Did you know you can use Alexa to call and message others?

With the launch of the Echo Show, Amazon introduced a new Alexa calling and messaging feature. It lets you make and receive calls, as well as send messages between Echo devices and the Amazon Alexa app for iOS and Android. It's a new way to contact family and friends. The best part? The feature is completely free to use, as it works over Wi-Fi and cellular data. Here's everything you need to know.

Technically called Alexa-to-Alexa calling and messaging, the free feature was introduced on the Amazon Echo Show in May. That device has a display and is capable of letting users place audio and video calls. But Amazon wanted to extend this functionality to other Echo devices, so developed the Alexa calling and messaging feature for supported Echo devices and the Alexa for iOS or Android app.

Not only can you place a call using the service, but you can also leave a voice message or text message. The best bit about the new feature is that it's free to use as it works over Wi-Fi and mobile data, so you don't need to invest in a talk plan.

You need an Amazon account, a mobile phone number, and the Alexa app on a device running Android 5.0 (or higher) or iOS 9.0 (or higher). Everything must be set up using the Alexa app, as it needs to verify your number and sync your contacts. The feature also works with all current Echo devices, so if you have an Echo Dot or Echo, you can call or message another Echo users and vice versa.

Download the Amazon Alexa app, then open the app, and select the Conversation icon on the home screen. You will need to confirm your name, enable access to your contact list, and verify your phone number through SMS. Alexa uses your phone's address book to find people you know who have the Alexa app or a supported Echo device, so there's no need to manually enter your contacts' information.

You can call a contact through the Alexa app. Just select the Conversation icon on the home screen, then tap the Contact icon in the upper corner, and tap on a contact. You can then place your call. To call with your Echo, say "Alexa, call [name of contact]." You will need to say their name exactly how it appears in your Alexa app. When you call someone, it will ring their Alexa app and Echo device.

All your incoming calls or messages are also put through to your Alexa app and Echo devices. Your Echo devices will sound an alarm, while your Alexa app will serve up a notification. Just say "Answer" or answer from your phone to accept the call. Alternatively, you can say "Ignore" or ignore it from your phone. When you want to end a call, you can say "Hang up" or tap the end button on your phone.

While a call is active, the lights on your Echo device will glow green.

Voice messages are sort of like voicemails. To send a voice message with the Alexa app, select the Conversation icon. You can pick an existing conversations or tap the Start Conversation icon in the corner of the Conversations screen. Then tap the blue microphone button at the bottom of the screen to send a new voice message. It will be sent to your friend's Alexa app and Echo device.

To send a voice message with an Echo device, say "Alexa, send [name of contact] a message". To access your voice messages, go to the Conversations screen of the Alexa app or say to your Echo, "Alexa, play my messages."

To send a text message with the Alexa app, select the Conversation icon, then pick an existing conversations or tap the Start Conversation icon in the corner. Tap the keyboard button near the microphone at the bottom of the screen to send a new text message. It will be pushed to your friend's Alexa app, and, they will get a notification. You cannot send or receive texts on Echo devices.

If you want to block Alexa from alerting you about calls and messages, turn on Do Not Disturb. Say, "Alexa, don't disturb me." You can also schedule Do Not Disturb in the Alexa app (Settings > Select your device > Do Not Disturb > Scheduled).

Do Not Disturb is not available on Alexa devices from other manufacturers.

Drop In is a feature that can be used with Echo Show. Amazon says in most case you'll use video calling, but Drop In is there so you can easily check in with an elderly relative, let the family know dinner is ready, or check a camera in the nursery. It sounds like you won't need to call someone else, but can simply access the camera on another Echo Show.

You can pick and choose which Echo Show devices Drop In is available on, and you can choose which contacts can have the privileges to Drop In on it. If you want, you can opt to not allow anyone to.

No, not with the Alexa calling and messaging feature. You can only make calls from one Echo speaker to another Echo speaker, kind of like an intercom system. However, if you own an Echo Connect, you can call a contact from your phone's address book, another landline number, and even place international and emergency calls.

Go here to learn more about Echo Connect.

The service launched in the US in May 2017. As of 6 October 2017, Amazon Echo and Echo Dot owners in the UK, Germany, and Austria can also now make voice calls and send audio messages to each other. The support arrives via an update to Amazon’s Alexa app for Android and iOS. You still cannot make calls to non-Alexa smartphones or landlines, unless you use the Echo Connect.