All posts in “Alexa”

Bose’s Home Speaker 500 combines Alexa with great sound, for a price

Robust sound with strong bass • Sleek design gives it a premium feel • No distortion • even at high volumes • Alexa integration is good
Painfully pricey • Display doesn’t do much • No way to share connected services across accounts
The Bose Home Speaker 500 is more expensive than other smart speakers like Apple HomePod or Google Home. But you get excellent sound in addition to smarts.

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Sonos and Apple need to move over as Bose is entering the high-end smart speaker market.

At $50 more than Apple’s HomePod and $100 less than the Sonos Play:5, the Home Speaker 500 from Bose might be hitting a sweet spot for high-end smart speakers.

Don’t get me wrong — $399.95 is a lot for a speaker, especially one geared for a wide consumer audience. Bose is hoping that its audio tech will give the Speaker 500 an edge over the competition.

On paper, it’s smarter than the HomePod thanks to Alexa (Amazon’s assistant is just better than Siri at this stage of the game), and Bose says the Speaker 500 creates “the widest sound of any smart speaker.” I was eager to see if there’s any truth to that claim.

The Speaker 500 has a $399.95 price point, so you’d hope it at least packs a punch. Well after testing the speaker almost every possible way, I’ll can say that it does. 

High-end looks

Bose went full-throttle aluminum for the design.

Bose went full-throttle aluminum for the design.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Apple and Amazon opted for an exterior mesh design for their smart speakers, but Bose took a different approach and went all-in on the choice. It’s also clearly one of the reasons for the speaker’s high price.

At first glance, the sleek chassis doesn’t quite look like a speaker. It’s relatively small, just 8 inches tall, and it’s shaped like an oval. It’s not portable (you plug it into a wall), but it’s easily transportable, since it weighs 4.75 pounds. It comes in luxe silver or triple black; I’d recommend the latter.

The bottom half of the speaker has perforations all the way around it for sound. However, Home Speaker 500 doesn’t produce omnidirectional sound — it comes out of the left and right sides. That separation normally isn’t great for true stereo, but the speaker will use the walls and space around the speaker to create room-filling sound. This isn’t unique to the Speaker 500; it’s a claim that many smart speaks make, the Amazon Echo included. 

Presets at the top make it easy to tune to your favorite sources.

Presets at the top make it easy to tune to your favorite sources.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Bose put a small LCD in the center of the front of the speaker. It looks nice and can display the time, making this one of the more expensive clocks you’ll own.

The back features an Aux port for connecting other devices.

The back features an Aux port for connecting other devices.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

The physical controls live on the top and include the typical play, pause, volume, and mute buttons. You also can manually turn on Bluetooth or switch to the Aux minijack input in back. You can customize the six preset buttons via app to give you one-touch access to various music sources. You can get pretty granular with it — for example, you could set Preset 2 as Hits 1 from Sirius XM.

Pleasing sound

Don't underestimate the Home Speaker 500 by it's diminutive size. It gets very loud.

Don’t underestimate the Home Speaker 500 by it’s diminutive size. It gets very loud.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Bose is obviously trying to stay current by adding smart features, but the company built its reputation on sound quality, and it doesn’t take a backseat on the Home Speaker 500. It can play mighty loud — without distortion or any loss of quality. It sounds good playing any genre of music. However, try as it might, it never convinced me there was more than one speaker in the room.

It can fill a room with sound, and you can hear it throughout a house even at mid volumes, but clear separation isn’t really there.

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I tried out a lot of tracks. Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street,” a more subdued track with lots of instruments at different tones, was a great showcase for what the speaker could do. The beginning opens up with some mid and high tones from a piano melody before the vocals begin. This continues with more instruments layering on top, but the Home Speaker 500 didn’t let one part of the track overpower the rest, even when the drums kicked into high gear.

To my ears, the Home Speaker 500’s sound quality is comparable to the HomePod. The HomePod packs more bass and is bit more well-balanced. However, the Home Speaker 500 has the advantage of being able to easily adjust the bass. It definitely can play louder than the Sonos Play:1 and the second-generation Amazon Echo Show.

Alexa provides the smarts

Though you can't see it here, Alexa's telltale blue light sneakily appears at the top rim of the Bose Home Speaker 500.

Though you can’t see it here, Alexa’s telltale blue light sneakily appears at the top rim of the Bose Home Speaker 500.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Amazon’s Alexa is on board the Home Speaker 500, and it performs well. It’s mostly the same smart assistant you’d find on an Echo or other third-party Alexa speaker. 

