(Pocket-lint) - Amazon lets you use Alexa to place calls and send messages on a Fire tablet, eliminating the need for an Echo device to talk to friends and family via Alexa. So, if you own a Fire tablet and are self-distancing or self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic, you do have a cheap and easy way to keep in touch with loved ones without having to buy a smart display such as an Echo Show.

Experts from the WHO and CDC are recommending that everyone separate and stay home as much as possible. You really should place a video call to your grandparents to see how their doing rather than expose them to the coronavirus, which you can carry for up to 14 days without symptoms. Here then is how you can leverage your Fire tablet to ring another Fire, Echo device, or the Alexa app.

It's surprisingly simple.

What do you need to video call?

  • Fire tablet (fourth generation and later) with Alexa app
  • Or any mobile device with Alexa app installed
  • Optional: Show Mode dock for Fire 8 and 10 tablets
  • You could also use an Echo Show, Show 5, or Show 8

Rather than go out and buy an Alexa smart display such as Echo Show, Echo Show 5, or Echo Show 8, download the Alexa app on your Amazon Fire tablet, Android tablet, or even iPad. Your mobile device, with its glorious HD touchscreen, can then act as a smart display. In fact, Amazon really wants you to think of your Fire tablet as a slimmed-down Echo Show capable of video calling.

Amazon offers something called Show Mode for the latest Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 tablets. This mode lets you ask Alexa to see trending news, the weather report, calendars, camera feeds, and more - all without touching your tablet. It even works with a $40 Show Mode Charging Dock, which fixes your tablet in place on an angled stand to create a more elegant Echo Show experience.

If you already have a case with a built-in stand, just put your Fire tablet into Show Mode (swipe down from the top of the tablet to reveal settings) and pretend your tablet's an Echo Show. The Show Mode turns your compatible tablet into a visual display to engage with Alexa from across the room. The mic array in a Fire isn't as robust as the one you get with a Show, however, though it'll do.

What does the other person need?

  • Fire tablet (fourth generation and later) with Alexa app
  • Or any mobile device with Alexa app installed
  • Optional: Show Mode dock for Fire 8 and 10 tablets
  • They could also use an Echo Show, Show 5, or Show 8

Whomever you're calling also needs a newer Fire tablet or mobile device running the Alexa app. They could even have an Echo Show, Show 5, or Show 8 to accept video calls, while an Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Plus can accept audio-only calls. 

Set up video calling on a Fire tablet

  1. Open the Alexa app
  2. Open the Communicate tab from the bottom menu
  3. Follow the on-screen instructions to enter and verify your phone information

Open the Alexa app on your Fire tablet (or mobile device) and allow Alexa access to your contacts. Tap the Communicate tab in the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. If you haven’t already enabled it, the Alexa app will ask permission to access your contacts and register your phone number. (That’s for caller ID; if you opt-out, your calls will show up as “Unknown" to friends.)

You'll need to confirm your name and verify your phone number through SMS. 

Alexa also uses your phone's address book to find people you know who have the Alexa app with Alexa Calling enabled.  Once you finish, you’ll be able to call and even message your friends and family who have Echo devices, Fire tablets, or the Alexa app. You can even call most landline and mobile numbers not in your contacts by speaking the number (“Alexa, call 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-0”). 

Amazon said you can call in any country that supports Alexa-to-Alexa calling, but non-Echo calls are limited to the US, Canada, and Mexico.

Place a video call using a Fire tablet

  1. Open the Alexa app on your phone
  2. Select Communicate from the bottom navigation bar
  3. Select the Call button at the top
  4. Select the contact you want to reach
  5. Select their number or the Alexa audio call or video call buttons

To start a video call from a compatible Fire tablet, just open the Alexa app, then select the Communicate tab and find your contact, and tap the video call icon. That's it. Of course, to end a video call, just select the End button on-screen.

If you’ve ever felt the need to ping a Fire tablet owner without their permission, in the moment, you can do that, too. Fire HD 8 and Fire HD 10 owners can receive Drop In video calls from Alexa devices with displays and cameras, like Echo Show and Echo Spot. This is a hands-free way to connect to Alexa devices instantly, without having to wait for the person on the other end to answer.

It’s a feature that has to be enabled from Settings (Alexa > Hands-Free Mode), and then you can specify which contacts can use it.

Want to know more?

Amazon's "Alexa-to-Alexa calling and messaging" is a free feature first introduced on the Echo Show. But Amazon wanted to extend this functionality to other devices, so it developed what we now call "Alexa calling" or "Alexa calling and messaging". It works with compatible Echo devices and the Alexa app and Amazon's Fire tablets. Here's everything you need to know about it.

Note: If you use a chat app like Facebook Messenger, you could skip this entire process and video-call people using that app if they use it too. 

Writing by Maggie Tillman.