Here's How Alexa Works on Fire Tablets

After first debuting on the Amazon Echo, Alexa seems to be everywhere. The Siri-like voice assistant can now be found on a variety of third-party gadgets, will soon work on Sonos speakers and can even control your TV.

But the virtual companion's most surprisingly practical use case just might be on Amazon's Fire tablets, which give a new visual dimension to Alexa's largely voice-based features. The smart assistant starts rolling out to Amazon's slates this week, and after spending some time with Alexa on a tablet, it's clear that Amazon is catching up on the speech-to-action interactivity that make competitors such as Siri and Google Assistant stand out. 

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Using Alexa on Fire tablets is a breeze — simply hold down on the home button for a second, and you'll see the same blue stripe that lights up when activating the assistant on an Amazon Echo. From there, you just ask a question. The big difference is that now you won't just hear an answer; you'll see one too. 

For example, when I asked Alexa the score of the most recent Jets game on my Fire HD 8, a card popped up that showed me the score as well as when the team's next game was. Alexa still read all of that info aloud, too, as she would on any other Alexa-powered device like the Echo speaker. When I asked the assistant to play some rock or '80s music, an Amazon Music card appeared that allowed me to instantly pause or skip whatever track came on. 

These visual cards could prove useful for folks that typically have their Fire tablet lying around in the kitchen or living room. When you ask Alexa for a recipe on a Fire slate, you'll both hear the instructions and see them on-screen. Same goes for when you set a countdown timer using Alexa -- something you can do on an Echo that starts to make a lot more sense when you can actually see it on tablet. And when you're on the couch, Alexa can open apps such as Pinterest using voice commands, bringing it up to speed with a feature that iPads have had for years. 

Having Alexa on your Fire tablet is neat on its own, but it becomes even more useful if you also have an Amazon Echo device. With the new Voice Cast feature, you can pair your Fire with an Echo or Echo Dot, allowing you to do things like start up a radio station on your Fire slate and have it play on your Echo. Considering that Amazon's Fire tablet and Echo Dot both start at $49, you can put together a Voice Cast setup for less than $100. 

Alexa hasn't proven to be perfect on Amazon tablets during my testing -- I sometimes had to repeat my question, and was disappointing when Alexa only read me the movie times without also showing them on a pop-up card. And as we learned when testing the Amazon Tap, Alexa loses some of her magic when you can't activate her hands-free.

Still, Fire tablets present a new, more visual way to experience Alexa, and the feature brings Amazon's slates closer to Apple's iPad in terms of functionality. Alexa for tablets will debut on the company's $90 Fire HD 8, and is slated to roll out to other Amazon tablets soon. 

Michael Andronico
A devout gamer and tech enthusiast, Mike Andronico joined the Laptop team in July 2013. With a B.A. in Journalism from Purchase College and experience at GameNGuide, Examiner and 2D-X, Mike tackles everything from iPhone rumors to in-depth hardware reviews.