At $179.99, the Amazon Echo looks like a pricey toy, especially if you’ve got a smartphone that can do many of Echo’s tasks. Early reviews of the Echo were mixed, as Amazon’s version of Apple’s Siri, named Alexa, wasn’t as responsive as some had hoped.
But, as should be expected of one of the most innovative companies in the world, Amazon quickly stepped up its game.
Recent reviews of Echo and Alexa are much more promising. The Echo technology, which allows you to get things done with a simple voice command, is proving incredibly versatile, too. This is because Amazon essentially crowdsourced additional brains for Alexa by giving developers and users access to its IFTTT (if-this-then-that) technology.
Now, you can essentially create your own Echo features by setting up formulas allowing Alexa to control a variety of third-party devices and apps.
Because of Alexa’s increased flexibility, it could be a great option for technophiles who’d like to take some steps to save time or money. Here are 23 ways we found that Alexa can do both:
1. Save on music
With a simple voice command, you can ask Alexa to play music from free services like Pandora or Spotify. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, she’ll also play from Prime’s available music. You can request specific playlists, artists, or even songs.
2. Burn less food
The Echo can set up timers in the kitchen, hands-free. No more wasting food because you’ve forgotten to set a timer and burn the meat. Working on a gourmet meal for hosting? No problem. Just ask Alexa to set multiple timers for each course of the meal you’re working on.
3. Avoid Uber surge pricing
You can ask Alexa to call you an Uber without even picking up your phone. For city dwellers, just using Uber rather than owning a vehicle can save some serious cash. But for those of us who just like to grab an Uber for a night on the town, Echo’s service can still save money. Alexa will let you know if Uber is charging surge pricing in your area, so you can think twice before you pay the big bucks for your ride downtown.
4. Cut your utilities bill
The Echo can hook up with a huge variety of smart home devices, including Lutron light switches, Nest thermostats, Philips Hue lighting, and Samsung’s SmartThings line. Using these devices, you can dim or turn off lights, raise or lower your home’s thermostat, or turn off outlets to conserve energy, lowering your utilities bills. And since Echo makes it so easy to use these devices, you’re more likely to take advantage of their capabilities.
5. Make lightbulbs last longer
As noted above, Echo works with a variety of SmartHome devices, including lightbulbs. This makes it easy to turn off your downstairs lights when you go to your room at night, for instance. Plus, you can access Echo via a mobile app. So if the kids left their bedroom light on again, you can turn it off while you’re at work, making sure you get your money’s worth out of those fancy lightbulbs.
6. Avoid major vehicle repairs
Not only can the Echo make your home smarter, but it can also make your car smarter. Hook it up to an Automatic, and Echo can tell you about your car’s check engine light, warn you if your battery is getting low, or remind you of upcoming repairs that need to happen. Similarly, the Echo will let you use Ford’s Sync Connect to stay on top of the health of your car.
7. Get better gas mileage
Both the Automatic device and the Sync Connect options allow you to keep track of your gas mileage. In fact, using Automatic, you can get advice on driving habits you should change in order to get better mileage. Or you can simply keep track of your current mileage to catch any problems that might crop up.
8. Keep your home secure
Not surprisingly, Echo also syncs with a variety of home security systems, some of which come from the same smart home companies mentioned above. With Echo, you can turn on your security system without going to the wall panel in your home. And you can set up alerts should your security system go off. After all, avoiding home insurance claims is a great way to save some cash!
9. Catch up on the news.
Want to see what’s happening in the world, but don’t have time to read the paper or your favorite news site? Echo can hook into your favorite news-oriented radio stations, like NPR, which you can access with a simple voice command. Or you can ask Alexa for a rundown of the day’s headlines, so you can follow up on any stories that are particularly interesting.
10. Avoid heavy traffic on your commute
Before you leave for work in the morning, ask Alexa about your morning commute. Once it’s programmed into the Echo, you can get a report of about how long it’ll take you to get to work. You’ll save time and gas money by avoiding heavy traffic as much as possible!
11. Reorder from Amazon
In my family, we often wind up picking up essentials like toilet paper, laundry detergent, and diapers from the more-expensive pharmacy around the corner. It’s just because we forget until it’s too late that we have to have these items. With Echo, you can voice order items from Amazon. So have Alexa order Prime-ready (and, often, cheaper) diapers or toilet paper before you find yourself on that midnight pharmacy run.
