The best Alexa Skills make Amazon's smart assistant a whole lot smarter. Skills are quick and easy add-ons, usually mostly free, which you can add to Alexa and give it extra powers and knowledge. Even without skills, the clever robot-brain will usually answer your questions with aplomb, and it's packed to the brim with easter eggs and hidden features. Honestly, if everything goes as well as it usually does, you'll probably never need to do any serious troubleshooting. But know that your Alexa device can do more. The best Alexa skills can help that cloud brain grow, and give you access to a whole lot more personal information or entertainment in seconds.
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Alexa's wide range of Skills help Alexa communicate with your smart home devices, they add extra functionality, and they give your smart speaker a ream of new entertainment options. Good Alexa skills are what separate Alexa from the rest of the smart assistant pack; while you can extend Google Assistant a little, and Siri's good at what it's good at, Alexa's overt extensibility is one of its finest features. So let's break down the best Alexa skills.
Adding new Alexa skills
New Alexa skills are easy to get going. You have three options: you can add skills with the Alexa app, you can add skills on your computer through the Amazon site, or you can simply use your voice. It's worth bearing in mind that added skills are linked to the logged-in account; if you're using multiple accounts on your Alexa-enabled devices, you may want to re-add skills for each user.
Adding Alexa skills with the Alexa app
Open the app, tap the top left button to access the menu, and select Skills & Games. The Discover tab will suggest skills Amazon likes (though not necessarily skills Amazon thinks you'll like), the Categories tab lets you drill down to skills you might think are useful, and the magnifying glass, predictably, allows you to search for specific things. Just tap on a skill and select 'Enable to use' to add it to Alexa's repertoire.
Adding Alexa skills on the Amazon website
Online, you'll need to head to Amazon, click the hamburger menu in the top left, and select Echo & Alexa > Alexa Skills. You can search in the usual Amazon search box, drill down by category and rating in the left menu, and enable skills you like the look of on their individual pages.
Adding Alexa skills on your smart speaker
Easy: just say "Alexa, enable [Skill name]" to confirm with Alexa that you're cool with that new skill attaching itself to your account. This might seem like the most convenient method of getting a new skill going, and it certainly requires the fewest clicks, but we'd recommend using the app or website as a priority both to ensure you get the exact skill you want, and to make sure the skill you're adding does what you think it's going to do.
Big Sky - Check the weather with Alexa
Trigger: "Alexa, ask Big Sky ..."
Alexa's default weather-checking routines are decent, if a little lightweight. Big Sky pulls from hyper-local weather API Dark Sky for its predictions, and you can be very specific with your questions. Want to know if it'll rain in precisely two hours? Want the current barometric pressure, a future wind speed, a prediction covering the next week? Go for it. A premium paid-for option opens up more stats, like humidity, UV index, and weather reports for other hyper-specific locations – be warned, though, that Apple recently bought Dark Sky, so the future of apps that rely on it is currently unknown.
T-Minus - a more clever Alexa timer
Trigger: "Alexa, ask T-minus to ..."
Don't get us wrong, we're not against Alexa's built-in timers, but if you're using an audio-only device they're a little obtuse. Having to go through the rigmarole of asking how long's left is pretty silly. T-Minus gives you a countdown timer, up to two hours in length, which actively tells you the remaining time at certain intervals and counts down from ten.
Tasks In The Hand - link your lists
Trigger: "Alexa, add ... to my shopping list" or "Alexa, add ... to my to-do list"
Some skills don't have their own triggers. Instead, they work in the background to make default Alexa functions better. In this case, Tasks In The Hand ports everything you add to either of the core Alexa lists directly over to a pair of lists on Microsoft To-do. Mark them as complete in To-do, and it ticks them off on Amazon. Handy.
Best Alexa skills for fitness
The Body Coach - high-energy HIIT workouts
Trigger: "Alexa, start The Body Coach"
As if we hadn't already fallen enough in love with plucky morning fitness hunk Joe Wicks after his lockdown YouTube workouts, the Alexa skill gives you seven 15-minute high impact interval training workouts to get your blood pumping. Start the skill and you'll be automatically sent to the next workout in the set, or you can choose a particular workout with "Alexa, ask The Body Coach for workout [name]".
7-Minute Workout - more cardio in less time
Trigger: "Alexa, start seven minute workout"
If 15 minutes of Joe Wicks is somehow too much, how about a good seven-minute cardio blast? We like this skill in particular as it allows you to randomise the order of exercises, which prevents things from becoming too dull or predictable. You can also pick your intensity, so if you're sore you can dial it back to a low-impact workout.
Fitbit - great implementation of a smart fitness ecosystem
Trigger: "Alexa, ask Fitbit ..."
The Fitbit Versa 2 includes Alexa Built-in, which means you can access skills and such right from your watch. But that's not why it's here. Fitbit's Alexa skill is a demonstration of how it should be done. It's a quick way to tap into every stat your smart wristwear has been recording; you can use it to quickly find out your current step count, your sleep stats, or any other metric that matters.
Best audio skills for Alexa
Spotify - top music streaming
Trigger: "Alexa, play ... on Spotify"
Picking obvious skills? Us? Never. But the fact is that Spotify's integration with Alexa is pretty faultless, and it's arguably better than Amazon Music Unlimited. If you have to pick one music streaming service out of all of them, and you're a heavy Alexa user, let Spotify be that service.
TuneIn Radio - worldwide radio
Trigger: "Alexa, play ... on TuneIn"
Both TuneIn and Spotify are a little odd because they're not technically 'skills'. You'll need to link your Alexa account to your TuneIn account, at which point you'll be able to play live radio from around the world simply by asking for it. To get TuneIn (or, indeed, iHeartRadio, Spotify, or another music service) linked, head to the 'Play' tab of the Alexa app, then tap 'Link New Service'.
