Amazon Echo gets group calling and other key features for the holidays

Amazon has announced new features for its Alexa assistant and related Echo products, including group calling and support for new video conferencing options on its Echo Show 8. The features come just ahead of the year's biggest holidays, giving users new ways to connect with their friends and family while staying socially distanced.

Video conferencing and calls will be the primary way many people see their family and friends this Christmas and New Year's Day. Companies have scrambled to release, improve, and promote products with these functionalities amid the unprecedented demand, not the least of which is Amazon.

Alexa already featured communication features that could connect users, but not quite to the level many now require — and that's where the new group calling support comes in. The feature has arrived for users in the US who have the Echo Show, Echo Dot, or regular Echo speakers, for example.

An Echo owner can create a group, name it, and then anyone added to the group can join the call by telling Alexa to call it. As well, Echo Show 8 device owners can now join video calls through Zoom using the smart display, as well as calls through Amazon Chime.

Beyond these features, Amazon says that Fire Kids Edition tablets and Fire tablets with the Amazon Kids app can now be used to make video calls and outbound Alexa calls to approved contacts. As well, Alexa has a new Call Captioning feature for users on a video device who have trouble hearing.