Amazon Echo: 17 Best New Features

Updated on March 22, 2018
Chriswillman90 profile image

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


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 , Amazon Tap, Echo Spot, and Echo Show. 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 17 best new features.

17. Voice Calling & Messaging

Calling and Texting via Voice

One of the biggest features recently introduced is handsfree calling and texting on most Amazon Echo products or in the Alexa app. You can place free calls to any landline or mobile number in the US, Mexico, and Canada.

If you have the touchscreen Echo Show, then you can even place video calls similar to Skype or Facetime with the ability to block numbers whom you don't want to talk to.

There's even a drop-in feature that allows you to access an Echo device either within your home like an intercom or outside the house using the Alexa app. The Echo Show can pair with your security cameras to view a live feed inside your home/room.

When placing or receiving calls the light ring around the Echo will turn green, and it'll turn yellow when you have a voice or text message waiting to be answered. These new colors will also work for shopping and skills notifications once enabled.

Setup for voice calling & messaging is easy; all you need is to grant Alexa access to your contact list via the app.

Expect to see even more with this revolutionary new feature in the coming months.

Update: The new Echo Connect uses your landline phone to be able to make and take calls from any number including 911 and international calls (charges may apply) using your home phone number.

You can sync all contacts through the Alexa app, plug the Connect into your home phone jack, and use all compatible Echo devices to make/place calls.

You can now send text messages (SMS) to any mobile phone with your Echo device even if the recipient doesn't own one.

However you can't send group messages of any messages containing images/emojis (MMS). You also won't be notified via Alexa if you get a reply back.

You must enable this feature in your Alexa app in your contact/drop-in settings and give your phone permission to allow this feature. Every text message you send with Alexa will include a link to the voice message version of the SMS.

16. Multi-Room Audio


Play Multiple Echo Speakers Simultaneously

One of the most requested Echo features has arrived in the form of multi-room support where you can group several Echo speakers to play music in your home.

You can even tell Alexa which device you want to use to play a song whether it be your living room's Echo Dot or your bedroom's Amazon Echo.

To group speakers together you must go to the settings in your Alexa app, select Multi-Room Music, and choose which speakers you'd like to group together.

When activating your group, any streaming audio or active Bluetooth connections will cease (shown in settings).

The grouping feature can also make commands a lot more simpler. For example, you can add an Echo product into a light group (designated by room) and say, "Alexa, turn on/off the lights", without having to say which Echo you're referring to.

So with multi-room support, the Echo has finally captured a key feature that the Google Home controlled for months and it's sure to bring customers back to try it out for themselves.

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?

Update: There are other premium options available if you have an account or a paid subscription for SiriusXM and Deezer. Just enable each skill and link up your account to it.

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, try asking Alexa for the newest and most popular skills available, and then 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.

You also have the option to subscribe to Amazon Music to access millions of new songs and playlists for only $3.99 a month on a single Dot, Echo, or Tap device. To enable this subscription, you have to ask Alexa to try Amazon Music Unlimited.

New users will get a free 30-day trial to try the platform.

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

Alexa Can Wake You Up With Music

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 (including celebrity voices), and repeating alarms. Now you can set alarms that repeat either daily, on certain weekdays, or even one for weekends and another for weekdays.

You can also assign names to your timers ("Alexa, set chicken timer for 10 minutes"), which comes in handy when preparing meals.

Finally you can personalize alarms with music from Spotify, Amazon Music, and more. You can even stream radio channels from iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The options can range from a specific song to a relaxing theme; the choice is yours.

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 (Caséta wireless lights)
  • Philips Hue and Wemo
  • SmartThings and Insteon
  • LIFX
  • TP-LINK Kasa
  • Haiku Home (fans and lights)
  • Fire TV

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, coffee makers, smart thermostat's settings/temperature or even your Amazon Fire TV.

You can now create daily routines via the app where saying a command like, "Alexa, good morning", will trigger your smart home gadgets and have things like the news, weather & traffic be given to you.

You'll be able to create more routines in the coming weeks as well as have more Alexa integration into other platforms including your car.

