Amazon's digital assistant Alexa can do a lot and we explain exactly how to use Alexa. But you can enable skills, which are a bit like apps, and these allow her to do a whole lot more.

This guide assumes you have an Echo, Fire tablet (or other device with Alexa), an Amazon account and Alexa already set up. If not, here's how to set up Alexa.

How to enable Alexa skills

Enabling skills is very straightforward.

  1. In the Alexa app, swipe right so you can see the menu
  2. Tap on Skills & Games
  3. Browse or search for what you're after
  4. Tap Enable To Use
  5. Enter your username and password if required
  6. The skill will be ready to use

Usefully, Skills are rated by users so you get an idea of whether it will be any good or not. But since Skills are free - some do contain Premium Content which is paid, mind - you can try them out and disable them if you don't like them.

How to enable Alexa skills

When you've found something, it's a simple case of tapping the ENABLE TO USE button. It's no different from installing an app, except that there's no need to download anything or use up storage space on your phone:

How to use Alexa skills

In the description of a Skill (as shown in the images above) it will tell you what to say to Alexa to use it. For example, if you commute on a train in the UK, you can enable the National Rail Skill. But although you can say "Alexa, what's my commute" out of the box, to use the specific National Rail Skill you have to say "Alexa, ask National Rail to check my commute".

Some skills are better than others, and you'll usually find their limitations. National Rail is great because you can set up your starting and ending stations by talking to Alexa: you don't have to use the app. If you want to check times on a different route, you have to say, "Alexa, ask National Rail to plan a journey". 

The important point here is that you will have to check the Skill's description to find out what you can say and how to phrase it. (Incidentally, we had no issues setting up or using the National Rail app, but it does appear from the low rating that others have.) Also see: Amazon Echo Show

Smart Home skills

LIFX is an Optimised for Smart Home skill. This means you don't have to say, "Alexa, ask LIFX to ...." because optimised skills are like native skills.  So you can more simply say "Alexa turn off the lights". 

When you enable the LIFX Skill, and this is typical of smart home skills, you will have to log into your LIFX account in the app in order to authorise your Amazon account to use those login details and control your devices. You'll also have to name (or re-name) lights or groups of lights in order to control them with your Amazon Echo.

How to enable Alexa skills

It's much easier these days to control and manage smart home gadgets with Alexa, and there's a dedicated Devices tab in the Alexa app now.

If you have a group of devices called Lounge, you can say, "Alexa, turn on the lights in the lounge", but you can more simply say "Alexa, turn on Lounge".  It might sound odd, but the simpler the command, the more chance it will be correctly understood and executed.

To make various things happen at the same time, you can set up Routines in the Alexa app. For example, you could say "Alexa, Good night" and make this command turn off all downstairs lights, turn off the heating and turn on the lamp in your bedroom.