5 Alexa skills to try this week

Here’s a hand-picked selection of five popular, new, or noteworthy Alexa skills worth trying. There are now more than 25,000 voice apps in the Alexa Skills Store, Amazon announced earlier this week.

In Alexa news, this was perhaps the most prolific week of developments for Alexa device owners since the launch of the Echo in 2014.

On Wednesday six new Amazon devices made their debut: A second-generation Echo, the Echo Plus, the Echo Spot alarm clock, Echo Connect for phone calls, Echo Buttons for games, and Fire TV 4K.

Among new features, Alexa devices can now make free calls to the United States, Canada, and Mexico, and footage from smart cameras can now be tracked with Fire TV or an Echo Show.

Proactive notifications for Alexa-enabled devices was made available for the first time Thursday are now possible for updates on shopping, Alexa skills, and flash news briefings, starting with skills from Washington Post, Accuweather, and Life360.

Routines are new to the Smart Home Skills API and allow Alexa to accomplish multiple tasks at once.

Alexa is also available now in the Amazon Music app on iOS and Android. You can do plenty of searches by artist, genre, or lyrics, as well as based on what you’re doing such as road trip, cardio, lifting weights, etc.

Gadgets and Routines are the new kids on the block, but last month Amazon debuted a new class of skills made especially for children including this one from Sesame Workshop.

The Sesame Street skill lets you call Elmo about letter or play hide-and-seek. Elmo picks up the phone and plays hide-and-seek in the real Elmo voice, not Alexa.

Skills made for kids must be activated using Verified Parental Consent, which can be granted via text message or the Alexa app. The child’s name, age, and birthday must be shared to complete the process.

This new skill from CBS Interactive can quiz your Star Trek knowledge with regular trivia questions, but that’s just the tip of the Trekkie geek iceberg.

The team at Amazon really likes Star Trek, so much so that Alexa was made in the image of the AI assistant on Star Trek, Computer, and is still part of the initiation process of new engineers charged with improving and expanding the Alexa universe.

To celebrate Trekkies everywhere and the debut of the Star Trek: Discovery series, Amazon built some commands directly into Alexa that are worth trying, among them:

  • “Alexa, red alert”
  • “Alexa, beam me up”
  • “Alexa, fire photon torpedoes”
  • “Alexa, speak Klingon”
  •  “Alexa, what is your mission?”
  • “Alexa, state your Starfleet rank and class.”

Separate from the skill, you can speak directly to Alexa about Star Trek, or even rename Alexa “Computer” in your Alexa app settings.

Games are pretty important to Amazon, so much so earlier this year, starting with games, the company began to pay Alexa developers based on engagement their skills can generate among users.

One of the kinds of games that’s the most fun to play with Alexa might be those related to music. For the Beat The Intro skill, your host is Foxy, and with Beat the Intro you guess the word bleeped out of pop songs.

To get answers, say “Alexa, ask Beat the Intro for today’s answers” or “Alexa, ask Beat the Intro to play it again” to repeat.

A quiz with six new songs is shared every day.

The top enabled skills in the Alexa Skills Store is a pretty consistent group: Jeopardy, This Day in History, flash briefings from ESPN and Fox News are skills that pretty much never leave this group of 10 skills that sit atop the store, but Cook Reference recently made its way into these prestigious rankings.

Cook Reference can tell you some basic things needed for cooking like conversion of measurement units or proper cooking temperatures for pork, beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, and some fishes.

Earlier this month the skill gained wine and beer pairings so you can say “Alexa, ask Cook Reference what goes well with chicken?” or another meat.

Life360, which keeps tabs on the location of important people in your life, is one of the very short list of skills (only three were shared by Amazon when this feature launched Thursday) now available with proactive notifications with blinking LED atop an Alexa-enabled devices or a one-second auditory notification.

With notifications, if you tell the skill about places like home, work, or school, the skill will share a notification when, say, your kids get to school or walk in the door from school.

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