Alexa, Amazon’s artificially intelligent assistant, is spreading like wildfire. It’s in robots, vacuum cleaners, and apps coded by the more than 10,000 developers with Alexa Voice Services. More conveniently, though, it’s on a smartphone — the Huawei Mate 9.
The Mate 9 is the first to ship with native Alexa support, thanks to close collaboration between the two companies. A March over-the-air update installs the app that puts the AI assistant at your fingertips. In many ways, it’s just like Alexa on the Echo, but the Mate 9’s flavor of Alexa has peculiarities worth mentioning. Here’s everything you need to know.
How to set up Alexa on the Mate 9
Setting up Alexa on the Mate 9’s a cinch once you have the update (to check, go to Settings > System Update > and the software update version is MHA-L29C567B183). Open the new Huawei Alexa app on your phone and you’ll be prompted to enter your Amazon account credentials (set up an account if don’t have one). Next, you’ll need to read and accept the Terms of Service agreement to continue.
The Huawei Alexa app does not offer much in the way of customization, but it is not completely devoid of options. A Quick Start setting lets you launch Alexa by making a gesture with your knuckle on any screen, though you may have some trouble triggering this. A language selector lets you switch between one of three languages: German, British English, and English. There’s also a link to the official, separate Amazon Alexa phone companion app, which lets you control Alexa’s settings. On the main screen of the app, you’ll see a giant mic to trigger Alexa, and an icon below to mute Alexa when you are not using the assistant.
How to use Alexa on the Mate 9
Personalizing Alexa on the Mate 9 requires installing Amazon’s dedicated Alexa app via the Google Play Store. It lets you enter a home and work address (for traffic updates and directions), and you can link your calendar, check your search history, manage your shopping list, and more.
Every time you want to use Alexa, you have to open the Mate 9’s Alexa app. Unlike Apple’s Siri on iOS devices and Google Assistant on Android devices, there isn’t a hands-free way to interact with Amazon’s assistant — you have to open the app and tap on the bright blue microphone icon. That may not sound like a big deal, but when you’re used to lazily lobbing commands at the Google Assistant and Amazon’s own Echo speakers, it feels like a step backward.
Carrying on a conversation with Alexa on the Mate 9 seems a little harder than it should be, too. The Huawei Alexa app does not prevent the screen from dimming — when your phone switches off automatically, you have to unlock if you want to feed Alexa a follow-up command. You can set the auto-dim time to the maximum (10 minutes) by heading to Settings > Display > Sleep > 10 minutes. Keep in mind that this will drain your battery faster.
A Huawei spokesperson told Digital Trends that the company’s working closely with Amazon on solutions. They weren’t willing to provide a timeline, but it’s good to know they’re coming.
What you can — and can’t — do with Alexa on the Mate 9
In many ways, Alexa on the Mate 9 feels like a natural extension of the assistant’s other manifestations. The Huawei Alexa app, just like the Echo, can tell the time in any country, supply a weather report, or provide a customized daily sports and news summary from NPR, CNN, the Associated Press, and more.
Here are a few of the commands Alexa supports:
- “Alexa, what’s the time?”
- “Alexa, flip a coin.”
- “Alexa, 10 dollars to pounds.”
- “Alexa, 15 times 32.”
- “Alexa, how’s the weather outside today?”
- “Alexa, set a timer [X] minutes.”
- “Alexa, add milk to my shopping list.”
- “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?”
- “Alexa, start a 7-minute workout.”
- “Alexa, tell a bedtime story to [your child’s name here].”
Alexa on the Mate 9 is fully compatible with Amazon’s Kindle and Audible services. If you ask it, “Alexa, read my Kindle book,” it will read the most recent addition to your library using text-to-speech technology. Asking, “Alexa, read my audiobook” prompts it to start or resume any audiobook you’ve purchased from Audible. You can play different titles, skip chapters, restart chapters, or go back to a specific chapter.
You can also control smart home devices and connected cars. If you have a Philips Hue or Samsung SmartThings devices, for example, you can use Alexa on the Mate 9 to toggle the lights, switch TV channels, and more. Hyundai’s Blue Link platform lets you remotely start vehicles, change the interior temperature, and turn on the horn and lights. Here’s a list of all the supported Internet of Things devices for Alexa — some of these may not work with the Huawei Alexa app.
Unsurprisingly, the Huawei Alexa app is tightly integrated with Amazon’s shopping platform. You can place an order for anything on Amazon Prime, including Amazon Fresh groceries, Amazon Prime Pantry non perishables, and Amazon Prime Now 2-hour delivery items. You can say, “Alexa where’s my stuff?” to get tracking information on packages, and you can take advantage of Alexa-exclusive deals that run regularly throughout the year.
With the Huawei Alexa app, you get access to Amazon’s collection of more than 10,000 skills, or apps, that tap the assistant’s voice recognition. Particularly useful ones include the My Chef app, which can read recipes, send shopping lists, and track expiration dates. Uber and Lyft’s apps can summon rides to your approximate location; Fitbit’s app can tell you how many steps you’ve taken; the Capital One app details your bank balance; and apps from Dominos, Pizza Hut, and Grubhub can place your favorite delivery orders.
Alexa on the Mate 9 isn’t quite on par with Amazon’s Echo speakers, though. It cannot add reminders to the Mate 9’s note-taking app, instead tossing them to Amazon’s web-based To-Do list. Alarms are a no-go, too. Most surprisingly, the Huawei Alexa app doesn’t support Prime Music, Amazon’s catalog of millions of songs, albums, playlists, and radio stations. Considering Amazon sells a paid subscription exclusively for Alexa-enabled Echo speakers (Amazon Music Unlimited), it is a bizarre omission.
Not to fret, though. Huawei said future versions of the app will add new features and integrations. Here’s hoping music is one of them.