By Emily Peck published
Alexa Skills are a whole world in their own right. When we logged into our Alexa app this morning to try and find the best Alexa skills for you to try, it randomly told us to enable the ‘Is Santa Watching’ Skill. Once we’d activated this and asked our Echo Show if Santa was indeed watching, the voice assistant told us: ‘Santa is watching, so you better do your chores’. So after fearfully getting side-tracked washing up and cleaning the Cat-in-the-Hat-stained bath, we managed to get back to the business of searching for the best Alexa Skills for the home and garden, which we've outlined here. The moral there is - it's easy to get sidetracked on Alexa Skills, but if you are looking for tools to enhance your home life there is a lot to be found.
The Alexa Skills Store is jam-packed with useful skills and - aside from the jokey Santa-type Skills - there are those that can actually make your home life more convenient and time-saving, as well as fun. If you already own one of the best Alexa speakers - such as Echo Show 15, Echo Dot or Echo Studio, for example - you’re probably already using lots of useful skills weekly. You can find tens of thousands of Alexa Skills in the Skills Store across all categories from exercise, food and drink, kids, lifestyle, smart home and more and these are being added to daily.
But what are Alexa Skills?
Alexa Skills are apps for your Amazon speaker that let the Alexa voice assistant access lots of useful Internet information, play games, find recipes, listen to podcasts or even meditate! While an Alexa 'feature' is something you can do instantly when you turn on your Alexa-enabled device – such as get a weather update or ask Alexa for a joke - an Alexa Skill is something you have to actively select from the Skills Store. You need to 'enable' or 'launch' the skill on your device just as you would add an app to your smartphone or tablet.
Some Alexa Skills are designed to work in harmony with other smart devices in your home too, and this will help you create a seamlessly connected home. If you link your Ring doorbell to your Echo Show using Alexa Skills for example, you can see who is knocking at your door on your smart speaker. With Alexa Skills you can gain so much more control of your best Alexa-compatible devices.
Best Alexa Skills you need to try
1. Control your Ring Doorbell and smart security camera
You will need to own a Ring gadget such as a Ring Video Doorbell or Ring security camera to be able to use the Ring Alexa Skill. Once you’ve enabled the Skill and linked your Ring and Alexa accounts you’ll be able to see or hear who’s at your front door or backyard on your Amazon device such as your Fire TV, Echo Show or Echo Spot. This comes in very useful if you’ve got your hands full and can’t find your smartphone, for example. To view live video you'll also need to be signed up to the Ring Protect Plan.
Try: “Alexa, answer the front door.”
2. Set a reminder for which garden tasks need doing
Keen to get going on the new garden trends? If you can't wait for Gardeners' Question Time on BBC Radio 4 or don't have time to read Monty Don's latest tome, then enable Gardening Jobs For the Weekend on the Skills Store. Each week it will give you gardening jobs to do throughout the year such as 'put out bird food to encourage winter birds' and 'cut down faded perennials' or 'mulch soil with compost'. The advice is short and sweet but may just give you the nudge you need to actually get out the garden tools and take a look around at what needs doing.
Try: "Alexa, open gardening jobs."
If you're particularly green-fingered, you may also like to launch the Planting Time Skill. You can use it to ask Alexa when to plant specific items such as broccoli or beans.
Try: "Alexa, ask planting time when to plant tomatoes?"
3. Ask Alexa to cut the grass
How's this for a low maintenance garden idea? Provided you have a robot lawnmower, you can use Alexa Skills to work with your voice and stop, start and give the garden a once over as and when you need. You'll need to find a robotic lawn mower that works with Amazon Alexa such as the Bosch Robotic Lawn mower. or the Stihl RMI 422PC. Once you've switched to a robotic lawnmower you'll no doubt wonder how you ever lived without. You can also set up routines in the Alexa app so the mower comes on and off at your preferred times.
Try: "Alexa, cut the grass."
4. Ask Alexa to vacuum the house
Continuing on from the automated home slash "we can't be bothered to get off the sofa" theme, comes our next Alexa Skill. With a robotic vacuum cleaner such as EufyHome RoboVac or iRobot Home Roomba - both of which are two of the best vacuum cleaners - you can use Alexa voice control to make your floors spotless without having to lift a finger.
EufyHome and iRobot are just two companies that are Alexa-compatible, but there are more, so when you come to choose your robotic vacuum just check that its compatible with your chosen smart assistant to make use of voice control.
Once you have set up your robotic cleaner, you can enable the relevant Skill and nurture your inner control freak by demanding the floors be spotless. Add in: 'Or no-one is going to the ball' just for fun, but take a look around first to check no one is watching you.
Try: "Alexa, ask RoboVac to start cleaning" or "Alexa, ask Roomba to start vacuuming."
5. Control your lighting remotely
There is a wide range of smart lighting companies that have Alexa-compatible features. If you're wondering how do smart bulbs work and should I buy one? then we can tell you that yes, you should, if you have an Alexa. Philips Hue and Wiz are just a couple of the smart lighting companies that work nicely with Alexa voice control, but you will find others.
To make the most of voice control, you will need to download the smart lighting's specific app, set up correctly and the link accounts via the Alexa app.
Try: "Alexa, brighten kitchen to 60%".
What are the best Alexa skills to try?
‘Alexa has many features and functions outside of the ones we tend to use as default, like timers when cooking or listening to the radio,’ says Dennis Stansbury, Alexa UK & Ireland Country Manager.
‘There are thousands of Alexa Skills that can help you manage your home, and you can even discover how often to water your plants. I use Alexa to make weekday cooking easier – I’ve set my food preferences to vegetarian so that I can ask Alexa for relevant recipes from BBC Good Food. It’s then simple to add items I need to my shopping list and checkout with the new Sainsbury's Skill.'
What fun things can you ask Alexa?
Try asking Alexa:
1. Alexa, what color should I paint my wall?
2. Alexa, what happens if you step on a Lego?
3. Alexa, how was your day?
4. Alexa, what is the value of pi?
5. Alexa, what do you want to be when you grow up?
6. Alexa, what's the meaning of life?
One of the UK's most respected tech and smart homes writers, Emily Peck also covers everything from interiors style to decorating trends. She is a contributor to Wired UK, and has also had a column in House Beautiful. She has written for publications such as Grand Designs, Stylist, Shortlist, Woman&Home, BBC, Ideal Home and House & Garden. She was once the Features Editor of Ideal Home.
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