If you are among those invited by Amazon, you can pre-order the Echo Auto for $24.99. This will save you $25 on the listed $49.99 price that was announced for the car assistant.
This is the company’s effort to offer an affordable alternative to services like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If you don’t have a new car with either built-in, aftermarket options for Auto and CarPlay can start at $300 and sometimes require you to replace the stock radio. In either case, you still have to plug your phone into the radio for apps to even work.
With the Echo Auto, you won’t have to worry about too many wires cluttering your dash. There’s just the car power adapter and there’s no need to plug in your phone. Simply mount it on the dash and connect your phone with the Alexa app. The Auto will piggyback onto your phone’s internet signal for a connection instead of relying on an additional signal source and, possibly, bumping up the price.
Once connected, ask Alexa to access the news, get directions, listen to music, podcasts, and more without ever having to pick up your phone. Also, since it’s an Echo device, you can link up the Auto to your home system so when you pull in the driveway, you can open and close the garage when you need to. And with eight microphones, the Auto should be able to hear you over road noise.
In case there was still any doubt about Amazon’s vision for the smart home, the company just made its intentions clear: it wants to dominate every aspect of your house.
The company revealed a dozen new Alexa-powered gadgets on Thursday, including redesigned Echo speakers, a new subwoofer and amplifier, a wall clock, and, yes, a microwave.
Taking over the smart home
Of these, the $59.99 microwave (officially called the AmazonBasics Microwave) attracted much of the attention because, well, it’s pretty damn random, right? But while some wondered about the usefulness of having Alexa inside your microwave, it also offers the clearest look at how Amazon plans to put Alexa on every surface it possibly can.
So why a microwave? Is it actually faster than just pushing a few buttons? According to Amazon, it opted for the microwave because it’s an appliance that hasn’t changed much in the last few decades. And, more importantly, one that can still be frustratingly complicated. Do you know how to use all the built-in presets on your microwave? I definitely don’t.
Though microwave is Alexa-enabled, it doesn’t have any speakers or microphones built in. Instead, it pairs to a nearby Echo speaker. There is an Alexa button on the microwave, but this is just for saving time; if you push the button on the microwave, you can simply say what preset you want, like “one potato,” without saying “Alexa” or “microwave.”
At launch later this year, Alexa will be able to understand dozens of presets, as well as commands like “add 30 seconds.” Amazon says more commands will be added over time as well.
Strategically, though, the microwave is about much more than making popcorn slightly faster. It’s powered by something called Amazon Connect Kit, which will soon be available to the makers of other kitchen gadgets. This means device makers can make their blenders and coffee makers and mixers compatible with Alexa without having to remake their products with microphones and speakers and custom software.
If you don’t want to wait for manufacturers, though, you’ll have another option: Amazon’s new $24.99 Smart Plug, which lets you control any device you plug into it with your Echo. Think of it as essentially an Alexa-enabled on/off switch.
The somewhat bulky plug does a few neat things in the background as well. You connect it to your home WiFi network by scanning a barcode on the back of the plug with the Amazon app, which should make setup relatively painless.
Finally, there’s the $29.99 Echo Wall Clock, which is meant to take advantage of what might be the most popular feature on all smart speakers: timers. The clock connects to your Echo speaker and gives you a visual cue to track your timers.
New and improved Echos
Amazon revamped much of its Echo lineup, with new Echo Dot, Plus, and Show speakers. The good news is that all three are way less ugly than the previous models. The Echo Dot, previously a plastic hockey-puck shaped speaker, has been completely redesigned. The new version now looks a bit like a larger Google Home Mini. It’s rounder, and covered in fabric (available in black or white).
On the inside, the new Echo Dot has also been engineered to sound louder and clearer. In the brief demos I heard, it did better than the original, though I was in a loud room at the time.
All this also means it’s a bit larger than the original, but it shouldn’t take up much more space. Most importantly, the new Echo Dot is priced the same as the original at $49.99.
The larger $149.99 Echo Plus has also ditched the plastic covering in favor of fabric which, again, makes it look way better and more like a “premium” speaker. It’s also shorter and rounder, making it look more like last year’s Echo 2. On the inside, the Plus has gained a new temperature sensor, so it can detect the temperature of its surroundings, as well as upgraded audio.
The relatively new Echo Show also got a much needed facelift. While the previous version looked like some kind of teleconferencing device, the new Echo Show places the speaker on the side of the device, making it look much less bulky.
Amazon also delivered its answer to Google’s Chromecast Audio with the $34.99 Echo Input, a thin disc-like gadget you connect to an existing speaker in order to turn it into a smart, Alexa-enabled speaker.
