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Amazon Echo: 15 Best New Features

Updated on February 23, 2017
Chriswillman90 profile image

Krzysztof is a lifelong future tech junkie investigating the latest stories from companies like Apple, Samsung, Google, and Amazon.

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The Newest Features of Amazon Echo (aka Alexa)

What can the Amazon Echo do for you?

The Echo is getting smarter and more powerful every week, with incredible features that you won't believe. Amazon has put everything into this surprise hit and have recently expanded its ecosystem with the Echo Dot and Amazon Tap. However it's Alexa, the brains behind the machine, that powers your music, smart home, alarms/timers, and so much more.

So strap in and discover its 15 best new features.

15. Spotify Premium

Spotify Is Here!

If you're a Spotify premium member, then you can finally play your favorite songs and playlists on the Echo.

The device's integration with Spotify is a major plus for this global music streaming platform. It also bodes well for Amazon's expansion of Alexa beyond the United States, and it could help broaden the language capabilities of the Echo beyond English because Spotify has gone international.

Paying for premium may seem steep for some but now there's one more reason to make that investment. New Spotify premium users get a free 30 day trial, and if you already have your Amazon Echo, then why not give it a whirl?

14. Echo Skills in Alexa App

Order take out without lifting a finger.
Order take out without lifting a finger.

From Domino's Pizza to Uber Services

Although there are thousands of new skills in the Amazon Alexa app (see 20 Best Amazon Echo Skills in the Alexa App), many aren't particularly jaw-dropping or worthwhile. But there are new additions that really stand out, including Domino's Pizza, Fitbit, and Uber. They even have a skill that can read either your tweets or trending tweets from Twitter. All you need to do is create an account for each and link them to your Echo device through the Alexa app.

But don't fret if those skills don't apply because there are plenty of other great apps, like word games, trivia, math puzzles, noise apps (including fart sounds), and many more with dozens of new additions every week, so be on the lookout for new favorites.

Enable Skills via Voice

Any Alexa skill, including smart home, can be enabled via voice command: "Alexa, enable Uber."

This makes adding new skills much easier than having to access the Amazon Alexa app and manually search and add. For best results, use the Skill Finder app to discover new and popular skills, and then use voice commands to enable the ones that appeal to you.

13. Pandora and Prime Music

Pandora music streaming
Pandora music streaming | Source

Free Music Streaming and Radio

The Echo was built as a Bluetooth speaker first, so it's not surprising that's where it really shines. Luckily there are numerous options, both premium and free, for every song lover.

If you don't want to opt into paying for Spotify premium each month, then there are free music stations available. Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn radio all provide free music.

Amazon Prime members get a massive musical collection included with their account (annual $99 fee) along with free two-day shipping, photo storage, and Prime video.

12. Audio Books from Audible

Listen to Audio or Kindle Books

Audible is excellent when you want to lie down, relax, and fall asleep listening to your favorite audio book. The Echo allows you to do just that with additional options including volume (playback) control and chapter selection.

But that's not all... Kindle books were recently integrated into its system, so now you can have Alexa read aloud your favorite Kindle books. It's not quite as smooth/expressive as an Audible narrator, but it gets the job done. Perhaps it'll gain more personality over time.

11. Multiple Timers and Alarms

Repeating Alarms

Alexa is the perfect digital assistant for the kitchen, bedroom, or both. Indeed people have purchased multiple Echos for this functionality.

One of the first features this device was enabled with were timers and alarms, which have expanded with multiple alarms/timers, customized alarm sets, and repeating alarms. Now you can set alarms that repeat either daily, on certain weekdays, or even one for weekends and another for weekdays.

Isn't it great how a few simple features can replace other gadgets that only do one thing? Simplicity is beautiful that way.

10. Control Your Smart Home

Smart Home Skill Set: Lights, Switches, and Thermostats

The Amazon Echo was created to unite all smart home devices! Integrated into Echo are smart home products including:

  • Nest, Ecobee, and Sensi (thermostats)
  • Lutron (Cas├ęta wireless lights)
  • Philips Hue and Wemo
  • SmartThings and Insteon
  • LIFX
  • TP-LINK Kasa
  • Haiku Home (fans and lights)

All these smart home products are now labeled under the skill tab as "smart home skills," allowing for easier management, ability to see user reviews, and more. If those aren't enough, then there are other smart home products connected via third party skills within the Alexa app. Echo could turn on/off your lights (or dim them), control switches for things like personal heaters, fans, and coffee makers, or even your smart thermostat's settings/temperature.

