How calls and messages work with Amazon Echos and the Alexa app

Amazon has officially announced the Echo Show, the newest member of their line of Alexa devices. While it has a lot of great new features not present on any previous Echo device, what might be bigger news is the suite of free communication services they announced with the new device that is coming to all existing Echos and Echo Dots. This new service allows you to place video/voice calls and send text messages seamlessly between Echo devices and the Alexa app. Here’s how it all works.

To use Amazon’s new calling and messaging features, you’ll need the Alexa app. It’s available form the iTunes Store for iOS devices, the Google Play Store for Android devices, and the Amazon appstore for Fire devices. You actually do not need any Echo or Alexa-enabled hardware to use the service. At this time, it seems only the iOS Alexa app has been updated with the new features, but it will likely arrive on Android devices soon.

When you first launch the new app or enter the messaging part of the app, you’ll be presented with a short setup process to identify yourself and give the app permission to access your contacts and phone. This is all optional and can be canceled and ignored if you’re not interested in the messaging service.

First you’re asked to confirm your identity and then asked to give permission to access your phone contacts. The Alexa app will check to see if any of your contacts are participating in the new Amazon messaging service and make them available to contact within the Alexa app and through Echo devices.

The Alexa app will then ask for your phone number and send you a text message with a code to verify the number you entered is your actual phone number. This step is required because the app uses your phone number as the means to identify your new messaging account to your friends and family. Selecting the “Skip” option in the upper-right corner will simply exit the setup process.

Once everything is set up, the app displays a conversation screen which lists all of your conversations. There will be a single conversation created with yourself, with a new message waiting, indicated by the green circle with a “1” in the middle. You can now initiate a conversation through either the Alexa app, or through an Echo device by asking Alexa to “make a call” or “send a message.”

When you start a conversation, you’ll see the screen above. To send a voice message, you can press and hold the big microphone button at the bottom of the screen. Alternately, you can just tell Alexa on an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Show to “send a message to [NAME]” and the Echo device will begin recording the message. If you press the phone icon in the upper right, you’ll start a voice call with the person. Just like with the message, you can also ask Alexa to “call [NAME]” and a call will begin. The last option is the keyboard icon in the lower-right. Pressing that will let you send a text message to the person.

On the receiving end, when a voice call, voice message, or text message come in, both the Alexa app and the Echo device will alert you simultaneously. You can answer/receive the communication in either place. You can actually send and answer all types of messages through the Alexa app without either person needing an Echo device. App-to-app calling and messaging are fully supported.

When receiving a voice call, the Echo device will light up green and continue to ring until you answer, dismiss the call, or wait about a minute for the call to be dismissed automatically. Alexa on the receiving end will announce “[NAME] would like to talk” and “It’s [NAME]” periodically while the call is ringing.

When receiving a voice message, the Echo device will make a single notification sound when the message first arrives and it will periodically pulse a green light to inform you a message is waiting. When you say “Alexa, play my message” you will be told who the message is for and asked if you want to hear it. If you say no, presumably because the message is for someone else in your household, the message will remain unread and the Echo device will continue to periodically pulse a green light. If you say yes, the message will be played. Voice messages can also be played and replayed at anytime through the Alexa app. A push notification will be received through the Alexa app for all messages as well.

The final form of message one can receive is a text message. Those will arrive on the Alexa app and on Echo devices in the exact same manner as voice messages. You can read them in the Alexa app or ask for them to be played on an Echo device. If you ask to hear the message on an Echo device, Alexa will read out the message.

Overall the entire communication service, whether it be a call, a voice message, or a text message, is very simple and seamless. Messages arrive on both mobile devices that have the Alexa app installed and on Echo devices. Either one can be used to receive a message, reply to a message, or send a new message. You also have the option to disable alerts on either the Alexa app or on individual Echo devices if you don’t want them part of the communication system.

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46 comments
  1. Aaron says:

    how does it work with multiple users? Can I send a message to just the echo dot located in my daughters room? how does the “drop-in” intercom work? right now, all the devices are registered to my primary account, should I make sub family accounts for the other members?

    thanks

  2. Henry Armour says:

    I have multiple Echos, it would be nice to place a call from one EchoStar to another… sort of an intercom feature.

