The best Alexa Skills and commands: the ultimate in Amazon Echo tips and tricks

How to make Alexa smarter than ever

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There are now an increasing number of devices with Amazon Alexa built in, and that means it's more likely than ever that you're going to want to know the best Alexa skills out there – those special tricks your smart speaker can pull, from turning on the lights to ordering a pizza.

We'll you've come to the right place: even as the number of Alexa skills keeps growing, we've kept our eye on the best skills you need to know about, and presented them here for easy reference.

One of the benefits of getting an Echo (or a similar Alexa-enabled device) is that it's always getting better, and we've seen more and more Alexa skills added down the years. More choice can mean some of the gems get lost in the pile – but we're here to stop that from happening.

Remember these Alexa skills will work with the Amazon Echo range of speakers, as well as any other device that runs Alexa, like the Sonos One.

To make your life easier, we've put the Alexa skills in handy categories: Amazon Echo Alexa skills for smart homes, Alexa skills for travel, Alexa skills for food and drink, and the best games to play on your Amazon Echo.

[Update: If you're thinking of buying an Alexa-enabled smart speaker, it's worth keeping an eye out for Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals - last year saw Amazon making some brilliant discounts to the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, and we're expecting more of the same this year.]

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

The best Alexa skills: music and radio 

When we've tested various Amazon Echo products, probably the number one thing we've used the range of devices for has been playing music and listening to the radio, and you're spoilt for choice for Alexa skills here.

If you want to get something playing quickly, it's much easier to ask Alexa for a specific song or radio station rather than having to open an app, find the search bar, type in your choice, find you've not typed it in correctly, type it again... and so on.

Getting set up with audio services is very simple thanks to the fact that they're built in, rather than requiring you to seek out any third-party skills. 

If you want to use a music playing service other than Amazon Music you'll need to sign into it using your login details, and then set it as your default. To do this from the Alexa app on your phone, head to Settings, scroll down to Music and Media and then select your chosen music service.

It's possible to leave Amazon Music as your default and still play music through Spotify, but if you want to use Spotify first and foremost you can change defaults inside the Alexa app on your phone (so any music you ask to be played will stream from Spotify automatically).

Radio playback is even simpler, thanks to Alexa's integration with TuneIn and the supplied skill. Simply ask for any radio station that's available on the service and it automatically starts playing.

Podcasts are also technically supported, but we found that Alexa isn't very good at recognizing episode names and numbers, and we wouldn't recommend the experience for the time being. It might get better over time.

If you prefer TED Talks to podcasts, then you could try the Alexa skill specially designed to make listening to TED's brand of life-enriching lectures easier than ever before. You might learn something, or at least come away with that smug satisfaction that they always seem to deliver.

If listening to the radio, podcasts or music isn't what makes you feel calm or productive, then grab yourself some skills that'll give you the sounds that will switch you on (or off). There are plenty with nature sounds, rain sounds and white noise, so pick the ones which suit you and your mood best. 

The best Alexa skills: television streaming

Google Assistant may have the Chromecast to assist with video-streaming tasks, but Amazon has been making big strides forward here too, allowing users to control their Fire TV devices with Echo devices. This lets you open a specific streaming app, or play specific content by searching by titles, actors or genres. 

The functionality also works with TVs that have Amazon's Fire TV software built in. 

Recently, Sony's TVs also gained Alexa integration: using an Amazon Echo you're able to turn your TV on and off, change its channel, and even control the volume as well. 

This functionality is enabled by Alexa's Smart Home Skill API, which means that hopefully more television manufacturers will work to enable the functionality (and add more Alexa skills) in the future. 

Best Alexa skills

Amazon Echo

The best Alexa skills: general playback

There are a number of ways to get the most out of playing music on your Amazon Echo. For example, you can connect your Echo to an external Bluetooth speaker, through the Alexa mobile app, to improve its audio quality. 

You can also use your smart speaker to control your Sonos devices. You'll need to install the Sonos skill via the Alexa app, at which point Alexa will recognize any Sonos speakers that are connected to your home network. 

Alternatively, you can use a cable to attach an external speaker if your Echo has a 3.5mm audio port (like the Echo Dot and 2017 Amazon Echo do).

Once you've got your music playing, you can use your voice to control the volume, as well as relying on the physical controls on the device. While it makes sense to ask Alexa to "turn the volume up" or "turn the volume down", we prefer the accuracy of asking for specific volumes. 

To do this, ask Alexa to turn the volume to a number between 1 and 10 and no, you can't ask it to turn the music up to 11…