FAQ Part 8: Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers

Publication Date: 1/5/18 – The Alexa FAQ series continues with information about Alexa alarms, reminders and timers.

Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.

Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this writing, on 1/5/18, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.

Differences Between Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers

Alexa timers, reminders and alarms are among the most popular Alexa features, but there are some misunderstandings among consumers about them. Perhaps the biggest misconception is that timers and reminders are just special types of alarms. This is not true.

Alexa alarms work like an alarm clock, or clock radio: you set the alarm to sound at a specific time, you can snooze the alarm to turn it off for nine minutes (after which time it will sound again), the alarm will continue to sound until you turn it off, you can set the alarm to be recurring, and you can choose the ringtone or music and volume level you’d like when the alarm sounds.

Alexa timers work like a kitchen timer: you set the timer to sound after counting down a specific amount of time and the alert tone continues to sound until you turn it off. You can choose the volume level for timers in the Alexa app, but you cannot snooze Alexa timers, you cannot set recurring Alexa timers, and you cannot choose a specific ringtone or music as the alert sound.

Alexa reminders are like a special type of alarm that is much more limited than a regular Alexa alarm. It will go off at a specific time, but there’s no snooze, the audible alert only sounds briefly before turning itself off, and you set the alarm tone you’ll hear by naming the reminder or specifying what you should be reminded about. As with alarms, you can set multiple and recurring reminders.

Alarms, Timers and Reminders Are Device-Specific

Alexa alarms, timers and reminders are set on specific devices, and will only sound their alert tones on the devices where they were set. In other words, if you set an alarm, timer or reminder on your bedroom Echo, when it’s time for the alert to sound it will only sound on the bedroom Echo: not the Dot in the den or the Show on the kitchen counter.

Alexa Timers

Alexa timers should be thought of the same way you’d think about setting a kitchen timer: they are intended to count down a specific amount of time and then alert you with an audible tone. If you need an audible tone to sound at a specific time, rather than after a certain amount of time has passed, you should be setting an alarm, not a timer.

You can set a timer without a specific name by saying, “[wake word], set a timer for [number] minutes.” You can incorporate hours into timers as well, with a command like, “[wake word], set a timer for [number] hours, [number] minutes.”

When setting multiple timers, or when you would like a reminder of what the timer is for, you can set a named timer with the command, “[wake word], set a [name] timer for [duration].”

To find out how much time is left on a timer use the commands, “[wake word], check timer,” or “[wake word], check [name] timer.”

You can cancel timers with voice commands: “[wake word], [cancel] timer,” or “[wake word], [cancel] [name] timer.”

You can choose the ringtone you’d like for the timer and adjust its volume in the Reminders and Alarms tab in the Alexa app (there’s a Timers tab there as well). Timers can also be paused/resumed or cancelled from there.

From Amazon’s relevant Help page:

If you have named timers set, you can use the Alexa app to manage them.

To manage an existing timer, open the Alexa app:
1. From the Menu select Reminders & Alarms.
2. Choose your device from the drop-down menu.
3. Select the Timers tab to view the status of your timers.
4. Select the timer you want to manage, and then select Pause or Cancel.

Note: If two or more timers are set for the same amount of time, [you must] use the app to cancel them.

On compatible Echo devices [with screens], you can say, “Show me my timers,” to see a list. Swipe to the left on a timer to delete it.

Alexa Alarms

As mentioned above, Alexa alarms are intended for use when you need to be alerted at a specific time. You can set multiple alarms, and you can set recurring alarms too. From Amazon’s relevant help topic:

To set an alarm with your voice, just say “Set an alarm for [time of day].” You can also ask for a repeating alarm by saying, “Set a repeating alarm for [day of week] at [time].”

You can say, “Snooze,” when the alarm sounds for an additional nine minutes. Or, you can say, “Stop,” when the alarm sounds.

After you’ve created a new alarm with your voice, you can edit it in the Alexa app.

To manage an existing alarm in the Alexa app:

1. Select Reminders & Alarms from the Menu.
2. Choose your device from the drop-down menu.
3. Select the Alarms tab.
4. Select the existing alarm.
5. Under Repeats, select from available options.
6. Select Save Changes.

Use the command, “[wake word], check alarm,” to verify an alarm is set, and for what time. If multiple alarms are set Alexa will provide details for every one of them.

Use the command, “[wake word], cancel alarm,” to cancel an alarm. If you have multiple alarms set, Alexa will prompt you to specify which alarm you’d like to cancel.

