Welcome to LME’s 9/29/17 Alexa Fast Tips Friday. Today I’ve got the scoop on Amazon’s new Echo devices. Great news: it looks like most of these are going to be released in both the US and UK, and the Show is coming to the UK in November as well!
The Echo Plus (UK readers, click here) has some new exterior finishes to offer, but the only significant functional difference between Echo Plus and the first-generation Echo is that the Plus comes with a cross-platform smart home hub built in. In terms of size, it’s the same as the original Echo.
The built-in hub means that when you want to use smart home devices that up until now required purchase of a separate hub, like Philips HUE smart lighting, there’s no longer any need to buy the hub: it’s built right into the Echo Plus. The product page specifically lists Zigbee, Philips HUE, Kwikset, GE “and more” as supported smart home brands. Amazon’s bundling every Plus with a Philips HUE smart bulb, and offering the whole shebang for pre-order at $140 (UK readers, click here). If smart home is your jam, you might be interested in this one. Due for release 10/31/17.
Echo 2.0 / 2nd Generation
You might have noticed that the first generation Echo is no longer available on Amazon’s US site, and that’s because it will no longer be sold once existing stocks are gone (though it will definitely still be supported). In its place, Amazon has introduced the Echo 2nd Generation (UK readers click here). At 5.9″ tall and 3.5″ in diameter, this new Echo is shorter and squatter, and is available in a variety of fabric, faux wood and metallic exterior finishes.
Like Echo and Echo Plus, this device is designed to be plugged into a power supply at all times. It offers two-way Bluetooth connectivity, meaning you can stream to it from a Bluetooth connected device or vice-versa. It also includes an audio-out port for corded connection to speakers. It offers Dolby stereo audio output, with the same size woofer as the Echo / Echo Plus and a slightly smaller tweeter (.6″ vs. .8″).
It looks to me like with the 2nd Generation, Amazon’s primarily going for a smaller form factor and more decor-friendly options. Apart from the audio out jack, now that the original Echo’s Bluetooth has been updated the 2nd Gen doesn’t offer significant feature differences. It’s kind of a step between the Dot and original Echo, in that the audio output is significantly better than the Dot but the case is smaller than the full-sized Echo.
Where the Echo 2.0 aims to be like a first-generation Echo in a smaller package, the Echo Spot is intended to be a more compact Echo Show. Speaking of which, Echo Show is set for a UK release 11/16/17, but so far the Spot is nowhere to be found on Amazon’s UK site.
At 4.1″ across and 3.8″ tall, with a 2.5″ screen, the Spot is being positioned primarily as a cross between the Show and a bedside alarm clock. Its product listing does not say whether or not the screen is touch-sensitive, but just like the Show, the Spot has a camera built in for video chat. The camera enables you to use Spot as a remote video monitor, such as in a baby’s room or pet area. It can run Alexa skills and control smart home devices, too.
It has two-way Bluetooth and an audio out jack, but because Amazon’s trumpeting use of the Spot for playing streaming audio in stereo all on its own, I expect its sound quality will be far superior to that of the Dot’s built-in speaker.
Available for pre-order at $130, and set for release 12/19/17.
This one’s somewhat of a head-scratcher for many, but those with aging parents or other loved ones with mobility issues will see the value in it right away.
The easiest way to explain the Echo Connect (UK readers click here – it’s set for release in “early 2018” over there) is to describe it as a middleman piece of hardware that lets you use your Alexa device(s) as speakerphones connected to a landline phone, with voice control that works the same as with Alexa calling.
First, the bad news. In order to allow users to tell Alexa who to call, and for Alexa to tell users who is calling when the phone rings, the system must be set up through a smart phone Contacts list. This is a bone of contention for many users already, who feel they shouldn’t have to connect their phone’s entire Contacts list in order to use Alexa calling and messaging. Lots of people also complain that it’s unreasonable of Amazon to expect seniors, the most likely users of voice calling, to own a smart phone in the first place.
However, for some people this set up can be a big plus. For those who will be setting up the devices on behalf of a relative or loved one, an inexpensive, pre-paid “burner” smart phone is all that’s needed for initial setup. Once setup through the Alexa app is complete, the caretaker can hold onto the phone and it will never be necessary to buy additional minutes for it. With this system, caretakers can make voice calling VERY easy for their loved one. If there’s someone Mom or Grampa doesn’t need to call regularly, just leave that person out of the Contacts list. Of course those numbers can still be manually dialed the old fashioned way, but voice calling only works for Contacts in the phone list. Similarly, Alexa can only announce who’s calling when the call is from someone in the Contacts list. Other calls can still come in as usual, but loved ones can choose to answer only calls from names they recognize, which should all be people who were included in the Contacts list.
The biggest news here is that unlike competitor products, Connect will support 911 calls. For the elderly, housebound and disabled, being able to make 911 voice calls may be reason enough to get a Connect.
I can also see the value in this device for myself. I still have a landline phone in addition to my cell but I hardly ever get calls on it from anyone other than salespeople. I’m pretty sick of racing to beat that fourth ring so I can see the caller ID readout on the phone’s screen before I decide to pick up, and when I do take a call I almost always put it on speaker to keep my hands free.
Remember, you must have a telephone landline installed and own at least one compatible Echo device (Echo, Echo 2nd Generation, Echo Dot, Echo Dot 2nd Generation, Echo Show, Echo Spot or Echo Plus) to use Connect. Available for pre-order at $35, set for release 12/13/17. (UK readers, click here to pre-order for early 2018 release.)
This is the first in a planned series of Alexa Gadgets: toys and pieces of hardware that can be controlled by, or can act as input devices for, Alexa devices. As an example, there’s a company working on a Big Mouth Billy Bass integration that would allow Alexa’s responses to come out of an animated, wall-mounted rubber fish! There’s no release date for the Echo Button in the US yet, and it’s not mentioned at all on Amazon’s UK site. Amazon says that when it’s released the Button will be sold in pairs for $20, which makes sense since its primary use will be to serve as a “buzzer” for groups to play Alexa skill -based games against one another.
US readers can sign up to be notified when the Button is released.