In The Spheres, a set of plant-filled domes in central Seattle, Amazon today made announcements at a rate of about one a minute. Many were APIs and software updates, but there was also plenty of hardware to put Alexa into your kitchen such as an Amazon microwave with Alexa and Dash capabilities built in. I’m not even joking.
But there were new versions of classic speakers like the Echo Dot, Echo Plus and, most impressively, the Echo Show.
And Alexa can talk back to you in the car, soon, too.
Amazon seeks to put Alexa everywhere, so we always want to be able to talk to her, it seems.
Here’s what was announced, with details, pictures, prices and availability.
If you’ve been missing the chance to talk to Alexa while you’re driving, now’s your chance to put that right. A small, slim device that sits on your dashboard and has eight microphones built in, it lets you drop in on other Echo device owners for a quick chat, listen to Audible books, check traffic updates and even set routines so when you pull into your drive, the lights go on at home.
How does it connect to the internet, you ask? It uses the data plan on your phone, so it won’t work when you leave your phone behind by mistake.
Out later in the year, it’s $49.99 or by invitation for $24.99 if you’re prepared to offer feedback to help the device evolve.
This is a tiny disc of a device, essentially a sliver of an Echo Dot: no speaker, just a microphone and a 3.5mm audio cable to connect to your speakers. It can also connect by Bluetooth. Because there’s no speaker built in, everything it plays goes through the connected speaker instead. It’ll be available early next year in black or white, for $34.99.
Echo Wall Clock
It’s a clock. It looks innocuous enough. But, it connects to your Echo so that you can say, “Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes” and lights will appear on the right places on the clock screen. Then, in the last few seconds, the lights count down, backwards, round the screen and all the second spots on the dial flash as the alarm sounds on the Echo.
You can set multiple timers and it’s a neat addition to a kitchen, for example. Mind you, I didn’t really like the look of it, so let’s hope something more elegant is forthcoming in due course.
It’ll be on sale in 2019 for $29.99.
There’s an Alexa button on the microwave which, when you press it connects to the nearest Echo. You can start it cooking by a voice command and it has enough smarts to respond to certain preset commands such as “Alexa, microwave a potato” and “Alexa, reheat my cup of coffee”. That’s all you do, the microwave responds to instructions from the Echo.
There’s an Auto Popcorn Replenishment feature to re-order popcorn before you run out.
You can order this now, and it’ll be delivered later in the year, $59.99.
Amazon Smart Plug
This is not the first smart plug on the market, but it is the first to use Wi-Fi Simple setup so you can get your gadgets going quickly. You need an Echo or the Alexa app on your phone nearby to get it started. As demonstrated, you can rename the gadgets you connect easily by voice instead of typing a new name into an app.
It’s a simple but reasonably attractive device. It costs $24.99 and is available for pre-order, going on sale in October.
If you’re happy with the sound coming from your Echo speaker but want a bit more oomph, the standalone Sub will work seamlessly for mono or stereo sound as appropriate. It can respond to your commands: “Alexa, turn up the bass.”
It’s very keenly priced at $129.99, pre-orders now and on sale in October.
Echo Link and Echo Link Amp
Like the recently announced Sonos Amp, these are devices to stream music to existing audio equipment. There are multiple outputs and a volume knob where lights show exactly how loud you’re playing.
The Link Amp is bigger and includes a 60W, 2-channel amplifier and can be wired directly to passive and non-powered speakers.
Fire TV Recast
This (fairly unimaginative-looking) box is a DVR that lets you record live over-the-air TV without monthly fees. You need an HDTV antenna, too. Then, all the compatible devices will connect automatically, so you can watch on your tablet, Echo Show or Fire TV.
It comes in two versions: a two-tuner, 500GB storage device ($229.99) and a four-tuner, 1TB model for $50 more, $279.99. They go on re-order today and will ship in November.
Updates To Existing Echo Devices
This, we were told, is the world’s most popular speaker, ever. Not just And not, perhaps, just because of Amazon’s favorite six-for-the-price-of-five deals. Now, it’s been redesigned with a softer-edged, curvier, fluffier look and fabric finishes. Black and white finishes now replaced by Charcoal, Heather Gray and Sandstone.
The audio power has been significantly improved, with Amazon claiming it now goes 70% louder than before. The price is the same as before, $49.99, pre-orders from today, shipping next month.
This was the neatest thing announced today, I’d say. The Show, you’ll know, is the speaker with a 7in display. Now it’s been fully redesigned in a much sleeker-looking device and with an enlarged screen – 10 inches. It has side-firing 2-inch drivers for strong stereo sound.
And it’s compatible with video doorbells, such as Ring, owned by Amazon. But it will also have compatibility with other brands, too, offering the tempting proposition of Nest Hello customers being able to show who’s at the door on this screen.
This was part of the theme of today’s announcement, a real shift for Amazon towards an openness that welcomes outside companies to easily appear on Amazon’s Echo devices.
There was also a demonstration of how Echo Show can play video recipes on screen to walk you through cooking dinner step by step.
The price is also the same as before, $229.99, pre-orders from today, shipping next month.
The other existing Echo to be updated today is the Plus, the standalone speaker with Zigbee hub built in, so it can control those smart home gadgets which need hub access. Amazon promised increasingly simple set-up: just say “Alexa, discover my devices.” Now, apart from the fact that that’s not a very natural phrase to say – wouldn’t you really just say, “Make my devices work, dammit?” – it’s cool to be able to sort these things out easily.
The new Plus also has a temperature sensor built in, so you can say, “Alexa, exactly how hot is it in here, I’m freezing.” More usefully, you can build routines so that if the temperature rises above a set figure, you can turn on a fan (connected to the Smart Plug). A larger woofer than before improves the bass in the audio playback. Colors match the Dot: Heather Gray, Charcoal and Sandstone.
$149.99, pre-orders from today, ships in October.
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