One of the great features of Amazon’s Alexa is, well, the ability to add new features. Like with a browser extension or a smartphone app, developers can write software that works with your Alexa account. Some Alexa software (called “Skills”) are awesome, while others don’t really make sense. Recently, Amazon promoted it has over 10,000 of these add-ons. We thought it would be fun to review our favorites here at groovyPost and which ones to avoid.
Start On The Web
Trying to sort through these on your phone takes forever. Fortunately, you can access all this stuff from Amazon’s portal. When you’re logged into your Amazon account, just select Alexa Skills from the search drop-down or navigate to it directly. Amazon also has a web-version of the Alexa app.
From the skill store, Amazon gives you ratings and reviews. I browse it every few weeks. I look at the news skills added in the last 30 days along with the popular and trending lists. It’s like an app store, and that’s how I usually navigate Apple and Google’s stores.
Most all skills are free. I haven’t found one yet that forces me to pay. To use a skill, just click Enable, and you’re there. On that screen will be the commands for initiating that skill. Many of them are related to your Flash Briefing, which is your daily news report. Those skills we covered in this article.
Skills are account specific. That means you can enable skills for your kids and keep them separate from your skills. Just tell Alexa to switch accounts.
Enable Skills That Make Sense
In the early days of smartphones, lots of companies made apps that didn’t make sense. Wouldn’t it be easier to do this on the web? How is issuing a voice command going to be a time saver for you?
Since Alexa is accessible to anyone who issues a command, I’m cautious of using commands that could cost me money. While you can configure Alexa to prevent accidental Amazon purchases, you can’t always prevent it from ordering you a car, pizza, or coffee if enable those skills.
I recommend leaving anything dealing with money off your Alexa. Keep that on your smartphone. That includes bank accounts and credit cards. Some of these skills add a passcode, but that security makes it less convenient. Your passcode could be overheard by others. Leave money matters to private screens.
Beyond the Flash Briefing, I don’t recommend skills related to podcasts. I tried that for a few weeks. If can’t listen to the whole podcast, Alexa doesn’t tell other devices where I left off. If I stream my podcast from my smartphone, then I can take it in the car. Alexa doesn’t always remember where I left off in a podcast even if I use the show’s skill. Most of these podcasts are available through Tunein anyways.
My Favorite Skill: Stop, Breathe, Think
We should all slow down and meditate a little more. The problem is it’s a pain and inconvenient. I was a fan of the Stop, Breathe, Think mobile app. I sit and usually relax less than 5 minutes, and it gives you complete instructions on what to do. You don’t even need to be lying down. The app tracks how much you’ve been using it too. I do this at night right before I head to bed.
Other Relaxation And Motivation Skills
If you’re looking for a shorter meditation, the 1-Minute Mindfulness is a quick break in your day. The skill walks you through breathing or gives you some nature sounds. If you can’t spare one minute out of your day, then you’re the perfect candidate for a skill like that.
Communications: AT&T Send Message
While I could pick up my phone or use Hey Siri to dictate a message, AT&T Send Message is much easier. I have an Echo in the kitchen and a Dot in my office. My iPhone is often out of range, but between the two Alexa devices, one of them can hear me.
You’re limited to specific contacts, but I see that as a feature rather than a bug. I usually just want to text family members, so I don’t need my full contact list. The texts say they’re from Alexa, so the person knows you may not be able to read the response. Best use case: “Hey, I’m in the middle of cooking dinner, and we ran out of butter, can you pick some up on the way home?” If you use this AT&T Send Message, the text looks like it’s coming from your phone and responses go to that phone.
Other Messaging Service
SMS with Molly works with any phone that supports text messaging. Unlike the AT&T app, you can add as many contacts as you wish. She’ll also let you switch initiating numbers on the fly so a friend or guest can use it. With the free skill, Molly limits you to 30 messages a month.
The big drawback with SMS with Molly is the receiver can’t respond directly to the message.
