Beyond asking for the latest temperature, calendar appointments and recipes, Amazon Echo and Google Nest Hub devices can be used for phone calls. But it’s complicated.

Amazon announced on Wednesday a new alliance with wireless carrier AT&T to enable AT&T customers (on “eligible rate plans”) to link their mobile numbers and turn their speaker into a two-way phone. This will enable them to make calls and answer their phone from contacts at home by saying “Alexa answer” without having to search for the phone, or answer on a dead battery. You can also have a choice of where you want to answer, via the phone, on your device, or Echo speaker.

The alliance is exclusive with AT&T. But if you’re a Verizon or T-Mobile customer, no worries. You can still make calls on the speakers and display units. You just won’t have as many options. 

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For instance, anyone with an Echo or Google speaker can make outgoing calls to landline and mobile phones, but they can’t receive incoming calls. That is, unless the other person owns an Amazon or Google speaker or display unit. But you can ask Alexa, or Google, to dial someone’s landline or cellphone, at no charge.

Got it?

How to set up Alexa and Google for phone calls?

It all starts with the Alexa and Google Home apps.

But first, make sure your contact list is updated. Both Google and Amazon pull from the contact list on your phone to make the calls. You’ll ask Alexa and say “Hey Google” to place calls to “Dad,” “Ruth,” etc. If you have multiple Eric or Davids in your list, make sure to give them last names. And when you announce the call, pronounce it clearly.

Set up by opening the Alexa app.

• Select Communication and verify your phone number and grant permission for calling and messaging.

• Start calling. The commands are: “Alexa, call Mom.” “Alexa, answer.” “Alexa, hang up.” (If you want to call “Mom,” make sure she is listed in your contact as Mom.) You can also ask Alexa to call a specific phone number by spelling out the digits. As in, “Alexa, call 1-310-555-1212.”)

To answer, say “Alexa, answer.”

Amazon says you can make free calls from your Echo speaker to landlines and mobile phones in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom, but no 911 calls, or numbers that are listed as letters, like 1-800-Flowers.

Two great side benefits of the calling features. First, if you lose your phone often, and want to discover it, you can always ask Alexa to dial your phone number, which, once ringing, should help you locate it. Secondly, if you have multiple Echo speakers, at least two of them, you can use the calling feature as a walkie-talkie of sorts. “Dinner’s ready!” “Time to go to sleep.” To do this, say “Alexa, announce.”

Beyond the audio calls, owners of an Amazon speaker with a video display, like the Echo Show can make video calls as well, or use the Skype chat service to communicate as well. Coming later this year: You’ll be able to use the Echo Show 8 unit to host and join meetings on the popular Zoom video conferencing service. Zoom will also be available on Facebook’s Portal display unit, later this month, and on Google displays later this year.

Note that like with Amazon, you’ll start off by setting it up on your Google Home app. But know that Google has a help page, and you need to distinguish whether you have an Android phone or iPhone. Both directions are very different. 

But both are also similar.

Have your contact list set up from Google’s contact list. ( Then make sure your contact list is synced with the device. For iPhone users, they can go here and do it: Android users will tap the People & sharing tab Contact info and turn on Save Contacts.

• Go to Settings and select Voice and Video Calls.

Here, you let Google know whether you want to use your phone number (which will show up in Caller ID) or the Google Duo chat app as your communication method of choice and make sure you have selected to have the contacts shown.

As with Alexa, you can also ask Google to call specific people “Hey Google, call Mom,” or dial a specific phone number (“1-310-555-1212′) To end the call, say “Hey Google” or “OK Google” followed by “End the call” or “Hang up.”

Google says you can make free calls to the United States and Canada. And as with Echo speakers, you can also use multiple units as walkie talkies, using the “broadcast” feature.

Example: “Hey Google, broadcast dinner is ready,” or use the word “announce” instead. You can also send your voice message to an individual speaker if you have multiple devices.

Follow USA TODAY’s Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter

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