    • Aaron says:

      from what I have read on Engadget, that is how the “drop in” feature works. on the echo show page, it says “You can also enable a new feature called Drop In for the special cases when you want to connect with your closest friends and family. For example, you can drop in to let the family know it’s time for dinner”

      • Pankaj says:

        Not exactly.. Drop In allows you to separate between Friends and Household. The base question was different. I now have 6 echos in my house, all registered to my name. Basically, I’ve kept one in each room.

        Say I wanted to announce within my house “Alexa – Annouce” or “Alexa – Announce on My 2nd Dot”….. What should happen is the voice message that follows after the skill command (assuming we have “Announce” skill) should be played on all my echo dots (in the first case) or on my 2nd echo dot (in the second case)

    • ihab says:

      say alexa call home.

    • Deidre says:

      Exactly! That seems like it would be easier than calling an outside device. Surely they can add this also.

  3. ihab says:

    say, “Alexa call home” in order to use it as an intercom. ( from alexa to another alexa)

  4. oppman29 says:

    not good enough, I mean google has google voice which uses a real phone number … if something like that would had been added i would be all over this but a messaging app its not good because most people dont want to have a bunch of those apps on their phone Whats app and facebook messenger are enough

  5. John C. says:

    It seems as though it’s kind of an Amazon version of Google Hangouts/Google Voice — except, Amazon isn’t issuing their own phone numbers, just relying on the existing mobile numbers customers already have.

    But the most interesting part was this that Elias noted:
    ” You actually do not need any Echo or Alexa-enabled hardware to use the service.”
    Just be able to install some flavor of the Alexa app on your device.

    • Ken Maher says:

      You seem to be figuring out a lot of this stuff. I have about 2000 business, family, and friends contacts. I don’t want to have connections or my family calling my business contacts. Is there a way to enter only family members individually? I don’t see how to do that. Maybe it’s simple and I’m missing it.

      • John C. says:

        I don’t know the answers to everything you ask above, except for as follows:

        –when you set up a new Alexa voice-messaging capable device, the Amazon system is going to look for and automatically add any contacts you have stored on that particular device that ALSO have already run the new Alexa voice/messaging set-up on their Alexa voice-messaging capable devices.

        –If the particular device you set up doesn’t have all your 2000 contacts on it, then the Amazon system I believe wouldn’t be looking thru all those — only those contacts on the particular device you’re enabling.

        –If you did set up a device (like a smartphone) that included all of your 2000 contacts, the Amazon system would AFAIK search thru those looking for any that have run the new Alexa setup on a compatible device registered to a phone number that matches the phone number you have for them in your contacts list.

        –I haven’t seen or heard anything as yet about individual users having any ability to edit or modify what the Amazon system comes up with in terms of Alexa-enabled matching contacts. There may be some such ability or may not be. Just haven’t see anything addressing that issue.

        • John C. says:

          I see CNET also has a tutorial on this at the following site that similarly addresses the contacts issues/questions you raised above:

          https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-use-an-amazon-echo-to-call-someone/

          “Make sure your contacts are correct

          Amazon will use its speech-to-text translation to transcribe your messages in the Alexa app.

          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…

          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).”

  6. Grimm says:

    I thought they will add a Voip client….

    How is this usefull? Nobody will install the alexa app so that i dont have to get my ass up.

  7. Gar says:

    Does it not work in UK/Ireland

  8. Dayton says:

    My Amazon tap tells me it does not support messaging. My echo does. Will this change? I thought messaging was to be supported on all Alexa devices.

  9. John C says:

    I got OTA updates on a couple of the Amazon apps on my Android smartphone today. After those, I checked the Alexa app on my Android phone. And right now at least, I don’t see any functionality for calling or messaging via the app. Looks like it’s still en route…

    • John C. says:

      Over the night, my Alexa app on my Android smartphone got another update with the calling/messaging feature included. I had to sign back into my Amazon/Alexa account, and somehow, it already had my mobile number pre-configured. But thus far, apparently, it’s not seeing anyone else among my contacts that has an Alexa capable app/device that can be called/messaged.

  10. Emily says:

    Anyone know how to call an echo from the app on my phone? I’m super confused on these features – wish they had a tutorial on how to actually do these cool things.

    • j d says:

      Yeah same here. I want to call my echo dot, from my cell phone. I have everything set up and registered. I can call from Echo Dot, to my phone.
      But not the other way around. There is no way to do that, that anyone has explained. I don’t have any contact in the Alexa App on my phone, that is my Echo Dot. Really stupid. One way communication only…???

