New to Alexa/the Echo: movie times and making phone calls…and text-to-speech!

New to Alexa/the Echo: movie times and making phone calls!

The Echo keeps getting better, and two new feature s(provided by Amazon) and a new Skill (made by a third-party…you can think of it as an app) bring three abilities people have really wanted.

First, there is text-to-speech…and I’m ecstatic!

Text-to-speech is software that reads your books aloud. I typically listen to it for hours a week on commutes. You may hear it referred to as synthesized speech, or computer generated, but it is actually derived from a real person. You can read an interview with September Day, the voice artist who recorded the elements or the voice I usually use, from my blog I Love My Kindle here:

An ILMK interview with September Day, the voice of the Kindle Fire HD

This is different from an audiobook, which is a recording of a performance, typically by an actor or the author. I prefer text-to-speech unless I’ve already read the book, because I don’t like the narrator interpreting the characters for me. TTS is more like sight-reading for me. However, most people prefer audiobooks…and Alexa now does both!

I’m going to use this a lot…

It’s easy: just say, “Alexa read…” whatever book you want. Whispersync works with this, meaning it will pick up from where you left off. I’ll be able to sight read a book, listen to it in the house while I’m getting ready in the morning, listen in the car on the way to work, sight-read on a break, and so on.

You would think publishers would love this…I’ll get through books a lot more quickly. 🙂 However, they don’t all love it: some of them choose to block text-to-speech access on some books…likely because they think that will encourage you to pay (often a substantial amount of money) for an audiobook. It doesn’t work that way in my case.

Your Alexa app can tell you which books you have where the TTS access has not been blocked:

Home – Menu (three horizontal lines) – Kindle Books

You can tell it to pause, skip ahead, go back, and so on.

By the way, they’ve also given you more control over audiobooks…you can now tell it to go to the next or previous chapter, and even to a specific chapter. That last one could be very helpful in non-fiction books.

Thanks, Amazon!

The next feature is something I’ve been waiting to use…Alexa can tell you movie times. I like the implementation of this. There are a lot of choices:

  • Alexa, what movies are playing?
  • Alexa, what time is Star Wars playing in San Francisco?
  • Alexa, what movies are playing tomorrow?
  • What time is Joy playing tomorrow?

It will give you a few answers, than ask you if you want more.

This is another thing I’ll use!

As to the new Ooma skill…one of my readers, Harold Delk, alerted me to this, and said it worked: it could make phone calls.

It doesn’t work for me, and I checked with Amazon…I’m not the only one. The response I got included:

“I actually tried this on my personal Echo and received the same reply on my end. Although this is bad new for the present time, this is actually good news for the future! I am personally filing this information over to our Amazon Echo Development team for improvements to Alexa’s knowledge base. Typically, when we report gaps in Alexa’s knowledge they are added relatively quickly.”

This is one of the reasons it is very helpful to send the Echo Support team feedback through the app!

It was easy to set up (pretty much, you enter your phone number and an e-mail address, and it will send you a confirmation code). When it does work (and my guess is they’ll fix it quickly…I sent them what I think may be the problem, in that it is hearing me say “uma” rather than “Ooma”), I’ll use it from time to time. You can give a phone number a nickname after you’ve used it “Call Pat”. I can see using it while I’m exercising or cooking.

If you have the

Ooma Telo Free Home Phone Service with Wireless and Bluetooth Adapter (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

it can do more things, including playing your voicemails, notifying you of new messages, and doing international calls.

To enable this or any Skill:

Home – Menu – Skills

There are now close to 150 Skills, with many more to come.

I did test these on our

Amazon Fire TV 2nd generation ((at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*))

and they didn’t work…yet. My guess is that it will update fairly soon and then be able to do it. That would mean I could use my Fire TV to read TTS and listen on a Bluetooth headset…


Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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