Amazon announced several new features for its Alexa voice assistant on Monday. The most compelling one lets you ask Alexa to read your newest emails to you. And, if you want, you can delete an email or reply to it by voice.
There are a couple of things to note before we get started. First, it only supports email accounts from Google's Gmail, Microsoft's Outlook.com, Hotmail and Live.com. Also, because Alexa reads your messages out loud, you probably don't want to ask to hear your latest messages in a place where other folks might be able to listen.
Finally, this feature is rolling out in the U.S. starting Monday, so it might not be immediately available for everyone.
First, you need to connect your email account to Alexa.
Now you can ask Alexa to read your email. You can either say "check my email" or "read my email," both work equally well.
It will start by saying how many unread messages you have. Then it will begin going through them from the most recent first, starting with the sender and subject line. When I asked Alexa to check my email, for example, it said: "For Todd, for the last 24 hours, you have 35 unread emails. From Philadelphia Museum of Art, free shipping on orders of $25."
Then it gave me three options: I could have Alexa read the full email, reply to it, archive it or delete it. I asked Alexa to delete the message. It worked, and I noticed the email was removed from my Gmail inbox on my computer. I also tested a reply and saw that it was sent in my Gmail outbox.
I wasn't able to compose a completely new email from Alexa, however. When I tried to say "Alexa, email Steve," for example, it only sent a voice message to my editor's Alexa app instead of an email to his Gmail account. I also wish there were other options like "report spam."
Also, while it's neat, having Alexa read a bunch of emails is kind of tedious. It felt like going through a huge voicemail inbox, which I hate to do.
But, it could be useful for quickly checking your email while getting ready in the morning, or eventually for listening and responding to emails while you drive with Amazon's upcoming Echo Auto, which should be launching in the coming months.
And finally, I asked Amazon if this means it's now able to read your email. Here's what a spokesperson told me:
In order for email to work on Alexa, you must first link your email account in the Alexa app. By linking your account, some of your contacts and email messages are stored in the cloud to provide the service. This information is encrypted and stored securely in Amazon's servers. Amazon does not read an individual's email, except in very specific cases such as if that individuals asks us to do so or when we need to for security or compliance purposes, such as investigating a bug or abuse.