Amazon’s reinvented Echo is the smart speaker you never knew you needed. It creates To Do lists, it tells you the weather, it plays your favorite music, it gives you cocktail recipes, and tells you jokes.
A couple of years ago, Amazon launched a smart speaker that wasn’t super pretty but worked. This year Amazon completely reinvented the Echo with several derivative versions, all in attractive little packages to fit whatever your home decor. It’s way more than just a wireless speaker. Using Alexa, you can command the Echo to search the web, create a to do or shopping list, get instant weather reports, shop online and so much more.
So what is it?
The new Echo is shorter and fatter than the old one, and features six different sleeves to match your design tastes. For $99.99, you can get it in black, heather gray, and dark gray fabric. If you want oak, walnut, or silver plastic, it’s $20 extra. On the top of the tower is a blue ring of light that glows when the speaker is listening. To make it listen, all you gotta do is say “Alexa.” There are also physical volume, mic mute, and action buttons. On the back it has a new 3.5mm output jack that joins the power connector.
So who’s Alexa?
Glad you asked. Alexa, named after the ancient library of Alexandria, is Amazon’s voice-control system. Alexa enables thousands of third-party skills: you can control pretty much every smart home brand, it can read you AllRecipes recipes, you can order a Lyft, a pizza and something from your Amazon wish list. Alexa is basically a genie in a bottle, or rather, a genie in a minimalist looking speaker that comes in white, heather grey, charcoal or black. You speak your wishes—think simple wishes like, “Add ice to my grocery list” and “Tell me a summer joke” or “Set a timer for 10 minutes”—to an Echo smart speaker and see them fulfilled.
What does it cost?
You can get the little Echo Dot for $49.99 and pair it with a better speaker. If you can afford a bit more, the $99.99 Echo is offers a slick look and great speaker. You can get a $149.99 Echo Plus with a built-in home-automation hub, or a third-party Alexa speaker (the Sonos One will set you back $199 but offers multi-room audio and awesome sound quality). The $129.99 Echo Spot has a screen and camera that allows for video calling and showing smart home video feeds. It can even work as a baby or dog monitor.
How it tested
We started playing with our Echo moments after getting it out of the box. With summer in full swing, we invited a few friends over for an impromptu BBQ in the garden. (You can check out that Instagram Story here.) During the evening, Alexa played a summertime-inspired playlist, gave us cocktail suggestions, and kept the kids entertained with some good clean fun in the form of BBQ jokes.
For the most part, she recognized our voice commands without hesitation. Only on a few occasions did Alexa trip up on our commands, such as when we asked “Alexa, play Beck” and she played a Jack Johnson playlist.
That’s alright, Alexa, we’ll take it.