Control Your TV Entertainment System

TV voice control is becoming more and more accessible with platforms that now include Fire TV, Fios, Optic, and Dish.

Start by enabling the desired skill and pair your account/s to each. For Fios, you can actually control your set-top boxes when you pair it with an Alexa device.

For more detailed information on how to set-up and enable each skill, please go to the Alexa app, pull up the main menu, and tap the "Music, Video, & Books" option.

You can manage all of your TV/Video, Music, and Book listings as well as additional speaker add-ins like Sonos from there. Be aware that you'll need compatible devices and may need to update your platforms software before linking with Alexa.

Once your platform is connected, you can change channels/volume, rewind & fast-forward, pause, choose which show you'd like to watch, and ask for general movies or TV shows based on actors or actresses involved.

If you're new to this, I'd recommend purchasing a Amazon Fire Stick because it's the easiest and most affordable option (under $50). With a Fire Stick you'll have access to numerous apps and simple video playback controls.

To start just ask Alexa to find your device or link it up manually to start watching your favorites today.

9. Local News/Traffic Updates


QuickTime News Updates

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

You can voice enable a variety of news outlets, including NPR, BBC, Discovery, The Washington Post, and CNN. 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.

There are a few traffic skills available, but they're either region specific or don't provide enough detail for your route/s.

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.
  • Alexa can tell you more about your purchase, send you shopping notifications, and even send a picture of the product to your app for future purchases

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 or via the app.

If you enable shopping notifications under the settings tab, then you can receive delivery and re-order notifications (for previously purchased items) and even the specific product names that were ordered.

Notifications will be set off by a beep and a yellow ring on your Alexa devices.

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.

There are also various list apps you can connect to including, AnyList, Cozi Lists, Picniic, and Todoist.

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, however; you can create multiple, customized lists instead of putting everything into one (food, clothes, to-do, work tasks, etc.)

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.

If Google isn't your go-to calendar, then you can also link your Microsoft, Office 365 or Apple iCloud calendars.

Your calendars and lists are tied to your specific voice, so if there are multiple profiles, Alexa will only pull up the information connected to you. This also works with things like calling & messaging.

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.

But if you want a more powerful speaker that doesn't have Bluetooth, then you can connect your existing Echo to them via an aux port (2nd generation Echo products only) for a better audio experience.

Also you can train Alexa to be voice-specific if there are multiple users in your household. That means if you tell her to call someone or order something, she'll recognize the person who made those commands and carry them out accordingly.

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


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.

Update: Alexa devices now have a Follow-Up Mode that's disabled by default. With this mode, Alexa will be activated for about five seconds after you issue a command. This allows you to place additional requests without having to say the wake word over and over again.

To enable go to your settings tab and click on an Alexa device. Scroll down to see Follow-Up Mode and click to enable it. Currently it's only available for the US and it's device specific. It also won't work if audio is playing, if you're on a call, or if the speech detected was background noise.

This mode should make issuing multiple commands more intuitive especially if it involves smart devices, and it makes Alexa more competitive with the Google Assistant.

Your Turn!

Which Amazon Echo Feature Interests You?

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    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 6 weeks ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      It's a shame, had Apple put their best foot forward they would've been way ahead in the game.

      That being said they're still wildly popular with a massive ecosystem. If they really wanted to, they could easily catch-up, but can't wait around forever.

      They Echo and Google Home competitor, the Apple HomePod, is yet to be released. The smart home and the Alexa ecosystem is a huge player and will continue to rapidly advance. Apple is running out of time to catch-up.

    • profile image

      Shermanus 6 weeks ago

      Apple has fallen asleep at the wheel. They were first with Siri. Now Alexa and the others have taken over and put Siri to shame.

      Ask her. She might tell you “I have found this on the web” when Alexa gives you the answer.

      Another first was Apple TV. Now Amazon and Roku have taken over.

      Integrated in most smart TV’s.

      There is more.

      Mac fans are upset....

