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Planning to buy a Smart speaker this holiday season? Amazon has a bunch of new options to check out.
The online retail giant added three new Echo devices to its lineup on September 27: the $100 second-generation Echo, the $150 Echo Plus, and the $130 Echo Spot. Those devices join the tiny Echo Dot, as well as the camera-equipped Echo Show and Echo Look. With all those products in the mix, determining which one best fits your needs might seem overwhelming.
Read on for everything you need to know about the new Amazon Echo models, how they compare to older versions, and what deals to expect on Black Friday.
All Echo devices connect to Alexa, Amazon's cloud-based virtual assistant. It lets you play music, set timers and alarms, ask questions, check traffic and weather, and a lot more — all with your voice. Alexa can also control compatible Smart home gadgets like lights, thermostats, locks, garage doors, and sprinklers.
"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," Tom Taylor, senior vice president of Amazon Alexa, said in a statement. "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."
One of those Alexa improvements is the expansion of its free calling capabilities. In May, Amazon introduced Alexa Calling, letting Echo owners call other Alexa-enabled gadgets for free. At its hardware event last month, Amazon expanded this feature and announced that Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show can also call mobile phones and landlines in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for free.
Plus, Amazon is reportedly gearing up to launch a $35 box called Echo Connect. This will let you connect your home phone to a compatible Echo, so you can receive calls from phones and landlines (as well as dial 911 and international numbers) with your voice.
When Amazon released the original Echo in 2014, it cost $199 and was available on an invite-only basis. Three years later, the second-gen model costs $100, a great development for budget-conscious consumers. Even the new Echo Plus (which we'll discuss more in a bit) is cheaper than the original Echo.
The new Echo isn't just cheaper than its predecessor; it's smaller, measuring just 5.9" tall, compared to 9.25" for the original. Amazon says this compact design will help the Echo easily blend into your home. It also comes in a variety of new colors and finishes to match your décor, including charcoal, sandstone, heather gray, oak veneer, walnut veneer, and silver.
With any second-generation gadget, users are going to expect major upgrades from the original. The new Echo features improved far-field voice recognition technology — a feature that lets the device hear you from across the room, even when music is playing. Amazon says this technology offers better wake word processing and noise cancellation, ensuring you'll be able to get Alexa's attention the first time you say "Alexa."
The new model should also sound better than the original. Amazon claims it delivers "improved room-filling sound" through an upgraded speaker that now features Dolby processing.
Wired's David Pierce reported that the device also now has a "dedicated bass tweeter, and should sound much louder despite the smaller size."
"In the demo today, with more than half a dozen Echos playing simultaneously, the audio didn't quite sound Sonos- or [Apple] HomePod-level," Pierce wrote. "But it sounded far better than the original Echo."
As its name might suggest, the Echo Plus is bigger than the new Echo, measuring 9.3" (or just a tad larger than the original Echo). It comes in silver, white, or black, and features a built-in Smart home hub. You can set up devices from Philips Hue, GE, Kwikset, and others without needing a separate hub like Samsung's $73 SmartThings Hub or the $99 Wink Hub 2.
With Echo Plus, you can simply ask Alexa to discover your connected devices.
Last but not least, the new Echo Spot is basically a cuter, smaller, and rounded version of the 7" touchscreen-equipped Echo Show. Echo Spot features a 2.5" screen, and you can personalize it with a variety of clock faces or a background from Prime Photos.
But this little device is much more than a clock. On that tiny screen, you can watch news briefings, see music lyrics from Amazon Music, peek at your calendar, or view the video feed from your front door or nursery camera. You can also make video calls to other Echo Spot or Echo Show devices, or the Alexa app — just be sure to wear your glasses, as this screen is not big at all.
If the robust Echo lineup gives you anxiety, you're not alone. But determining which one is right for you comes down to considering your needs.
Dabbling in the Smart speaker waters for the first time and want one that'll blend in with your home? Go with the new Echo. Looking to embrace the myriad of connected home gadgets on the market? The Echo Plus can help you control everything. Want to bring the power of Alexa to multiple rooms in your home? At $50, the Echo Dot is the cheapest way to do that.
Then there's the Echo Spot and Echo Show, both of which feature a screen on the front. With its compact design, the Spot is perfect for your bedside table. The Show is better suited to your kitchen or living room, as it has a larger screen for viewing recipes, making video calls, and keeping tabs on your home's security cameras.
Finally, the $200 Echo Look, which Amazon describes as a "hands-free camera and style assistant," is aimed at the fashion crowd. It's available by invitation only. The Look takes full-length photos and short videos with its hands-free camera, enabling you to easily share your outfits on social media and build a personal look book. It also has a feature called Style Check, which combines machine learning algorithms and advice from fashion specialists to help you put together outfits.
All of Amazon's new Echo gadgets are available for pre-order now, and the second-gen Echo and new Echo Plus are slated to start shipping on October 31. You'll need to practice your patience a little longer if you want an Echo Connect (expected on December 13), or an Echo Spot (slated for December 19).
Keep in mind that Black Friday is right around the corner. So unless you need that new Echo on launch day, we'd advise you to hold off on your purchase until around November 24. We're predicting that the Echo and smaller Echo Dot will each be discounted by $10 on Black Friday, bringing them down to $90 and $40, respectively.
Around Black Friday last year, Amazon sold the Echo for $140, or $40 off its regular price at the time. The Echo Dot got a $10 discount. This year, Amazon has already sold the Echo for $90. It's unlikely to drop the price any lower than that, but the Echo could still hit $90 again on Black Friday.
Readers, what Echo devices are you the most excited about? Let us know in the comments below.