Amazon's hardware lineup occasionally gets a refresh, like with the new Echo Show earlier this year. But today is different. Amazon decided to announce six new products today, including sequels to the incredibly popular Echo speaker.
Amazon Echo 2nd Generation
The original Amazon Echo was one of the first mainstream smart speakers, and ultimately helped define the entire product category. Since new functionality mostly only required software updates, there wasn't much of a need for Amazon to release a new model (especially since other companies produced alternative Alexa speakers). But today, the company has released the 2nd generation Echo.
Like the original model, the 2nd-gen Echo is a tall cylindrical speaker with seven microphones and 360-degree omnidirectional audio. It's a tad shorter than the original (5.9 inches vs. 9.3 inches), and instead of just being available in black, there are six new styles to choose from. They include Charcoal Fabric, Heather Gray Fabric, Oak Finish, Sandstone Fabric, Silver Finish (aka Trash Can), and Walnut Finish.
You can pre-order the Echo on Amazon right now for $99-$119.99 (depending on style), and it will start shipping in November.
Amazon Echo Plus
Smart home setups be complicated. Not only do you need to make sure the product you're buying works with the smart assistant you use (be it Alexa or Google Assistant), but many products require a separate 'hub' for relaying info back and forth on your network. Setting up a hub can also be tedious, and again, you have to make sure it works with your assistant and smart home products.
Amazon's new Echo Plus is designed as an all-in-one system, functioning as both a smart speaker and a smart home hub. It's the same height (9.3 inches) as the original Echo speaker, and includes a ZigBee hub for controlling lights, locks, and plugs. That covers a large portion of smart home devices, but for anything else, you can still use anything that connects with Alexa.
You can pre-order it from Amazon for $149.99, and for a limited time, a Phillips Hue Bulb is included with every purchase. The Echo Plus is available in three colors (Black, White, and Silver), and it's expected to ship in October.
Fire TV 4K
As 4K slowly becomes more mainstream, Amazon's 1080p-only Fire TV Stick was starting to look a bit dated. Just as the previous leaks indicated, Amazon has been working on a new 4K-compatible model that does away with the old design. Simply called 'the all-new Fire TV,' this $69 dongle is the same price as a Chromecast Ultra.
Amazon says the new Fire TV is fully compatible with both 4K and HDR content, and Dolby Atmos audio is also supported. Like the old model, it's entirely self-contained (unlike a Chromecast, which requires the use of a connected device to find and start content), and the included remote has a microphone for Alexa commands.
As for specifications, the new Fire TV has a 1.5GHz quad-core processor, 2GB of RAM, 8GB of internal storage, and dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi. That should result in a slight performance boost compared to the old model, which had a 1.2GHz MediaTek CPU and 1GB of RAM, but the additional workload of displaying 4K content might negate that somewhat. You can pre-order it from Amazon starting today, and it will begin shipping October 25.
The next new product from Amazon is a hybrid between the Echo Show (the touchscreen Echo released earlier this year) and the Echo Dot. Fittingly enough, it's named the 'Echo Spot.' This is essentially a tiny version of the Show with a round display, perfect for being an alarm clock. But it has all the functionality of the Show, with everything from smart home control to watching recent news briefings.
Like the Echo Show, the Spot has a front-facing camera for video calling. It has a built-in 2W speaker for audio playback, but you can directly connect external speakers through the unit's headphone jack. The Echo Spot is $129.99, and you can pre-order it now from Amazon. It's expected to ship in December.
Amazon added voice calling to its Echo speakers earlier this year. Unlike the Google Home's feature, which used Google Voice (and thus, actual phone numbers), Amazon's solution required calling through the Alexa app or an Echo speaker. If you have a home phone line, and you want to use an Echo speaker as your home phone, the Echo Connect may be for you.
The Echo Connect is a $34.99 black box that acts as a bridge between your phone connection and your Echo speakers. Once you set it up, any calls to your home phone number go through your Echo speakers. Amazon doesn't advertise the ability to pick up calls through your phone (like you can with Alexa account calls), so hopefully you don't need to make a private call.
You can pre-order the Echo Connect from Amazon, and it should ship in December.
Amazon's last announcement today was the Echo Buttons, the first in the company's upcoming "Alexa Gadgets" collection. These buttons are designed to offer physical interaction with other Echo devices, like for playing Alexa games.
Amazon's upcoming Alexa Gadgets SDK will allow for advanced interaction between compatible Echo devices and connected devices. Devices will be able to respond to Echo notifications, send input to an Echo, and be controlled via Alexa skills. If you're a developer, you can sign up to be notified when developer tools are available.
The Verge said that Amazon demoed the buttons with a trivia game, with players having to push them like on game shows. These buttons will be sold in two-packs for $20, and will arrive sometime this holiday season.