Amazon held an event today in Seattle and announced a pair of new Echo home speakers: the revamped $99 Echo and the $150 Echo Plus. The new Echo is the latest version of the company’s Alexa-powered home speaker, while the Echo Plus houses Amazon’s virtual assistant in addition to being a smart home hub for IoT devices.
The new Echo speaker remains a cylindrical device, but this model appears slightly shorter and thicker than its $180 predecessor. It’ll also come in a bunch of new finishes, including wood-like “oak” and “walnut” designs, as well as dark gray and charcoal fabric designs. The new device has an improved speaker system with a dedicated subwoofer and tweeter, along with integrated Dolby sound. It also has “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.
Undoubtedly, Amazon wanted to upgrade the original Echo’s internals so it can compete with Apple’s high-end HomePod, which is slated to come out at the end of this year. HomePod is priced at $349, so Echo already has an advantage with its $99 price tag. Amazon also has an offer for $50 off if you buy three new Echos.
Amazon’s newly announced Echo Plus takes the Echo one step further by being a smart home hub, meaning it can recognize and connect to smart home devices. It looks more like the original Echo than the new one does, with that tall cylinder design and coming only in black, white, and silver. By saying “Alexa, discover devices,” the Plus will be able to see nearby smart light bulbs, security cameras, and other IoT devices. Amazon claims 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.
Amazon didn’t stop there: it announced three more new additions to the Echo family. The forthcoming Echo Connect is a small, rectangular speakerphone that lets you make voice calls to any regular phone number through Alexa’s new voice calling feature. Amazon announced this at the event as well: Alexa will soon be able to make voice calls and send text messages to phone numbers in the US, UK, and Germany. Users can do this on an Echo device or in the Alexa mobile app. The Echo Connect will cost $35 when it becomes available early next year.
los $230 Echo Show speaker with touchscreen came out earlier this year, and Amazon is already making another kind of screen-toting speaker. The new Echo Spot is basically a smaller, orb-like version of the Echo Show, featuring a four-mic array, a tiny, 2.5-inch circular touchscreen, and a 3.5mm audio output for you to connect external speakers if you wish. At $130, the Spot seems to be a more space-efficient Echo Show but with similar features: it can make video calls, play videos, show security camera feeds, and display clock faces.
The final new Echo device is more of an accessory than a standalone product. Amazon is calling the devices Echo Buttons, as they are tiny, glowing disks that use the new Alexa Gadgets API to connect to an existing Echo via Bluetooth. This lets them become similar to buzzers used in a game show—at the event, Echo Buttons were used to play a Trivial Pursuit-esque game in which each player has to press their Button when they think they know the answer. Since they technically use Alexa, Amazon’s virtual assistant can tell the players if they’re wrong or right instantly after they say their answer. Echo Buttons will be sold in packs of two for $20.