12. Don’t miss an appointment
You can ask Echo to remind you about certain appointments. Or just treat Alexa like your very own personal assistant. You can sync the Echo with your Google calendar, and with a voice command, Alexa will read you the list of the day’s appointments and activities.
13. Keep up with your to-do list
Similarly, Echo can both take notes for your to-do list and tell you what’s on said list. So if you, like me, often remember that you need to make an important phone call while you’re in the middle of cooking dinner, no sweat.
Just call out the to-do to Echo, and it’ll add the task to your to-do list. Then, you can have your to-do list synced with your favorite list app or sent to your email inbox.
14. Add must-haves to your shopping list
One of the best ways to save money is to make a grocery list and stick to it. But if you’re constantly forgetting essential recipe ingredients, this may not work for you. We’ve tried it all for up-to-date shopping lists: white erase boards on the fridge, chalkboards by the door, apps that sync to mine and my husband’s phones.
But our number one issue is forgetting to write down often-used essentials like ketchup and cereal as soon as we run out. With Echo, you can just tell Alexa to add ketchup to the shopping list as soon as your four-year-old uses the last two cups of it for her nightly chicken nuggets.
15. Wear the right clothes
Of course, you can download and look at weather apps on your phone to know what the day’s temperatures will look like. But with Echo, you can get a weather report as you’re picking out your clothes in the morning. Rain in the forecast? Don’t risk ruining your favorite leather boots. Have Alexa let you know.
16. Look up helpful online information
It probably comes as no surprise that Echo can read you audiobooks from Audible, which is, after all, affiliated with Amazon. But Alexa can also look up and read articles from the world wide web. For instance, if your preschooler asks how lizards can climb up walls, you can just ask Alexa. She’ll search Wikipedia for the answer and let you know.
(It’s that they have tiny hairs all over their feet, which make them stick to surfaces. Just in case that ever actually comes up.)
17. Convert measurements and units when cooking
Back to the kitchen with this one! When you’re cooking away (and Alexa’s keeping track of three timers for your gourmet meal), you can ask for conversions for measurements or units. This opens up a world of new recipes for which you would have previously had to do math. Feel free to check out all those European cooking blog you’ve been salivating over now.
18. Get current banking information
Currently, Capital One is the only bank that’s tapped into Echo’s capabilities. But we expect that many more banks will jump on board shortly. Instead of overcharging your checking account, though, you can ask Alexa for your current Chase checking account balance or see how much credit you have left on a Capital One card.
19. Never miss a payment
Again, this option is only available through Capital One for now. But you can use Echo to pay bills through your Capital One account. You can also set up reminders for when bills are due.
Of course, you can use Google Calendar and some to-do apps for bill paying reminders, too. Just put your due dates on your calendar, and get into the habit of asking Alexa for a daily run-down each morning.
20. Learn some new recipes
Again, cooking at home is one of the absolute best ways to save money and to become healthier. And Echo makes that pretty easy. You can have Echo read cookbooks or cooking blog posts, or you can tap into an app that will walk you through recipes step by step. If you’re not yet a whiz in the kitchen, using Echo might help you discover new recipes and techniques you love.
21. Don’t lose your phone
Using IFTTT Triggers, you can set up Echo to find your phone. So if you, like me, are constantly misplacing this ever-smaller device, you don’t have to worry about replacing it as often. Here’s how you can set up Echo to find your phone.
22. Get into better shape
Scrap your Sweating to the Oldies DVDs, and forget looking up a new workout each day on YouTube. Echo can actually help you get in shape. Using third-party technology, Echo can talk and time you through a quick workout. Currently, its specialty is a seven-minute high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, but we imagine vinyasa yoga via Echo is on its way in the near future.
23. Get the latest investing information
Trying to make some important investing decisions? Echo’s “Ask Fidelity” feature will pull up current stock quotes by name or ticker symbol. While we wouldn’t necessarily ask for Alexa’s investing advice, knowing where stock quotes are and what recent trends have been around can help you decide where to allocate your own portfolio.
So let’s be honest: Amazon’s $180 version of Tony Stark’s Jarvis isn’t going to help you save a million bucks in five years. However, with some creativity, this could be a time- and money-saving device. And many of its tasks can be handled by smartphone or even on an old-fashioned laptop.
The key here is to get creative. If you invest in an Echo, don’t just use its out-of-the-box options. Instead, get creative with the IFTTT option Amazon offers, and customize Alexa to work exactly how you need her to.