Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, is fast becoming the most recognisable voice of smart home technology – but what exactly is Alexa, and what can it do?
First found in Amazon’s Echo smart home speaker, Alexa is a digital assistant with plenty to say – and plenty of power. But if you’re still wondering exactly what Alexa is, here’s our rundown of what it can do for you.
Alexa is a digital assistant: a piece of software that listens to and responds to voice commands, providing answers, reminders and other useful information when you need it.
First and foremost, it answers your questions. Alexa can give you updates on the weather, answer trivia questions and set alarms and timers. It can also sync with your Google or Apple calendars to set reminders and appointments – or let you know when one’s coming up. These powers are known as ‘Skills’, and they allow Alexa to connect to tons of third-party services and products – from Spotify to Domino’s pizza.
So, rather than digging through apps, menus and search boxes on your smartphone to find your favourite music, you can simply sit down on the couch and say “Alexa, play my jazz playlist on Spotify”. And if all that music’s making you hungry, you can even say “Alexa, ask Domino’s to feed me” and they’ll bring you your favourite order.
Finally, Alexa acts as a smart home hub – connecting to a huge range of ‘Internet of Things’ kit, from light bulbs to coffee makers, and letting you control it with your voice.
There are a few different smart home platforms jockeying for attention, like Apple’s Homekit and Google Home – but what makes Alexa different is how ‘open’ it is.
Amazon have made it easy for third-party manufacturers to make their kit work with Alexa, without needing Amazon’s approval. This means there are already tons of gadgets out there compatible with Alexa, and the number’s growing all the time.
That should be enough for most users – but the technically minded tinkerers out there can go even further.
And if you’re handy with code, you can even cook up your own Alexa Skills to make it even more powerful. You could teach Alexa how to ask specific questions, look up information from a certain website or even interface with other kit in your home.
Alexa first debuted on Amazon’s Echo smart speaker – and for a while, that was the only place you could find it. More recently, though, it’s found its way to other kit.
Amazon’s Echo Dot speaker gives you all the powers of Alexa, but lacks the full-size Echo’s sophisticated audio speaker. But if your interest in Alexa lies more in its smart home capabilities than playing music, Echo Dot is a much more affordable option.
At the other end of the scale is the Echo Show, which adds a high-resolution display to the mix. Alexa on the show can also stream YouTube, take video calls and display a whole host of useful information visually.
Finally, the Echo Look is a somewhat niche offering from Amazon. This Alexa-powered camera isn’t widely available yet – but beyond the usual Alexa Skills, it’ll take full-length photos of your outfit. It’ll then recommend clothes to suit your style – from Amazon, of course!
But more recently, it’s even found its way into third-party kit. High-end audio manufacturer Sonos are including Alexa in their forthcoming Sonos One speaker. You’ll also find it on certain Huawei smartphones, like the Mate 9 – as well as smart TVs from Element, smartwatches from mVoice and even the Ford F-150 pickup truck!
It’s this openness that really sets Alexa apart from other smart home platforms. Much like Google’s approach to Android, Amazon seem happy for third parties to use their software if it helps them reach more users. For that reason, we expect to see Alexa on more and more device as time goes on.
If you’re keen on bringing Alexa into your life, you can find the full range of Echo kit over at Currys PC World. And if you need a hand bringing it all together, Team Knowhow’s Smart Home Set-up service will take care of all the hard work for you – so you can focus on enjoying your kit. Finally, for more great ideas on Alexa can improve your life at home, take a look at our pick of the five best gadgets for Amazon Echo and Alexa.