You don’t need an Echo dot to use Amazon’s Alexa app for Windows 10.
Image: Ry Crist/CNET

You can call on Amazon Alexa for help in Windows 10 without an Echo device nearby–the secret lies in Amazon’s Alexa app for Windows. Through this app, you can summon Alexa either by clicking an on-screen button or just saying “Alexa” via a hands-free mode. After Alexa pops up, you can ask questions, request information, check your calendar and other personal services, and access different skills and tasks. You can also tweak various options to control the Alexa app.

Why use Alexa in Windows 10 when Cortana is available?

Maybe you have an Echo device through which you access your calendar, to-do list, and other information. Maybe you find Alexa more helpful than Cortana. Or maybe you’d just like to try out another voice assistant beyond Cortana. To use the Alexa app, you don’t need an Echo device, but you do need an Amazon account.

How to use the Amazon Alexa app in Windows 10

Download and install the Alexa Windows 10 app from the Microsoft Store. The first time you launch the app, you’re asked to set it up. Click on the button to Set Up Amazon Alexa. Sign in with your Amazon account (if you don’t have one, you can create one on the fly). Click Continue to accept the terms and conditions. Click Continue on the next screen. The app asks for permission to let Alexa access your microphone–click Yes to accept.

SEE: Getting started with Alexa development (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The next screen asks if you want to use Alexa hands-free or by clicking a button. The hands-free option is easier since you can trigger Alexa by voice, just as you do with an Echo device, but this may chew up more battery power because the app is always listening. Choose either option–you can always change it later in the app (Figure A).

Figure A

The final setup screen presents three options, all of which are selected by default: Launch App On Sign in To This Computer, Allow App Sounds, and Pin App In The Taskbar. You can uncheck any of these options that you don’t want or change them later in the app. Click the button to Finish Setup (Figure B).

Figure B

A couple of messages pop up to confirm two of the three options. The first message asks for confirmation that you want the Alexa app to run when you log in to Windows–click Enable to confirm. The second message asks if you want to pin the app to the taskbar–click Yes.

The Alexa app opens. Click the button to talk to Alexa (Figure C).

Figure C

What can you ask the Alexa app?

In the Alexa app, you can request many (but not all) of the same things you might request of Alexa through an Echo device. You can ask for location-based information, such as the weather or local restaurants. You can request your personal information, such as appointments and to-do list. You can conduct research on general topics. You can request music and other content. You can tap into the vast array of Alexa Skills.

There are some limitations; for instance, you can’t ask Alexa to compose a text message or a new email, though you can ask the app to access your inbox to reply to an existing email.

SEE: You can now get Alexa on a screen for under $100 (CNET)

To see a few examples of things you can ask, tap the entry in the app for Things To Try–that brings you to an Amazon web page with phrases, questions, and other tasks that the app can handle. From this page, you can also view and set up other Alexa Skills and features, such as music, lists, reminders, contacts, and smart home (Figure D).

Figure D

How to customize settings in this Alexa app

You can customize some of the settings in the app. First, click the button to turn on hands-free if you didn’t enable it during setup. You can then say “Alexa” to activate the voice assistant and speak your question or request, just as with an Echo device. With hands-free turned on, you can minimize the Alexa app window and still talk to Alexa. You can also shut down the app if you don’t need Alexa and don’t want the app eating into your battery charge.

Finally, click the entry for Settings. At the Settings screen, you can turn the Hands-Free mode on and off. You can enable or disable the sound Alexa makes when it starts and stops listening. You can view and change the keyboard shortcut used to trigger Alexa. And you can enable or disable the app from launching when you sign into Windows (Figure E).

Figure E