As we mentioned earlier, Amazon held a launch event at its extraterrestrial-looking The Spheres venue in Seattle today, where it unveiled a host of new devices that include Alexa-powered sound equipment, smart home gadgets and even a microwave.
Gizmodo UK was there to see the new devices in the flesh, and we've got the lowdown on exactly what was launched. Look out for our hands-on coming soon to find out how the devices perform in person.
Updates to Alexa
The Amazon event kicked off with the somewhat alarming announcement that the retail behemoth will be unveiling seventy new things. Thankfully, they're not all products or this would be the longest article in the world. A lot of the initial announcements related to improvements in Alexa:
- First up, Amazon told us that they've made Alexa more opinionated and more personal. For instance, you can ask her her favourite beer and she'll give appropriate answers for different countries.
- Alexa is now more "conscientious". One example of this in action involves a deep neutral network that learns when you're whispering, and to respond with whispers herself.
- She's also better at conversations now: she has the much-requested follow-up feature, whereby you can ask questions that relate to your last query. For instance, Amazon demonstrated asking for the weather in LA, then saying "how far is it?" and "can you recommend a restaurant there?" with Alexa responding appropriately.
- Another much-requested feature: you don't have to say the specific words to invoke a skill anymore. Amazon's example included saying "how do I get a stain out of a shirt?" and the response coming from the Tide (laundry detergent) app.
New Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon announced that the Echo Dot is the "best-selling speaker, ever, with 75,000 5-star reviews to back that up." Unsurprisingly, then, they've got a new Echo Dot that's 70% louder and has higher-quality audio.
It's the same price: £49.99, shipping next month to every country that Alexa is in around the world.
Amazon Echo Input
This is a new category: a really minimal, thin Echo device that connects to an existing speaker. It's like an Echo Dot but without a speaker of its own. It'll be getting bundled with speakers from manufacturers including Bose and UE.
It'll be £34.99 in the UK, shipping later this year.
Echo in stereo
You can now pair two Echos in a left-right configuration, to give proper stereo sound.
New Echo Sub
The leaks were correct: an Echo subwoofer, which can be linked with one Echo for 1.1 sound and two for 2.1 sound.
We heard a demo of the subwoofer during the presentation and even in the huge space we were in, it sounded well-rounded with strong bass.
The Echo Sub will be available later this month (available for preorder now) in every country Alexa's in. It'll be £119.99 in the UK.
Echo Link and Echo Link Amp
These new products allow you to connect up your high-end speakers or existing built-in house speakers with Echos you have. You will need to have at least one Echo device already, because there's no mic on these two.
They both have multiple inputs and outputs including ethernet, coaxial and optical, and includes a high-res 24-bit DAC which provides "better than CD quality" sound.
The Echo Link will cost $199.99 and the Link Amp is $299.99. We haven't been given a UK price which suggests we won't be getting them on these shores, but we don't know for sure yet.
New Echo Plus
The new version of the Echo Plus includes more powerful bass, clearer sound, a built-in smart home hub and even a temperature sensor. You can use this to set up routines, so that if it gets below a particular temperature in a particular room, Alexa can put the heating on.
It costs £139.99 and will ship next month in every Alexa country.
Local smart home voice control
"When the internet goes out in your home, your light switches still work." That's the idea behind local voice control, which allows all your Alexa smart home products to function as normal when there's no connection available. This is something we're really happy to see, and hopefully more tech companies will follow suit -- not everywhere has flawless connections like the San Francisco tech bubble (hello, Wales).
Named in tandem with the existing 'frustration-free packaging,' this is an initiative to allow Amazon and third-party devices to be set up almost effortlessly. When you get a new device, it looks for an existing frustration-free setup network, sends its credentials to ensure you own both devices, and if all's good, it's accepted into your existing network with no WiFi/app setup.
Third-party partners for frustration-free setup will apparently include TP-Link and Eero, although it will apparently "take a while" to get the wider scheme off the ground.
Amazon Smart Plug
"Our best embodiment of frustration-free setup."
As per the leak, Amazon's made its own Alexa smart plug. Preorders are open today, and it'll ship next month. Thankfully the sky-high leak price was incorrect: the smart plugs cost £24.99 each.
