Last year’s Echo was a home run for Amazon — it delivered excellent sound quality and responsive microphones for a relatively inexpensive $100. So how can it make the flagship Alexa speaker any better? By transforming its shape into a sphere, and bringing in all of the smart hub features from the Echo Plus (along with support for Amazon’s Sidewalk smart home tech). It’s still $100, but now it looks even more like something ripped from a sci-fi film.
The standard Echo is also being joined by a new Echo Dot that also looks like a sphere, and keeps the low $50 price. There’s also an Echo Dot with a clock display for $60, which could make a great bedside companion, and an Echo Dot Kids model with cute animal faces. You’ll also get a year’s worth of Amazon Kids+ with the latter device, giving you access to kid-friendly audiobooks, games and more.
All of the Echo devices can also help little ones become bookworms with a new Reading Sidekick feature, which will follow along as they read, take turns and provide feedback. Amazon will soon start testing that with Kids+ subscribers. And to make Alexa even more child-friendly (which I’m sure will irk plenty of privacy concerned parents), the voice assistant will also soon support voice profiles for kids.
Similar to the Echo Studio, Amazon says the new Echo can automatically tune itself to deliver the best sound quality for your space. And for the first time, Amazon is giving it some machine learning smarts with its AZ1 Neural Edge processor. That’ll let the Echo run inference engines on its own, allowing for things like a model for neural speech recognition that’ll let it understand speech even faster than before. That should help to avoid the more annoying instances where your Echo takes a while to understand you (the absolute worst part of voice-based computing). Additionally, you can also teach Alexa directly when she misunderstands you.
Given all of the upgrades that the Echo has received, it’s hard to see a point to the Echo Plus anymore. The company hasn’t touted any new Plus models this year, so it looks like that line may be retired for now. After all, if you want a real upgrade, there’s always the $200 Echo Studio, which gets you a lot of speaker for that price. All of the new Echo devices will also have a low power mode this year, something that’ll also roll out to existing devices eventually.