How to master...the Amazon Echo

All of the right things to say to your new chatty speaker...

Talking to gadgets feels a bit unnatural when you've spent years conversing in the universal language of touchscreen. 

So acquainting yourself with an Amazon Echo can feel like a riddle, wrapped up in an enigma, roll up inside… a tech-packed tube. 

But Amazon's pioneering, voice-assistant-packing speaker can really help you do a lot around the home, whether it's playing media, taking lists, answering questions, or controlling your ever-growing assortment of connected devices.

It's not always obvious how deep the well of features go, so choose your level (beginner, intermediate, master) and prepare to become fluent in Echonese.

Beginner: 1) Install the phone app

This seems counterintuitive, right? Alexa is a voice assistant, and a fairly adept one at that, but many of her most useful features must be activated or selected from within the Alexa smartphone companion app. Trying to talk Alexa through inputting your Spotify password isn't much fun, so it's worth pulling your phone out for a moment.

The app is primarily used for setup and activation purposes: you don't need to reach for your phone each time you want to use the same function after that. It's available on Android, iOS, and yes, even Amazon's ill-fated Fire Phone.

2) Plug in the tunes

The Echo is best enjoyed by Amazon Prime subscribers, as it lets you tap into some extra features and functionality. One of those is Amazon's own Prime Music library, which has a few million tracks to play via voice commands.

But it doesn't have everything, and besides, there's a good chance that you're already paying for a Spotify account – so be sure to point Alexa in that direction instead.

You can add your account credentials via the app, and then when asking for an artist, track, or genre, be sure to add "on Spotify" at the end of your request. Or just make Spotify your default service in the settings and lose the extra couple of words.

3) Consume, consume

Just like your dogs love of a good stroke, your Amazon Echo is happiest when you're using it to order things. This process is disturbingly easy for Prime subscribers. How easy? Just ask Alexa for something and she'll sell it to you without you ever looking at a screen.

If you suddenly have the urge to splurge, send Alexa searching for something: a video game, laundry detergent, furniture, or nearly anything else.

She'll read the description and price, and so long as it's Prime-shippable, you can have it charged to your card on file and sent your way. Not everything on the site can be ordered by voice (like clothes or jewellery), but a big chunk of it can be.

And if you're using a screen-enabled device like the Echo Show or Echo Spot, then you'll get a quick preview of what you're about to buy - a handy benefit, no doubt.

4) Prep a perfect meal

You might be tempted to put the Echo somewhere central in your flat, but it can be an incredible cooking ally for the kitchen.

Need measurement conversions, want to add items to a shopping list, or set a timer so your perfect meal doesn't get charred? Just ask Alexa. You can even get recipes from Jamie Oliver, in case you're short on ideas. Some recipe skills even display the ingredients on the Echo Show or Spot screens, which is handy.

And if all fails and you still manage to botch your best-laid plans, you can always get takeaway with Just Eat – "Alexa, ask Just Eat to re-order [favourite food here]" will bring your usual to your doorstep. And no, there's nothing at all worrying about the fact that you have a usual, nothing at all.

5) Invite everyone to the party

If you share a flat with friends or family who all have their own Amazon accounts, you don't need to fight over who controls the Echo: everyone can pair up their profiles so you can share media, lists, and other features with ease.

In the app's Settings or via, you can create a Household Profile for the Echo, allowing other users to login and add their account info to your Echo. And then during use, you can say, "Alexa, switch accounts" to bring someone else's music and preferences to the forefront.

6) Change your wake word

If you're unfortunate enough to already live with a real person called Alexa (it's nothing personal, we're sure she's lovely), or just prefer your tech to have a more formal name, consider changing your Echo's wake word.

In the Settings menu of the Alexa app choose your device then scroll down to choose 'Wake Word'. Originally, the alternatives were limited to "Amazon" or "Echo," but now you can also choose "Computer" - in case you happen to have a Trekkie in your home.