According to a recently published U.S. Health Department report at http://bit.ly/2icwvuw, 50.8 percent of American homes don’t have a landline telephone. Instead, the residents use a cellphone as their only phone or use a computerized VoIP phone or other, alternative telephone device. The number of landlines in homes has declined in recent years and apparently will continue to fall. There’s simply no need to have both an old-fashioned wired home phone and a cellphone. Having duplicate phones is unnecessary and expensive.
Perhaps even worse is the difficulty of anyone trying to call you when you have two or more telephone numbers. If they know you well, perhaps they know to call one number during certain hours of the day and a different number at other times. If they don’t reach you on the first number (and they should be able to do so), the caller then has to know to call a second number.
I have been using a cell phone as my only telephone number for several years. However, I recently slid backwards: I added a second “phone” in my home. Admittedly, it is not a normal telephone. I use it mostly for outgoing calls, so my callers never need to be concerned with which number is needed to call me. The new “phone” provides high-quality audio, a built-in speakerphone, and, if appropriate hardware is used on both ends of the conversation, video calling. The new device also performs many other functions besides making telephone calls. Best of all, there is no need for telephone wires connected to the house nor for a monthly bill from the local telephone company. In fact, my new device provides free calls after the hardware has been purchased.
For several months, I have been using the new Alexa calling and messaging feature that is now available on Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot devices. It works as a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) phone. The Amazon Echo devices work on any broadband Internet connection (although satellite connections are not recommended due to the delays involved), connecting by wi-fi wireless to an in-home Internet router.
If the person I wish to talk to is already in my list of contacts, I can simply say to the Echo device, “Alexa, call John Smith.” A few seconds later, John Smith’s telephone rings. If John Smith also has an Amazon Echo device, the Alexa app will (optionally) call that device so that we can have speakerphone-to-speakerphone conversations. (The speakerphone audio quality is excellent, unlike older speakerphone devices.) If John Smith does not have an Echo device and if I have not entered his name into my list of contacts, I can still call his regular telephone number by simply saying: “Alexa, call ….” followed by his telephone number. For instance, “Alexa, call 800-555-1212.”
Amazon Echo Show
I have been so pleased with the multi-purpose Amazon Echo devices that I recently installed the new Echo Show device that adds video. The Echo Show has many uses. For telephone calls, it works the same as the audio-only Echo devices when calling standard wired and cellular telephones. However, if the person being called also is using an Echo Show device, we can hold two-way video calls. This is almost like Star Wars calls! I use video calling mostly so that I can converse with my grandchildren and other relatives.
NOTE: There are lots of options available. For instance, if the person being called isn’t fully dressed or hasn’t yet combed his or her hair, there is an option to answer calls using only audio, not video.
Calls to North American phone numbers are placed free of charge. Overseas calls are much cheaper than the rates charged by your local telephone company.
Calls between two Amazon Echo devices are always free of charge, regardless of the locations of the two people involved. You can purchase two Echo devices; keep one for yourself and then give the other to your relative in Australia or Singapore or anyplace else in the world. If both of you already have broadband Internet connections, future conversations between the two of you will always be free of additional charges, even if you talk for hours.
For additional security, my in-home broadband connection is made via a router with a VPN (Virtual Private Network) installed. As a result, all data sent to and received from the Internet is fully encrypted, including VoIP phone calls. Voice and even video calls made with Amazon Echo devices are fully encrypted between me and Amazon’s routers. However, once the connection is made to the other telephone or Echo device, the call is routed through whatever connection protocol the other party is using. On standard telephones, the call route from Amazon’s servers to the distant telephone obviously is never encrypted. If the other person is using an Amazon Echo device or a VoIP telephone of some sort and if the call is being made over that person’s VPN, the security of the call is greatly increased.
NOTE: In the case of VPN-to-VPN connections, the call is still unencrypted within Amazon’s servers, so there is somewhat less than perfect encryption all along the route of the call. In short, using VPNs on both ends greatly improves security and privacy but still is not 100% secure.
All in all, I am pleased with the Amazon Echo for many reasons, including the ability to hold conversations. It won’t replace my cell phone, but I find it to be an excellent supplement to that phone. I purchased my first Echo device for other reasons, so Amazon’s recent addition of voice and even video calling is available at no extra charge, unlike having a single-purpose wired telephone in the house.
Amazon Echo Dot
Several Amazon Echo devices are available, ranging in price from $29.99 for the Echo Dot (which looks like a hockey puck) to the Echo Show with video that sells for $229.99. (Watch the sales! Amazon has sold the Echo devices for lower prices during Black Friday and other sale events.) Even the $29.99 Echo Dot makes great telephone calls, not bad for an inexpensive device. Of course, it performs many other options as well.
Since the original purchase of my first Amazon Echo device, I have added several more. I now have an inexpensive Amazon Echo Dot device in each bedroom and even one in the garage. (It is great for turning on the lights inside the house when returning home late at night.) Of course, the Amazon Echo Show with video capabilities sits in the living room. And, yes, these units even work as an in-home intercom system between rooms.
All in all, I am pleased with my Amazon Echos.
I am also told that Amazon Echo devices are very popular amongst vision-impaired individuals.
For more information about the Amazon Echo devices, look at: http://amzn.to/2jacghR. You can find dozens of articles describing all the features of Amazon Echo devices by starting at https://duckduckgo.com/?q=amazon+echo&t=hg&ia=products. I would especially recommend How to use the Amazon Echo and why you should get one by James Kendrick in the ZDNet web site at: http://zd.net/2zGgQe3. Also, check out the additional links shown at the end of that article.