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

How to make Alexa smarter than ever

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Any device that has Alexa built-in has access to thousands and thousands of Skills. There are all extra capabilities that are way beyond what Amazon itself has added. For example, these days you can do anything from order pizza to play games with an Amazon Echo speaker.

Each week the list of what you can do with Alexa keeps growing, and even if you think you already know Amazon's voice-activated assistant pretty well, there's always a lot more to discover. In this list we've picked out some of the best and most useful Alexa Skills you need to know about.

Whether you're setting up an Alexa-enabled Amazon Echo speaker for the first time or you've had one for a while but think you might be missing out some valuable new Skills, keep this list close at hand. Remember these will work with the Amazon Echo range of speakers, as well as any other device that runs Alexa, like the Sonos One.

You'll be able to get Alexa to interact with the smart appliances in your house, or check bus times in your area, or get the headlines from your favorite news source, and so much more. 

For easy reference, 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.

We also show you how to install Skills in the first place.

Make sure you keep checking back because Amazon is always updating Skills, changing settings and adding new features (like being able to set Spotify as your default music player, for instance).

Amazon Echo

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. 

The reason for this is really simple: if you want to get something playing quickly then 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 and then find you've not typed it in correctly, then type it again, and... you get the gist. 

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. You can do this from the Alexa app on your smartphone: head into the 'Settings' menu, scroll down to 'Music and Media' and then select the music service of your choosing.

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. 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, pick which one best suits you. 

The best Alexa Skills: Television streaming

Although Google Assistant had a bit of a head start when it came to video content thanks to its integration with the Chromecast streamer, Amazon has been catching up recently. 

A big step forward was when Amazon allowed users to control their Fire TV devices with an Amazon Echo. The functionality allows you to open a specific streaming app, or to 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 control volume too. 

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. 

Amazon Echo

The best Alexa Skills: General playback info

There are a number of helpful tips you can use to get the most out of playing music on your Amazon Echo. 

First is the fact that it's possible to connect your Echo to an external Bluetooth speaker to improve its audio quality. You can do this through the Alexa app's Settings menu. 

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

Alternatively, if you have an Echo Dot or 2017 Amazon Echo you can simply connect them to an external speaker using their 3.5mm jack. 

Once you've got your music playing you can use your voice to control its overall volume, as opposed to just 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…