Amazon's Alexa-powered speakers are great for a lot of things beyond playing music or changing the color of your smart bulbs. Alexa can play audiobooks or read your Kindle books to you, if you don't have the audiobook version. It can give you the forecast, the latest tech news (with CNET!) or tell you if you should expect traffic on your way to work. And it can, of course, tell you a few jokes.
How does Alexa work? Once you buy an Amazon Alexa device — Amazon Tap or an Echo Dot — the device connects through WiFi or Bluetooth to the internet and then to other devices. With the most common devices, the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot, people merely say "Alexa," which wakes up the device, and then ask for what they want. Alexa Skills radically expands the bots repertoire, allowing users to perform more actions with voice-activated control through Alexa.
Alexa Skills can give users access to accounts they've already set-up, such as the Alexa Skill for SiriusXM radio, ESPN, or even their car insurance if they have Alliance Insurance. With Alexa connected to these accounts, people can pull up details and content through their Alexa-enabled device. For example, the Alexa Skill for Major League Baseball lets Alexa users stay current with baseball stats and hear shows. Use the Alexa Skill for Fandango to not just find a movie but buy a ticket.

You'll notice in the lists below that many Alexa skills are called by using trigger words like open, start, play and ask. While select skills require you to use specific terms, others consider them to be interchangeable and will work with some or all of these phrases. Over time you'll begin launching your favorite skills by the words you feel most comfortable using. Initially, though, it can be fun to play around with each.


When Alexa recognizes your voice, stories and news items you’ve already heard will be skipped. To set up voice recognition, say “Alexa, learn my voice.” This is feature is especially useful if you listen to flash briefings on weekends when many flash briefings don’t post new content. With Alexa voice recognition enabled, you won’t hear the flash briefing episodes you already listened to.

If you want to do some casual research for a future trip, you can get fare estimates using the Kayak skill. You can say, "Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $400" or "Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly from Los Angeles to Dublin." The skill will ask for additional information and eventually provide you with a series of options and price ranges.


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This shouldn't scare you away, however. Alexa-enabled devices are great to have in your home and, with a little tweaking, can prove to be very good companions. I’ve hand-picked some of the most useful and unique Alexa skills from the thousands that are out there. Many of these skills will not be enabled by default, so you may need to follow the proper activation steps before using each one for the first time. 
If you want to do some casual research for a future trip, you can get fare estimates using the Kayak skill. You can say, "Alexa, ask Kayak where I can go for $400" or "Alexa, ask Kayak how much it costs to fly from Los Angeles to Dublin." The skill will ask for additional information and eventually provide you with a series of options and price ranges.
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