My Pod - great podcast management
Trigger: "Alexa, ask My Pod to play episode ... of ..."
While you'll need to stump up some cash to take advantage of it, because (don't we know it) server space and bandwidth is not a free commodity, My Pod's service is the sharpest there is for getting your downloaded podcasts online and accessible from anywhere you are.
Best games for Alexa
Escape The Room - it's about escaping rooms
Trigger: "Alexa, play Escape The Room"
An escape room for your ears, with a bunch of puzzles you'll need to solve with your mouth. There are five locations to escape from. Given that you're playing audio-only, why not blindfold yourself and tie your wrists together for that extra immersion? (Don't actually do that.) Check out its sequel Escape The Room 2 if you're an expert escapist.
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The Magic Door - a twee family adventure
Trigger: "Alexa, open the Magic Door"
A bit of an Alexa classic, this one, and an audio adventure which will delight kids and adults alike. There are a host of branching quests to fulfil, loads of puzzles to solve, and some very immersive storytelling holding the whole lot together. Listen closely, though, lest you miss something important...
Song Quiz - a quiz about songs
Trigger: "Alexa, play Song Quiz"
The title says it all: hear a song, guess the title, either playing against people in the room with you or against randoms online. Admittedly much of the catalogue is quite US-centric, so you'll need that knowledge in your repertoire, but there's a lot of fun to be had here.
Skyrim Very Special Edition - an arrow to Alexa's knee
Trigger: "Alexa, open Skyrim"
There's a joke here, isn't there? About Todd Howard spotting a platform Skyrim hadn't yet been released on and telling Bethesda's engineers to get it done? Whatever the reason for its existence, this humorous and entertaining jaunt into the wold of Tamriel is actually really good, and a great way to play a Fighting Fantasy-esque game while you're getting on with boring things like housework.
Best Alexa skills for health
First Aid by British Red Cross - emergency advice in a flash
Trigger: "Alexa, open First Aid"
Doctor Internet should, as we all know, have had its medical license struck off many years ago. But if you're going to ask your smart speaker for help in a hurry, you could do worse than consulting the Red Cross. Once the skill's enabled, you can get information that could potentially save someone's life by simply asking a question. "Alexa, ask First Aid how to help someone who is having a diabetic emergency", for example, will get you directly to the appropriate section - but make sure you go to the emergency services as a priority.
WebMD - Alexa, will my nose fall off?
Trigger: "Alexa, open WebMD"
Reaching further into the worry-yourself territory comes WebMD, a way to ask questions about side effects, symptoms, treatments and definitions of tricky medical terminology. Not one for hypochondriacs, as it tends to open a rabbit hole that's hard to get out of, but handy if you just need answers to simple questions without bothering your GP.
The 3-Minute Breathing Space - take time to stop and focus
Trigger: "Alexa, open the Breathing Space"
They say a healthy mind makes for a healthy body, so don't make the mistake of neglecting the state of your grey matter. The 3-Minute Breathing Space is a great mindfulness exercise which can get a stressed or panicking mind back in order in, yes, three minutes. It can disrupt negative thoughts and behaviour before they have a chance to get out of control.
Best Alexa skills for kids
Akinator - the smart speaker soothsayer
Trigger: "Alexa, play Akinator"
It's the age old game: think of a person or character, and answer yes or no questions until the poor sap playing against you has worked out who that person is. Akinator plays the role of the sap, with a huge bank of user-generated information to work with, while your kid sits there convinced it's not going to work out who Looshkin is. Spoiler: Akinator will work it out.
Pikachu Talk - pika, PIKAAAAA
Trigger: "Alexa, ask Pikachu to talk"
An actual skill from the actual Pokemon Company, this puts Pikachu and his annoying squeaky voice right there in your smart speaker. You, of course, will hate this. Your kids, though? They'll be chatting away with the electric-type Pokemon as if he was an old friend. It'll respond to the most inane commands, and even sing 'Happy Birthday' if you ask nicely.
Pinkfong Baby Shark - doo doo doodoodoodoo
Trigger: "Alexa, open Baby Shark"
However you feel about babies, sharks, or 'Baby Shark', this skill is perfect for those toddlers that can't get enough of the full family of aquatic biters. It plays 'Baby Shark'. That's all it does. But that's all it needs to do - and you don't need a subscription to a music streaming service to hear those sweet, sweet sounds.
Best Alexa skills for money
Butterwire - what to buy next
Trigger: "Alexa, ask Butterwire for a stock"
Butterwire is a company which not only tracks stock information, but blends it with its own data analysis. Its skill can suggest an interesting stock, perhaps something from an emerging market, perhaps something closer to home, which its number crunching algorithms expect to outperform the market.
Stock Prices - check your stocks
Trigger: "Alexa, ask Stock Prices to get the price for AMZN"
If you already have a portfolio going, it might be useful to get a quick update on where your investment is sitting. While Stock Prices' updates aren't up-to-the-second, and the creator very cautiously says it should only be used for educational purposes, it's very useful for a morning refresher.
My Piggy Bank - a savings helper
Trigger: "Alexa, ask My Piggy Bank to add ten pounds to my savings"
Forever lifting up your mattress and counting the notes to see how much you've got stashed away? That's fun, sure, but this Alexa skill is a great way to quickly keep track of your non-bank balance. You can set a savings goal, too, so when that rainy day finally comes you'll know you're in the money.