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Today’s T3 includes tips for making phone calls through Alexa-enabled devices, a mobile app recommendation, and time-limited Ebates deal.
1. Make Phone Calls through Amazon Alexa
I know I’ve been writing a lot about Amazon stuff lately, but they’ve really been on a roll lately. Case in point, yesterday they released a software update for Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and newly-announced Echo Show devices and the Alexa app for iOS and Android smartphones that lets you make free phone calls to anyone else with one of those devices/apps within the United States.
As with most new releases from big tech companies, most of the coverage I’ve seen has fallen closer to the “breathless excitement” end of the enthusiasm spectrum. I’ve only had a chance to play with it a little bit so far, but I’m leaning towards the “wait and see” end myself. If you’re thinking of trying it out, here are a few of my initial thoughts and a couple of tips to get you started.
- The icon for the app has changed. Instead of the Amazon logo and the word Alexa on a blue background, it’s now a sort of white circle with a break in it on a white background. I think it may be supposed to be a voice bubble…?
- The updated app only seems to be available for smartphones, not tablets. This puts Amazon in the strange situation of providing a feature for iOS and Android devices that’s not available on their own Fire tablets. However, the phone doesn’t need to actually have an active cellphone service. I have an old iPhone 4S that I use strictly with Wi-Fi and the new app works with it.
- Even if you have an Echo or Echo Dot, you still need the updated app to be able to make calls because it needs access to your phone’s contacts to know who you want to call. (Note: I’m not sure why it doesn’t work with the Tap, but maybe that will come in a future update).
- After you install and set up the app, making a phone call through the Echo or the Echo Dot is pretty simple. You just say, “Alexa, phone x” where x is someone in your Contacts list that also has set up calling with their own Alexa app. I suspect this is going to slow down the rollout as when I added my contacts to my phone, not a single one of them has it enabled. So I’ve been testing it by phoning myself. (!)
- Making a phone call from the app is the opposite of simple. First you have to click the Conversation bubble at the bottom of the home screen, then tap the Person icon at the top of the app, then tap the name of the person you want to call.
- You can also send a voice or text message through the app, but this is not like voice mail, i.e. if you call someone and they’re not home, you don’t get transferred somewhere to leave a message. You would need to hang up and then just send a message separately.
- When you receive a phone call, every Alexa-device you own will alert you. This seems like a problem to me.
- You’re supposed to be able to set your app up to let specific contacts “Drop In” on you, i.e. they can speak to you through your device even if you don’t answer the phone. The idea is that you may want to check in with an elderly relative or get your kids’ attention in another room, etc. This feature is something you’re supposed to be able to limit to certain devices.
I keep saying “supposed to be able to” because I haven’t actually found a setting anywhere to do this.UPDATE: I now see that the Drop In feature is currently only enabled on the Echo Show, Amazon’s newly announced smart speaker with touchscreen.
So to my mind, it’s an interesting development but may take a little while to really catch on. However, I’ve been very wrong on my predictions in the past, so definitely take that with a huge grain of salt!
2. Flashlight App for Mobile Devices
Maybe everybody already knows this already, but just in case not, if you have a smartphone or tablet, you should definitely install a flashlight app on it. I can’t tell you how often it’s come in handy.
You’ll need a device that has a camera with flash capability, since the flashlight is basically just keeping it on until you turn it off. For my Samsung Galaxy S5, I use an app called Super-Bright LED Flashlight, that’s very basic and easy to use, but there are several apps available for iOS, Android, and Fire OS devices.
NOTE: iPhones also have a built-in flashlight that you can access from the Control Center (swipe up).
3. Ebates Birthday Week Promo
Ebates is a program that lets you get cash back for shopping online. Until Sunday, May 14th, Ebates is offering 15% on more than 200 of its partner stores as part of its annual birthday celebration.
Some of the stores are only offering the bonus cash back for a limited time during the week, so check out the list of merchants to see which ones are offering it when. (Click the banner at the top of the page to see the full list.)
FYI, I’ve been an Ebates member since 2013 and have earned almost $750 cash back from purchases and referrals, so we’re not talking chump change here!
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