Amazon’s Alexa lands on the Mate 9 at last, but with more hoops and fewer skills

An over-the-air update to the Mate 9 will deliver Amazon's AI to the phone, but you'll need to launch an app every time you want to ask something.

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Hot on the heels of its addition to the Amazon app on the iPhone, Alexa is looking to make its presence known on Android, too. Huawei has announced that the virtual assistant is on its way to the Mate 9, making it the first Android phone to receive Amazon's AI aide.

With Alexa on the Mate 9, you’ll be able to do many of the things the Echo and Dot can do, including control your home automation devices while you’re away. Huawei is touting its smart home capabilities as the flagship feature of Alexa on the Mate 9, but it can also handle many of the other skills Alexa has on Amazon’s devices, including the ability to play games, shop at, get news updates, track your workouts, and play podcasts.

Furthermore, you can use it to get information about people, places, and events, check your Google or Outlook calendar, find local businesses, and get weather and traffic updates. You’ll also be able to order movie tickets from Fandango and, of course, hear Alexa’s deep catalogue of jokes.

Like the iOS version, however, Alexa on the Mate 9 doesn’t quite replicate the experience you get on the Echo. For one, it requires a separate app to be launched before you can start asking it to do stuff, and the app needs to stay open as long as your session lasts. As long as the app is opened, you can query Alexa by saying its name or pressing the big blue button in the center of the screen.

And it’s also missing quite a few of the 10,000 skills that Alexa has on Amazon’s devices, most notably setting timers and alarms and playing music, but Huawei says these abilities will be added later in the year. It also says it is working on Mate 9-specific skills and hopes to eliminate the app requirement within the next year.

What’s unclear is how long Alexa will stay exclusive to the Mate 9. Amazon unlocked Alexa on the iPhone through an update to the store app, and it could easily do the same in the Play Store. Huawei was coy when asked If it would be the exclusive Android representative for Alexa, only stating that the Mate 9 experience is superior due to its quad microphone setup. Huawei also said that Alexa on the Mate 9 isn't able to differentiate between summoning it or other Echo or Dot devices you may have in the same room, saying "the ideal function of Alexa on the Mate 9 would be in a room where there isn’t an Echo."

The Alexa update will be delivered to Mate 9 users via an over-the-air update later today. Users will also need to download the separate Alexa app available in the Play Store, as well as the Huawei one that arrives with the update.

Expanding Alexa: The AI wars are heating up. Just a few weeks ago Google opened Assistant to all Android phones running Marshmallow and Nougat, and now Amazon is looking to get its foot in the door with Alexa. While the implementation here leaves a little to be desired and the missing skills leave gaping holes in its functionality, it's a start. And if Huawei makes good on its promise to add music playback and Mate 9 specific functions (as well as always-listening capabilities without the app), Google Assistant could be in for a real fight.

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