Alexa will soon expand into your vehicle/s and even more smart home devices.

9. Local News/Traffic Updates

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QuickTime News Updates

Alexa delivers important daily news updates everyday, which is excellent when you need your morning info fix without extra hassle.

From the Alexa app you can enable a variety of news outlets, including NPR, BBC, Discovery, The Washington Post, and CNN through the "Flash Briefing" settings. If that's not enough, then there are several news skills you can access, including NBC and AOL. There are even sports news from ESPN Radio and Fox Sports who missed out on their favorite games and headlines sports stories.

If you're interested in local news, then there are over a dozen metropolitan stations you can enable in your flash briefing settings such as NBC 4 New York, NBC4 Southern California, NBC 5 Chicago, and more.

Unfortunately traffic information is limited to a set destination with the options to include stops in between, but I don't recommend using it outside your daily work route.

8. Sports Updates

Sports Scores and Schedules

If you don't want to wait for a news update about your favorite team, then you have the option to aggregate your favorite teams in a customized sports update. This is great if you want to know quick win/lose outcomes as well as who they played against, when they'll play next, who there next opponent will be, and what time the game will begin. Sports information is second nature to the Echo, and it'll always have the most up-to-the-minute knowledge.

You could even get live scores if you're unable to watch, so there's never anything to miss.

7. Weather Forecast

Your 7 Day Weather Forecast

I bet this was one of the first features produced for Echo after music, and it's easy to see why. The weather is often the first thing we want to know when waking up in the morning, and this feature provides the current weather and a 7-day forecast.

All it takes is setting up your location through the Alexa app and you're good to go. It's a handy little tool that doesn't require a phone, a tablet, or TV. I mean sure if you want to know every detail then maybe a cellphone will help, but most people only care about the basics and Alexa is here to help.

6. Order and Track Amazon Purchases

Amazon Prime Purchases and Package Tracking

There are many benefits to being an Amazon Prime member but with Echo those perks get even better. As stated, Prime members get a minimum free two-day shipping, free music, cloud storage, and free videos/movies, but with Echo they can also order, re-order, and track Amazon packages.

  • Alexa can tell you when an order was placed and when it's expected to arrive.
  • It can also order any Prime eligible product.

For purchases, you even have the ability to add a pin number that Alexa will ask prior to re-ordering, which creates a much-needed layer of security. Add-on items or non-prime items can't be ordered but Alexa can add them and any other item to your Amazon shopping cart.

5. To-Do and Shopping Lists

The Alexa Shopping List

It's really nice to be able to add something you need to purchase or do via voice. The Echo can even read your lists if you want to know what was added. You can also use the IFTTT for Amazon app to enable a trigger that'll send/print your shopping list.

The one issue I have with this is the inability to clear an item or entire list via a voice command.

You have to do that manually by going on the Alexa app, but I have a feeling this flaw will be corrected in future updates.

4. Movie/Movie Theater Info

Alexa, What Movies Are Playing?

This nifty feature allows you to plan a Friday night at the movies through a straightforward command. Alexa can tell you what movies are playing nearby, movie information, and times for theaters close to you. As long as your location is set, then the Echo should have no issues giving you accurate movie news.

Once you know which movie you want, feel free to ask Alexa more about it (movie reviews, ratings, actors).

You can even get movie times for an impending date helping you plan ahead. People love going to the movies and now it's even easier.

3. Google Calendar

Events Calendar

Once you link your Google calendar, then you'll truly have a welcome apprentice. You can have Alexa add and/or say your events, schedule, forthcoming plans, and more. It's an essential business tool that expands the usefulness of the Echo.

There's also a skill titled "Quick Events" that does the same thing, except the skill makes sure that events don't conflict with one another.

Amazon is all about the business model, so I wouldn't be surprised to see even easier ways to operate your calendar or have more options.