  11. JoeB says:

    I presume this is only of interest to people with Echo devices as they can just say “Alexa…call…”, for everyone else there is their regular mobile phone service, Google Voice/Hangout, Whatsapp, etc

  12. xlerate says:

    Confused.
    I have 4 Firesticks, 2 Fire Tablets, and 2 Mobile Devices with Alexa App that are connected to my Amazon Prime Account.

    From my phone’s Alexa app, the only contact I can see is me.
    So if I contact myself, ALL of my devices will report an incoming call?

    Are FireStick remotes going to act as the Mic to speak?

    • John C. says:

      That’s the same situation, when I set up the new version of the Alexa app on my Android smartphone. I’ve got two different Fire TV devices in my house all registered under the same account, and my father has a Fire TV device in his house under his own separate account. But somehow, none of those show up as callable/messageable entities on the Alexa app on my smartphone… I’m not sure WHY???

  13. Ganef says:

    Not ready for prime time.
    Too many bugs and missing functionality in the Android app and setup.
    Cannot speak for the IOS version.
    No way to remove/deregister the calls/messaging completely.
    No way to change your call/messaging profile number, or remove the profile once it was entered.
    When in a call, disconnects from the attached bluetooth speaker.
    Volume of messages verses Alexa Prompts is very low.
    Cannot be used on the Fire 8 or any other Tablet.
    I love the echo system and all, but this still needs a lot of work.

    • onceajrzgrl says:

      Not working properly on the IOS version. My contacts do not sync or import as suggested.

      • Joe G says:

        You are not able to contact just anyone stored in your phone’s contact list.
        It’s just looking through your phone contacts to see if any of the numbers stored in your phone match any numbers within Amazon’s database as primary contact for other Amazon members with registered echo devices.
        If they have an echo device, the newest version of the app, approved the messaging/calling capabilities, and you have the exact number they providing to Amazon… then those people will be the ones to show up in your contact list within the app.
        I used it today… It’s pretty sweet. I can’t wait for more people to come aboard and either buy an echo or activate the calling feature so they show up in my list of contacts.

    • John C. says:

      Re changing your designated phone number, when I went thru the Alexa app setup for the new version on my Android smartphone, the instructions said, if I wanted to change the pre-configured phone number it was already showing for me, I had to log-into my Amazon account on the website and somehow/somewhere make the phone number change there.

  14. John C. says:

    OK, this becomes a bit more clear (but still confusing in some respects) as I play around with the Alexa app on my Android smartphone.

    For me, it’s limited right now because I’m the ONLY contact my Alexa app is showing as available. Why it’s not showing the different Amazon Alexa capable devices I own on a device by device basis, I’m not sure. Perhaps it only sees things as the account holder as a person, not on a device by device basis.

    Nor am I clear on when you give the app permission to check your contacts for Alexa enabled phone numbers, what contacts is it checking? On my smartphone, I have all different kinds of contact lists, some for different Google accounts, some for others, with varying contacts in each.

    I mentioned above that my father has a Fire TV device at his home under his account name, but he didn’t show up as an available contact in my Alexa app. Perhaps that’s because he hasn’t gone thru the setup process yet to activate the Alexa calling/texting service, and link it to a particular mobile number.

    But at any rate, what I realize as I play with the Android app is that you ONLY see the available voice calling and messaging icons AFTER you’ve clicked a particular conversation/contact in the opening screen. So once I tapped the one conversation with myself, then I get a screen with any text/voice messages in that conversation.

    At the very bottom/middle of that screen for a particular contact/conversation, I get the big blue round microphone icon. Press that, and you can speak a voice/text message that will be sent in that conversation. (It sends it as a text message first, then with a little PLAY icon right next to the text message for the recipient to hear the actual voice message you spoke).

    On that same contact/conversation screen, up in the far right top corner, there’s a very comparatively small phone icon in the same black bar area where the contact’s name is listed. Tap the small phone icon, and that initiates the voice call, and a calling screen that has three big buttons — one red one to hang up, another for speakerphone use, and the third to mute your voice on the call.

    But when I call myself in that conversation, nothing seems to happen on my smartphone nor on my Fire TV device nor on my Alexa-enabled Fire tablet at home–no sound, no message, nothing pops up on the screen.

    And, when I use the voice remote on my Fire TV 2nd gen box to say, “Alexa, call MYSELF (my name), Alexa responds with the voice saying: “Calling with Alexa is not supported on this device. You can use the Alexa app instead.” Same thing when I ask my Fire TV voice remote to send a voice message to myself.

