Finally! Amazon's voice-controlled Echo speaker is available in the UK today, almost two years after it first launched in the United States.
Thankfully, Amazon took that extra time to ensure that Alexa - the A.I. assistant housed within - is properly British, but otherwise her ever-expanding skill set should be equivalent to what Americans already get. And that just happens to be a rather large list.
Alexa can order takeaway meals (via Just Eat), give you train times and traffic info, prepare your shopping list, help you tune a guitar, dig up obscure trivia bits, and so much more. However, if you're planning on bringing the Echo home - or have had one delivered today, lucky you - these are the first five things you should do to make the most of this seriously smart device.
1) Bring on the tunes
Despite its slim profile, the Echo delivers nicely expansive audio playback to your flat – and since it's cloud-connected, Alexa can pull down songs, albums and playlists with a simple request.
It's tuned to grab songs from Amazon's own Prime Music service by default, of course. But if you're one of the many millions of paying Spotify users, you can plug in your account using the Alexa app for iPhone or Android. Services such as iHeartRadio and Pandora can also be accessed, and we'd expect plenty more to follow. Use it to blast your favourite tunes, or have Alexa find you something fresh while you're lazing about. Sorry, working.
2) Set it up for sport
Rather than pull out your phone each morning to see how the previous night's footie games turned out, you can ask Alexa for a full run-down of your favourite team's victories and, if you're a West Ham or Sunderland fan right now, horrible mishaps.
You can use the Alexa app to search for and add your top teams from across the sporting spectrum, and then when you ask for your sports update, you'll get the whole list of scores. You can also ask her about league standings, upcoming fixtures, and other handy details. Sam Allardyce should probably get one so he can keep up with England scores from this point on.
3) Buy even more stuff
The Echo itself isn't exactly cheap in its own right, selling for £149 now (and £99 for Prime members who pre-ordered early), but the fact that it's made by Amazon means it excels at helping you further empty your already-depleted wallet. You could see that as a bad thing, but raging consumerists that we are at Stuff, we tend to consider it a case of Echo just helping us do what we were going to do anyway.
So, Prime members can order pretty much anything purely through voice commands. Simply ask Alexa about an item you'd like and she'll give you the top search result, along with the details. From there, you can confirm your order and have it shipped right to you, or otherwise hear more options or back out. What an amazing time we live in: you don't even have to see what you're ordering to summon more junk to your flat.
4) Smarten up that home
Amazon's Echo can be the first step towards setting up a home full of connected lights and devices, and it's thankfully compatible with several different brands. It'll work with Samsung's SmartThings gear, Philips Hue lights, and WeMo and Insteon hubs, and it also connects with an array of smart thermostats including the Nest, Lyric, Sensi, and ecobee3 devices.
You can even tap into custom command recipes with IFTTT, such as telling the Echo to cue "Party Time" with Hue lights, or turning off your Harmony-connected TV. In fact, IFTTT is useful for a lot more than just home hardware, as its community-made recipes can pair up with popular apps and services to help you do everything from find your phone to create a list of all the songs you listen to on the Echo.
5) Ask what Alexa can do for you
Amazon keeps adding new features and partner services to Alexa and the Echo all the time, and as the device expands internationally, that growth should only accelerate. And thankfully, you can ask Alexa to give you a heads-up on what she's been learning lately.
Just ask, "Alexa, what new features do you have?" From there, she'll tell you about the latest addition, potentially offering something to really empower your connected home experience. You can also find these things via the mobile app, but what fun is that? Just ask from time to time to ensure that you're getting the most out of this clever assistant.