Amazon Adds New Echo Models to Next-Generation Smart Home Lineup

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Amazon Adds New Echo Models to Next-Generation Smart Home Lineup

Amazon might have made its name as a book seller and e-commerce giant, but the company seems more committed than ever to its computer hardware and smart-home products. That commitment was on full display Sept. 27, when the company unveiled a new line of Echo smart home devices, all controlled by the Alexa virtual assistant. Those devices include an updated Echo unit that comes in a variety of finishes and with a smaller footprint. It’s flanked by a new Echo Plus for enhanced smart-home control and the Echo Spot, which combines some of the features in the Echo Show, such as the display screen and alarm clock. Amazon is pitching its new Echo devices as must-haves for anyone who wants a virtual assistant-driven device to enhance their home or workplace.

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Amazon Revises Look of Second-Generation Echo

The second-generation Amazon Echo comes with a decidedly different look than its predecessor. The device now comes in a variety of finishes, including fabrics. It’s also smaller and a bit squatter than the previous version. Amazon says the new Echo should do a better job of blending into a room's decor than the previous appliance, which could stick out like a sore thumb.

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Amazon Wants Echos in Multiple Rooms

Amazon says its new Echo is designed to be used as a multi-room audio solution. That means users can buy multiple Echo units and play either the same or different content in various rooms. Amazon is so committed to turning Echo into a multi-room option that it’s selling a package that includes three at a $50 discount.

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Improved Sound Quality in Echo Devices

Amazon’s second-generation Echo has improved sound over the first-generation model, the e-commerce giant says, with a dedicated tweeter and a 2.5-inch down-firing subwoofer. Add to that improved far-field technology, and the Echo should have higher-quality sound and understand user commands better.

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Echo Plus Includes Built-In Device Controller Hub

Amazon’s Echo Plus looks far more like the original Echo than the Echo 2. Like the Echo 2, it includes advanced audio features, support for Alexa and wireless connectivity. However, it also has a built-in hub to quickly set up and authenticate smart-home devices around the home. That additional feature costs $50 more.

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How the Plus Smart Home Feature Works

The Echo Plus smart home hub works with smart home devices that are compatible with the hub controller features. Once these smart home units are plugged in and working, users need only tell Amazon’s Alexa to “discover my devices.” The software will then seek out smart home products and automatically configure them without much, if any, additional user input. The feature works with Philips Hue, GE, Kwikset and ZigBee smart home devices, among others.

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What Is the Echo Spot?

The Echo Spot is a new entrant into Amazon’s hardware line. The device is a small, round appliance that comes with a screen, similar to the Echo Show that was released in late June. Echo Spot can be used like other Amazon devices to control smart home devices or listen to music, but its screen also displays videos with a command to Alexa.

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Amazon Pitches Echo Spot for All Rooms

Some might view Echo Spot as an unnecessary option in Amazon’s lineup. However, the company is pitching the Echo Spot as a good model option for any room. Amazon asserts that the Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Show work best in only certain rooms of the house, but the Echo Spot can be added to any room. And with its alarm clock feature, Amazon argues the Echo Spot could be ideal for the bedroom.

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Amazon Keeps Extending Alexa's Skills

Amazon’s Echo devices are bolstered by Skills offered through the Alexa virtual assistant. Those skills include everything from being able to add events to a calendar to controlling smart home devices. New skills are being added all the time, further enhancing Alexa’s appeal. Amazon said there currently are 25,000 Alexa skills available to users.

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The Other Echos Are Still There

Amazon is not discontinuing its other Echo devices. Users still can buy the diminutive Echo Dot or high-end Echo Show. Amazon’s hands-free camera Echo Look is currently available by invitation only, according to the Amazon website, as is the Amazon Tap smart speaker. Amazon has only replaced the original Echo with the updated model.

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Pricing and Availability

The Amazon Echo can be pre-ordered now for a late-October release. The Echo 2 starts at $100. The Echo Plus comes in at $150, thanks to its smart home features. It is available now for pre-order and will launch in October. Amazon’s Echo Spot is hitting the company’s virtual store shelves in December, but can be pre-ordered now priced at $130.

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10 Versatile Devices Not Made by Amazon That Support Alexa

A robust third-party market has sprung up for devices that support the Amazon Alexa virtual assistant. Here are some of the more interesting devices available on the market.