    And, when I check the Alexa app on my Fire tablet, it doesn’t appear to have been updated yet with the voice calling/messaging functionality — even though the Alexa version on my Android smartphone that came thru the Google Play store has already been updated to support that.

  15. Michael says:

    My Android app updated last night, it all looks new and asked me to login again, however it does not prompt me at any time to set up calling when it opens. I tried manually granting permissions to contacts as it didn’t ask and also deleting the app cache, uninstalling it and installing it again and it still doesn’t give me the option. I am using a Oneplus 3. Anyone else experience this?

  16. cygnus says:

    Amazon really screwed this up. All I can get it to do is call my cell phone from one dot, my wife’s phone on the same account won’t work. No idea why. No idea how to fix it. Amazon provides no tutorials or idea of how to call multiple devices on one account, which is probably what 95% of us want to do.

  17. John C. says:

    OK, have some additional insight into this based on my own fiddling earlier today and a just completed phone call with customer support in Amazon’s Echo-Alexa team, as follows:

    1. The Amazon CSR clarified that right now, Amazon Fire TV boxes and Fire TV sticks have NO functionality relating to the new voice and messaging features thru the Alexa app. I pressed the guy on whether that meant, none right now temporarily, or none period. And he could only say, none for the foreseeable future. So that means, you can’t make or receive Alexa calls or messages via those devices, and they won’t show any kind of related alerts when you may receive Alexa calls or messages.

    2. When I mentioned to the CSR that while my Amazon Fire Tablet 7 in. (2015) had received an Alexa app update earlier in the day, it didn’t trigger any kind of voice/messaging setup, he answered that they’re having a known problem with getting the voice/messaging functionality to work on the Fire tablets. And he said they’re hopeful of being able to solve that problem “in a few days.”

    3. Similarly, the CSR mentioned that they’re also having similar problems with the new Alexa app on SOME regular (non-Amazon) Android smartphone models, though he didn’t want to specify which ones. And he gave the similar “in a few days” promise for settling those issues where Android smartphones aren’t able to set-up the new Alexa functionality.

    4. I mentioned to the CSR that oddly, the ONLY place I was able to get the new Alexa voice/messaging functionality working was on two regular Android (non-Amazon) smartphones I have. Once I successfully set up the new Alexa app on my first smartphone, and then did the same with my second phone, I was able to call and message between the two different devices that both are registered under my same Amazon ID and with the same registered phone number on my Amazon account.

    5. So according to the CSR, once things settle down, a person with multiple Amazon Alexa-enabled devices registered under their own same Amazon account should be able to call and message between those different devices AND ALSO call and message to Alexa enabled devices belonging to OTHERS that have setup the new Alexa app on their devices.

    5a. Although oddly, when I was calling from one smartphone to the other smartphone via the Alexa apps on both, the caller’s name ID on BOTH devices was showing as simply MY NAME (with no device identification/differentiation). So I’m not clear in that kind of a situation where you’re trying to call or message a different device registered under your same Amazon account, how you’d actually know WHICH of your different devices you’re trying to contact.

    6. The CSR also clarified that when you set up the new Alexa app on one of your devices, and it runs the automatic check of your device’s contacts, it’s ONLY going to return hits (successful contact matching) for those people who have already successfully completed the new Alexa app setup process. Just having an Alexa enabled device, without having done the new app setup, will keep that device as invisible for calling-messaging purposes.

    7. Lastly, re one of the setup messages I received when I set up my first device, the CSR clarified that the place where you can find what phone number your Alexa devices are being registered under is by going to the Amazon website, logging into your account, and then going into the “Log-in & Security” tab. Whatever number is listed there is only for account registration purposes. It doesn’t mean the Alexa messages or calls you send or receive are going to or from that mobile number. They’re not.

    Hope all of the above is helpful to folks.

    PS – I don’t have any Taps or Echos, so I can’t offer any insight into how this new Alexa-based call and messaging functionality is working (or not) with those devices.

