Frequently Asked Kindle Questions: Alexa Calling edition

Frequently Asked Kindle Questions: Alexa Calling edition

This is one in a series of posts of Frequently Asked Kindle Questions. In these posts, I address a topic in question and answer form. I write both the answers and the questions, but I try to address things I have actually seen/heard asked, or anticipate people asking. I am not an Amazon employee, and I will link to official information when possible. While this series refers to “Kindle Questions”, the blog has, since its regular publication starting in August 2009, expanded to cover e-publishing and Amazon generally.

Q. I heard Amazon introduced some new gadget yesterday, and that it has something to do with calling…maybe video calling. What’s up?

A. Amazon introduced the Echo Show (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), the fourth type of device in the Echo family. It follows the original Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), the All-New Echo Dot (2nd Generation) – White (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), and the Amazon Tap (at AmazonSmile*). The new device does have a screen, a 7″ screen similar to some tablets.

Q. And one of the things that’s new is that this Echo Show can make phone calls?

A. That is new, but all of the Echo devices (with the exception of the Tap) will soon be able to make phone calls. People will even be able to make phone calls with the Alexa app, which is available for both iPhones and Android phones. That’s all part of a new service called Alexa Calling and Messaging (at AmazonSmile*).

Q. It’s a phone calling service? What does that cost?

A. It’s a free service.

Q. You mean I can dump my phone bill and just use this and save all that money?

A. Not exactly. The phone calls require wi-fi, and while some cities have it free in public places, and some businesses, like hotels and Starbucks may offer it, you generally are paying for it somewhere. 

Q. I pay for my internet service, is that what you mean?

A. Yes. You might be paying a cable company, for example, for your internet, and then you have a wi-fi modem hooked into that, which broadcasts the signal. 

Q. But I wouldn’t have to pay the phone part of my bill? I could just pay for internet and maybe TV?

A. That could work in your home. However, it only works with people with a compatible Echo device or the Alexa app. The Alexa app is free, but not everybody has it.

Q. I can’t just call any old phone number?

A. No. The person you are calling has to have the Alexa app, and they have to be in your contacts on your phone.

Q. Wait, I still need a phone?

A. The app is going to be on your phone. Also, it needs a phone number when you set it up, although it doesn’t use the phone when you make the call…you can do calls with your phone turned off.

Q. Why does it need my phone number, then?

A. It’s part of the set up. Amazon says, “…this feature can use phone data but doesn’t use text messages and minutes from your cell phone plan.”

Q. So it uses my data plan?

A. Apparently, yes.

Q. It sounds a little more limited than I might have thought.

A. Its capabilities may expand, but right now, it is limited to people who have an Amazon account, the Alexa app, and a cell phone number. It is also currently limited to customers in the USA. 

Q. And they need to be in my phone’s contacts?

A. Yes.

Q. Okay…how do I make a call?

A. With an Echo device, you just say, “Alexa, call [contact name].” With the Alexa app, you tap the Conversation icon (which looks like a word balloon in a comic book), then tap Contacts, then tap the Call icon (which looks like a phone handset).

Q. Can the other person answer by voice?

A. Yes. Instead of the blue or red/orange rings we see, the light will be green. Alexa will announce who is calling, and the person you are calling can either say, “Answer”, or “Ignore”.

Q. What if I don’t want to get calls at all for a while?

A. There is a “Do Not Disturb” option. You can turn it on by voice by saying, “Alexa, don’t disturb me.” To get messages and phone call again, you can say, “Alexa, turn off Do Not Disturb”. To turn it on or off using the app, go to Menu-Settings- select your device-Do Not Disturb. You can turn it on and off, and you can schedule a daily “quiet time”. It can be on for one device at the same time it is off for other devices.

Q. I use my Echo for alarms and we use a Dot to set timers in the kitchen: will Do Not Disturb make those not work?

A. No, it only affects calls and messages through Alexa.

Q. You’ve mentioned messages a couple of times: are those text messages?

A. You can speak them, and your recipient will hear them…like a voicemail.

Q. Oh, I meant to ask: do they hear my phone call, and, I guess the messages, in my voice or in Alexa’s?

A. It’s your voice. In the Alexa app, there is a “play” button for them to hear your message. It also transcribes your message, but just like a cell phone, that can make mistakes. You can edit it before you send it.

Q. We could communicate silently, then, like if one of us is at work?

A. Yes.

Q. The written messages are in the app?

A. Yes.

Q. Can I delete them?

A. You can swipe them away on an iPhone. On an Android device, tap and hold the Conversation (not an individual message) and you’ll get a trash can icon at the top of the screen. By the way, if you tap and hold an individual message, the phone icon at the top will change to a two page symbol. Tap that, and you will copy the message. You can  then paste it into another app, like a text message.

Q. Do I say the punctuation, like I would on my phone?

A. Remember that if you are sending a voice message, the person would hear you say, “Period. New paragraph”. You can use the dictation feature on your phone’s keyboard, but be careful about which is which.