Set up routines by voice
Another much-requested feature, you can now create routines (chained lists of commands) by speaking out loud -- although the demo didn't work during the event.
Based on a deep neural network, Alexa will get "hunches" about what you're trying to do or what the wider circumstances of your command are. For instance if you say "Alexa, good night" she might say "I think you left the porch light on, would you like me to turn it off?"
Alexa Connect Kit
"A really simple way for devices to get connected to the internet and become smart."
A Raspberry Pi-style approach to Alexa and the internet of things, the Connect Kit includes tools for security, authentication and over-the-air updates, among other things.
Another leak that turned out to be correct, and it's not a third-party microwave as we suspected. The AmazonBasics microwave was "a very good litmus test for the Alexa Connect Kit" because the "interface of microwaves was stuck in the late 70s."
The microwave doesn't have its own Echo built in, it uses one that's nearby. It'll also work with the Dash Replenishment Service, at least in the US, which means people who run out of popcorn will be able to get it automatically redelivered as soon as the last kernel has popped.
In the demo, a "demo potato" was put in the microwave and she was told it was "one potato." She responded with the correct settings and time to cook the potato, which could then be adjusted with voice commands.
The microwave will ship later this year for $59.99, but there's no word yet on whether we'll get it in the UK though.
Echo Wall Clock
A companion device that can do things like displaying your Echo timers on the lights around the edges. Multiple timers can be shown on the same clock, and if you're using a timer in seconds, you can see them counting down through the lights at the edges.
The Echo Wall Clock will cost $29.99 and ships later this year, again no word on UK availability.
A Nest-esque product that works with your existing Echo devices to protect your home. If Guard hears breaking glass after you've said "Alexa, I'm leaving" (or similar), it'll send the recording to your phone. You can also have it sent to your third-party home security company (like ADT) if you have one. Brilliantly, it also works with your smart home products to simulate people being at home, Home Alone-style, when you're out to deter burglars.
No word on UK availability for this one.
New Ring camera
The new stick-up security camera from Amazon subsidiary Ring will be coming to the UK. That's all the info we have thus far -- we'll let you know when we know more.
New Echo Show
"This product has been completely redesigned." A bigger screen, a smart home hub, a fabric cover and improved sound are among the improvements to the Echo Show. There's also integration with video platform Vevo for music videos (no YouTube though).
The 10-inch screen doubles the display space available on the old Echo Show, and Amazon describes the sound quality as "filling a room." It'll also include Amazon's own Silk browser for an improved webpage viewing experience.
You can now ask Echo Show to "show me something interesting" and it'll pick a random public place's webcam to show you -- in the demo it showed one in Budapest.
The new Echo Show will apparently be able to show you graphical answers to your queries more often, for which Amazon announced a new Alexa Presentation Language to build skills for that capability. For instance, Kayak had early access and made voice-controlled slideshows. It works with WebGL for 3D, and goes into public preview today.
There's also a step-by-step recipe option, where Alexa will guide you through visual recipes with audio instructions and video demonstrations.
The new Echo Show will ship next month in the UK for £219.99.
As the rumours predicted, there's now an Alexa in-car gadget. Echo Auto contains eight microphones and can connect to your car via Bluetooth or aux jack. It uses your smartphone as a hub to communicate with the cloud.
You'll also be able to do location-based routines using Echo Auto. For instance, you can have your house lights come on when you pull up to your house, or "when I leave the house, leave the lights on for 45 minutes and then turn them off." You'll be able to listen to your audiobook, talk to loved ones using the existing Alexa 'drop in' feature, and navigate by voice by saying things like "Alexa, give me directions to SEATAC airport."
The location-based functionality sounds pretty useful. For instance, while you're out driving, you'll be able to ask Alexa where the nearest Starbucks is.
No word on UK availability for this one, but in the US, early adopters can get it for an impressive $24.99, after which it'll be $49.99.
That's all, folks
There were a few other announcements for the US market including a new Fire TV tuner, but that's it for us in Blighty. What do you think of the new Echo devices? What are you adding to your cart ASAP, and what will you be skipping? Let us know in the comments.