless you set up meetings with family members on Zoom. Because of that, I’m inclined to skip this command altogether.

Cooking

“Alexa, tell me about sweet potatoes”

Alexa provides a different experience for this command, depending on which Echo device you’re using.

With an Echo Show (I finally have one!), Alexa displays a list of 25 different recipes that focus on sweet potatoes. Alexa also reads and highlights the top 4 from the list. Alexa then waits for you to select a recipe from the touch screen.

Alexa cooking command on Echo Show
Echo Show doesn’t support screenshots, so here’s what it looks like from my phone.

With an Echo device that doesn’t have a screen (like an Echo Dot), Alexa instead recommends only the top recipe from the list. Alexa provides basic information about the recipe itself and asks if you want to get more details or if you want to hear about the next recipe in the list.

If you have a screen-enabled device, I think this command is definitely worth trying out. Otherwise, it’s not as useful.

“Alexa, how do I make chicken stock?”

Amazon highlighted this command back on March 27th in the Cooking section.

Turns out, the user experience is quite useful with an Echo Show and is similar to the previous cooking command. Alexa shows you a list of 25 recipes for Chicken Stock, this time opting to forego reading aloud the top recipes and instead listing them all out for you to select from. 

Games

“Alexa, let’s play a game for kids”

This command lets you discover new games that are designed with kids in mind. When I ask this command, Alexa gives me several game categories to choose from, including: Memory and Math.

Being the computer nerd that I am, I chose Math. Alexa then tells me about a skill called Lemonade Stand and asks if I want to try it out. Once agreeing, Alexa directs me to check out the skill’s card in the Alexa App in order for me to move forward. 

Here’s what the card looks like in the Alexa App:

Kid Skills Permission Screenshot
Kid Skill Permission Screenshot

Notice the “Allow” button. Alexa needs a guardian, or the account owner in my case, to enable this skill. 

Turns out, Lemonade Stand is marked as a “kid skill” where special permissions apply. Finding out that category information early on is a bit tough on the Alexa Skills page. It’s only mentioned right above the enable button:

Kid Skill Identification
Kid Skill Identification

At this point, you might be asking just what is a kid skill? According to developer documentation, a kid skill is any Alexa Skill that’s intended for children “under the age of 13” for U.S. and India or “under the age of 16” for those in other parts of the world, like in the U.K. or Japan. 

The biggest benefit to these age-minded skills is they  limit the floodgates of ads being served up to your kids, with the only allowed advertising being related to in-skill upsells. Fortunately, you do have further control over advertising via the kids in-purchasing setting. Another benefit is kid skills don’t collect any personal info from its users.

Now with categories out of the way, let’s get back to Lemonade Stand. After clicking “Allow” in the Alexa App, I’m sent to the Alexa Skill page where I need to also click “Enable to Use.” I’m then prompted to login to my Amazon account to verify myself.

With permissions given and the skill finally enabled, I then ask my Echo Dot: “Alexa, open Lemonade Stand.” 

From there, the Alexa Skill simulates a classic lemonade stand business. You’ll be asked to help create the picturesque scene by answering how many cups you want to make, how much each cup costs, how much the advertising sign costs, what the weather is–and so on. At the end of the day, Alexa tells you how many cups of lemonade you sold and how much money you made.

This skill is a clever way to teach kids about math and what goes into running a small business. I’m a big fan. And depending on how well you do in selling lemonade each day, the skill gives you rewards and badges.

After checking out the reviews, there seems to be a few other interesting features, like a ranking system or scoreboard of all players. I can definitely see kids getting into the competitive spirit of the game with wanting to sell more lemonade each day. And speaking of reviews—the skill has over 2,000 of them with a stellar 4.5 out of 5 star rating. So if you’re looking for an educational game with your kid that also brings out the nostalgia from your own childhood—look no further. 

Information

“Alexa, how much does an elephant weigh?”

Any guesses? How much does an elephant weigh? I’m thinking 1 ton. Let’s see what Alexa says. 

This time for testing out the command, let’s use the Alexa App:

Elephant Weight Screenshot
Elephant Weight Screenshot

Boy, am I off! Next time I’ll hold onto my guesses and ask Alexa first. 

And in case you’re like me and left wondering how many pounds are in a ton…

Ton to Pounds conversion
Ton-to-Pounds Conversion Screenshot
“Alexa, tell me about the movie Finding Nemo”

With this command, Alexa gives a high-level explanation of the movie, including: the cast roster, movie rating, and release date–all from IMDb, which is owned by Amazon. 

You’ll find no upsells when using this command on an Echo Dot or a Fire TV (surprisingly). I fully expected to find a “Watch now on Amazon Prime” button lurking somewhere, but none are found. Pretty nice. Alexa just gives you what you ask for—a quick, straight-forward description.

Jokes

“Alexa, celebrate moms”

Amazon classifies this command as a joke, but is this command a joke? To all the moms out there… and mine… and my wife—I’m sorry. Motherhood is no joke!

All kidding aside, this command will have Alexa playing a little tune that wishes a great day to all the moms out there. It’s a cute idea, especially to have your kid try out with the help of dad. So go ahead and give this one a try, even if you missed it on Mother’s Day.

“Alexa, give me a prank”

I would rename this command to “Alexa, give me a dad joke” (try saying this instead if you’re curious, as it works too).

