Is there an Echo in here? Six ways that Alexa can help you be organised and productive

We now have three Amazon Echos in our house and, more and more often, I find myself about to speak to the air in a room where Alexa isn't, and have to stop myself before I look foolish. Here's a round-up of recent episodes from my Dot to Dot podcast which show why smart speakers like the Amazon Echo (AKA Alexa) and Google Home are so useful - and also addictive.

Simpler than a smartphone

Smart speakers really do represent the next significant paradigm shift in computing.

The PC was powerful but also complex. Then came the smartphone which, with its smaller screen, brought simpler content with the same amount of power and much more portability. Throw away your software instructions manuals and antivirus anxieties and enjoy the all-round easier experience. One didn't replace the other, but choice is a good thing - especially when the options are getting easier and easier to use.

Then came these natural-voice focused devices and the simplicity score just shot up several more notches. Again, not intended to replace smartphones or computers, these devices offer huge amounts of useful features nonetheless.

Information, entertainment, services and so much more

Most of us use our phones for so many different things each day that it would be hard to list them all. While smart speakers can't (yet) do all of those things, due to their ease of use and overall usefulness, it's inevitable that having one or more in your house will mean that some of those daily tasks will shift from your phone to the helpful assistant who is ever-listening and ready to help.

A lot of what I cover in Dot to Dot - the daily podcast about all things Alexa - focuses on entertainment, and she is so very good at a wide variety of games. But it's not just about trivia - I recently dedicated a series of episodes to the way Alexa can help with being organised and productive.

Six ways Alexa can help in your daily life

These episodes give you a flavour of Alexa's awesome array of talents. You can click on the links to listen to each one - or you can subscribe in iTunes or by searching for 'Dot to Dot' in your favourite podcast app. 

Dot to Dot - Episode 522 on finding out general information

  • This one's all about getting general information from Alexa - from facts on every possible topic, to detailed weather info, word definitions and synonyms and language translation.

Dot to Dot Episode 523 - on health and cooking

  • From recipes and cooking tips to first aid info and stopping smoking motivation - this one’s all about health. As with all these episodes, we cover Alexa's built-in abilities as well as third-party skills. What are skills? They're basically apps for your Echo.

Dot to Dot Episode 524 - on news, timers and alarms

  • Some of the most useful things you could ever use your Echo for are setting multiple cooking timers and a variety of alarms to make sure you're up in the morning. When you're up, there are a million ways of catching up with the news.

Dot to Dot Episode 525 - on accessing media of all kinds

  • Music, radio stations and podcasts from around the world are available on your Echo and there's a huge amount of educational and informative content to be consumed. The challenge is just where to start.

Dot to Dot Episode 526 - on reminders, connected devices, voice calling and audio and Kindle books

  • This one is chock-full of tips on setting reminders, connecting to smart devices around the home, calling and messaging using your Echo and even listening to your favourite audio or Kindle books read out by Alexa. Oh and buying things by voice from Amazon - nearly forgot that one!

Dot to Dot Episode 527 - on travel info and tips on finding Alexa skills

  • This final episode (and a gold star to everyone who listens to/survives them all) covers a range of travel skills to help you find the best driving route, check the traffic or get train times and the cheapest fares. We also cover how to ask Alexa to help you find out what she can do and how to remember your favourite skills.

Clever, entertaining and useful

I hope you'll agree that smart speakers like Alexa are amazingly useful and entertaining on so many levels. For people with disabilities, the ability to get news and other information by voice and to control your media and environment with a word is a game-changer.

The episodes in this article focus on her non-game skills, but to hear what Alexa can do in the game-department then simply subscribe to Dot to Dot and you'll find out a lot more on a daily basis.

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Robin Christopherson is head of digital inclusion at AbilityNet. Find more of his blogs here.