How to get the best use of your Alexa

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Last year, Amazon and Google sold 73 million smart speakers. Since Amazon introduced Alexa in 2014, competitors have emerged, including Apple and Google. Even though large models with bright screens have emerged, I still prefer the smaller, screenless models. Minis take up less space, look better, offer the same features, and cost less. Alexa echo dot it sells for $30 or less when it’s on sale, with no subscription cost. of Google Mini Nest costs the same on sale. A Google device sits in my kitchen and an Amazon Echo Dot in my office. Read on to find out how I use them.


Set a timer for pasta, your weekday morning routine, or anything in between. I like to leave my phone in another room to avoid distractions, so it’s nice to be able to just say “Hey Google, set a timer for 5 minutes.” You can also use your voice to control smart House devices such as lights or a television.


When I get home late and haven’t watched the news, I sometimes ask for a quick news roundup to catch up. It’s easy to customize for the outlets and themes you prefer. You can get world headlines from the BBC, national news from NPR, sports from ESPN, or whatever else suits you.


When I’m doing the dishes, I’ll sometimes say “Hey Google, put on the Planet Money podcast” or whatever else I feel like listening to, like one of these magnificent shows. It’s nice to just start listening and not have to fiddle with a podcast app or put on headphones.


When we have family breakfasts on weekdays, we like to listen to our local classical music station, New York City’s WQXR and its excellent morning DJ, Jeff Spurgeon. (Yes, classic DJs have fans too.) We used to have a radio in the kitchen, but a smart speaker can serve any radio station he wants. We no longer have to fiddle with a radio antenna for good reception.


When deciding on umbrellas and jackets, ask for the local weather forecast. Or if you’re traveling somewhere, ask about the weather or traffic at your destination.


When we’re stumped about what a sparklemuffin is is during a dinner discussion or wondering when Isaac Asimov posted Base (1951) we can get quick response without having to take out screens.

poetry and jokes

When you want to take a break with a quick riddle, joke, or poem, a smart speaker can immediately please you. The jokes tend to be juvenile, but sometimes the wickedness of the jokes is funny. And listening to a random poem can provide a welcome break from a busy day.


I was surprised to find out how many games smart speakers can play. During the pandemic, my daughters, my wife, and I tried trivia and guessing games. There are even pick-your-own adventure-style games where you have to choose where to go or what action to take.

Some Alexa games to try: twenty questions, song test, common knowledge. Or try comfort my dog either calm my cat. “Listening to this music will help your dog (or cat) feel more relaxed and calm,” say the creators of the application. Thousands of solid reviews agree. I don’t have a pet so I haven’t tried it either.

echo buttons they allow you to call in to play game show style, although apparently they are not available now. I have used them to play trivia games with students.

Google’s Nest Mini vs. Amazon’s Echo Dot

Advantages of Google:

  • Smarter, more reliable answers to questions, from trivia to how-tos.
  • Best variety of music. Google’s smart speaker lets me listen to the entire YouTube Music library, something Alexa doesn’t allow. You can customize any of the smart speakers to play music from Spotify or Pandora.
  • It has a clear switch to turn off the microphone.

Amazon Advantages:

  • Simple and fun games are part of an extensive collection of Alexa “Skills”.
  • You can easily create custom apps with templates called Alexa Skill Blueprints. These are for you or your family only, not for public use. When my daughters were little, we would have fun customizing a fairy tale with their names and making up questions for our own trivia game.

Drawbacks and concerns

Privacy is an important consideration when you have a device that listens to your voice and stores recordings. Read MakeUseOf’s tech publication analysis of privacy issues on Alexa for more information on this, and Ambient’s part about what smart speaker manufacturers do with your data. Unplug a smart speaker to disable it. Or if the idea of ​​your voice being recorded worries you, just avoid smart speakers altogether.

If you already have an Alexa and want to delete previous recordings of your voice commands, you can open the Alexa app on your phone and select Settings > Alexa Privacy > Review Voice History. Then navigate to All History and select > Delete All My Recordings.

If you have people at home who find it fun to order online, you can disable purchases so kids or pranksters can’t buy through your Alexa device.

This article is republished with permission from Wonder Tools, a newsletter that helps you discover the most useful sites and apps. Sign up here.

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