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Smart Home

How to use Alexa as an intercom

Amazon's Alexa speakers can let you drop in on family members or broadcast to the family that dinner is ready. Here's how.

Amazon

Since Amazon first enabled voice calling and messaging between its Echo-branded smart speakers, it's also added various ways Alexa users can communicate with one another using their Echo speakers, be it with friends or family members across the country or across the house.

Drop In, for instance, lets you check in on users with a voice or video call without them having to answer. But Amazon has also rolled out an intercom function that lets you broadcast a short voice message to a specific Alexa speaker in your home. Or you can broadcast a voice message to all the Echo speakers in your home using Announcements. Here's how Alexa's Drop In, Announcements and intercom functions work.

Editors' note: Originally published June 27, 2017, this article has been updated to include additional information and new features, such as Alexa Announcements.

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How to set up Drop In

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For starters, Drop In is slightly different than a voice call in that those you allow to Drop In on you can literally drop in whenever. When dropping in, the person on the other end doesn't have to answer, you connect automatically and it works like an intercom system. You can immediately begin speaking and you can hear anything happening near the speaker you've connected to.

If you Drop In on an Echo Show (from the Alexa app or another Echo Show), you and your contact will see a frosted glass video that will clear up after connecting.

To use Drop In, you will need at least one Echo device and a smartphone with the Alexa app installed (or a friend or relative with an Echo). With the Alexa app, you can initiate a Drop In session, but you cannot receive a Drop In call. (You can, however, receive a voice call from the Alexa app.)

First, sign up for Alexa Calling and Messaging. Open the Alexa app on Android or iOS and tap the Conversations icon (the text bubble in the middle at the bottom of the app) and follow the on-screen prompts, such as entering your first and last name, as well as your mobile number.

Drop In should be enabled by default, but to make sure it's on for a specific speaker, open the Alexa app and tap the hamburger icon in the top left to expand the menu. Tap Settings and select the speaker from the list. Under General check that it says On beneath Drop In. To restrict Drop In calls to only from within your household, tap Drop In and select Only my household.

Allow contacts to Drop In

By default, since it could be a very intrusive feature with serious privacy concerns, Amazon does not allow just anyone to use Drop In to contact you. Instead, you have to enable Drop In for the specific contacts you want to be able to Drop In on you. And they must enable it for you to Drop In on them.

To enable Drop In for a contact:

  • Open the Alexa app and open the Conversations tab.
  • Tap the contact icon in the top right (the icon shaped like a person).
  • Select a name from the list of contacts.
  • Tap the toggle beside Contact can Drop In anytime.

To see everyone you have allowed to use Drop In to contact you, open the Contacts menu once more and select yourself. Under Others Who Can Drop In on My Devices, everyone with the permission will be listed. Tap Remove if you no longer want the contact to be able to use Drop In with you.

If you want to temporarily stop Drop In, enable Do Not Disturb.

To use Drop In, just say, "Alexa, drop in on [contact name]." Alternatively, you can manually initiate a Drop In session from the Alexa app by opening the Conversations tab and:

  • Selecting your conversation with a contact who has allowed you to Drop In and tap Drop In in the blue bar at the top.
  • Tapping the Contacts button in the upper right. Select a contact and tap the Drop In logo beneath their name.

How to use the Amazon Echo as a household intercom

alexa-drop-in-intercom

You can initiate a Drop In call to your own household from the Alexa app under the main Conversations tab or or your profile.

Taylor Martin/CNET

When voice calling first rolled out, you were able to call yourself and all connected Echo devices (and the Alexa app) would ring, except the device used to initiate the call. For example, I could say to my Echo Dot, "Alexa, call Taylor Martin." The primary Echo and both of my phones would ring. And only the device used to answer would hear the audio.

Calling yourself still works, but the way intercoms work now is slightly different.

Before, you could only ring them all and hope the right person would answer. Now you can specify which Echo device you want to ring.

In order to do this, you must first properly name your Echo devices. Go to the settings for each Echo device and give it a room name, such as Living Room, Kitchen or Office.

Once your speakers are named, say, "Alexa, drop in on the Living Room." The Echo in the living room will ring, just as if it's being called.

From the Alexa app, tap the Conversations tab. Near the top of the screen, you should see a blue bar with a new icon and the words Drop In. (If it doesn't appear, double-check that the app is up to date, force close it and reopen it.) Tap Drop In and a menu showing your devices will appear at the bottom of the screen. Select any one to call that speaker. The call will initiate and will try to make a video call. If you are attempting to call an Echo or Echo Dot, the call will switch to an audio call.

Once the call is initiated, it's no different than voice calling. The light ring will be spinning green. To answer, say, "Alexa, answer." To hang up, just say, "Alexa, hang up."

How to use Announcements

In addition to being able to call another Alexa speaker in your household with the intercom feature, Amazon recently added another function: Announcements. This is similar to the intercom function, but instead of calling just one other Alexa speaker around the house, it will broadcast your message to all of the speakers.

There are a few different ways to initiate a broadcast message:

  • "Alexa, broadcast."
  • "Alexa, announce that dinner's ready."
  • "Alexa, tell everyone it's time to leave."

Additionally, you can send an announcement from the Alexa app on an Android or iOS device or from Alexa-enabled tablets like Amazon's own Fire HD 8.

Everyone within earshot of an Alexa speaker around your house will hear your message (in your voice, no less).

Currently, Alexa Announcements only works in the US and Canada and with Amazon's own Echo line of Alexa speakers. However, the company notes that it's working on allowing third-party support.