  18. Elisabeth says:

    This article says “This is all optional and can be canceled and ignored if you’re not interested in the messaging service.” NOT SO. I just spent 20 minutes in a chat session with Amazon trying to get past the call and message setup screen and was told that I had to enable it first, and then they would disable it for me. NO WAY. I don’t want to share ALL OF MY CONTACTS with Amazon! (They say the contacts will only be on their Cloud server and won’t be shared — but you know they will datamine them to learn more about you and your friends and improve their marketing and later they’ll find some loophole to allow them to reach out to your contacts and invite them to download Alexa, etc.) Now, apparently, I can’t use the Alexa App at all. THIS IS VERY BIG BROTHER…

    • Ken Maher says:

      I kind of agree that it may end up as an adjustment in a privacy agreement that I won’t want to review. I said no to the contacts but I do like the idea of connecting with close family and friends on the echo. I want to add 5 to 10 people and not my 2000 contacts. I want to say call Bob, to call my brother and not have the echo try to call one of 20 business contacts named Bob.

      Does anyone have a way to add individual contacts to the echo and not all of your contacts.

  19. Mike H says:

    Both my android tablet and phone have updated the Alexa app multiple times in the last few days. Checked just now, both on latest version of Alexa. Neither device/app has asked me to re-login, neither has taken me through any setup process for calling and messaging. If I ask my Echo dot to make a call, it says ‘calling must be enabled in the Alexa app’.

    There are some ‘help’ topics in the app, they say to click ‘the conversation icon on home screen’ to start setup for calling and messaging. Would if I could, neither device/app has any conversation icon/bubble on the home screen!!!!!

    Not apparently working on android….

  20. Randy says:

    It seems this will not work for anyone who does not already own a cell phone. The only way to activate this functionality is from a cell phone running the alexa app. any other version of the app (fire tablet, nexus, even the alexa windows browser interface) will not allow it to be set up. If a borrowed cell phone is used, the wrong number is associated with the account. Me and my wife are the only two people in the world who do not own a cell phone and I increasingly run in to stuff like this. The world is turning very cellist.

    • Ken says:

      I thought the echo show drop in seemed like the perfect answer for a relative that is elderly and fearful of technology. I don’t believe she has a cell phone.

  21. Kelly says:

    Am I suppose to get a notification on my phone when someone sends me a message from the echo dot to the alexa app? I am not getting any notifications and unless I open the app, I do not know I have a message.

  22. Allen says:

    How do I remove contacts from the list that the echo may call? When I synced by contact list the Echo app pulled in lots of my work contacts that evidently have echos. I do not ever want the echo to call any of those work contacts! Since it is voice control and names are very difficult for these systems to understand I don’t want to say call my friend X and then have the echo call the CEO of my company just because his name and number where in my contact list and he has an Echo.

    I should be able to remove all the contacts except for family and few close friends.

    • Randy says:

      Currently, the only way to do what you are wanting to do is to remove those names you do not want to have in the echo from your cell phone. Then log out of the Alexa app and sign back in with the phone which have the names removed. It will then copy the contacts in to the Alexa app. Then you can add the numbers back to the cell phone and make sure you never again sign out and sign back in using that cell phone.
      Crazy right?
      I hope Amazon is working on a better solution.

      • Allen says:

        Wow! Thanks for the answer, but that is really terrible.

        I hope after the entire Echo development team has accidentally called Jeff Bezos a few hundred times at 2:00 AM he will make it a priority to fix this problem.

    • Ken says:

      I made some similar comments. I really like the echo and these features but I will not be using them if they require access to my work contacts. It’s a shame because it will slow the adoption of the platform. Apple and others seem far behind but this may be a small opportunity where they can surpass the echo. I didn’t dig deep but I noticed an AT&T skill that allowed you to message a smaller group of family and friends on the echo. I don’t believe it included a call feature.

  23. AnnieEm says:

    I would never consider sharing my contacts without their permission. That’s just wrong.

  24. lesley says:

    i have an iphone from the uk and there’s no option on the new app for calls there’s no chat bubble on the bottom can any one help

    • Randy says:

      I am not positive but I too have one phn that has the “Chat bubble” and one that does not. The difference is the one that does not not have the chat bubble also does not have Bluetooth. I think the software is using this as a decision as to whether or not the device is a phone. My phone that does not have Bluetooth is treated as if it were a tablet.

  25. Krass says:

    When I receive a call from my echo on my iPhone it says I need to give Alexa access to my microphone. I’ve enabled the microphone in the Amazon app, but I can’t find it in the Alexa app or in my iPhone.

  26. Rosa Parra says:

    My Brother is blind and we got him an alexa to answer or make calls but alexa is not connecting to his con tacts on his phone. Alexa will call his phone. what do i need to do?

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