Publication Date: 12/31/17 – The Alexa FAQ series continues with information about Alexa calling and messaging. Amazon has over a dozen help pages on this topic and I can’t cover all of that information in one post, so I’ll go with a Q&A format and provide links to the relevant Amazon posts where needed.
Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.
Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this writing, on 12/31/17, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.
Also note that this post does not address calling via the Alexa Connect device, which is designed to work with landline phones.
Q. Is there a fee for using Alexa calling and messaging?
No. Alexa calling and messaging service works with your existing WiFi connection, sending the calls and messages over the internet. There is no service to sign up or pay for, and using Alexa calling and messaging doesn’t use (or even connect to) any cell or landline phone service you may have.
Q. Is it true that a smartphone is needed to set up Alexa calling?
Yes. This is because Alexa uses your smartphone’s contacts list as the basis for creating your list of Alexa-to-Alexa Contacts. From here on out I’ll refer to that list as your “Alexa Contacts”. Once you’ve enabled Alexa calling and messaging in the Alexa app on your smartphone, the Alexa app scans your smartphone contacts list to find anyone in it who owns a calling and messaging -compatible Alexa device and has signed up for Alexa calling and messaging. Every match that’s found is imported to your Alexa Contacts list, and you can now use Alexa calling and messaging to communicate with each of those people.
You can view your Alexa contacts in the Alexa app by tapping the Conversations icon (), and then selecting the Contacts icon ().
Q. Is Alexa calling and messaging limited to the people in my Alexa Contacts, or can I call other people, and landlines?
You can call other people and landlines you’ve saved to your smartphone contacts list, or you can make calls by reciting the number to Alexa. To clarify: there are three types of calling available to you.
The first is Alexa-to-Alexa, which is when your Alexa device makes a call to someone else’s Alexa device. For that, each of you must be in the other one’s Alexa Contacts list. You must ask Alexa to call the other person/device exactly as you’ve got them named in your Alexa Contacts list (see first example in table below).
The second is Alexa-to-Phone Contact, and for that the other person must be listed in your smartphone contacts list (but you don’t have to be in theirs). The number you’re calling can be a landline, cell phone or even an internet (VoIP) service phone. You must ask Alexa to call the contact exactly as you’ve got them saved in your smartphone contacts list (see first example in table below). Make sure you are using the correct label used in your phone’s contacts list when making your request (e.g., “Alexa, call Caroline Smith mobile” vs. “Alexa, call Caroline Smith cell” vs. “Alexa, call Caroline Smith home” – see second example in table below).
The third is Alexa-to-Non Contact Phone, and for that you must know the phone number you’re trying to call and be able to recite it out loud to Alexa to make the call. The number you’re calling can be a landline, cell phone or even an internet (VoIP) service phone.
From Amazon’s relevant help topic:
Here are some examples of things you can say:
|To do this . . . .||Say this . . . .|
|Make a call to another Echo device, saved to your Alexa Contacts list as “John’s Echo”||“Call (John’s) Echo”|
|Make a call to a mobile or landline number saved to your [smartphone] contacts list||“Call (Mary’s) mobile”
“Call (John) on his home phone”
“Call (Kyle) at work”
“Call (Mom’s) office”
|Dial a mobile or landline number||“Call 8-4-4-5-8-2-5-3-9-2”|
|Control call volume
Tip: To mute the line during a call, use the Microphone off button on your Echo device.
|“Turn the volume up / down”|
|Hang up / end the call||“Hang up”
Note: Alexa Calling does not currently support calls to the following types of numbers:
- Emergency services numbers (e.g. “911”)
- Premium-rate numbers (e.g. “1-900” numbers, or toll numbers)
- N-1-1 numbers / abbreviated dial codes (e.g. “211,” “411,” etc.)
- International numbers (numbers outside of the US, Canada, and Mexico)
- Dial-by-letter numbers (e.g. “1-800-FLOWERS”)
Q. What if there’s someone in my smartphone contacts list I don’t want to be in my Alexa contacts list?
You can block contacts individually in the Alexa app. From Amazon’s relevant help page:
To block an Alexa-to-Alexa contact:
1. Open the Alexa app and select Conversations conversations button from the bottom menu.
2. Select the Contacts icon ().
3. Scroll down and select Block contacts.
4. Select the contact you want to block, then select Block and confirm.
If you later want to unblock the contact, return to the Block contacts screen, select the contact, then select Unblock. Keep in mind that any Alexa-to-Alexa messages sent while the contact was blocked will not appear after the contact is unblocked.
Q. I’m okay with the people in my Alexa contacts list being able to contact me, but I want to control what details they can see about me.
You can set your name, caller ID and Alexa Drop-In (Drop In is a calling feature I’ll be covering in the next post in this series) preferences in the Alexa app. From Amazon’s relevant help topic:
You can view and manage your Alexa Calling and Messaging profile from the Alexa app:
1. Open Conversations conversations button from the bottom menu.
2. Select the Contacts icon ()
3. Select My Profile (under your name)
You can then choose from available options, including:
Name – Select Edit (at the top of the screen) to change the name associated with your profile.
Drop In – Use the toggle under Drop In to turn this feature on or off for your household. See the “Drop In Permission” section below for additional information.
Caller ID – Use the toggle to select whether you want Alexa to show your mobile phone number and contact information when making calls to mobile and landline numbers.
