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Alexa on Windows 10 review: Lots of skills, but is it worth using?

Alexa PC app

Alexa PC app (Image credit: Windows Central)

Alexa is now available on all Windows 10 PCs and with it come thousands of skills. But in a landscape full of digital assistants and Alexa devices becoming more and more accessible, is Alexa on PC that big of a deal?

Alexa is available for free on Windows 10 devices.

See in Microsoft Store

A skilled assistant

Alexa has an ever-increasing set of skills. It can control smart devices ranging from light bulbs to thermostats. It can also connect to many popular web services such as Lyft. Amazon and Microsoft recently announced a partnership that brought an Xbox skill to Alexa, allowing users to control their console through Alexa devices.

These skills are part of the Windows 10 version of Alexa and of you rely on these skills, Alexa is a versatile assistant. Alexa's vast library of skills that are supported is listed on Amazon's website so you can see if Alexa can meet your needs.

What is Alexa replacing?

Despite the fact that Alexa on Windows 10 has so many skills, I can't help but ask what it's replacing. If you are heavily invested in the Alexa ecosystem you're probably going to have Echos or similar devices around. Also, only specific hardware can work with a wake word with the Windows 10 version and you aren't going to leave your PC on all the time anyway so this isn't going to replace an Alexa device. To use a wake word with Alexa would require firmware-level access. This issue probably won't be fixed until AI-specific hardware in new devices comes out.

It also isn't going to replace Cortana because it can't integrate directly with the PC. That means you can't use it to open an app like Spotify or control your device's volume. Incidentally, the Windows 10 version of Alexa can't stream music from Spotify. It seems unlikely that this would be fixed in a future update. Right now, Amazon doesn't have OS-level information and can't access things such as emails, calendars, or browsing history.

The Windows 10 version of Alexa is also only available in the US, UK, and Germany.

All these restrictions mean that Alexa on Windows 10 is most useful to a person in one of three countries who likes using a digital assistant but doesn't have hardware for one. Additionally, they need specific skills that aren't available through Cortana. And that list of skills is basically non-existent because Cortana can now use Alexa if you ask it to.

That last point is especially important because every skill that a dedicated Alexa app can give you access to is already availalbe on Windows 10. I agree with many that the process of asking Cortana to fetch Alexa for you is a bit awkward, but I don't think it's any more awkward than having to open one assistant for one set of tasks and another assistant for different tasks. I also believe that the Cortana and Alexa partnership has room to grow and smooth out over time, making a dedicated Alexa app even less needed.

Overall thoughts on Alexa

Alexa might be one of the world's most popular digital assistants, but it has a lot of room to grow on Windows 10. It's true that it can connect to the thousands of Alexa skills that are available, but it's essentially the same Alexa you can get on your smartphone.

Alexa can't access your PC's contents, control your PC, or open apps. For some users it might be handy to have Alexa on their PC but a device like an Echo is probably going to deliver a better experience for Alexa and Cortana is probably going to deliver a better assistant experience on your PC.

If you're deeply invested into the Alexa ecosystem you probably already have Echos or other Alexa devices throughout your house. Because of this, I'm skeptical that Alexa on PCs adds that much. Over time if PC-specific features become available such as launching apps then I think Alexa will be a more useful tool on Windows 10 devices.

Pros

  • Can control a number of devices
  • Works with expansive list of skills

Cons

  • Doesn't work directly with PC
  • Limited region availability
  • Wake word only works with certain hardware

See in Microsoft Store

Sean Endicott
Sean Endicott

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

14 Comments
  • Yeah it's of very limited use. I do use it on my laptop in bed to control smart devices however so I guess it has saved purchasing a second Echo device for the bedroom! The Cortana integrated version of Alexa doesn't even work to control smart devices (at least here in the UK it doesn't) - in fact it seems completely pointless and I'm not sure why it is even available?
  • Have you tried using ifttt?
  • Nobody wants to use these gimmicks. The idea of talking assistants on a PC is stupid even to begin with. Only a few people will use it for a few days before realising it's just stupid to give voice instructions where you could silently do the same thing without waking up your neighbours.
  • While I found, as you, that I was too set in my ways to find voice controls more than of marginal value to me, I can see that a lot of people might find them fun and easy to use. After 25 years the killer PC app remains the internet browser and until something big comes along that only voice can use it probably will remain that way for me.
  • I use it to control my smart home devices. outside of that and checking the weather or playing music, pretty narrow use.
  • I like the idea of a voice assistant, but to be honest I found myself using apps or web interfaces to set up timers and routines, and then a push button remote control to do everything else. The thing that I use most of all is my Hue remote. Everything else got automated and I don't bother with voice control.
  • It's surprising MS allowed this on the store but it illustrates how different MS are to Apple. Apple routinely disallow apps that are similar to their own.
  • I know that Microsoft requires web browsers to use their engine, but do they actually put any other restrictions on the store for anybody else? There are lots of email clients and other things that directly compete with other Microsoft products. They are more open about what they allow than apple or google seem to be. I would wager that they are open because the PC is so open. If they block it from the store we will just download it from the website and then rant about them blocking it from the store. It would be bad publicity.
  • It's crap. Waste of disk space.
  • Was honestly hoping to get an actual Alexa app. One that lets you do the things the web app doesn't. Setup routines, voice recognition. Was disappointed that it is just a desktop version of MotoAlexa.
  • It would be more likely that they turn Cortana into a suit of tools that can be accessed by other voice assistants than sunset it. That way they wouldn't have to let other companies too deep into their system ad they could maintain control over security and integration.
  • Alexa can't access my emails or diary on my PC, which means that it's of little use to me. I love Cortana because it can let me seamlessly manage these things across all of my devices. PC, tablet, phone, you name it. Cortana is the only app that lets me hop between all of my devices. This is the killer app bit for me. I really don't understand why Microsoft isn't leveraging this more. Especially as Cortana on X-box should be able to be used to do all of these things as well. Having my xbox pause my game\movie and bring up a reminder for me to pick the kids up or that a TV program that I want to see is on, would be awesome.
  • Aaargh Zombies. As with the author, your assumption is incorrect. To the extent that you can add, composite, modify, distribute, work alongsside and/or re-direct Alexa skills (i.e. input to &/or output from Alexa or some other virtual "assistant"), you can in fact "use" Alexa or any other assistant to control your PC. You can also add voice commands outside Alexa and use them AS IF Alexa is being utilized. Moreover, refinement takes time, effort and interest... so you're MORE likely to get what you want by specifying it yourself (though you might tradeoff some upgradeability, consistency, intuitiveness, expandability and so on. - happy to discuss further if there's sufficient interest.
  • No.
    just.
    No.