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.