Alexa can now call phone numbers, inbound calls arriving soon via Echo Connect

Alexa can now call phone numbers, inbound calls arriving soon via Echo Connect

Amazon introduced Alexa Calling and Messaging back in May, but it only worked between Echo devices and the Alexa app. Today, Amazon is rolling out actual outbound phone calls from Alexa devices, with inbound calls coming soon via a companion Echo Connect device.

Yes, I’ll say it. I predicted this when Google announced the ability to make outbound phone calls via the Google Home earlier this year. And, here it is. Calling phone numbers from your Echo device is as simple as saying “Alexa, call 800-555-1212” and the call will connect. (You must use the area code.) No information is available yet on functions like virtually pressing numbers to get through phone systems, but otherwise, free outbound phone calls start today to most phone numbers in the U.S., Canada and Mexico. (Emergency calls, paid/toll numbers, 611-type numbers and other international calls are not supported.)

An automatic update will occur on your Echo device, and an updated version of the Alexa app for Android and iOS is now available. I’ve done a few quick Alexa calls to phone numbers and they work quite well. One difference from Google Home phone calls is that you cannot multitask on Alexa calls, the only command that Alexa appears to recognize during a phone call is “hang-up”, whereas on Google Home you can ask the Assistant to do things for you and it will temporarily put the call on hold while it assists you. (I’m sure Amazon will fix this disparity pretty soon!)

To use this new Alexa phone call feature, you’ll need to at least have the original Alexa calling feature setup and running. For more info, see our how-to guide.

But wait, there’s more from Amazon! To possibly one-up Google, Amazon announced a companion device called Echo Connect that will enable use of your existing home phone service (traditional or VoIP) to make voice-enabled outbound and receive inbound calls on your Echo devices. And, the Echo Connect will enable emergency calls as well, which are not supported with the update that rolled out today. The plain-looking, flat rectangular black device has ports for power and also an RJ11 phone jack (omg, an Amazon device with an old-fashioned phone jack!) for connecting to your phone line, along with dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n/ac).

Setup will be as simple as connecting to your phone line, opening the Alexa app and ensuring that Alexa can access and sync with your contacts, and you’ll be ready to go. Also, you will need an Echo device (Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Spot or Echo Show) for this to work…the Echo Connect has no speaker or mics onboard and is just the physical interface to your existing phone line. For inbound calls, Alexa will announce the name of the contact if they are in your contacts list, or just the phone number. Picking up the call will follow the same concepts that we’ve already learned with the existing Alexa calling, like “Alexa, answer call”. There's no word on if there will be an option for the caller to leave you an Alexa message or can quickly leave that person a message that you can’t talk at the moment. Currently, with Alexa Calling, these options don’t exist.

The Echo Connect is priced at $34.99 and ships December 13, but you can pre-order it now.

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