You can choose the alarm tone you’d like and adjust its volume in the Reminders and Alarms tab in the Alexa app. Alarms can also be created, paused/resumed, or cancelled from there.

Alarms Advanced Feature: Wake To Music
I’m loving this new feature of Alexa alarms! **UPDATE 10/4/18** A UK reader tells me this feature is now available in the UK as well.

I’ve heard from a reader on Twitter that this feature isn’t working on her Amazon Tap, but I haven’t found anything in Amazon’s help pages to indicate it’s unsupported on Tap so I’m not sure what to make of that.

From Amazon’s relevant help topic:

Wake up to your favorite music and radio stations on Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn, SiriusXM, and iHeartRadio.

To get started, select a default music service [in the Alexa app, under] Settings > Music & Media > Default Music Service.

Ask Alexa…
“Set an alarm to Adele”
“Wake me up to country music”
“Set an alarm to BBC News on TuneIn”
“Wake me up to Kiss FM on TuneIn”

LME editor’s note: I use the commands, “wake me to the song [song title],” or “wake me to my [name] playlist,” for wake to music. After using these commands, Alexa will prompt you for the desired alarm time.

Better with Amazon Music

Ask Alexa…
“Wake me up to relaxing music”
“Wake me up to pop music for running”
“Wake me up with Location by Khalid”
“Wake me up to the song that goes… I’ve paid my dues time after time”
“Alexa wake me up to 80’s music”

Alexa Reminders

Reminders are a special type of alarm. You can set multiple and recurring reminders, but the audible alert you get with a reminder is much more limited than what you get with an alarm.

You set reminders in the Reminders and Alarms tab of the Alexa app, or by using voice commands like those shown below, from the relevant Amazon help page:

Ask Alexa…
“Remind me to take out the recycling”
“Remind me to call Mom every Sunday”
“Remind me to walk the dog everyday”
“Remind me to pick up the kids every weekday at 3:00 PM”
“What are my reminders?”

If you use a command that doesn’t specify a time, like “remind me to take out the recycling,” Alexa will prompt you for the time.

When the reminder ‘goes off’, Alexa will say, “This is a reminder. [reminder name or task],” and will repeat it once. In the recycling example she would say, “This is a reminder. Take out the recycling.” On Echo and Spot devices, the text of the reminder will also display on-screen.

Because the reminder only sounds on the device where you set it and only repeats once, if you aren’t near the device where the reminder was set when it goes off you might miss it. For that reason, Alexa reminders should not be used for critical things or things that could negatively affect health or even be life-threatening (such as taking important medication).

Alexa Timer, Reminder and Alarm Hacks

Once you start experimenting with timers, reminders and alarms, you’ll find they’re pretty versatile.

Use reminders to get the day off to a great start.
Set a daily reminder with a fun, inspiring or encouraging message to sound soon after your alarm, but before you’ve left the room where the alarm and reminder will go off. Remember that when the reminder goes off Alexa will say, “This is a reminder,” before she says whatever your message is, so bear that in mind when composing your messages. Consider brief messages that will result in Alexa reminders like these:

“This is a reminder. You’ve got this.”

“This is a reminder. That you rock.”

“This is a reminder. To kill it at work today.”

“This is a reminder. You’re going to be fine.”

“This is a reminder. To have a happy birthday.”

You get the idea. Because reminders are set on a specific device, if you have an Alexa device in the kids’ room you can use this hack for them, too.

Use reminders like a virtual bulletin board.
You can use the reminders function to have Alexa read messages that may or may not be actual reminders at times when you know other household members will be around to hear them. You can schedule brief messages like these, taking Alexa’s, “This is a reminder,” introduction into account:

“This is a reminder. Sarah is working late tonight.”

“This is a reminder. The mail is on the kitchen table.”

“This is a reminder. We’re out of milk.”
To prevent those regrettable dry cereal incidents.

“This is a reminder. Doug paid the cable bill.”

Et cetera.

Use alarms like timers.
Many consumers have expressed annoyance that you can’t choose a custom ringtone or music as the audible alert when a timer goes off. You can achieve the desired result by setting an alarm instead. With an alarm you have to specify a time for the alarm to sound rather than a duration of time to count down, but it may be worth doing the mental math to hear “We Are The Champions” when your treadmill session is finished, or “I Am The Walrus” when your hard-boiled eggs are ready.

Enjoy your Alexa devices, 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 the basics of 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 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 2, Six Things To Try With Alexa.

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 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.