You probably know how Amazon Echo's microphone and speakers communicate with Alexa, the virtual assistant. But that same hardware — and the Echo's always-on internet connection — can also create a simple home intercom service.
Instead of a hack, Amazon provides a service to make it possible called Drop In. Enabled last year, Drop In lets you make free phone calls between all Echo devices — and free video chats between Echo devices with cameras and screens like the Echo Show and new Echo Spot.
Drop In can be used to call up friends and family who have Echo devices, as well as calling an Echo in your own home — or even in the next room. You can either drop in, and immediately hear what the recipient's Echo can hear (with the owner's permission), or you can make a call, where the Echo will ring until the recipient picks up, or rejects your call.
This is the third instalment of a GearBrain series on what is possible when you buy a second Amazon Echo.
How to create a home intercom with multiple Amazon Echos
First, you need to purchase at least two Amazon Echos. Or, if you only want to call up your friend who lives elsewhere, you will need to have one each. The cheapest way to create an Echo home intercom is to buy two Echo Dots for a total of $100.
Although the Echo Dot's small internal speaker isn't much good for playing music, it is perfectly adequate for hearing Alexa and making phone calls — or for being used as a household intercom.
Here are all of the Echo devices which work with Drop In:
Enabling Drop In on your Echo devices
Open the Alexa smartphone app — or head to alexa.amazon.com — and tap the menu icon in the top left corner. Then tap Settings and tap on the first Echo device you wish to turn into an intercom.
Scroll down, tap 'Drop In,' then tap 'On,' or 'Only my household.' The former allows those who are in your phonebook and who have an Echo device to call you, while the latter means only Echo devices on your Wi-Fi network can call each other.
Now tap the back arrow and repeat this process for all of the other Echo devices you wish to use with Drop In.
Enable Drop In on your contact profile
Weirdly, you now have to allow yourself to use Drop In, via the Alexa app. To do this, tap on the conversations tab (the chat bubble icon at the foot of the homepage of the Alexa app), then tap the contact button in the top-right corner (it looks like the outline of a person), and tap on your name. If your name appears more than once, as it did for us, tap on the one which has 'My Profile' written underneath.
Then toggle on the switch marked 'Contact can Drop In anytime', and tap OK on the pop-up dialogue box. Tapping on other contacts allows them to drop in on your Echo whenever they want. We doubt many users would want this, but can see it being useful for keeping an eye on elderly relatives.
How to use Alexa to drop in on rooms across your house
To help make this as simple as possible, we suggest you give your Echos logical names. For example, use names like 'the kitchen', 'the living room' and 'the kids' room'. That way, when you ask Alexa to drop in or call the Echo, the voice instructions sound natural.
With this setup, you can drop in on the kitchen by saying to any other Echo in the house: "Alexa, drop in on the kitchen". Or you can call the living room by saying: "Alexa, call the living room." This would be particularly useful in large homes, or for speaking to a family member who is in the garage, a home office, or another building on your grounds.
Asking Alexa to 'drop in' opens the microphone and lets you hear what the Echo can hear right away; no interaction with the other Echo is required. Asking Alexa to 'call' an Echo causes it to ring, and will only open the microphone when someone by that Echo accepts the call.
When their Echo starts ringing, the recipient can say "Alexa, answer" to take the call or "Alexa, ignore" to ignore it. Once you have finished the call, you say: "Alexa, hang up".
Finally, while on a call or a drop in, the Echo's light turns green and rotates around the device to let you know it is listening to you and broadcasting to the other Echo.
Don't forget to visit GearBrain's What Works with Amazon Alexa to see the connected devices that work with Amazon Echo and Alexa enabled devices.