Q. And I can also use this with the screen on the…Echo Show to do videocalls, like Facetime?

A. Yes. 

Q. Can I do videocalls on my Fire tablet or my Fire TV? They have Alexa.

A. Not at this time. They are not supported for Alexa Calling.

Q. How about through the Alexa app…phone to phone?

A. Reportedly, yes, but ILMK has not tested that yet. I will test it and update this post.

Q. Speaking of testing, can I test out the system to see how it works?

A. Yes. You should have a conversation from yourself (the message will have Amazon’s text). You can tap the phone icon there to call your Echo. Your Alexa app has to first update to the new version (2.0.1050.1 on my Galaxy S7 Edge), and you have to have signed up for it.

Q. Anything else?

A. There is also a “drop-in” feature on the Echo Show (but not, apparently, on the Alexa app). You name specific people who can use it, and they can videocall you. You have ten seconds to reject the call, or to request audio only. Otherwise, the caller can see you, or at least the room where your Echo Show is. Do Not Disturb would presumably stop that, but this feature is on the Echo Show which has not yet been released (it is suppose to be released on June 28th of this year), and we don’t have full documentation. The testing that we’ve done so far has been with the app.

Q. That kind of sounds creepy.

A. It’s not going to be for everyone, even though you have control over it. It could be a great monitor for seniors or those with mobility challenges…or to check on your pets during the day. Amazon also says, “Amazon Customer Service is not able to see or review your messages, voice messages, calls, or contacts.” 

Q. Speaking of privacy, can I control who uses the feature on my devices?

A. No. Amazon specifically says there is no password protection for it, and points out that anyone can hear the calls in your home.

Q. You know, that quote you had about not being able to see it says, “Amazon Customer Service”: can anybody else at Amazon see it? Could law enforcement get information or videos from Amazon with a warrant?

A. I don’t know that, but it seems possible. There has been a court case involving information from an Echo already. I didn’t see anything that specifically said information would not be stored. 

Q. I guess that’s not that different from my other devices. Any other speculation?

A. Alexa is open to third-party “skill” writers, and the capabilities are constantly expanding. This post is about the calling/messaging service, and one thing it doesn’t do right now is call 911. It wouldn’t be hard for law enforcement to set that up (by having a compatible device, as some of them do with texting now), but that capability may come through an app. Similarly, someone may set up a way to call other people who don’t have the Alexa app or an Echo, perhaps through some forwarding mechanism. One big speculation about Echo Show (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*): Amazon recently introduced the Echo Look. It’s probably not a coincidence that one is the “Look” and the other one is the “Show”. The Look has great cameras, and that could network with the Show to provide augmented reality. The Look would see you, and the Show would show you on the screen in another reality, or a movie, or just an outfit you are considering buying. That’s just speculation, though.


Do you have additional questions or have you found out other cool features or limitations? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.


My current Amazon Giveaways

Star Wars Day through 40 years of Star Wars!
Giveaway by Bufo Calvin
  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
  • Requirements for participation:
    • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
    • Follow @TMCGTT on twitter
    • 18+ years of age (or legal age)

Giveaway:
https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/0ce7b24b32a4a670

Start:May 4, 2017 6:32 AM PDT
End:Jun 3, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

It’s going on that long in part so that it covers the actual 40th anniversary of Star Wars (of the release in the USA) on May 25th 2017. Also, this book, which has good reviews and is new, is $14.99 in the Kindle edition…which is a lot for me for a giveaway. 🙂

Good luck, and may the Force be with you!

One Murder More (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

the award-winning, highly-rated mystery by my sibling, Kris Calvin!

Giveaway: https://giveaway.amazon.com/p/398897583537603c

  • Winner:Randomly selected after Giveaway has ended, up to 1 winners.
  • Requirements for participation:
  • Resident of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia
  • 18+ years of age (or legal age)
  • Follow Kris Calvin on Amazon (to my knowledge, all that you’ll get is a notification when Kris publishes a new book in the Kindle store, although I don’t know that for sure…that’s all I’ve ever seen for authors I follow, I think. Kris is working on the second book in the Maren Kane mystery series.

Start:May 10, 2017 7:44 AM PDT
End:May 17, 2017 11:59 PM PDT

Thanks to the hundreds of people who have entered my previous giveaways for a chance to win Kris’ book! I don’t benefit directly from Kris’ book, although we have had a lot of conversations about it. 🙂

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

All aboard our new The Measured Circle’s Geek Time Trip at The History Project!

 * I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

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2 Responses to “Frequently Asked Kindle Questions: Alexa Calling edition”

  1. Zebras Says:

    Bufo:
    Thank you for this. Am I right in believing that you can’t do this without a smart phone?
    Also it isn’t clear once you’ve set it up does the phone have to be present and turned on for this to be used. Since it is a device for the whole home, I could imagine you would use one person’s phone to set it up, and then they wouldn’t be home, so then the functionality might not work.

  2. Just breaking: Fire tablet line revamped with Alexa, and 20% off mix and match 3 pack | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Frequently Asked Kindle Questions: Alexa Calling edition […]

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