Update (March 7th): Google Home devices can now make free UK calls
This Christmas an elderly relative has requested the gift of hands-free, voice-activated calling via a home virtual assistant. Much has been written about Amazon’s Echo and Google Home, and the tech press are awash with conflicting information and feature speculation. As Christmas approaches and confused buyers respond to Amazon’s advertising, I’ve provided answers for shoppers with elderly or manually impaired gift recipients in mind
Disclaimer: Both devices run proprietary software which transmits personal information into the cloud under terms which present a threat to privacy.
Q: Can Amazon Echo devices make calls to UK mobiles and landlines?
A: No. Currently Echo devices can only call other Echos, and people who have the Alexa App installed. Contacts must also be synchronised with the device doing the calling before a call can be initiated. Amazon announced in September that free calling from Echo devices to mobiles and landlines is now available to customers in the USA, Canada, and Mexico, but not the UK. Presumably this will come later.
Q: Can Google Home make calls to UK mobiles and landlines?
A: No. Google Home can currently only make calls from the USA and Canada. Calling has reportedly been activated and deactivated by Google for some users, but Google has yet to officially launch it and enable it for all customers.
Standalone operation (without a smartphone)
Q: Can Amazon Echo devices be used without a smartphone?
A: Yes, but only following initial setup and synchronisation with a smartphone and the Alexa App. Once setup is complete, a smartphone is not required. However to update contacts or reset the device a smartphone with the app will again be necessary.
Q: Can Google Home be used without a smartphone?
A: Yes, but similarly to Echos, it must first be setup and synched with a smartphone, and resynched to updated the contact book.
As things stand, neither Google nor Amazon offer proper calling of any kind for UK customers, nor standalone operation. With assistance during setup, and assuming that important contact numbers don’t change, Amazon Echo devices can provide limited app-enabled calling. Personally I wouldn’t rely on this as a primary communication channel.
Over the next few months we can expect that both companies will add free UK calling to their devices. It’s unlikely that their dependence on smartphones for setup will change however.