Amazon is greatly expanding its reach into the smart home space, today launching several products, including a second-generation Echo smart home speaker, an Echo Plus that doubles as a smart home hub and an Echo Dot with a display that doubles as an alarm clock. Here's how to make sense of the new lineup.
New Amazon Echo
The new Echo sports a smaller design than the original, as well as a Google Home-like removable cloth shell, and a lower price of just $99. The device will be available today for pre-order, and will ship on Oct. 31.
Like the original Echo, the Echo is cylindrical, with a ring of LEDs around the top edge that light up when Alexa is activated. Inside, Amazon improved the far-field microphones, so that the Echo can better pick up voices from across a room. The new Echo will also have a dedicated bass speaker and support Dolby Audio, so it should have better sound qualities than the original. Its new fabric covering is much more attractive than the original's black (or white) perforated plastic housing. And, multiple shells will be available, including ones made of plastic and wood.
In addition, Amazon will be selling them in a three-pack for $250, so that users can immediately take advantage of the recently introduced whole-home audio feature available with Alexa-enabled devices, which let you play the same songs on multiple speakers. It too, will start shipping at the end of October.
The original Echo design is not going away; it's being reused in the $149 Echo Plus, a smart speaker that also has a built-in smart home hub, which can link to other Zigbee smart home devices, such as Philips Hue lights. In fact, the Echo Plus will come with a Philips Hue White bulb. It's currently available for pre-order, and will ship on Oct. 31.
If you were to combine the Echo Dot with the Echo Show, you'd get the $129 Echo Spot, another new device from Amazon. It's small and circular, but has a little 2.5-inch display and camera on its top. Among other things, the Spot supports video calls, can show feeds from security cameras, as well as display lyrics from songs that are playing. The Spot is available for pre-order now, but won't ship until Dec. 19.
For the baby boomers, Amazon is also launching the Echo Connect in Q4. This $35 box connects to a landline—remember those—and enables you not only to use it as an ad hoc speakerphone, but will also let you call 911 using a voice command if you've fallen and can't get up.
In all, this is a pretty significant update to Amazon's lineup of devices, and one that should further cement its place in the center of smart homes.