FAQ Part 2: Six Things To Try With Alexa

Post Updated 6/3/19 – Today we continue the Alexa FAQ series with a list of six things to try with Alexa. Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.

If you’re new to Alexa this list of the most popular basic features should get you up and running.

Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this update, on 12/28/18, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.

1. Get the weather forecast, either local or for anywhere in the world.
If you’ve already entered your zip code in the Alexa app during setup, you can simply speak the wake word followed by “weather forecast” to get local conditions for the day. Otherwise, include the location in your request: “weather forecast for [city] [state]” (use [city] [province] outside the US).

You can ask for the forecast up to a week in advance by including the day in your request: “weather forecast for [day of week]”. You can also include city/state or city/province with that command.

2. Play music.
This is far and away the most popular function in use on Alexa devices, and you don’t have to subscribe to any paid service to use it. iHeartRadio, Pandora and TuneIn support is included in the Alexa service in the US, and TuneIn is included in the UK. Readers outside the US and UK: please check the Alexa > Listen to Music section in the Help pages on your Amazon site for further guidance on support for this feature in your country.

Thanks to TuneIn support, you can listen to any streaming radio station from anywhere in the world. Say the wake word followed by “play radio station [call letters] on TuneIn”. Note that not all broadcast radio stations also offer internet streaming, but most of the large ones do. Try it! It’s especially fun to try with old favorite stations from cities where you used to live.

Thanks to iHeartRadio and Pandora (in the US), you can ask for music by artist name or genre also. Because streaming music service contracts vary, there’s no guarantee a specific song or even artist will be available on a given streaming service, but if your requested item is unavailable the station will offer something similar.

If you have a paid subscription to Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Prime (which includes Prime Music and Amazon Stations) or Amazon Music Unlimited, music from all of those sources is also available to play with Alexa voice commands. Say the wake word followed by any of these standard, basic commands to access music from those services:

Play [song or album title].
Play music by [artist name].
Play [genre] music.
Play my [name] playlist.

During playback of any music you can use “stop”, “pause”, “continue”, “skip”, “volume up” and “volume down” commands. If you’re playing a playlist, you can also use the “shuffle” command. If you’re playing music on a Show, where available the display will scroll song lyrics on-screen.

These commands barely scratch the surface. All the streaming services (e.g., iHeartRadio, Pandora, etc.) let you use the “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” command to tell Alexa what kind of music you want to hear more of, and which you’d like never to hear again.

If you’re using Prime Music or Amazon Music Unlimited, you can also ask for music by year, Amazon Station, decade, mood, what’s currently most popular in a specific city, and even with a lyric fragment: “play the song that goes [lyric fragment].” Amazon Music includes other types of audio content too, like standup comedy, nature sounds, Bible readings and more. I like to request “stand up comedy station on Amazon Music,” for example. Each available service has support for other, more advanced commands as well.

Click here to view Amazon’s Alexa Listen To Your Music help page on their US site for a more thorough list of supported services and commands.

Click here to view Amazon’s Alexa Listen To Your Music help page on their UK site for a more thorough list of supported services and commands.

3. Ask factual questions, math questions and conversion questions.
Since the original Echo was released, the Alexa voice service has gotten a whole lot better at understanding and responding to factual queries spoken in plain English, and her “vocabulary” of factual data has expanded pretty dramatically too.

Factual Questions: My best advice here is simply to try it. Whatever your question is, if it can be answered with a factual statement (as opposed to an opinion), Alexa can probably respond accurately. Try questions like these:

“What is the definition of [word]?”

“How is the word [word] spelled?”

“How old is [celebrity or sports figure]?”

“Who plays the [instrument] in [band]?”

“How many [miles/kilometers] apart are [city] and [city]?”

“When is the next full moon?”

“What time will [sunrise/sunset] be on [any day up to a year in advance]?”

“Which is the highest mountain on Earth?”

“Who holds the record for most Olympic gold medals?”

“What is the population of [city/state/country]?”

“What is the {national/state/province} {song/animal/bird}?” for a given locality

“What’s the most venomous [snake/spider]?”

“What is the state motto for {any US state}?”

…and on and on and on. As you can tell, Alexa’s ability to respond is pretty broad.

If your first query fails to generate a response, try rewording it. For more general information on a topic, ask Alexa to “Wikipedia [name or topic].”

