After months of speculating, there is news — it seems Amazon is coming out with a new Echo. In fact, Amazon is coming out with two voice assistants: the Echo for $99 and the Echo Plus for $150. The newest Echo is the latest update to the Alex-powered speaker — the Plus covers those functions and also acts as a smart hub for various internet-connected devices within the household.
The new Echo is a somewhat higher design enterprise that its predecessor — it’s still a cylinder, but a somewhat shorter and thicker one than it was before. It also comes with more color choices than basic black — a wood-esque finish is one option, as are dark grey and charcoal fabric. More than what’s on the outside, however, the device also has improved its interior with an upgraded speaker system that is intended to improve the sound quality out of the devices.
The devices also include “second-generation voice-recognition technology” along with seven microphones, beamforming technology, and noise cancellation so Alexa can hear your commands from anywhere even when music is playing. The internal upgrade is largely credited to the coming Apple HomePod and its high-end sound system. And while it is unclear if the upgraded Alexa sound will match Apple’s sound quality, it is worth nothing that at their respective price points of $99 and $350, one could buy the Echo three times for the price of one HomePod.
The Echo Plus is designed as the next step up — by being specifically tuned to a user’s smart home devices. When it hears the instruction “Alexa, discover devices,” the Plus will be able to “see” nearby smart light bulbs, security cameras, and appliances. Amazon reports that at launch, the Plus will work with more than 100 smart home devices, and each $150 Plus will come with one Philips Hue smart light bulb.
The Plus also appears to have the improved speaker/mic system found in the new Echo, so it’ll provide better sound quality while also recognizing your commands better.
And while the Echo and the Echo Plus voice assistants were the stars of the show, there were more Alexa-enabled things to see rolling out at Amazon’s surprise event yesterday.
There is the Echo Connect — a small, rectangular speakerphone that lets you make voice calls to any regular phone number through Alexa’s new voice calling feature.
What voice calling feature? So glad you asked. Alex users will also soon be able to make voice calls and send text messages to numbers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany via any Echo device or in the Alexa mobile app.
The Echo Connect will cost $35 when it becomes available early next year.
For $130, on the other hand, consumers can grab up another of the newly introduced devices — the Echo Spot. Similar in concept to the $230 Echo Show speaker with a touchscreen of its own, the orb shaped Spot is a similar idea in a smaller package featuring a 2.5 inch circular touchscreen and a 3.5mm audio output for you to connect external speakers if you wish.
The Echo Spot, like the Show, can also make video calls, play videos, show security camera feeds, and display clock faces.
And then there are the Echo Buttons — which, truth be told, are more accessories than devices. The buttons are small, glowing disks that use the new Alexa Gadgets’ API to connect to an existing Echo via Bluetooth.
The use we’ve seen for these buttons so far is to use a buzzer as though one is on a game show. Such a game was actually played when the buttons were introduced — the users played a trivia game and used their Amazon Echo buttons to buzz in. The buttons, being Alexa-connected, can also tell players if they answered correctly or not in real time.
Echo Buttons will be sold in packs of two for $20.
Christmas is coming — and Amazon, it seems, is making sure it has plenty of gift list spaces it is ready to take up.