8 surprising things Alexa can’t yet do

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Even for an always-listening assistant in a connected speaker, Amazon’s Alexa can do quite a lot. It can reorder essentials, get you a Domino’s pizza and call an Uber. The Echo can stream practically any audio, control your smart home and wake you up every morning.

More useful features are in the assistant’s future, thanks to third-party add-ons called skills and 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. Features that were previously on this list but have since been added are stringing commands together and night mode, which isn’t an official feature but can be accomplished with routines.

Actions on IFTTT

Thanks to IFTTT integration, 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.


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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.

Swear

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.

Command shortcuts

Last year, Google added a feature it calls Shortcuts to Google Home ($129.00 at Dell Home). 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.

Change voices

Recently, Google made it so you could change the voice of its Assistant between six new voices (including John Legend later this year). 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.

Now, however, you can change Alexa to have a British accent or speak in German. But they’re all in the same, robotic voice.

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.

Call 911

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, the situation deescalated after a six-hour standoff.

Most of the story is true, except Alexa can’t call 911 or 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.

Location-based reminders

While Google might have been slow to add reminders to Google Home, it recently added a feature that leapfrogged Alexa’s own reminders: location-based reminder notifications. You can create a reminder per usual, but when you add a location tag to the request such as, “when I get home” or “while I’m at the grocery store,” Google Assistant will ping your phone with the reminder notification when you reach that specific location.

While Alexa does do reminders quite well, its reminders are time-based only.



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