Alexa’s capabilities keep on growing, and the latest big feature is voice calling and messaging. It’s been available in the US for a little while, and things are slightly different in the UK. So here we’ll explain what you can do with it and how to call and send messages using Alexa.
What is Alexa calling and messaging?
The idea is simple: you say “Alexa, call Lewis’s Echo”. The recipient's Echo will tell him that “Jim is calling” and he can choose to accept or reject the call by saying “Answer” or “Ignore”.
Since an Echo is a hands-free device with a speaker and microphones, it works like any speakerphone, but this does mean anyone nearby can hear your conversation.
These calls are free because they use your broadband connection, just like Skype.
Added in March 2018 is the ability to make calls within the Alexa app. This means you can easily call (or message) people on a Fire, Android and iOS tablet.
As the Fire HD 10 has hands-free Alexa, you can place a call to or send a quick voice message by simply asking Alexa. It's also now possible to enable Drop In within the app for when you want to quickly connect with other Echo devices in your home.
For the messaging part, you can say “Alexa, send Lewis a message”. She will ask what message to send, and you then dictate it to her.
The message will be turned into text, and when Lewis sees a yellow ring indicating a new message on his Echo he can say “Alexa, play my messages” and she will read out the message using text-to-speech conversion.
Alternatively, Lewis can check the message in the Alexa app. There’s a new Conversations section (the speech bubble icon at the bottom of the screen) which keeps message threads just like WhatsApp and other messaging apps.
However, you can tap on the text to hear the original recording – just like listening to a voicemail. And since the speech-to-text is sometimes wrong, it can be the only way to figure out what the person originally said.
There’s more: you can use the app to type messages to your Echo-owning contacts and even those that don’t have an Echo: they merely need to install the Alexa app and have an Amazon account.
Plus, when you tap the phone icon at the top-right corner in a message thread you can choose to make a voice call or video call to that person.
When you start a voice call, the Echo will light up green and say “Jim is calling” and the person’s phone will ring.
Video calls are no different to using Skype, WhatsApp or any other app that supports video calling unless the recipient happens to have an Echo Show, the only Echo with a screen on it.
If they do, they can use their Show while you use the app and your phone’s front camera.
The Show and Echo Spot have a feature called Drop-in. Let’s say Lewis has an Echo Show. He can choose to allow or block Drop-in calls from certain contacts. For those contacts that are allowed, a Drop-in call displays the video (after a short warning period) on the screen rather than waiting for the call to be answered.
You could use Drop-in from the Alexa app to tell everyone near the Echo Show that dinner’s ready.
Because tablets and phones also have cameras, you can also use the Alexa app on those devices to make free video calls to friends and family with a compatible Fire tablet, Echo Spot, Echo Show, or the Alexa app.
How do I set up Alexa calling and messaging?
Open the Alexa app and tap the conversation icon (bottom middle). You’ll be asked to type your name as you want it to appear to contacts, and also allow the app to sync your list of contacts to determine which of them have an Echo or the Alexa app.
This saves having to add contacts manually.
That’s really all you need to do: you should now be able to ask Alexa to make calls or send messages through your Echo.
And if you’re not near it, you can use the app to do the same, or respond to messages that your friends and family send to you.
Recently, Amazon gave Alexa the ability to distinguish between voices, which allows different people in the house to say “Alexa, Call Dad” and call the right person. However, this isn’t yet available in the UK. When it is, you’ll be able to go to Settings, select a device, scroll down to Account settings and look for a Your Voice option.
This will take you through reading some sentences to Alexa can learn to identify you.
Do not disturb
You’re unlikely to want people to call you at any hour, so there’s a Do Not Disturb feature in the Alexa app where you can set up times between which it will block calls and messages.
To do this, open the menu in the Alexa app (the three lines at the top left) and choose Settings. Select which device you want to control and then toggle Do Not Disturb on.
If you’d prefer, you can set a schedule for Do Not Disturb. Tap Scheduled and enter a start time and an end time – unfortunately you can only set one daily time period at the moment.
Alternatively, just say “Alexa, don’t disturb me” near the Echo you want to control.
And just to clarify, you will have to make these settings on each Echo device you own.