Amazon Debuts New Spherical Echo Smart Speakers
Amazon debuted a whole new generation of Echo smart speakers as anticipated during its virtual showcase event on Thursday. The spherical Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Kids Edition are a radical shift in Amazon’s smart speaker design, consolidating Amazon’s catalog of smart speakers into fewer variations, but their adaptability fits with the company’s long-term strategy of offering something to appeal to every potential user. All of the speakers can be pre-ordered now, with the Echo and Echo Dot shipping October 22, the Echo Dot with Clock shipping November 5, and the Tiger and Panda versions of the Echo Dot Kids Edition shipping October 22 and December 9 respectively.
Amazon describes the new Echo smart speaker as a combination of the previous iteration and its more powerful cousin, the Echo Plus, but priced at only $100. The new Echo’s fabric-covered sphere sits on a base with the usual LED ring light and is built with a three-inch woofer and other upgraded sound hardware. There are also features pulled from the high-end Echo Studio, like the ability to test a room’s acoustics and adapt the audio to sound its best in that space. Thanks to the inclusion of the new AZ1 Neural Edge processor, Alexa is supposed to be able to respond to requests more quickly as well. The new Echo is also designed to serve as the center of a smart home. It comes with an in-built hub supporting Zigbee devices and the new Amazon Sidewalk service, which extends the connection to smart devices beyond the reach of a home’s wifi.
Dots and Clocks and Panda Bears
The new Echo Dot, like its predecessors, mimics the Echo but scaled down. The $50 sphere looks identical to the standard Echo apart from its size. It lacks the audio power and integrated smart home hub of the bigger device but has the same capabilities. There is also a new Echo Dot variant that comes with an LED display on the sphere. The LED can be used as a clock, timer, or temperature gauge, and only raises the cost by $10 to $60. If set up by the bed as an alarm clock, a tap on the top of the sphere works like a snooze button, much as it does with the previous Echo Dot.
For a more exotic, family-friendly variation, Amazon also showcased a new Echo Dot Kids Edition. Unlike the rainbow colors of the one launched last summer, the new version comes in either tiger or panda bear variants. The Kids Edition costs $60 but includes a year’s subscription to Amazon Kids+, the premium version of the recently renamed Freetime service. Amazon twinned the smart speaker with the announcement of a new Alexa feature for kids called Reading Sidekick that sets Alexa as a reading tutor that will take turns reading a book with the child. The feature, like the smart speakers, has an unkown arrival date in the next few months.