Amazon unveils Alexa-controlled microwave, wall clock and new Echo devices
It’s only the beginning for Alexa. The voice assistant, which started as the centerpiece to Amazon’s Echo smart speaker line, now even has its own microwave, wall clock and device for the car.
On Thursday, Amazon unveiled a handful of Alexa updates and new Echo devices at a press event held inside its new Amazon Spheres greenhouse space at its Seattle headquarters.
New Echo speakers
Amazon showed off a handful of Echo devices — and one of which doesn’t even come with a built-in speaker.
The Echo Input ($34) is a coaster sized device that can be paired with other speakers or can be purchased bundled with third-party options. It will launch later this year.
Meanwhile, the Echo Sub subwoofer is the shape of a HomePod and designed to work with other Echos for surround sound. For example, you can take two Echo Subs and turn them into left and right speakers. The $129 speaker will be available later this month.
The Echo Link Amp ($199) and Echo Link ($199) are amplifiers without built-in microphones and Alexa powers. Instead, they “link” up to other Echos to work and play music.
The Echo Auto is a new gadget that puts Alexa in the car. The small black rectangular device mounts on top of the dashboard. It has two buttons on top and 8 microphones inside. It connects to the car through the auxiliary jack or Bluetooth, and connects to the internet via your phone to access services such as music. It has location awareness, which allows it to do things like give directions or trigger smart home routines when you arrive home. It can also integrate with your phone to bring up visuals like maps. The device will cost $49 eventually, but for now it is invite only and will cost $24.99.
Redesigned Echo Show
The countertop Echo Show has a new look. The display is twice as big and adds Skype integration, internet browsers — the Amazon Silk browser and Firefox — custom apps based on the most common Show requests, and new third-party apps made specifically for the device. Just like its predecessor, it costs $229 and starts shipping next month.
The new Echo Show is integrated with music video platform Vevo, so users can watch music videos directly on the device.
Amazon Basics Microwave
“Alexa, one potato.” That’s what you can tell the Amazon Basics Microwave ($60) to help you whip up dinner, and it’ll know just how long to cook it for. The company took its most popular Amazon Basics microwave and added an Alexa button. You can tell an Echo to add time to the microwave, or ask it to stop.
The microwave also has Dash integration, which lets you order something directly from Amazon like more popcorn.
Alexa Wall Clock
You can hang Alexa up on the wall now in the form of a $30 wall clock. It’ll do tasks such as set a timer or, well, tell time. It ships later this year.
Updated Echo Dot, Echo Plus
The Echo Dot is the most popular Echo, and “the best selling speaker ever” according to Amazon. The company has slightly redesigned the Echo Dot, which it calls “the best selling speaker ever.” It now features a fabric covering and a rounded shape. It looks like a tiny ottoman (and a Google Home). Amazon says the device will have better, and louder, sound. The Echo Dot will continue to cost $49.The taller Echo Plus, which is also a smart home hub, is getting a similar makeover, adding a temperature sensor, and keep its $149 price tag.
New Alexa features
Amazon says it’s been working on improving Alexa’s conversational skills and personality. It will be rolling out related some software updates to Echo users over the next few weeks. For example, it will soon be able to detect when you’re whispering, like if you’re asking for a lullaby, and whisper back.
More Echo features for the kids
The Echo Dot for kids, announced in May, is getting even more kid friendly. Amazon is adding more popular children’s podcasts, such as Story Pirates, and a thousand audio books. It’s also adding a combination of commands. For example, by saying, “Alexa, bedtime,” a programmed device could turn off the lights, play a lullaby and set the temperature to 65 degrees.
The smart speaker race
Amazon kicked off the smart speaker category in 2014 with the release of its first Echo smart speaker and has dominated it since. The first physical design, a matte black cylinder, was uninspired, but the always-on speaker and Alexa resonated with consumers. It’s gone on to make various flavors of Echo, including smaller Echos, an alarm clock, one with a screen and a device just for kids.
Other companies have tried to imitate Amazon’s success. Google was first with its Home speaker powered by the Google Assistant. Apple, which should have had an advantage given its existing investments into Siri, released its higher-end HomePod in early 2018 to tepid reviews.
The Echo is the most popular smart speaker in the United States with two-thirds of the smart-speaker owners talking to Alexa at least once a month, according to eMarketer. Google Home sits in second place with 30% of smart-speaker users chatting up a Home each month.