More useful features are in the assistant’s future, thanks to third-party add-ons calledand a growing list of native integrations that Amazon has added.
That said, there is still plenty Alexa can’t do — things that, at times, seem like no-brainers.
Editors’ note: Originally published April 1, 2016, this article is regularly updated to include new features and information.
Actions on IFTTT
Thanks to, Alexa now works with dozens of smart home devices and can be used to create tasks in Todoist, or to trigger multiple recipes with a single phrase.
The shortfall of Alexa’s IFTTT integration is the lack of any actions whatsoever. Alexa can only be used as a trigger in IFTTT. That means I can’t, for example, complete a task in Todoist and have Alexa play a song. Or as CNET’s Ry Crist suggested, you can’t have Alexa play sound bites, such as a dog barking, when motion is detected or a door opens in the middle of the night.
If you want Alexa to do more than one thing, you can’t tell it everything you want it to do at once. For instance, saying, “Alexa turn on the lights, play the Evening Chill playlist on Spotify, and turn the temperature up,” won’t work as intended.
Currently, you must divide every command into its own statement:
- “Alexa, turn on the lights.”
- “Alexa, play Evening Chill playlist on Spotify.”
- “Alexa, turn the temperature up.”
You can, however, lump several smart home controls into a single command with. But routines won’t work with just any commands — only the ones included, such as one of several preset responses from Alexa, smart home controls or traffic, news and weather updates.
Custom trigger names or voices
Alexa devices have only four words that will wake them: Alexa, Amazon, Echo or Computer. If you want a truly customized wake word, you’re sadly out of luck.
And if you’re anything but a native English speaker, or you aren’t fond of a female voice for Alexa, there are currently no options for customizing either of those settings.
If you use the “Simon says” command, Alexa will repeat anything you say. Even if you speak a number of expletives, Alexa will repeat your words, only the swearing will be bleeped out. Some people might wish she did otherwise.
Google also recently added a feature it calls Shortcuts to Google Home ($79.00 at Lowes.com). Shortcuts are sort of like a text expander for your smart speaker in that you can assign something that is much easier or faster to say to a much more complicated command. For example, you might want to change “OK, Google, show me photos of my family from last year on the TV,” to “OK, Google, cheer me up.”
With Alexa, the closest you can currently get to this is using IFTTT. You can say, “Alexa, trigger good night,” and have all the lights in the house turn off and all the doors lock. The difference is, this IFTTT integration is limited to linking Alexa to external services. You can’t create a shortcut command to play your favorite music or throw pictures or videos to a nearby Fire TV Stick.
Recently, Google made it so you could Apple has built up the choices for male and female voices for Siri in multiple languages and accents since 2014. This is something Amazon has yet to explore with Alexa.between male and female.
Now, however, you can change Alexa to have a British accent or speak in German.
Record a voice memo
While Alexa speakers can now store your short notes, it can’t record voice memos, which is odd, considering it records everything you say. To that effect, you can see everything you’ve said (and play the recordings back) in the Alexa app on Android or iOS and at alexa.amazon.com.
You may have heard reports that Alexa saved the lives of a woman and her child who were being held hostage. The speaker was allegedly used to call 911, which alerted the local authorities and, eventually, deescalated after a six-hour standoff.
Most of the story is true, exceptor other emergency services. It can place calls to most landlines and mobile numbers, but it can’t call 911, 1-800 or 1-900 numbers.
Google recently rolled out a feature for Google Home speakers called, which automatically limits the volume of the speaker for use late at night.
Alexa has a Do Not Disturb mode, which will silence notifications and other alerts. But Night Mode on Google Home automatically lowers the volume of music playback and other audio on a schedule. Night Mode will also dim the brightness of the indicator lights on top of the Google Home speaker.