      Being the company with most cash on hand is no guarantee a future

    • NikkiRoxi profile image

      NikkiRoxi 2 months ago

      Why are we surprised by this? It makes perfect sense that you would have to first log into your UBER account via the Alexa App then link it to your Amazon account. Amazon would not have access to your login info for any account that they didn't expressly create for you such as UBER. Think about do you want them to have such access? I seriously doubt it.

      Larry you can now wake up to whatever song or playlist you want in Alexa. Amazon has added the ability to have Music Alarms. They also updated the Reminders so now you can have recurring Reminders as well. I wake up every morning to both an regular Alarm and a radio station alarm.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 2 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Well they recently gave you the ability to use custom music from Amazon or Spotify for alarms, so I'm sure we'll see that option soon.

    • profile image

      Scottie 2 months ago


      Any word on when you can add a device to multiple music groups?

      I'd like to have an upstairs group, downstairs group and everywhere group but you can only assign a device to one group at a time.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 3 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      If I had to make a bet, then I think this feature will arrive by early next year.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 3 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      I believe that's one of the most requested features right now.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 3 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Any account based skill like Uber requires that I'm afraid. There's too much detail required before the skill can get linked to Alexa.

    • profile image

      Jody 3 months ago

      So just asked my Echo "Alexa, enable Uber" and was told (nicely) that I needed to go to my Alexa App to enable this skill. YAWN.

    • profile image

      Larry 3 months ago

      I do not think it would be very difficult for a programmer to have Alexa's alarm cause Alexa to go to the cloud and play a random song for the alarm for prime members. If the Internet is down then it would recognize that and set off one of it's built in alarms.

    • profile image

      Larry 3 months ago

      I would like the alarm to play music. When Alexa can do this without another device I will probably buy one.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 5 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Siri is the most well-known assistant but since she was introduced as a novelty add-on, she has pretty much stayed that way. I don't see too many iPhone users use Siri for anything.

      At this point Alexa has leaped past Siri and is only challenged by the Google Assistant. Apple has fallen asleep at the wheel and their clout is no longer enough to save them in that market.

      Even Bixby has more potential for Samsung phones because of how closely it's integrated into the device. The jury is out on that platform however.

      As far as the HomePod, I think the audio will be fantastic but once again Siri won't be the star like Alexa is, and there's a reason why Apple isn't showcasing Siri as the main focal point of that speaker.

    • NikkiRoxi profile image

      NikkiRoxi 5 months ago

      TuneIn works fine for me. I still don't understand the comparison between Siri and Alexa. Alexa can do so many more things that Siri cannot. I truly feel those making that comment have never used Alexa or seen one in action. Now will that change when Apple releases their Home Pod? Maybe, but for now Siri is very limited in comparison. Siri cannot access any of my Smart Home devices and control them. Siri cannot stream music throughout my house. When you ask Siri a question she sometimes gives you search results as if you were searching Google on a browser. Siri doesn't always answer the question. I just want an answer not a list of possible sites for me to get the answer. I have never tried to play a game using Siri not sure if she is capable, but I can on my Echo.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 6 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

      Thank you for your comment. I agree that there's a lot more to be desired but Alexa has come a long way since it was first introduced less than 3 years ago.

    • profile image

      Jean 6 months ago

      Alexa is good but it's not perfect. I still have to depend on pen & paper to "prioritize my do list".

      In real life, we always prioritize our day to day tasks functions....& I am not able to do that.



    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 10 months 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.

    • profile image

      Michael Webb 10 months 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

      Krzysztof Willman 12 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.

    • profile image

      Jean S 12 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.

    • profile image

      Birger Hillaert 13 months ago

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

      Spotify plays without a problem

    • profile image

      Satyajit 13 months ago

      I have developed a Alexa custom skill, and its superrrrrrr

    • profile image

      Tom knight 14 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.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 14 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.

    • profile image

      Billy 14 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

      Krzysztof Willman 15 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.

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 16 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.

    • profile image

      Kenneth Avery 16 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.

    • profile image

      Lisa 16 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!

    • Chriswillman90 profile image

      Krzysztof Willman 2 years 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.

    • Lipnancy profile image

      Nancy Yager 2 years 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.