Picture of the Amazon Alexa Echo Gen 1 smart speaker, front view.

Alexa Features, Capabilities, Uses, Commands, Tips, and Tricks List for Echo, Tap, and Dot Smart Speakers




The Amazon Echo speakers, including the Tap, Dot, and the original Echo and its 2nd generation incarnation, are jampacked with an ever-growing list of helpful Alexa features and skills. Further, all of these features help make our hectic days a little less hectic.  Some of the most useful Alexa features we’ve discovered follow.

Picture of the Amazon Alexa Echo Gen 2 smart speaker with power adapter, plugged into wall outlet, showing the light-up ring Alexa feature.
Amazon Echo Gen 2 smart speaker with power adapter, plugged into wall outlet, showing the light-up ring Alexa feature.



Physical Echo Speaker Alexa Features

Very small size.  Modest foot print and lightweight.  At just over two pounds (36.9 ounces to be precise), the Amazon Echo speaker packs much function into a surprisingly little form factor.  Plus, the Echo Dot is even lighter and smaller, ant just about the size of a modest cheeseburger.  So, with the cloud-based infrastructure support, the small size by no means indicates just how capable this device is, or could be.  Thus, when it comes to these smart speakers, big things really do come in small packages.

Includes powerful AC adapter.  The switching power adapter delivers 15 volts at 1.4 amps; roughly 21 watts.  Amazon apparently wanted to make sure that this power supply is beefy enough to provide for all that rich bass that the Echo speaker is revered for.  The Echo speaker demands too many watts for a universal USB adapter.

Bright multi-color status ring.  This bank of LEDs that circle the outer top edge of the speaker, light up when you ask Alexa questions, indicate status of internet connection, and processing activity.  The ring even shows you which direction it hears best your voice from, as you speak to it.  This helps in figuring out the best placement of your Dot for the widest coverage and least error-prone understanding of your speech.

Pilot lamp feature.  This tiny yet quite visible LED glows anytime the unit is powered up.  It also indicates Wi-Fi network connection status.  White means that the speaker is currently connected to a Wi-Fi network.  Steady orange means that the speaker is not connected to a wireless network currently. If that orange is blinking, this means that the unit is currently connected to a wireless network, but cannot access the Alexa service on the internet.

Top-mounted controls offer access to basic Echo functions. The mic off and action functions can be activated with these two buttons. There’s also a volume control ring located on the sides of the speaker, near the top.  With the action button, you can reset the Wi-Fi connection, stop a sounding reminder alarm, and wake up the speaker without actually saying the wake-up command.

Configuring Speaker Specific Alexa Features

Your choice of Alexa wake words.  You can choose from four choices of name for each of your speakers (‘Amazon’, ‘Echo’, ‘Alexa,’ and ‘Computer’).

Mic Off feature.  Disable the built-in microphone by pressing the Mic Off button.  This mutes the mic so that the speaker stops listening.  The light ring glows red while the mic is off, reminding you that Alexa can neither hear nor answer  questions, until you enable the mic by again pressing that Mic Off button.

Far field microphone system.  They fit a lot into this tall soup can sized Echo speaker, including seven (count ’em, SEVEN) microphones, that provide much improved voice intelligibility over a single mic.

The closest Echo responds.  With the built-in Echo Spacial Perception (ESP) technology, if you have many Echo speakers throughout your home, the system determines when you speak, which speaker is closest to you, and then issues the responses from that speaker.  Though not entirely perfect, ESP vastly improves the wrong-Dot-response situation.

Rapid Alexa response.  She generally answers a question in a few seconds or less, although times may increase with heavy internet or Amazon server traffic.

Great monophonic sound.  While the flagship Echo speaker does not play in stereo, it’s perhaps the best sounding mono speaker system we’ve ever heard.  You can however, get stereo sound from the Dot if you connect up a set up amplified stereo speakers to it via the AUX out jack.

Alexa can act as Bluetooth speaker.  You can play content on your mobile device on your Alexa Echo speakers via Bluetooth.  The Echos pair as Bluetooth speakers through the Alexa App, much the same way as you’d pair your phone with a dedicated Bluetooth speaker.

Picture of the Amazon Echo Gen 1 smart speaker, showing the Mic Mute Alexa feature as ON, Indicated by the red light ring and illuminated Mic Mute button.
Amazon Echo Gen 1 smart speaker, showing the Mic Mute Alexa feature as ON, Indicated by the red light ring and illuminated Mic Mute button.

Some of our Favorite Alexa Features

Accessible.  Primary setup and control functions are accessed via the Amazon Alexa App, which you install on an iOS or Android tablet or other mobile device.  Also, since Alexa can read text sources aloud, she can be an invaluable companion for blind and vision impaired users.

Lots of online documentation available.  Amazon offers extensive help files that explain how to set up and operate this device in detail.  See the  Amazon Echo Speaker Support Page  for extensive descriptions of this speaker.