2. 360* Bluetooth Speaker

Far-Field Voice Recognition

I'm sorry Siri, Cortana, and Google Now, but Amazon Echo's Alexa completely outshines your voice recognition capabilities.

I've always had problems communicating with the digital assistants above but rarely with Alexa. I give credit to the design of the Echo speaker for its brilliant hardware/software that's able to pick things up from any direction through its "seven internal microphones." In my Amazon Echo review, I describe how powerful the speaker and voice tool is. It's far-field voice range is a solid 10-15 ft and doesn't disappoint.

However I'm not going to give it 100% because Alexa doesn't always pick up what you say, but considering the market, this technology destroys the competition.

1. Bing Search Engine

Source

Answers to Simple Questions

In the end, the Amazon Echo has been categorized as a speaker with Siri like capabilities. To me, that's an unfair analysis because there's much more this device can do that Siri cannot.

The Echo provides Wikipedia entries, quick math calculations, conversions, measurements, spelling corrections, and other intelligent answers similar to Apple's assistant, but it's still criticized for not being as brilliant as other voice assistants.

Alexa is not powered by the Google search engine and hasn't been around as long as Siri or Google Now, but I have a feeling it'll catch up quickly. If Amazon continues to up the ante, integrate more skills, continuously provide updates, and go all in, then it'll be the other assistants that'll fall well behind.

Your Turn!

Which Amazon Echo Feature Interests You?

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    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 15 months ago from Hamburg, New York

      I saw the commercial you posted advertised on TV. Though it was an entertaining commercial, I had no idea what the product did. Thanks for explaining it.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
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      Krzysztof Willman 15 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      No problem. Although the ad was nice I thought they could've done a lot more to show the public what it does. Thank you.

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      Lisa 6 months ago

      I just love, love, love Alexa! I get such a kick out of her, I told her the other day to tell my husband he's stupid, lol, and she said no I won't do that, it's just rude! LMAO! she's a good girl!

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      Kenneth Avery 6 months ago

      Chris . . .Great work. How long did it take you to write, research this project?

      I am highly-impressed. Keep up the great work.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
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      Krzysztof Willman 6 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      She's quite polite indeed though it would be funny if she ever retaliated in a non rude yet clever way. I wonder how many ppl have hurled insults at Alexa.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
      Author

      Krzysztof Willman 5 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      It helps when you use the product daily. I wanted to learn about its every aspect until I was 100 percent confident in writing about it so it took a few weeks. Thank you for the response.

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      Billy 4 months ago

      The alarms app is not supported in the Alexa app, do I need to do anything to trigger the software?

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
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      Krzysztof Willman 4 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      There are numerous alarm apps, which one specifically? The most effective apps are brand based like Scout and make sure you have the hardware that's required, a stable internet connection, and anything else the skill warrants. People also setup up IFTTT recipes to trigger specific commands if the skill doesn't allow it.

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      Tom knight 3 months ago

      Love her, the most amusing way that I use Alexa is I created a iffff program to show me the weather on a lifx bulb. Every morning at 7:00 AM the a lifx bulb kicks on and shows me the color of the weather. Dark blue for rain, purple for cloudy, sunset orange for sunny and Carolina blue for snow.

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      Satyajit 3 months ago

      I have developed a Alexa custom skill, and its superrrrrrr

    • profile image

      Birger Hillaert 3 months ago

      My echo dot does not play TuneIn stations although it recognizes them well.

      Spotify plays without a problem

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      Jean S 2 months ago

      Just got Alexa and am having fun learning what she can do. Thanks for your help and I find myself thanking her constantly.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
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      Krzysztof Willman 2 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      No problem I'm happy to hear you're having a great experience with the product and the best part is there's always something new being added daily whether it be skills or other features. I'll be updating this soon because several more features have been added over the past few months.

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      Michael Webb 2 weeks ago

      I have yet to get one I want one but I need more info? Does it recognize other languages I speak English and my partner specks French. Will it under the different languages and respond to them.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image
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      Krzysztof Willman 2 weeks ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      As of now it mostly understands English although it can interpret UK and German dialects due to its release in those countries. We have yet to see Alexa be able to fully understand other languages though.

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