If you’re really serious about upgrading your audio setup, Amazon has offered a solution in the form of the $129.99 Echo Sub. The sub pairs to your existing Echo speakers, which can now be paired in stereo and support multi-room audio.
In the demo I heard it sounded pretty good by my ear — with a noticeably thumpy bass— but again, I was in a loud demo room so it’s hard to judge the audio quality at this point. What is clear is that Amazon wants to fight the perception that Echo speakers aren’t meant for people who care about sound quality.
Does all that seem like too much Alexa? Perhaps. But Amazon doesn’t need you to buy all of its products or even most of them. What it is trying to do is make its ecosystem of hardware and software an essential part of the things you do in your home every day, whether it’s listening to music, turning off the lights, or cooking popcorn.
It’s no secret that the smart home, right now, is kind of a mess. From complicated setup processes to getting a bunch of disparate gadgets to sync up to one another, we’re still a long way off from the cohesive vision so many tech companies have promised us.
For Amazon, the solution isn’t just to make Alexa smarter and easier to use, it’s to integrate it with every conceivable appliance and gadget you could possibly need or want. Once you’ve bought into one part of the ecosystem, why wouldn’t you keep investing in it?
In Jeff Bezos’s vision of the future, microwaving a potato is a multi-step, error-ridden, complicated affair.
This much was made clear at a press event in Seattle today, where Amazon unveiled a host of new household products that integrate with the company’s voice assistant, Alexa. In doing so, Amazon succeeded in more than just debuting a voice-controlled microwave. Indeed, in the course of today’s IRL informercial the company managed to do something much more remarkable: give life to the adage that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
The microwave, which in a video captured by BuzzFeed reporter Nic Nguyen seems needlessly complicated and appears to take much longer to operate than the old fashioned, non voice-controlled version, was only just one of the many examples of Amazon insisting on putting Alexa where no one wanted.
Take, for example, the Amazon Smart Plug. This nifty little gadget allows you to essentially integrate Alexa into every device that has a plug — assuming you already have an Echo or other Alexa-powered devices in your home.
Want your non-smart coffee maker to turn on with a voice request? The Amazon Smart Plug will help you do that.
Of course, you’ll still have to walk over to the thing, grind the coffee, put it and a filter in the machine, and pour in your desired amount of water. But hey, for the low price of $25 you didn’t have to hit that “On” switch!
The future is truly now.
But wait, there’s more. Let’s say you happen to already own an Echo Show, and a Ring front-door camera. What would be even better, Amazon wants us to believe, is if you could ask Alexa to talk to your outside visitors.
In an Amazon blog post, the company provides an example of what that might sound like: “Alexa talk to the front door camera.”
We are finally one step closer to being able to tell the pizza delivery guy, from the comfort of our Echo-enabled bathroom, to “just leave it on the stoop and get out of here.” Imagine the possibilities.
And we haven’t even got to the fun of Alexa Guard. The aforementioned blog post tells us that the service “integrates Echo devices, smart lights, and security service providers to help customers protect their homes while they’re away.”
All you have to do is tell Alexa that you’re leaving, and “Alexa will notify you if she detects the sound of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, or glass breaking while you’re away.”
According to Amazon, you can “[use] your voice to start a timer with your compatible Echo device and easily see how much time is remaining on your clock.”
With Alexa doing everything for you, and your subsequent inability to read an analog clock, you will even be able to ask your Echo to tell you what time the clock displays. Exciting, right?
The massive push by Amazon to connect every single device in your home to Alexa shouldn’t come as a surprise. The company wants its whispering robot voice to be your go-to for everything in your day to day life.
Time will tell if any of its customers feel the same way.
Amazon already announced plans for car makers to integrate the online retail giant’s digital assistant Alexa into car infotainment systems. But if that’s too far off, a new product was unveiled Thursday that might satiate your appetite: Echo Auto.
As part of a bevy of product announcements at Amazon headquarters in Seattle, Echo Auto was announced as an in-car Echo device that sits on your car dash.
It’s invite-only to get your car hooked up with the Auto, which is supposed to ship out to invitees “later this year.” The Echo Auto will use your phone’s connectivity and Bluetooth connection to listen and respond to your navigation questions or music demands. It has eight microphones that are supposed to be able to handle noisy conditions inside and outside the car so you can ask it questions without turning off the A/C or radio.
Other gadgets have tried to bring the voice assistant experience into the car (like the Muse) but it always falls short. Instead integrated systems part of the car like Nuance’s Dragon or Mercedes or BMW virtual assistants dominate the space. So that makes sense why Amazon decided to offer Alexa up to car engineers directly.
But until then, Amazon wants to you to be able to ask Alexa where’s the nearest coffee shop or to add items to your shopping list — all while driving. This is Amazon after all.