Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Seattle, WA, United States (4E) – Amazon has completely revamped and improved its range of Alexa-powered devices to reclaim lost market share from Google, which ended the second quarter with its Google Home Mini as the top-selling smart speaker in the world.
At a previously unannounced event yesterday at its headquarters in Seattle, Washington, Amazon revealed an astonishing 70 devices, either new or upgraded, that will hit markets over the next few months.
As expected, the star of this show was Alexa, and David Limp, senior vice president of devices at Amazon.com Inc., began his hour-long spiel by talking about recent upgrades to Alexa. Apart from making Alexa smarter, the upgrades apparently make Alexa more opinionated and more approachable for children and adults. For example, the improvements will see Alexa knowing when to whisper a reply back instead of replying in its regular tone of voice.
The show stoppers, however, were the all the new Echo devices led by an all-new Echo Dot, the small hockey puck-shaped version of the Amazon Echo smart speaker. There were also improvements to its big brother, the Echo Plus, introduced in 2017.
The new Echo Plus has the same, fabric-covered design as last year’s updated Echo. It now offers more powerful bass and clearer sound. Echo Plus still offers a smart home hub built in.
The Echo Plus features better compatibility with smart home gadgets. It looks somewhat like an Apple HomePod smart speaker but with a blue light ring up top and a built-in smart home hub inside.
Echo Plus has a feature called Local Voice Control, which means that commands made to devices in your house no longer need to be sent to the cloud before making something happen.
Both updated Echos will still cost the same: the Echo Dot is priced at $49.99, and the Echo Plus at $149.99. Both will be available in October in every country where Alexa is available Preorders are available today.
The new Dot retains its affordable $50 price tag, but sports a new, rounded fabric-covered body with “louder and clearer” sound and both Bluetooth and line-out connectivity.
Complementing the Dot is an even cheaper (and thinner) Echo Input, which lacks speakers, but is meant to be plugged directly into existing home audio solutions similar to Google’s Chromecast Audio. Echo Input costs $35, the same as a Chromecast Audio.
For those that want to augment their speaker setups, there’s the $130 Echo Sub. This nifty device can be used for multi-room audio or synced with a pair of standard Echoes to create a 2.1 system.
As for speakers and subs, there’s the new $200 Echo Link and $300 Echo Link Amp. Neither are meant to be standalone products and don’t include a microphone. They connect to other Echo speakers and include a dial to help control and fine tune audio. In the case of the Echo Link Amp, this means boosting your sound quality.
For existing “dumb” gadgets, Amazon developed the new $25 Amazon Smart Plug. This device plugs into a traditional outlet and lets you turn devices on and off simply by asking Alexa. It comes with a simple setup process that lets you rename a device with your voice during your initial install.
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