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Voice Calls, Messages Coming to Amazon Alexa

Despite the vast capabilities of the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo speaker, it's been missing one simple skill that Apple's Siri can easily handle: the ability to make calls and send messages.

That all changes with the upcoming Alexa calling and messaging feature, which will let you ask Alexa to call or send a message to anyone with a supported Echo device or the Alexa App for free. Like Apple's iMessage, the feature uses an internet connection instead of the minutes or texts included in your cell or home phone plan.

There are three main options for calls: voice, video, and "Drop In." Thanks to the newly unveiled Echo Show (pictured), which sports a 7-inch touch screen and a 5-megapixel front-facing camera, Amazon predicts that people will use video calling in the "vast majority of cases." But if one of the parties has a regular Echo or Echo Dot, you can use voice calling instead. Voice calls also work with non-Echo devices, too, thanks to compatibility with the Amazon Alexa iOS and Android app.

Drop In, meanwhile, is a way to connect instantly with the recipient of the call. If you give someone Drop In permission, he or she can start a voice call to your Echo device without any action on your part. Amazon envisions that people will use Drop In as a kind of intercom: to check on elderly relatives, monitor sleeping babies, or announce that dinner's ready.

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According to Amazon's product page, Alexa voice calling and messaging is "coming soon." The company didn't immediately respond to a request for comment on the availability timeframe, although TechCrunch reports that it will be enabled later today.

An imminent launch would be an added incentive for people eyeing the new Echo Show, a $229.99 Alexa-powered device designed for video calls. It's now available for pre-orders and expected to arrive on June 28.

UPDATE 5/9: Amazon confirmed that calling and messaging is now available on Echo and Echo Dot devices and the Alexa iOS app, and it will roll out to Android devices on Wednesday.

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