Q. What about Alexa Messaging? What’s that all about?
You can send text messages to anyone in your Alexa Contacts list from within the Alexa app, and you can send voice messages from your Alexa Calling and Messaging -capable devices. From Amazon’s relevant help topics:
To send a text message in the Alexa app:
1. Select the Conversations icon conversations button ().
2. To start a new message, select the New Conversations icon and select a contact from your address book. To respond to an existing conversation, select from the conversations shown.
3. Select the text field to open your keyboard, type your message, and select the Send icon.
To send a voice message using a supported Echo device:
1. Say, “Send a message to [contact name].”
2. If the name is similar to other contacts in your address book, Alexa repeats the name back for you to confirm.
3. Once you confirm the name, Alexa prompts you for the message.
4. When you’ve finished talking, Alexa sends your voice message.
Q: How do I receive calls on my Alexa device when people contact me via Alexa Calling?
From Amazon’s relevant help topic:
When you or someone in your household gets a message, lights on supported Echo devices pulse yellow and the devices chime. Devices with a screen also display a new message notification.
You can say, “Play my messages,” to have Alexa play the voice message aloud. If there are no new messages, Alexa asks if you’d like to hear messages you’ve listened to earlier.
If you have multiple members in your household, you can also say, “Play messages for [household member name],” to hear messages for that person.
Q: How do I retrieve messages when people contact me via Alexa Messaging?
From Amazon’s relevant help topic:
To hear your messages on your supported Echo device, say, “Play my messages.” If there are no new messages, Alexa asks if you’d like to hear messages you’ve listened to earlier.
To check messages in the Alexa app:
1. Select the Conversations icon conversations button.
2. Select the conversation with the new message which has a green dot.
Q: Can I delete message history, like I do with regular text messages on my cell phone?
Yes. From Amazon’s relevant help topic:
To remove message conversations in the Alexa app:
1. Select the Conversations icon conversations button.
2. Find the conversation you want to remove.
For iOS: Swipe the conversation and select the remove option.
For Android: Press and hold the conversation and select the remove option.
Q: What if I don’t have a smartphone, or want to set up Alexa Calling for someone else who doesn’t have a smartphone, like an elderly relative?
You can buy an inexpensive, pay-as-you go smartphone for $30 or less (it must be a phone that can run apps), then connect it to your WiFi and turn off its data connection so you won’t have to use any of the small quantity of airtime minutes that come with it. Enter only the contacts you want included for purposes of Alexa calling and messaging in the contacts list, and then install the Alexa app. Open the Alexa app and login to the Amazon account the Alexa device that will be used for calling and messaging is registered to. Finally, set up Alexa Calling and Messaging.
When you’re done, so long as you don’t intend to send any messages from within the Alexa app you can turn off the phone and put it away for storage. You’ll only need to use it again if you want to make changes to your contacts list. If you want to use Alexa messaging from within the Alexa app, as described in the previous question, you’ll have to keep the phone active. However, so long as you keep the phone connected to your WiFi with data turned off you still won’t be using any of its airtime minutes.
What if I don’t want to use this calling and messaging feature at all, and don’t want others to be able to use it to contact me?
1. Don’t grant Contacts permissions in the Alexa app.
The communications features are totally reliant on this permission, so denying it effectively turns communications features off. If you already have granted that permission, revoke it. I can’t address the specific steps for how to do this for every handset and version of Android or iOS out there, but the process is the same for changing permissions on any other app on your phone. If you don’t know how to change app permissions on your phone, do an internet search on:
[your phone name or operating system number (e.g., Android 5, iOS 10)] + change app permissions
Note that if you’ve already granted Alexa calling and messaging permissions, this step will not erase your Alexa contacts list or remove the menu items related to Alexa communications.
2. If you want to completely remove / cancel / roll back Alexa communications capability after granting those permissions, you’ll have to call Amazon Alexa tech support.
Call them at 1-877-375-9365 – 3am to 10pm PST, 7 days. If you have trouble getting through on that line, you can get Amazon tech support to call you. Go to the Help & Feedback page in the Alexa mobile app or the web version of the Alexa app— you can access it at https://alexa.amazon.com —and select the Call Us option. You can also go through Amazon’s Help pages via the Contact Us link/button. From either location, fill out the form, enter your phone number and Amazon will call you.
Enjoy your Alexa device, and be sure to come back here to follow the rest of this Alexa FAQ series.
I’ll be continuing the series with posts to cover the basics of using Alexa devices as an intercom system, using Alexa to control video on your TV, a look at the various Alexa devices and gadgets now available as well as the differences among them, the Alexa Flash Briefing, Alexa utilities like reminders, alarms and calendar integration, and a sort of catch-all mailbag FAQ at the end.
Click here to subscribe, so you’ll be notified when each new post is published. You’ll also want to bookmark any posts in the series you might need to refer to frequently in the future, and use the handy social media links at the bottom of this post to share with others who’ve received (or you know will be receiving!) Alexa devices.
Click here to read part 1, Alexa Basics For Those Giving or Getting An Alexa Device.
Click here to read part 2, Six Things To Try With Alexa.
Click here to read part 3, Alexa With WiFi & Bluetooth.
Click here to read part 4, Alexa Privacy and Security.
Click here to read part 5, Alexa Music Commands and Services.
Click here to read part 7, An Alexa Intercom System with Alexa Drop-In.
Click here to read part 8, Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers.
Click here to read part 9, Using Alexa To Control Your TV.
Click here to read part 10, Alexa Flash Briefing
Click here to read part 11, Alexa Calendar Integration
Click here to read part 12, Comparing Alexa Devices.
Click here to read part 13, Alexa FAQ Conclusion: Mailbag, Alexa Communities.