We Tested 14 Coronavirus-Related Alexa Skills. Don’t Bother With Any but These Two.
Alexa has Skills for almost everything now, even useful news information, but is it a reliable source of COVID-19 updates? Everyone is suffering from information overload these days, but it’s important not to fall prey to rumor or even potentially dangerous misinformation. In just the past week at least a dozen coronavirus-based Alexa Skills have popped up. We tested 14 that promise everything from news and statistics to prevention tips and handwashing guides, and we think none of them offer anything essential. Instead, consulting the Johns Hopkins University coronavirus resource page or simply asking Alexa for a news brief actually works pretty well. But if you want to try one of Alexa’s new Skills, there are two that offer some info that we think is useful and trustworthy.
If you want daily stats, add the Coronavirus Flash Briefing to your daily Flash News update from Alexa to get a digest of virus-related news sourced from bona fide organizations including WHO, The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company), the Washington Post, and Johns Hopkins University of Medicine. Of the three flash-briefing Skills we tried, this one provided the best information, offering context (comparing infection rates day-by-day, for example, rather than just doling out depressing numbers) and incorporating related headlines (such as about stocks plunging, travel bans emerging, and oil prices falling).
The Coronavirus Doc Skill provided by Voice First Health answers common questions relating to the virus and the disease it causes, including details on symptoms, transmission, and prevention; it also provides some general info when prompted. (Did you know camels can carry coronaviruses?)
The rest of the Skills we tested either plain didn’t work or contained little useful information—or were just downright offensive, such as the Coronavirus Dashboard (we aren’t linking to it so as not to promote it), which promises a “live death toll” and “number of infections.” When we tested it, the Dashboard gave us the reassuring yet totally false report: “There are no coronavirus cases in the United States yet. Hope there will not be any.”
We wholeheartedly do not recommend that you use any of the several handwashing Skills—not because they are wrong or offensive but because we don’t think anyone needs to hear the “Corona Song.” If you need hand-holding for handwashing, simply ask Alexa to play a song and set a 30-second timer for it.
Perhaps the best way to use Alexa right now is to help keep your mind off things. Listen to some music or a podcast, ask Alexa to tell you a joke, or get the kids together and use Alexa as a board-game companion (we have a list of some of our favorites). A break from all the news may be the best medicine.