Recently, Amazon unveiled a plethora of new Echo products. From a true smart home hub to buttons that will come in handy during your next family game night, here is everything that Amazon unveiled at their September 27th event, and what it means for the future of the smart home.
Amazon has officially retired their original Echo smart speaker (RIP: 2014-2017) and replaced it with a second generation version at $99. The first update to the world’s most popular smart speaker sees a shorter, more compact design and a dedicated bass tweeter. The new Echo will come in six different styles: Charcoal, Heather, and Sandstone fabric or Walnut, Oak, and Silver finish. More importantly, Amazon is promoting an Echo “three-pack” for multi-room audio. The company first announced multi-room audio capabilities back in August, but have only started to heavily promote the feature with the unveiling of the new Echo smart speaker. There hasn’t been much testing yet of the new multi-room feature, so the jury is still out on whether or not Echo provides a synchronous, reliable performance across all devices throughout the home. Unlike Blackfire RED framework enabled smart devices, the Echo can not support multi-channel or low-latency for audio/video lip sync.
Additionally, the Echo is now able to make calls throughout North America. Amazon clearly wants the Echo to replace your home phone, and to help push the idea, they’ve also introduced the Echo Connect – a device that is tied to your existing home phone number that allows you to make landline calls through Alexa.
Amazon also rolled out the Echo Plus, which looks more like the original Echo than the Echo 2.0. The Echo Plus is the first one specifically designed to be used as a true smart home hub. With it, you can control compatible smart lights, locks, and thermostats. The Echo Plus also uses Zigbee so it’s compatible with more smart devices on the market. The Echo Plus has updated voice-recognition so you can talk to it from further away or in noisy settings, and more advanced speakers. Price-wise, the Echo Plus is comparable to the original Echo, at $149.
Amazon also introduced the Echo Spot, a sort of smart alarm clock with a 2.5-inch screen, that can be placed anywhere in the house and can be used for more than just an alarm in the mornings. The Echo Spot can make video calls and can play music through it’s own speakers or connect to external ones via cable or Bluetooth. The Echo Spot can do pretty much anything the Echo can do, but it’s much more compact and it has a screen. But this isn’t the first (and only) Echo product with a screen: Amazon released the Echo Show earlier this year to not overly positive reviews. Now, it seems that they’ve simplified and improved their interface for the Echo Spot. And at $130 for this little gadget, they needed to.
Lastly, Amazon introduced Echo Buttons: little discs that connect to your Echo device that you can use to play trivia games with your friends and family (with Alexa as the game-show host). The Echo Buttons light up in cool colors and can be purchased in pairs for $20.
So what does this mean for the the smart home of the future? Well, for one thing, Amazon has, once again, positioned itself to be the leader of smart home technology. However, they’ve got some serious competition. Google has also unveiled a whole new suite of products (which we will discuss in a later blog post) that may give Amazon a run for their money. As more and more smart home devices are gaining in popularity, it’ll be interesting to watch how manufacturers choose to align their brands and products with either Alexa or Google Assistant (or perhaps both). The war rages on!