New Echo smart speaker? Become an Alexa expert in 6 easy steps

Here’s how to set up your new Echo speaker and get the most from Alexa, your personal digital assistant.

Alexa is Amazons personal digital assistant. And a personal digital assistant is a very handy thing to have in your home and on the go: you can use it to control your smart speaker, to answer questions and even control smarthome devices.

You’ll find Alexa in every model of Amazon Echo smart speaker the Echo, Echo Pop, EchoDot and Echo Studio as well as in the Fire TV Stick and many thirdparty speakers. Getting started couldn’t be simpler. 

Amazon Echo Dot Speaker shot in the test centre sound roomCredit: Saga Exceptional
Alexa is easy to use, once you know how

1. Set up your speaker

Find the Alexa app in the Apple and Google stores

The Alexa app is available from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. Simply install the app on your phone, plug in your Alexa-powered smart speaker (in this case, we’re using the Echo Studio, but the process is the same for all Echo models) and open the app.

In the Alexa app, tap on Devices at the bottom of the screen. Now tap on the big plus sign at the top right and follow the on-screen instructions.

For more information, read our how to set up a smart speaker guide.


2. First things to try

Learn the wake word, and start asking questions

Once you’ve set up your smart speaker, Alexa is ready to use. You can command Alexa in three ways: via the Alexa app using your voice or the keyboard; by saying “Alexa” and following it with a command or question; or by tapping the action button on your Echo speaker – it’s the one with a circle on it – and speaking your command then.  

“Alexa” is what’s known as a wake word: your speaker listens for it and when it hears it, activates and waits for a question or command. You can change the Alexa wake word to “computer”, “Amazon”, “Echo” or “Ziggy” in the app by going into Devices, selecting your smart speaker, then scrolling down to Wake Word. You can also change Alexa’s accent and gender in that section.

What can you say to Alexa?

Alexa can respond to commands and to questions. You can also use Alexa to add items to your shopping lists, set reminders, add calendar events and do other handy tasks. To set an alarm or timer say, “Alexa, wake me up at 8am” or “Alexa, set a timer for 20 minutes”.

And you can ask all kinds of things: “Alexa, what’s 1 cup in millilitres?”; “Alexa, what’s the tallest mountain in the world?”; “Alexa, what’s the weather forecast?”

One of the most useful things Alexa can do is control your entertainment. You can say, “Alexa, play Rumours by Fleetwood Mac” and it’ll play the music; “Alexa, skip this” to move to the next track, and “Alexa, turn the volume up” to make it louder.

If you have a Fire TV Stick you can use similar commands to control your TV, such as “Alexa, open Netflix”.  

There’s so much more too, with many things you didn’t know you could ask Alexa.

And as we’re about to discover, you can make Alexa’s impressive features even more powerful with a couple of clicks. 

3. Explore Alexa

There’s a wealth of options to choose from

Tap on the home icon in the Alexa app and you can now scroll down through some introductory help, such as this option to see what Alexa can do. You’ll also see an option to change Alexa’s voice and other settings.

If you tap on Browse Things to Try, you’ll be taken to the Alexa skills page, and that’s where things get really interesting.

4. Install some skills

This is how you link to other services

In addition to Alexa’s built-in commands, you can add new skills. These are downloads that expand what Alexa can do, for example by adding a specific radio station to your smart speaker.

The Alexa app will recommend some popular ones and there’s a search facility to help you find the best Alexa skills too.  

We can show you how to enable an Alexa skill, so you can get started with them right away.

Some skills enable you to link accounts from other services. For example, you can link your Spotify or Apple Music account to play music if you’re not an Amazon Music user. Those skills will ask you for your login details when you install them. 

When you tap on the Launch button next to a skill, it’s installed to Alexa on all your devices: the phone app and any Alexa-powered smart speakers.  


5. Connect your smart home

Control your heating, lighting and security in an instant

You can also add skills for specific smart-home devices, so for example if you have Philips Hue smart bulbs, you can install a skill so that Alexa can control them too. You can even set up routines in the app to make things happen at certain times, or in response to certain events – such as turning on the lights when you say, “Alexa, I’m home!” 

As you can see, it’s easy to set up and use Alexa on the best smart speakers – and we’ve just scratched the surface of what it can do.

It’s a good idea to spend some time exploring the Alexa app and the available skills to see how Alexa can make your life easier and more entertaining too.

Carrie Marshall

Written by Carrie Marshall she/her


Writer, broadcaster and musician Carrie Marshall has been a technology journalist for 24 years. Her CV is a who’s-who of magazines, websites and newspapers ranging from T3, Techradar and Woman & Home to the Sunday Post and People’s Friend, and she has been providing no-nonsense technology help and buying advice to BBC Radio Scotland listeners since the early 2000s.

Carrie has written and co-written nearly twenty books as well as a BBC radio documentary series, and her memoir Carrie Kills A Man is on sale now.

Carrie is particularly interested in how technology can make our lives easier, especially if that gives her an excuse to buy yet another kitchen gadget.

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