How to Talk to Amazon’s Alexa on Your Smartphone

The Amazon Echo introduced the world to Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant that can answer your questions, manage your smart home devices, and control your entertainment system. But so far, consumers have had to buy the Echo, the portable Amazon Tap, or the Echo Dot (which lets you add Alexa to any regular speaker) to talk to Alexa. That’s changing thanks to the appearance of a new app, called Lexi, that enables you to speak to Alexa via your iPhone.

Lexi, which is powered by Alexa Voice Services, enables you to take Alexa with you, whether you have an Echo at home and want to talk to Alexa when you’re away from home, too, or if you just want to test Alexa’s abilities before you purchase the Echo. (Or, if you’re developing skills for Alexa, you can test them and show them off with your iPhone instead of your Echo.) Downloading Lexi enables you to view all of the skills that are available for Alexa, and while you’ll need the Alexa app to enable them, you can try them with Lexi.

The app’s interface features animated rings of different colors, which illustrate when Lexi is waiting, thinking, or responding to a query. Lexi responds as quickly and accurately as Alexa on the Echo, and you can ask Lexi anything that you would ask Alexa — which means that Lexi can do a few things that Siri can’t do, like control smart home devices that aren’t HomeKit compatible or easily re-order products from Amazon.

For instance, you can ask Lexi to give you an overview of the day’s headlines, or to get scores on ongoing games. Once you’ve added your smart home devices to the Alexa app, you can control them from anywhere via Lexi. You can reorder Prime-eligible products just by asking Lexi, get information about local businesses, or check on the traffic for your commute. However, because of limitations set by Amazon, Lexi can’t access music services like Prime Music, Pandora, and Spotify. While that means that you can’t currently play music or listen to audiobooks through Lexi, it’s possible that that will change in the future.

The Next Web, which first spotted the Lexi app, notes that despite the music services restrictions, Lexi supports a wide range of the Echo’s functionalities, and at a much lower price tag than the $180 that the Echo will set you back. Currently, the app isn’t available for Android, but is available on the iOS App Store for $4.99. And while Lexi does offer a much cheaper alternative to the Echo, it’s not the only (or the cheapest) app that integrates with Alexa. Roger, for instance, lets you connect your phone to Alexa using only your Amazon account. Unlike Lexi, Roger is free and is available on both Android and iOS.

To talk to Alexa via the Lexi app, you’ll just need to sign in to your Amazon account. Then, you can tap and hold on the screen to ask a question or give a command. Lifting your finger off the screen will signal Lexi to process your request. Christina Warren reports for Mashable that you’ll need to configure your preferences for Amazon ordering or weather and traffic information from inside the official Alexa app, where Lexi will show up as an additional Alexa device.

While the app isn’t a full-fledged replacement for the Echo, it’s a great way to get acquainted with Alexa, and to make an informed decision on whether you want to buy the Echo (or the less-expensive Echo Dot, which you can order through Lexi). Even if you already have an Echo or another Alexa-enabled device at home, Lexi could be useful for controlling your smart home devices when you aren’t close to the Echo’s microphone.

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