Hands-free voice calls and messages are coming to Amazon Echo speakers.
Amazon continues to make big splashes this week, unveiling a game-changing new feature called Alexa Calling that will be made available across all its Amazon Echo devices, including smartphones running the Alexa app. Alexa Calling will allow Amazon's Alexa-enable devices to send and receive hands-free calls and voice messages to anyone with an Echo speaker or the Alexa app installed on their phone, at no cost. Amazon has outlined the new features on its website, but there is no specific release date as to when we'll see it roll out.
The service will be free to use and will be built into Alexa's voice controls so that you can place or answer calls without stopping what you're doing around the home. Messaging works similarly, allowing you to easily send and receive short voice messages via your Echo devices.
This news is paired with Amazon officially unveiling the latest Echo device, the Echo Show which features a 7-inch touchscreen and will retail for $229. The Show will make use of the free calling and messaging features of course, and will use its camera and screen to provide video calling features. One interesting/creepy video calling feature Amazon will be including with the Echo Show is called "Drop In", which will allow approved people — your closest family and friends — to instantly connect with you via video chat. This is a bit similar to Google Duo's "Knock Knock" option, except that it's on a stationary object that's likely pointed into your living room or bedroom.
Amazon hasn't come out and explained exactly how these video calling features will work, but we're sure to find out more as we get closer to the Echo Show's June 28 launch date. This isn't the first time Amazon has waded into the wireless communication business — long-time readers will remember the ill-fated Amazon Fire Phone which was discontinued just over a year after it was launched.
It's also worth noting that adding Alexa Calling to the Alexa app suddenly gives it way more standalone functionality than ever before — it was previously used as a support app for Echo owners, but appears to be pivoting to be an app that may be worth downloading even if you don't yet own an Echo speaker.
What do you think of Amazon adding free calling features to its line of Echo smart speakers? Are you ready for regular "drop ins" from the relatives via video chat on the Echo Show? Let us know in the comments!