Math, Conversions: I use this one almost daily. Why reach for a calculator when you can ask Alexa questions like, “What’s 315 divided by eight?” or “What’s 2,863 times twelve?” For money math, use the word “point” for the decimal: “What’s 48 point 19 divided by four?” When cooking try queries like, “How many ounces are in half a gallon?” or “Convert 1 point 5 liters to pints.” Getting ready for some travel? Try queries like, “Convert 386 Euro to US dollars,” and “How many kilometers are there in 68 miles?”

4. Get local business information.
Thanks to Yelp integration, Alexa can answer queries like these:

“Where is the nearest Starbucks?”
“Is the post office open?”
“What’s the phone number for [business name]?”
“What’s the address of [business name]?”
“Where is the nearest pizza place?”
“What are some top rated [business type] nearby?”

Click here to view Amazon’s Alexa Search For Nearby Places help page on their US site for a complete list of supported commands.

Click here to view Amazon’s Alexa Search For Nearby Places help page on their UK site for a complete list of supported commands.

5. Get movie information, both for movies currently in theaters and past releases.
This one is very useful, whether you’re deciding which movie to see in the theater or if an on-demand video is worth your time or money, and if you own a Show Alexa can also show you movie trailers!

“Is the movie [movie title] a good movie?” will get you the IMDB average review rating and popularity rank for any film in IMDB’s database.

“What movies for kids are playing nearby?” will get you a list of family-friendly movies currently in theaters. You can also search by other genres: “What horror movies are playing nearby?”, “What drama movies are playing nearby?”, etc.

“What movies star [actor name]?” is a great one for when you remember the actor name, but not the film title.

“How long is the movie [movie title}?” is very helpful when available time is a factor in deciding which film to watch.

You can also try questions like, “Who directed the movie [movie title]?”, “Who starred in the movie [movie title]?”, “When was the movie [movie title] released?” and more. Again, I suggest experimenting with this one. You’ll be surprised how many movie-related queries Alexa can answer.

6. Get a joke, riddle, poem, story or Easter egg from Alexa.
You can ask Alexa for a joke, riddle, limerick, palindrome, story or poem with the command, “Tell me a [desired item].” In some cases you can specify a topic as well, such as: “Tell me a cat joke,” “Tell me a holiday story,” “Tell me a Christmas haiku,” “Tell me a snowman joke,” and so on.

Alexa can sing some songs, too. Try asking her to sing a campfire song, holiday song, Happy Birthday, love song, country song or pirate song. Also try asking Alexa if she can autotune or rap.

The Easter egg library is massive and constantly growing, and as is the nature of Easter eggs, most of them are discovered by accident or experimentation. You can find a large archive of them in Love My Echo’s Things To Ask Alexa post archive (access it via the Easter Eggs tab). Apart from that, I’d suggest trying any famous movie or TV quotes you know, or musical questions and quotes like these:

“This is a dead parrot.” From Monty Python.
“Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.” From The Princess Bride.
“Have you ever seen the rain?”
“Does anybody really know what time it is?”
“Hold the door.” From Game of Thrones.
“Set phasers to stun.” From Star Trek.
“Life is like a box of chocolates.” From Forrest Gump.

Enjoy your new Alexa device, and be sure to come back here to follow the rest of this Alexa FAQ series.
I’ll be continuing the series with posts to cover Bluetooth / WiFi connectivity, the basics of Alexa calling and messaging, using Alexa devices as an intercom system, security and privacy concerns, Alexa music playback commands, using Alexa to control video on your TV, a look at the various Alexa devices and gadgets now available as well as the differences among them, the Alexa Flash Briefing, Alexa utilities like reminders, alarms and calendar integration, and a sort of catch-all mailbag FAQ at the end.

Click here to subscribe, so you’ll be notified when each new post is published. You’ll also want to bookmark any posts in the series you might need to refer to frequently in the future, and use the handy social media links at the bottom of this post to share with others who’ve received (or you know will be receiving!) Alexa devices.

Click here to read part 1, Alexa Basics For Those Giving or Getting An Alexa Device.

Click here to read part 3, Alexa With WiFi & Bluetooth.

Click here to read part 4, Alexa Privacy and Security.

Click here to read part 5, Alexa Music Commands and Services.

Click here to read part 6, Alexa Calling and Messaging.

Click here to read part 7, An Alexa Intercom System with Alexa Drop-In.

Click here to read part 8, Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers.

Click here to read part 9, Using Alexa To Control Your TV.

Click here to read part 10, Alexa Flash Briefing

Click here to read part 11, Alexa Calendar Integration

Click here to read part 12, Comparing Alexa Devices.

Click here to read part 13, Alexa FAQ Conclusion: Mailbag, Alexa Communities.