Smart speakers with built-in virtual personal assistants are getting more popular each day. Since Amazon Echo's debut in 2015, the smart speaker product category has exploded in popularity, spawning similar gadgets like the Google Home and the upcoming Apple HomePod.
In fact, research data from Gartner shows that spending for smart speakers will balloon to $2.1 billion by 2020 with multiple brands competing for the consumers' attention.
While Amazon opened up its Alexa software for use with third-party manufacturers, there's still no place like home, as they always say.
With a surprise hardware unveiling event, Amazon just introduced the future of Echo and Alexa with a slew of new gadgets that will undoubtedly solidify its position as the number one virtual assistant speaker platform in the world.
All-new $99.99 Echo
Did you miss the 1st-generation Amazon Echo party? Well, don't feel the bad because the Echo 2.0 is here!
With a more affordable $99.99 price tag, a smaller form factor, different colors, improved sound and next-generation far-field sound technology, the new Amazon Echo may just make you love Alexa even more.
“Three years ago we introduced the first Echo, powered by Alexa, with a goal to fundamentally simplify and improve the way customers interact with their homes,” said Tom Taylor, Senior Vice President, Amazon Alexa.
“Today, Alexa can make calls, play music in every room, turn on your lights, and even order you a pizza. But it’s still day one, and today we’re making Echo and Alexa even better. The all-new Echo and Echo Plus deliver better sound, all new far-field technology, and new features we think customers will love.”
The all-new Echo is $99.99 and is available for pre-order starting today at www.amazon.com/echo and will start shipping next month.
All-New Echo Plus
The original Amazon Echo form factor lives on with the new Echo Plus. Aside from its usual Alexa functions, the Echo Plus can act as your central smart home hub.
With the Echo Plus, just say "Alexa, discover my devices" and it will automatically discover and set up Zigbee compatible including smart lights, locks, plugs, switches without the need for a separate hub or app for each of your smart appliances.
The Echo will work with different brands like Philips Hue smart bulbs, GE, Kwikset smart locks and more. As an added bonus, Echo Plus buyers will receive a free Philips Hue smart lightbulb.
Other features that set it apart from the 1st-gen Echo include enhanced audio with deeper bass and crisper treble, Dolby processing, and next-generation far-field technology.
Echo Plus is just $149.99. It is available for pre-order starting today at www.amazon.com/echoplus and will start shipping next month.
For me, the new Echo Spot is the most amazing addition to the Echo family. Think of it as an Echo Dot with a screen and a camera! You can use it as an Alexa-enabled smart alarm clock that will look perfect on your nightstand, desk or kitchen counter.
Frankly, with its circular display, it's the most futuristic-looking gadget among the lot. You can see weather forecasts, watch video clips, check the time - the possibilities are intriguing.
And with its front-facing camera, it brings the Echo Show's "Drop In" video calling with a better price point. You could pretty much build a complete home video intercom system with this cool gadget.
Other features include next-gen far-field technology, acoustic beam-forming and enhanced noise cancellation.
The all-new Echo Spot is available in black and white for $129.99 and will start shipping in the U.S. this December. You can preorder it now at www.amazon.com/echospot.
The Echo Connect is an add-on accessory that transforms your Echo into a hands-free speakerphone for your landline.
Just plug in your existing home phone line, either landline or VoIP, to the Echo Connect and you can ask Alexa to call anyone on your contact list with just your voice!
When you call with the Echo Connect, your landline number will still show up on Caller ID and when someone calls you on your home phone, Alexa will announce their name based on your contact list! To start the conversation, just ask Alexa to pick up the call. How convenient!
The Echo Connect will be available later this year for $34.99.
If you own an Echo, you probably know that you can play tons of trivia games and quizzes with it. Amazon is capitalizing on this niche use of the Echo with the introduction of the "Echo Buttons."
Think of them as game show style buzzers, with the Echo Buttons, you can play multiplayer and interactive games with compatible Echo skills.
Echo Button compatible games in the pipeline include Sounds Fun with Mike Epps, Buzzer Beater Basketball Trivia with Karl-Anthony Towns, Fourth Down Football Trivia with Philip Rivers, Full Count Baseball Trivia with Buster Posey from Ground Control, as well as Beat the Intro from Musicplode.
Echo Buttons may sound like "trivial" additions to the lineup but their potential for other uses can be "game-changing." Maybe we could use them as smart bulb switches or remote lock triggers in the future.
Echo Buttons will come in a two-pack, priced at $19.99, and will arrive in time for the holidays in the U.S., U.K., and Germany.
New Fire TV
On the Fire TV side of things, Amazon unveiled a 4K and HDR compatible Fire TV HDMI "dongle" with a matching Alexa enabled Voice Remote.
Don't be fooled by its petite size. The all-new Fire TV is 40 percent more powerful than the current Fire TV Stick and at $69.99, it is the most affordable 4K and HDR capable streaming device in the market right now.
And with Alexa on board, just press the Alexa button on its remote and you can search movies and shows without the need for clunky on-screen typing. Better yet, you can pair a Fire TV to any Echo device in your home for hands-free remote control.
The all-new Amazon Fire TV is priced available for pre-order starting today from www.amazon.com/firetv and will begin shipping to U.S. customers on October 25.
Overall, it was an exciting moment for Alexa and the Amazon Echo family. With all the practical enhancements and innovative additions to the line, Amazon is pushing the virtual assistant and smart speaker category forward once again.