Amid the debut of Amazon's newest voice-activated Alexa device, the Echo Show, came another, quieter announcement: Echo-to-Echo voice calls and messages for existing Amazon Echo ($34 at Amazon) and smart speakers.
The new native feature lets Echo users ask Alexa to "call" a contact, or to send them a recorded message. But if you want it to work, you'll both need to have the feature up and running in your respective Alexa apps. Here's how to do it:
1. Get an Amazon Echo or Amazon Echo Dot
It probably goes without saying, but if you want to engage in Echo-to-Echo communications, you're going to need an Echo device. At least, sort of. You can technically use the Alexa app, too, but that seems like a stretch given how many other ways there already are to use your phone as, you know, a phone.
On the Echo front, your options are the $150 Amazon Echo, the $50 Amazon Echo Dot, or, if you want to try out video calling as well, the $230 Amazon Echo Show, which is set to be released at the end of June.
2. Make sure your Alexa app is up to date
This one's a biggie, since the Alexa app is basically going to act as your call center. You'll need to make sure you've updated to the most recent version, which features a new design and, most importantly, support for the voice chat feature.
To do so, just head to the App Store on iOS devices or the Google Play Store on Android devices and make sure that you've downloaded and installed the most recent version of the app.
3. Get started in the app
Once your app is up to date, it'll walk you through the messaging setup process automatically upon first launch. You'll just need to follow a few quick instructions, including confirming your name and phone number as well as enabling access to your contacts list.
4. Make sure your contacts are correct
The Echo messaging feature uses your contacts to match a phone number to whatever name you're telling Alexa to get in touch with. It then uses that number to identify the Alexa user you're trying to reach -- which is why you need to tell Amazon your phone number during setup.
That's all well and good, but it won't work if your contacts aren't up to date. For instance, if you want to send a message to your mom's Echo Dot, you'll need to have an entry for "Mom" in your phone's contacts, complete with the same phone number that she associated with her Alexa account. And hey, speaking of which...
5. Make sure the person you're calling is on board
This obviously only works if both of you follow those first four steps, so you might need to call mom and walk her through through the process (or at least send this article her way).
Now for the sticking points -- or at least the things you should be aware of:
- When someone calls you, all of your Echo devices will ring. This includes any phones or tablets that have the Alexa app installed, since you can use those to take calls or listen to messages, too.
- Your Echo will glow green when you have a new message. To hear it, just tell Alexa to play your messages.
- Amazon will transcribe your messages in the Alexa app. The new messaging section of the Alexa app is a little like a voicemail in-box that lists your recent messages and conversations. For the messages, it'll even include transcribed speech-to-text readouts of what was said -- convenient when you aren't able to listen to a message just then. Just be warned that the transcription accuracy is only so-so -- you might need to decipher a confused phrase or two.
So will Echo-to-Echo calling catch on and end up replacing our landlines? Who knows -- but if you're itching to try it out, now you know how.