Here’s what Alexa gave me when I asked:

“Why did the baseball catcher spend a night at the field? … Because he felt right at home.”

Cue the cheesy laughter. I can very much imagine a dad, even mine, using this one. And come to think of it–this joke is totally in line with Mother’s Day and making the moms out there laugh.

Music

“Alexa, turn up the bass”

Nothing new to see here. Amazon highlighted this command back on March 27th in the Music section. In my previous post, you’ll find where this setting is in the Alexa App.

Productivity

“Alexa, create an event called ‘video call with Grandma’ on Saturday at noon”

This command has more intelligence built in than I originally anticipated. I expected this command to add an event to my calendar, called ‘video call with Grandma,’ on Saturday at noon. It does exactly that. Here’s what I see in my Google Calendar:

Calendar Invite with Grandma
Calendar Invite with Grandma

But the command doesn’t stop there. Alexa looks for the contact “Grandma” in my contacts and attempts to send a video call invite to that contact for the same time. Sadly, I don’t have a contact named “Grandma,” so this part failed.

If you do have another contact that has an Echo Show, this command might be a fun way to schedule video chats. And if you do happen to have a grandma who is so busy that you need to revert to scheduling chats with her, I’m impressed. Can I meet your grandma?

If your grandma is as busy as Betty White, use this Alexa command.

Reminders

“Alexa, what are my reminders?”

This command gives you a list of your reminders.

In my case, I have two. One of which I just added to “make dinner,” and the other I added a few weeks ago in the April 17th review via the Productivity section where we learned about Alexa’s built-in list intelligence. 

With these two reminders in mind, here’s what Alexa responds with:

“Here are your next two reminders: make dinner and Jessica’s birthday on Jan 29 at 9am.”

Phew. Luckily, I still have time to get her something. In the meantime, Alexa’s reminder system is (dare I say it?) growing on me. 

Shopping

“Alexa, remove chicken wings from my shopping list”

This is an odd command Amazon highlights this week. If you don’t have an item called “chicken wings” on your shopping list, Alexa does nothing.

So to start, I added chicken wings to my shopping list by simply saying, “Alexa, add chicken wings to my shopping list.” I then said the above follow-up command, and Alexa responded with, “I’ve checked off chicken wings off your shopping list.”

So this command doesn’t do exactly as it says. Instead of removing the item off my list, the command opts to checkoff the item, thereby letting you still see it. Maybe you prefer this functionality instead?

“Alexa, add roses to my list”

This sounds like a Productivity command, right? Not so–Amazon is pulling a fast one on us. 

For this command, the word “list” actually refers to “shopping list.” Check out last week’s Shopping section to see a similar example with popcorn instead of roses.

Smart Home

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

Amazon highlighted this command back on March 27th in the Smart Home section. To quickly recap, this command allows you to add smart devices to your groups without the use of the Alexa App–which can be tedious.

This functionality highlights overall one of the biggest benefits of Voice Assistants over traditional interfaces, like your smartphone. Tedious menus and options can be greatly simplified by just using your voice.

The key is you have to know what to say, which we often don’t. But that’s OK. Let’s keep exploring and building up our repertoire together. We’ll get there one Alexa command at a time.

Timers

“Alexa, cancel my 10 minute timer”

Amazon highlighted this command back on April 3rd in the Timers section. Nothing new to see here. 

Takeaways

Now that we have over a month of weekly roundups under our belt, we’re starting to see some commands get highlighted multiple times in Amazon’s newsletters (I’m onto you, Amazon). For instance, this week we saw 6 commands being re-promoted likely because they’re still not well-known. As for trying out these older commands, I would recommend the Cooking section only if you missed doing so previously. Otherwise, there are a handful of other useful commands this week that I recommend checking out instead.

For starters, if you’re strapped for interactive games to play with your kids during quarantine, ask Alexa for suggestions. If you’re like me, it could lead you down memory lane with setting up your very own lemonade stand. Read the full walk-through in the Games section.

Not surprisingly, Amazon also gave a nod to Mother’s Day with several Alexa commands this week designed with moms in mind. While the holiday itself is over, I’d argue these commands are still worth checking out. Find more info in the Communication section and the Jokes section.

Additionally, if you have an Echo Show, this week’s Cooking section is for you. While I’m not always hankering for sweet potatoes, the interactive functionality of the command on-screen is pretty useful. 

Last but not least, outside of Amazon’s promotional feeds we saw the company Wink moving to a subscription model. While Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem is not new (obviously), if you’re a Wink customer I would suggest you move over to the platform this week for controlling all your smart devices. See more info on how Alexa is a Wink Alternative

That does it for our second newsletter of May! See you next week as I review more Alexa commands you can do with your Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Fire TV, and other Alexa-enabled devices.

1 thought on “Keeping Up with Alexa Commands: May 11th”

  1. ”The command itself isn’t very useful for everyday consumers, unless you set up meetings with family members on Zoom”.

    In a Covid-19 world, people setup meetings on zoom. But, And I could be wrong, a whole bunch of people (like dozens even) have professional jobs where they DO setup meetings. AND they use Alexa. AND they read this article.

    Not everyone cooks, not everyone has kids, not everybody connects to meetings. Cover all of it and let the reader decide if they care.

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