Every single time I go back to my parents’ home I try to get them to cancel their home phone line. And every time I fail.
I don’t know how much they pay for their phone bill off the top of my head, but whatever it is, it’s too much — especially since they rarely use it, and they have smartphones which I generously pay for.
According to a recently published U.S. Health Department finding, 50.8 percent of American homes don’t have a landline and have a cellphone instead.
Naturally, as cellphones have become ubiquitous, the number of landlines in homes have declined and will continue to fall. There’s simply no need to have a home phone and cellphone — it’s an unnecessary duplication.
Most of the concerns for keeping a landline around (I’ve heard them all, thank you very much dad) usually involve “It’s got better call quality and calls almost never drop” and “I still need it for international calls.” These are just excuses for people who don’t want to break old habits and dump the ol’ telephone.
But hey, who am I to try to save you money. It’s your money and you can spend it paying your telephone company if you want to.
Seriously though, if you want to stop paying for a home phone line, but still want a reliable fixed calling device at home, the Echo/Echo Dot’s new Alexa calling and messaging features makes for a good alternative. It’s basically VoIP.
I just tested the new Alexa calling feature using an Echo Dot and an iPhone with the newly updated Alexa app and it works as advertised. After granting the Alexa app access to my contacts, it showed which of them have the Alexa app installed on their phones or have Echo devices set up. These are the only people you’ll be able to call and send voice messages to through Alexa.
Right off the bat, I noticed the call quality was good. Like really good. My colleague Brett said it sounded just as clear as a regular phone call, which is great because if I’m ever to convince my parents to get rid of their home phone for an Echo, the call quality needs to be excellent.
There were no issues when Brett called my Echo Dot using the Alexa app on his iPhone. And while I had an initial software issue with my Echo Dot (it wasn’t running the latest software build), once it was fixed, making calls was as simple as saying “Alexa, call Brett” and ending calls was an easy “Alexa, end call.” While on a call, the Echo’s light ring lights up green. It’s extremely satisfying to be able to make calls with Alexa—it made me want to call everyone I know.
Saying “Alexa, message Brett” sent a voice message to his Alexa app, which he saw either as a text or could play back as a voice message.
Voice messages sent from others to your Echo can be read out loud by Alexa or viewed within your own Alexa app. Your Echo’s light ring will glow green to let you know you’ve got unread voice messages.
Though I’ve only just played with the calling and voice messaging features briefly, it’s solid enough that I can see it as a legitimate landline replacement. It’s not hard to imagine hands-free Echo-to-Echo, Echo-to-iPhone/Android, and iPhone/Android-to-Echo calls.
For $50 I could set up an Echo Dot in my parents’ house, toss out the landline, and save them from ever having to pay a monthly home phone bill ever again. They’ll even get the added bonus of using the Echo Dot to control their lights.
I know my dad will love never pulling out his phone book and punching in the phone number digits for his brother or sister ever again. Instead, he can just use voice commands.
That said, there are some limitations and concerns. If your friends don’t have an Echo at home, you won’t be able to use your Echo or phone to call them.
Sure, they could just install the Alexa app on their smartphones, but if they don’t want to, it’s all pointless.
Wanna call somebody in Asia? That’s not gonna happen.
International calling is also severely limited to wherever Echos are sold and Alexa is supported. Right now, that’s a few English-speaking countries in Europe. Wanna call somebody in Asia? That’s not gonna happen.
Another valid point a colleague brought up: calls placed through an Echo are projected on speaker phone. If you live in an apartment, you may not want your neighbors listening in on your private conversations.
Equally concerning is privacy. Do you trust Amazon enough to connect your calls through what is essentially a free VoIP service? And do you trust Amazon with logging all of your voice messages? I found no way to delete specific voice messages, only entire conversations. And even then, I’m not sure the messages are really deleted or if they’re still stored on Amazon’s servers somewhere.
Fears aside, my point is, if you really need a stationary calling device at home, the Echo and its new calling features can do the trick. The Echo and Alexa calling isn’t going to outright kill the landline overnight, but in another decade, things could be different.
Mom … dad … enjoy your home-phone-that-you-never-use while you can because you’re getting an Echo Dot replacement for Christmas whether you like it or not.