My grandparents recently received an Amazon Echo Show. My family hoped the device would let them easily video chat with their children and grandchildren.
We quickly learned, however, that Echos can’t make calls (video, audio, or messages) without a cell phone. And my grandparents don’t own a cell phone. They have a tablet, which allowed us to install the Alexa app, but not make calls.
It was surprising, given that video calls over FaceTime and Skype work as long as both parties have the right hardware.
Many seniors don’t have cell phones or the ability to video chat, and that’s something Amazon picked up on when marketing the Echo. A commercial released Jan. 25 depicts a grandma missing her family until she gets a box in the mail containing an Echo and she can call her kin.
The only problem is that without a cell phone to begin with, such calls can’t be made. Amazon has removed the video from its YouTube channel.
An Amazon spokesperson told me no mobile number is needed for users to make “drop in” calls between devices on their own account — for instance, within a home.
However, Amazon has not specified why Echos rely on a phone for video chatting with devices on other accounts. Amazon’s customer service page says Alexa Calling and Messaging are separate from mobile phone service, but it also says users must have a mobile number to sign up.
If Amazon allowed users to make calls based on an email address or an Amazon account, it could make things far easier.