The eight-array microphones on top of the device can hear you from a distance since they’re far-field and utilize Bose’s proprietary microphone tech, which also powers active noise cancellation on some headphone models. The best part is they let you activate Alexa even with the volume all the way up (some Echo models have trouble hearing when the music is loud). It should also let you save your voice since you won’t have to scream when you say, “Alexa.”

As with most smart speakers, you can press a mute button on the top, which will cut power to the microphones.

The display is neat but doesn’t do much

A basic display lacking some colors doesn't provide much more than simple information.

A basic display lacking some colors doesn’t provide much more than simple information.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Amazon’s Echo Spot and Echo Show have laid the groundwork for using Alexa with a screen. But that hasn’t influenced the Bose Home Speaker 500 at all; its 2.3 x1.3-inch LCD doesn’t show any of the Alexa-powered media you see with Amazon’s products.

The screen is really just a small window to see the time, what song is playing, and which music service you’re listening to. For supported services, it’ll showcase album artwork, and it was hit or miss with Bluetooth streaming. But beyond that basic info, the screen doesn’t add anything of value. Also, the LCD is hard to look at when you’re not looking straight at it.

A very connected experience

It's connected, but why not let Alexa use the display?

It’s connected, but why not let Alexa use the display?

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Building off Alexa, Bose allows you to connect a plethora of streaming services to the Home Speaker 500. All of this is controlled through the Bose Music app, the same one needed for setup. If you’re thinking, “Oh no, another app,” I’m with you. Bose alone has 10 different apps in the app store — it really should do something about that.

Setup encompasses you creating a Bose account, connecting the speaker to WiFi, and linking Alexa. Within the app, you’ll link Bose to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Deezer, Sirius XM, and TuneIn. You can also stream music from any Bluetooth device. (or any device, via the Aux input).

It’s a really fluid experience, and since the Home Speaker 500 lives on your WiFi network, anyone can connect to it. The disappointing thing here is that the services tied to the Bose speaker can only connect to a single account. That means everyone in the home needs to use the same sign-on, which can be annoying at times. I’m hopeful support for multiple profiles will arrive in the future.

iOS users are due to get some extra love in 2019, when Bose has promised support for Apple AirPlay 2, which lets users stream music to multiple audio devices at the same time.

The price you pay

The Bose Home Speaker 500 can really bring the noise.

The Bose Home Speaker 500 can really bring the noise.

Image: ZLATA IVLEVA/MASHABLE

Ultimately, the Bose Home Speaker 500 comes down to a price decision. If you’re looking for a great-sounding dumb speaker or an equally good-sounding smart speaker, there are other options. At $399.95, this option isn’t the most affordable.

It produced good, room-filling sound for all genres of music, which few speakers of this size can claim to do, and Bose makes it easy for you to connect streaming services to the Home Speaker 500. Alexa comes in handy, and the microphone technology is truly impressive.

If you like Bose and trust the brand, you won’t be disappointed. But if you want similar results for less money, it’s not hard to find alternatives from Sonos and even Apple.

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Surprise! Apple Music is coming to the Amazon Echo

Apple’s subscription music service, Apple Music, will launch on Amazon’s Echo devices starting in the week of Dec. 17, Amazon announced Friday. 

This will enable Apple Music subscribers to access their songs, albums, artists, playlists and stream radio stations by invoking Alexa on an Echo device. 

To access the feature, users will have to enable the new Apple Music skill in the Alexa app and link their accounts first. Usage should be straightforward to Alexa users; Amazon gives the phrase “Alexa, play Bebe Rexha on Apple Music” as an example. 

“We are committed to offering great music providers to our customers and since launching the Music Skill API to developers just last month, we’ve expanded the music selection on Alexa to include even more top tier services,” said senior vice president at Amazon Devices, Dave Limp, in the announcement. 

With this move, Apple Music joins its biggest rival, Spotify, on Amazon’s Alexa platform. Both services had roughly 20 million paid users in the U.S. in July, but Spotify is much bigger globally, with 83 million paid users in July versus Apple Music’s 50 million paid users total as of May

The deal is interesting given Amazon and Apple’s history. In 2015, Amazon stopped selling Apple TV due to its incompatibility with its own video service, and Apple sued Amazon in 2016 over counterfeit Apple products on Amazon’s store. But the two companies appear to be warming up to each other. Earlier this month, Amazon started selling nearly all of Apple products — with the notable absence of HomePod, which competes with Echo — in its online store for the first time.

