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If you’re in the UK and your phone has downloaded the latest version of the Amazon Alexa app, you may have noticed a new feature: voice calling. This was launched in the US a few months ago and it’s finally arrived over here. And it’s good. Game-changingly good.
So how do you get started and make your first call? Here’s how.
How to make Amazon Alexa voice calls
First, make sure you’ve got the latest version of the Alexa app on your smartphone. When you next open the app, a menu should appear introducing the voice calling feature.
You’ll be asked to enter your mobile phone number, to which Amazon will send a verification code that you must enter. Once you’ve done that, voice calling is activated and Amazon will ask for permission to root through your phone’s contacts, so it can find other Alexa users who’ve enabled voice calling.
Once that’s all sorted, open the Alexa app and click on the little speech bubble icon at the bottom of the screen, then click on the person icon at the top and you should see something like this:
Right now, I’m a Billy Almost No Alexa Mates, but this is the list of people on your contacts list who’ve set up voice calling.
To place a call, you simply say, for example: “Alexa, call Tim Danton”. Alexa will say the person’s name back to you and ask you to confirm, presumably to cut down on the number of accidental calls to the Tim Dentons of the world.
At the other end, the person’s Echo devices will start displaying a spinning green light and inform the person that “Barry Collins (or whoever) is calling”. They have to say: “Alexa, answer the call” before it will connect. You can also answer and place calls from the Alexa smartphone app, which is handy if you’re not at home or within earshot of an Echo speaker.
I conducted a test call with Tim using the Amazon Echo cylinder speaker, and the call quality was perfectly clear and wibble free. It was much clearer than a regular Skype call, although the load on Amazon’s servers will be minimal right now, so we’ll have to wait and see how that progresses over time.
One thing to note: although Amazon asked for your mobile number, the call is placed over Amazon’s voice service, not your mobile phone. The calls are free of charge and won’t count against your mobile phone call allowance.
When you or the caller want to end the call, you have to say “Alexa, end call”. You can’t press a button on the Echo speaker to stop the call, which feels a bit weird at first.
How does Drop In work?
When you set up voice calling, you would have been asked if you wanted to activate something called Drop In. I’m still trying to decide whether this is a brilliant feature or the worst thing ever invented.
Drop In basically allows you to barge into another person’s life uninvited. Instead of Tim having to accept my call, for example, I can merely say “Alexa, Drop In on Tim Danton”, and after a brief warning flash and audio alert that I’m “dropping in”, I will be connected to my speaker, able to listen in to whatever’s happening in his room, whether he’s on the phone, out of the house, murdering his partner with his bare hands or whatever.
On the one hand, it’s a bit like working in the same office, with me able to poke my head round Tim’s door whenever I like. And if you’ve got an elderly relative that you want to be able to check in on from time to time, I can see it being very useful. On the other hand, it’s remarkably intrusive. The only way to stop the other person butting in is to quickly shout “Alexa, end call”. In the regular office scenario, I would be able to see Tim’s on the phone or eating his lunch and not barge in. Alexa doesn’t offer that luxury.
The good news is, even with Drop In enabled, you have to specifically go into each contact and allow them to Drop In – it’s not turned on for everyone by default. To allow a trusted pal or partner to Drop In, click the speech bubble icon at the bottom of the app, click the person icon at the top to get your contacts, and then select the contact. Then flick the switch that allows them to Drop In, pictured below:
Drop In is turned on by default for other Alexa devices in your household. So, if you’ve got an Alexa in your bedroom or office, and another in the kitchen, you can tell Alexa to Drop In on the device’s name and be instantly connected. It’s like an in-house intercom system, although once again, not without its privacy issues.