Ask My Buddy is a personal alert system like those famous commercials about an elderly woman who needs assistance after a fall. As they clearly state, it isn’t a substitute for 911 or a monitored alert system. This skill is perfect in a house that has kids or anyone who may not be able to reach the phone on occasion. Alerting services have monthly fees and may not be right for everyone. Ask My Buddy gives you some of that peace of mind at no extra cost. If you have kids, who may not be able to use or reach a phone, get this skill right away.
Don’t you hate when you get a call from a number you don’t recognize? You aren’t sure if it’s someone you know. Heck, you don’t even know what area code that is. A quick ask of Alexa tells you where it’s from. That might help you decide whether to answer before they leave a voicemail.
Food: All Recipes
Like many people, I keep my Echo in the kitchen. It can do basic recipes and simple substitutions natively, but sometimes you need a bit more. A good example of when I use this is when I realize we’re out of something and I have to scrap the recipe altogether (You couldn’t stop on the way home and pick up butter? Really?). You’ll need to create an All Recipes account first and link it to your Amazon skill. Once you do that, you can ask it for popular recipes or ideas to make with ingredients you have on hand.
When you’re ready, All Recipes walks you through each step. I thought that would be awesome, but then I can’t easily listen to other things on the Alexa while cooking. This single-tasking isn’t the end of the world, but I hope they figure out how to listen to music and use a skill a the same time. Siri doesn’t seem to have a problem doing this.
Other Food Skills
You pull a beer out of the fridge, and you can’t remember why you bought it. What does it taste like and how much alcohol does it have? You could look it up on BeerAdvocate.com, but this skill does that for you. With craft beers having so many similar names, this skill has failed me a few times. That’s when I pull out my iPhone for other questions.
Amazon natively does very simple substitutions, but usually, fails me. This is where Ingredient Sub saves the day. When I can’t get someone to buy butter on the way home, I can ask this skill good substitutions for butter. Among the many options, it gave me was 7/8 cups vegetable oil + half teaspoon salt.
Although this is brand-sponsored, you don’t have to store your leftovers in their containers. This simple skill remembers what you’ve told it is in the fridge or freezer. That helps answer the question “What’s for dinner?” Instead of making something new, why not re-heat something you already made. You tell this skill what you’re putting in the fridge or freezer, and the skill remembers. When you ask it about leftovers, it gives you an inventory of what you have and where. It even tracks the date. When you eat a leftover, just tell Glad Leftovers to remove it from the inventory. Brilliant!
I always forget the difference between a Black Russian and White Russian (one has cream). If you ask this skill how to make a drink, it gives specific proportions. Alexa has some of these skills built in, but The Bartender seems to know more.
I’m putting this skill in the food category since most of my spills are food related. When you’re trying to clean up a stain, time is critical. I could look this stuff up on the web, but Alexa tells me exactly how to get out red wine or chocolate.
Education: This Day in History
Although I’d like this to be in the Flash Briefing, this skill tells you a little bit of trivia each day. I highly recommend this skill for anyone with children. Learning from Alexa can be fun, but history is just the beginning. The content comes from the History Channel, and you can ask for details about each event of the day.
Other Lessons of the Day
This is an area where Alexa skills will always shine. Depending on what you’re interested in, you’ll always find some great content. You might learn vocabulary words or foreign languages. For any interest, Alexa has a facts or a quote app. These range from types of food or cuisines, TV shows and movies, historical or pop culture figures, animals, and cities. If you’re studying for a test, Alexa probably has a skill to quiz you.
Keep Searching for More and Do A Skill Check
Just like any app store, more skills are added daily. Amazon lists the new skills in the past 7, 30 and 90 days. I always keep on the lookout for new skills to extend the power of my Alexa. Amazon has, wait for it, a Skill Finder that gives you the Skill of the Day or lets you search for new skills.
To see what skills you have enabled and how to use them, head on over to Amazon’s Skills page and select Your Skills. Companies are adding new features to existing skills, so it’s worth checking them out for new features.