Tech Guide

The Amazon Echo just made home phones cool again. Here's how to make calls with Alexa

Key Points
  • You can place free calls and messages from an Alexa app or an Amazon Echo
  • It breathes fresh life into the idea of a "home phone"
  • We'll walk you through how to make free calls with Alexa
Todd Haselton | CNBC

Picture it: you're standing in the kitchen cooking up a saucy chicken dinner with a bottle of BBQ sauce in one hand and the chicken in another. You want to call your brother to check in, but you can't reach for your smartphone on the other side of the kitchen without putting everything down. Your Amazon Echo is on the counter playing Bruce Springsteen while you cook. Instead of drying your hands and picking up the phone, you can now ask Amazon to call any other Alexa user — like your brother.

This is a new feature that Amazon announced earlier this week. Alexa users who own an Echo, or who have the app installed on their iOS or Android smartphone, can now call or message one another for free. You can't call individual rooms yet – like from the dining room up to your kid's bedroom, that feature will launch this summer – but you can call other users.

I've been testing it for a couple of days and I'm blown away by how fun it is to use Alexa to place calls. I get a genuine buzz of excitement when I see my Echo suddenly light up with a green light, alerting me that a friend is calling. The calls are clear, too, and Amazon even lets you send voice messages (think of them as a voicemail) or text that can be spoken by Alexa to another user. I can clearly see how Amazon may be able to use the Echo to totally disrupt everything from enterprise phone systems to how and when we communicate by voice.

Society has moved away from clunky phone systems at home, at least most of us in the younger "millennial" generation, but the Echo, which exists as a smart assistant capable of streaming music, providing sports scores, reading the news and more, isn't a boring old phone. Instead, it can simply double as one. And, better yet, there's no monthly fee to use the feature.

Want to try it for yourself? We'll walk you through how to get up and running now.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The first thing you need to do is make sure you have the latest Alexa app installed on your iPhone or Android smartphone.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Open the Alexa app on your smartphone and then tap the chat bubble at the bottom.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Now tap the figure in the upper-right hand corner. This will show a list of your contacts who have the updated app and who are available to call or message.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

You can call right from your phone by tapping a name.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Or you can call from your Alexa by saying "Alexa, call mom." To answer a call, simply say "Alexa answer." To end, say "Alexa hang up."

That's all there is to it.

When you place a call, it'll ring on another user's phone through the Alexa app, or on every Echo connected to their account. If you want, you can send and receive messages using the Alexa app from the same page you'd place a call. Alexa will either play your recorded voice or translate your text and speak out your message on the other end.

There are a couple of hiccups Amazon needs to iron out. The call quality is good but not great – voices sounded a bit hollow on my Amazon Echo Dot. Also, the person at the end of the line can hear you say "Alexa hang up," which is sort of awkward. Also you need to ask your friends to update their apps in order for this to work. That isn't always easy.

I love the idea, though, and in a world where many of us have ditched landlines entirely, I think the home phone just got a new shot at life.