Amazon has been shipping the Echo smart speakers for several years now, but the tech is still new to some of us. For example, I just got my first Echo, an Echo Dot. I'm still finding out what it can and can't do (it can't actually read my Kindle ebooks to me, but it is great at being aggravating).
While I have been putting the Dot through its paces, I also took some time to find ways that writers could use Alexa as the virtual replacement for the office assistant that many of us want but few can afford.
I couldn't actually find very many current features, but I did find five. For starters, Alexa can keep your calendar for you.
Alexa can keep track of your Google, iCloud, Outlook, or Exchange calendar for you. You'll need to first integrate your calendar with Alexa by going to alexa.amazon.com, but once you do you will be able to ask Alexa to schedule an event, read back what's on your calendar, etc.
Here are a few of the commands that Alexa support:
- Alexa, create event ...
- Alexa, what's on my calendar?
- Alexa, what's happening next week?
To Do List
Alexa can also keep track of your to do list. Again, you'll need to integrate Alexa with your Any.do, Todoist, or Any List account, but once you do you can tell Alexa to add tasks to the list or read the list back to you.
Here are a few commands to try:
- Alexa, add "kill my main character" to my todo list
- Alexa, add "finish book" to my todo list
Got a word that you can say but can't spell? Alexa can help! Simply say "Alexa, spell X", and in just a few seconds it will be spelled back to you.
This is a useful trick, but Amazon doesn't quite have it perfect. I just tested Alexa, and while it got "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "antidisestablishmentarianism" right, it couldn't spell simpler words like "jalapeño". It mangled the enye character, instead spelling it as "entildao". (Apparently Alexa needs more training on compound characters.)
Alexa might struggle with unexpected characters, but it has better luck with definitions. If you want to make sure you are using a word correctly, just say "Alexa, define X" and it will read the definition back to you. You can also ask whether a word is a noun, verb, or other part of speech.
Alexa has a timer feature that authors can use as, well, a timer. This is a good way to engage in writing sprints whenever you just want to get words down on a page.
Simply say "Alexa, set a time for 15/20/60 minutes", and it will start tracking the time, and then beep when the time period ends. Alexa is limited to only setting a timer for the next 24 hours or less, but it can handle seconds, minutes, or hours.
What Alexa skills have you found useful? Let us know in the comments below!