Cortana never really panned out as a smart assistant away from Windows 10, following on from the death of the Kinect on Xbox. And while that's a shame, if you're a Windows or an Xbox fan, there's no reason you should be excluded from having a little voice assistance in your daily lives.

Amazon Alexa is the best all-round platform to use with Microsoft's ecosystem, and Black Friday is the perfect time to get Alexa into your home with a super-cheap Echo Dot for just $22.

Hi, Alexa

Amazon Echo Dot

Better than half price

At $50 the Echo Dot is a fantastic companion, especially for Xbox, but at just $22 it's into no-brainer territory

Alexa and Windows are good friends

Alexa PC appSource: Windows Central

Amazon's Alexa platform is the most mature of all the voice assistants on the market today, and its reach is vast. Alexa is integrated into a huge range of first and third-party hardware, smart home products from all corners hook into it, and it's even pretty handy on Windows. Wherever you go and whatever you use it with, your Alexa goes with you.

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Of course, Alexa's usefulness is far beyond using it on your PC, but the important part is that you can. Cortana outside of the U.S. has always been pretty barebones, and that's certainly not changing going forward. Alexa has a more global reach without limitation, and the Alexa app for Windows 10, while not perfect, is just another way to interact.

Thanks to the third-party ecosystem of skills as well, you're able to do things like link your Microsoft To Do and Amazon Alexa task lists together, or add things to OneNote, all just by asking Alexa to do something.

You can also entirely set up and manage an Echo device from your Windows PC through the web app; it's not necessary at all to have to use a smartphone.

Xbox is where Alexa steps up a gear

Echo Dot and XboxSource: Windows Central

The absolute best use of Alexa is to interact with the Xbox One. The Kinect never really took off in its second incarnation (and that's a discussion for another day), but it did bring a multitude of useful, accessible features to the mix. Being able to operate almost any feature on the console with your voice was mindblowing.

And it still is, though the best route for most now is with a cheap Echo Dot and Amazon Alexa. The Xbox skill for Alexa is superb, and many of the voice features from Kinect have found their way in, with the added bonus that Alexa also works outside the home. I can't tell you how many times I've told Alexa on my phone to fire up Forza Horizon 4, so it's all loaded up ready to go as soon as I walk in!

Xbox skillSource: Windows Central

There's a vast library of voice commands you can use with Alexa to control your Xbox, and the skill will happily walk you through them all. An added bonus for U.S. users is that the Xbox skill can now also deliver you the latest Xbox news through your Echo, something I hope gets rolled out to everyone else fairly soon.

Even though I had a Kinect for my Xbox One, I didn't use it for long simply because it was so massive and had no value outside of the console. By contrast, our home currently contains three Echo Dots (and a bunch of other Echo products besides) all of which can interact with the console from any room.

While the Echo Dot is less than half price, it really is one of those no-brainer purchases this Black Friday.

Hi, Alexa

Amazon Echo Dot

Better than half price

At $50 the Echo Dot is a fantastic companion, especially for Xbox, but at just $22 it's into no-brainer territory

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