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What is Alexa? Here’s the ultimate guide to the Amazon Echo smart speakers

EVER wondered how Amazon Alexa works?

Here’s a simple guide to Amazon Alexa (and Amazon Echo speakers) to fill you in.


The Amazon Echo Dot is one of the most popular Alexa speakersCredit: Amazon

What is Alexa?

Alexa isn’t a person – she’s a virtual, computer-generated intelligent personal assistant.

She first arrived back in 2014 on the original Amazon Echo.

The Echo is a smart speaker that can speak to you – and answer your questions.

Today, there are loads of different Alexa-powered Echo speakers you can buy, from the tiny Echo Dot to the huge, screen-toting Echo Show.

How does Alexa work?

Unlike a normal computer program, Alexa works using voice control.

That means you have to say questions or commands out loud, and she’ll respond through your Alexa speaker.

Every Alexa speaker comes equipped with far-field microphones, so she should be able to hear you from anywhere in the room.

First, you say ‘Alexa’ and then the speaker will light up, at which point you’ll ask your question.

Your question will then be beamed across to an Amazon cloud server, where powerful computers will work out what you’re trying to say.

Once Amazon’s computers have worked out an answer, it’ll be beamed back to your Alexa speaker, and she’ll tell you what you need to know.

It sounds like a long and complicated process, but it actually happens over a few milliseconds – so you should get an instant response.

Alexa skills

We can’t possibly list everything Amazon’s Alexa can do, because she’s got thousands and thousands of tricks up her sleeve.

You can ask her about the news or weather, set an alarm or timer, or even get her to tell you a joke.

If you’ve got other smart home gadgets – like Philips Hue smart lightbulbs, or a Nest smart thermostat – you’ll be able to control them using your voice, through Alexa.

But Amazon has also partnered with a bunch of third-party companies to offer even more wacky Alexa Skills too.

For instance, you can pre-set a standard Domino’s pizza order (like a veggie supreme, for instance), and then you can quickly place orders using Alexa.

You can also play music or radio through Spotify or Tune In, and even arrange an Uber taxi pick-up – all by using your voice.

What makes Alexa so good is that she gets smarter all the time, because she’s built using artificial intelligence. Amazon is also constantly adding new tricks to her roster of Skills.

She also gets more familiar with your voice over time, so you should find her failing to recognise your requests less and less the more you use her.

How can I get Alexa?

There are lots of different ways to get Alexa, but the easiest way is to buy an official Alexa speaker from Amazon.

You can also get some speakers built by other companies that support Alexa, as well as a smattering of laptop computers too.

Are you tempted by an Alexa gadget? Or do you already own one, and have an opinion to share? Let us know in the comments.

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