It’s also unclear what the move means for Apple’s HomePod smart speaker. Apple uses HomePod’s ability to stream Apple Music as a point of differentiation from other smart speakers, including the Echo and Google Home devices. With Apple Music available to Echo owners, it’s going to be harder than ever for the premium-priced HomePod to stand out.

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This $40 talking fish has Amazon Alexa inside

Big Mouth Billy Bass is now a smart speaker accessory.
Big Mouth Billy Bass is now a smart speaker accessory.

Image: Bob Al-Greene/Mashable

Attention, Amazon Echo owners: You can now purchase an Alexa-enabled Big Mouth Billy Bass that plugs into your smart speaker.

That’s right. Developer Brian Kane is finally getting his wish. Back in 2016, Kane hacked the iconic singing fish to be a mouthpiece for Alexa.

Now, right in time for the holiday season, Big Mouth Billy Bass is becoming a certified Alexa gadget. 

At $39.99, you’ll get the classic singing and dancing fish from the 90s with the ability to connect to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. The only catch is that you will need to connect it to an Echo for it to work. The other caveat is that it only works with Amazon-made Echo devices.

The fish itself will react, respond, and dance along with the commands you dictate. It will lip sync the responses, which is, frankly, pretty terrifying no matter how look at it.

Singing is one thing, but the fish talking as Alexa might be too much.

Singing is one thing, but the fish talking as Alexa might be too much.

Image: amazon

Just imagine setting an alarm and being woken up by a Big Mouth Billy Bass dancing and flopping around while it sings to you. We can’t imagine that is the healthiest way to say, “Hello world, time to start another day!” But of course, to each their own.

It’s unclear if Big Mouth Billy Bass will dance to literally every response or just music, but the Amazon listing makes it clear that it will dance to songs on Amazon Music. Even more surprising, it should receive updates post-launch as well.

If you’re o-fish-ally interested in what will certainly be a weird and memorable gift, pre-orders are open now with a Dec. 1 release date

At a minimum, it’s yet another oppor-tuna-ty to expand Alexa in your home.

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The Alexa-enabled Big Mouth Billy Bass is real and now for sale

In September, Amazon launched its Alexa Gadgets Toolkit into beta, allowing hardware makers to build accessories that pair with Amazon Echo over Bluetooth. Today, one of the most memorable (and quite ridiculous) examples of that technology is going live. Yes, I’m talking about the Alexa-enabled Big Mouth Billy Bass, of course. You know, the talking fish that hangs on the wall, and has now been updated to respond to Alexa voice commands?

Amazon first showed off this technology over a year ago at an event at its Seattle headquarters, then this fall confirmed the talking fish would be among the debut products to use its new Alexa Gadgets Toolkit.

The toolkit lets developers build Alexa-connected devices that use things like lights, sound chips or even motors, in order to work with Alexa interfaces like notifications, timers, reminders, text-to-speech, and wake word detection.

The talking fish can actually do much of that.

According to the company’s announcement, Big Mouth Billy Bass can react to timers, notifications, and alarms, and can play Amazon Music. It can also lip sync to Alexa spoken responses when asked for information about the weather, news, or random facts.

And it will sing an original song, “Fishin’ Time.”

When the gadget is plugged in and turned on, it responds: “Woo-hoo, that feels good!”

(Oh my god, who is getting this for me for Christmas?)

“This is not your father’s Big Mouth Billy Bass,” said Vice President of Product Development at Gemmy Industries, Steven Harris, in a statement about the product’s launch. “Our new high-tech version uses the latest technology from Amazon to deliver a hilarious and interactive gadget that takes everyday activities to a fun new level.”

The fish can be wall-mounted on displayed using an included tabletop easel, the company also says.

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The pop culture gag gift was first sold back in 1999, and is now updating is brand for the Alexa era.

Obviously, Big Mouth Billy Bass is not a product that was ever designed to be taken seriously – but it should be interesting to see if the updated, “high-tech version” has any impact on this item’s sales.

The idea to integrate Alexa into the talking fish actually began in 2016, when an enterprising developer hacked the fish to work with Alexa much to the internet’s delight. His Facebook post showcasing his work attracted 1.8 million views.

The Alexa-connected fish is $39.99 on Amazon.com.

(h/t Business Insider)