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Amazon is bringing voice calls to the Echo

A new feature coming soon will allow you to call and message other Alexa users.

Chris Monroe/CNET

A new feature is coming today to the Amazon Echo: voice calling and messaging. Echo-to-Echo calling will be hands-free and straightforward, according to Amazon. The megaretailer today also announced the Echo Show, a new speaker with a screen that will allow for video chats -- but this voice calling feature should work for anyone with an existing Echo device.

The voice calling feature essentially includes two abilities: You can either call or receive calls from other Alexa users; and you can send and receive voice messages.

Amazon's announcement is notable for a few reasons. First, it takes a dramatic step forward for voice assistance technology overall, repositioning its smart speakers as central hubs not only for home control, but also for communication. As it's hands-free, Echo calling will beat phone calls and texting when it comes to convenience.

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This feature also marks an ambitious attempt to make the Echo a ubiquitous medium of communication, like phones, email or text messaging. Why is that so ambitious? Well, to be successful, enough people have to own an Echo device to make it a consistent option (think about using FaceTime if only 5 percent of the population owned iPhones). Clearly, Amazon believes it's close to reaching the critical mass that will make voice messaging a compelling alternative to other forms of communication.

If Amazon sticks the landing on this new voice messaging and calling feature, it will represent a seismic shift in the smart home and voice assistance space. The question is, will it?

Amazon confirmed the update should arrive today, and will involve an Alexa app update and additional setup.