Today (3/12/18), Amazon announced Alexa video calling on Fire tablets is now available in the U.S.! In fact, all the same Alexa messaging and calling features currently available on Alexa devices with screens (Spot and Show) are now available on the latest-generation Fire 7, Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets.
Note for readers outside the US: as of this writing (on 3/12/18), this feature is only available to US-based Alexa users. However, like past Alexa upgrades, it will most likely be coming to other Alexa regions soon.
Alexa Calling & Messaging Services Come To Fire Tablets
I got a very interesting email from an Amazon contact this morning, and I’ve verified the relevant product and help pages on the Amazon site have been updated too, so it’s safe to share this from the email:
Starting today, customers can use Alexa calling and messaging on Fire, Android, and iOS tablets. With this update, customers can use their tablet to place video and audio calls, or message anyone – for free by asking Alexa.
With your Fire HD 10, you’ll be able to place a call to Mom or send a quick voice message to a friend completely hands free by simply asking Alexa. Or, simply tap the home button on your Fire 7, Fire HD 8, or previous generation Fire tablet and ask Alexa to place a call or send a message. You can also enable Drop In for when you want to instantly connect with other Echo devices in your home from your tablet.
Android and iOS customers will simply need to open the Alexa app and then they can easily place calls, send messages or drop in on Echo devices throughout their home. Set-up is easy—just download the latest Alexa app and verify your mobile number to import your contacts.
The Alexa calling and messaging service is free, because it relies on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. VoIP carries calls and messages across the internet using your WiFi connection, so you don’t have to pay anything on top of the WiFi you’re already paying for in order to use Alexa calling and messaging.
Fire Tablets Are Very Nearly Full-Fledged Alexa Devices Now
According to my tests this morning, the latest-generation Fire 7, Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets can now run (most) Alexa skills in addition to offering support for Alexa calling and messaging. That means they’re about the closest you can get to an actual Alexa device like Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, Amazon Tap or Echo Show.
I added the “most” qualifier because video or images an Alexa skill would send to a Show or Spot cannot currently be sent to a Fire tablet screen. This may change in the future, but for now, only the voice-only version of a skill will run on a Fire tablet. If there is no voice-only version of the skill (such as with my Visual Tarot or Cartoon Player skills), the skill will not run on a Fire tablet.
Still, with this latest software update a Fire tablet now makes a worthy (and less expensive!) alternative to Echo Show or Spot. It won’t have the always-on functionality of a Show or Spot, but if that’s not a dealbreaker for you then it’s worth considering a Fire tablet for your next Alexa-enabled device purchase.
Accessing Alexa on Fire Tablets
The latest edition tablets seem to ship with Alexa set to ‘always on’, but of course that’s only while the tablet’s powered on (and not asleep). I generally turn this off immediately (go to Settings > Alexa) because I’ve got Alexa devices all over my home and don’t want to deal with the false wakes.
If you’ve left the always-on setting enabled and your Fire tablet is powered on and awake, you can interact with Alexa on your Fire tablet the same way you would with any other Alexa device: speak the wake word followed by your command or request.
If you’ve turned off the always-on setting for Alexa, just long-press the circle icon at the bottom of your Fire screen to wake Alexa, then issue your command as per usual. Note that there’s no need to speak the wake word, because Alexa will already be awake.
iPads Get The Update, Too!
AppleInsider reports the latest version of the Alexa app on iPads also supports voice and video calling.
LME’s post, Alexa FAQ Part 6: Alexa Calling and Messaging, gives a good overview of what Alexa calling and messaging is, and how it works.