Answers lots of questions by default.  Ask Alexa for the current time, weather, news, and traffic reports as well as to sing Happy Birthday, tell you a funny joke, or engage in rudimentary conversations with her.  We expect this capability to improve as artificial intelligence and machine learning are further integrated into the Alexa AI infrastructure.

Sleep, Alarms, and Timers

Alarm clock and timer.  Your Echo speaker features a smart alarm clock and kitchen timer.   You can set multiple alarms over many days, as well as multiple timers for times such as Thanksgiving dinners, when you need to time multiple foods cooking.

Sleep timer.  If you enjoy going to sleep with music or white noise, you can tell Alexa to stop playing after a specified time, once you’re likely to have fallen to sleep.

Order Many Goods and Services Online

Uber and Lyft support.  Skills to request rides from Uber and Lyft are available, and controllable with your voice.   Order a taxi just by asking Alexa for one.

Order a pizza from Dominos!

Phone Calling Alexa Features

Echo to Echo calling.  You can call another Alexa user on your speaker with Alexa device to Alexa device calling.  Alexa can also call regular landline and cell phones too.

Programmable wake command.  To get Alexa’s attention, you choose from three possible words to say to your speaker (Amazon, Echo, and Alexa).

Links to your Amazon account.  Your Echo speaker can link to the various subscription services in your Amazon account, such as Prime Music and Music Unlimited.  Alexa can also place orders for millions of items for you right from Amazon.  Amazon even offers discounts for some items if you voice order them through your speaker.

Alexa Features for Playing Music

Plays many internet radio stations.  The Echo speaker offers access to the thousands of Internet broadcast streams from iHeart and TuneIn radio services; many of which are free to play.

Pandora, iHeart, and TuneIn radio access.  The Amazon Echo speaker can stream thousands of internet radio stations from these services.

Streaming music services available.  Not only can you play your Amazon Music content, but you can also link up with the Spotify music services to play on your smart speakers.

News, Weather, Shopping, and Calendar Alexa Features

Get local news, traffic, sports, and weather reports.  Through the Alexa app, you can customize your “flash briefing,” to play the news and information sources you desire, in the order you desire.

Shopping and to-do list keeping supported.  You may add items to these lists with your voice, and then have your speaker read them back to you later, or access them on your mobile device via the Alexa app while shopping.

Google calendar access.  Add events to your Google calendar.

Access to eBooks, Podcasts, and Movie Information

Supports many content providers.  Reads Audible books, plays podcasts, can access your Amazon music library, and hourly news broadcasts.  You may also play short news segments put together by thousands of radio and television stations around the world.  Alexa will even read your Kindle books to you, for the asking.

See what movies are playing near you.

An Ever Increasing List of Alexa Features

Thousands of skills.  News briefings, recipes and cooking tips, smart home device controllers, music service subscriptions, traffic monitors, banking voice apps, and fact checking skills are just a few among Alexa’s prolific library of available skills which you can access through your Echo speaker.

Getting smarter every day.  Thousands of free skills have been developed already with many more in the works

Home Automation Alexa Features

Smart home enabled.  Through the Echo speaker voice service, you can control popular smart home devices such as the Nest and Honeywell internet-enabled thermostats, and multi-colored WiFi-enabled light bulbs, power switches, and wall outlets.

Control switches, locks, and other home automation devices. Configure your Alexa speakers to turn on the lights in your living room, the fan in your bedroom, and to unlock your front door, when you add appropriate switch hardware to your home.  Plus with the IFTTT (If This Then That) support, you can have your controlled home automation devices come on and off based on various conditions like when the room temperature reaches a value you specify, or when a certain time of day occurs.

Room filling sound in small package.  Though smaller than a traditional table radio, the Echo speaker offers louder, higher fidelity sound.  Provides plenty of volume for bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and garages.

Alexa Features Versatility

The Alexa app runs on iOS and Android devices.  You can control your speaker from your iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch as well as your Android based mobile devices like Galaxy phones and tablets, not to mention the Kindle Fire tablets.

Automatic firmware updates.  Amazon Alexa speakers automatically update themselves from the cloud when Amazon releases updated software for them.

Easy to purchase.  Get it on the Amazon website as well as the Home Shopping Network, Best Buy, eBay, et al.  Current price is $179.99.  The newer 2nd generation echo is currently $99.99 and sounds even better than the original.  The Echo Dot costs $49.99.  However, these prices are often significantly reduced on Prime Day, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday sales as well as other select times throughout the year.

Picture of the Amazon Echo 2nd generation smart speaker, top view, showing the light ring and the volume, mic mute, and action buttons for Alexa features control.
Amazon Echo 2nd generation smart speaker, top view, showing the light ring and the volume, mic mute, and action buttons for Alexa features control.

This is but a very small list of Alexa features and capabilities; and it’s growing every day.  We’ll add more here as we discover and try them out.  Take care.



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References

Revision History

  • 2018-03-01: Updated the title and the tags list.  Added additional Alexa features content.
  • 2017-01-20: Originally published.