We schlepped over to sunny Seattle for Amazon's big Alexa launch, and we know you're dying to know whether the new Echo products are any good. They're not all coming to the UK (at least not initially), but we got our hands on all the ones that are. Here are our first impressions.
All-new Echo Show
The Echo Show is a really divisive gadget: some people love theirs, some don't see the point of it, and some (well, me) have unpleasant flashbacks to the O2 Joggler.
The Show has been given an overhaul for the new range, and like the other new Echo devices, it looks sleeker and more like something you'd want to put on display in your home. The HD screen is now 10 inches, doubling the available display space, and there's a home hub built in so you can control all your doodads. It's not waterproof, but it's "built for the kitchen" so it is splashproof.
The speakers have been given a major upgrade (that giant front-facing speaker bezel has gone) and sounded really good in our tests. There are dual side-firing speakers on either side, and even when we placed the Echo Show right into a corner, the sound filled the room. At volume 8, it was uncomfortably loud in a fairly large room, and you can turn the bass up and down to annoy or appease your neighbours as you choose ("Alexa, turn the bass all the way up"). There's a new equaliser screen for messing with the sound to your heart's content.
The screen is sharp and bright, and we're assured that the sports info showing on the home screen during the demo were very much optional – no one wants the score of the big game spoilt for them by the smart screen in the hall!
We're not getting the Amazon Silk browser in the UK, but we had a good go on Firefox (the command is "Alexa, open Firefox"), and found it easier to navigate than browsers often are on a touchscreen.
The built-in 5MP camera looks fine, and will be plenty good enough for Skype calling when that feature arrives (does anyone actually use Drop In?). The new TV Guide skill is mega-handy, and we liked the option of watching the news on demand from the BBC, the Telegraph and others. There's also a new Ocado shopping app for you halloumi fans.
The only slight niggle we have with the new Echo Show is the price. £219.99 feels like quite a lot for something that is pretty optional and replicates functionality from other gadgets – and another £29.99 for a stand so you can tilt it for video calls is taking the mick a bit.
Still, Amazon always discounts Echo devices on Prime Day, Black Friday and just because it's Tuesday, so if you can snag one for less, our first impressions say it'll be worth it.
You can preorder the new Echo Show now, and it'll be out in the UK on the 11th of October.
All-new Echo Dot
This is our favourite makeover of the revamped Echo devices. The Echo Dot has lost the hard plastic sides and cucumber-slice form factor (technical term. Ahem), and now has a more rounded, more Apple-y, fabric-covered look that fits in far better with home decor.
Amazon's sold a heck of a lot of Dots (they mentioned that it's the best-selling speaker ever, and while Amazon PR didn't fancy furnishing exact numbers, they did double-check and the stat is accurate), so it makes sense to put some love into something that will probably be the best-seller of the new range.
Audio quality has noticeably improved over the old Echo Dot – we tried them side-by-side and the new Dot came out louder and clearer every time. It also heard our commands correctly even from a way away in a very noisy room (in which people kept saying "Alexa". Helpful.)
Amazon wants people to put a Dot in every room, and with the new design, better sound and choice of three colours (Charcoal, Heather Grey and Sandstone), that's more likely than ever.
The price has stayed the same at £49.99, and you can preorder the new Echo Dot now for its UK release on the 11th October.
All-new Echo Plus
Like the Echo Dot, the Echo Plus has had a redesign from an all-plastic, sharp cylinder to a shorter, squatter, softer shape covered in fabric. It looks much, much nicer in the home as a result, and it also ties in beautifully with the Echo Sub. There's a cohesive design language that makes for a more sophisticated-looking sound system than you could have achieved with the previous generation of Echo products.
The new Echo Plus includes a built-in Zigbee smart home hub. For those not familiar with Zigbee, it's kind of like Bluetooth and WiFi had a baby: a wireless personal area network (WPAN) that links all your smart home devices together using localised radio signals. The upside of this is that when your internet goes down, you can still turn the lights on.
The command is "Alexa, discover my devices" but we ran into a couple of teething problems in the demo. That said, after some minor faffing, it all worked as designed.
We were impressed with the improved sound on the Echo Plus: it's louder, clearer and all-round better than the previous version, thanks in no small part to the three-inch Neodymium woofer they've installed. It's bassy, and even in the noisy room we tried it out in, the mids and highs were on point.
There's a temperature sensor in there now too, so you can set up temperature-based routines like turning the smart heating on when it drops below a certain temperature. However, being that the demo was in Seattle, it was in Fahrenheit – remains to be seen if Alexa understands Celsius too.
The Echo Plus is in the same three colours as the new Dot: Charcoal, Heather Grey and Sandstone. Matchy-matchy. The price hasn't changed at £139.99, on preorder now for release on the 11th of October.
There's something strangely endearing about this little gizmo. Echo Input is a much-needed addition to the Alexa range: an Echo Dot without a speaker, essentially. It's for adding Alexa capability to your existing speakers or hi-fi equipment.
Not a great deal for us to test here in the hands-on: obviously the sound quality will depend on what you connect it to, but we found the Echo Input very responsive and minimal -- just what a lot of people will want for their home sound systems. It has a four-mic array, connects to your speaker by Bluetooth or 3.5mm cable, and comes in black or white.
It's £34.99, and will be available here when it launches.
Amazon reps were very keen to demonstrate the Echo Sub, probably because it sounds really, really good. In a demo in a giant, cavernous greenhouse thing with tonnes of people, it sounded strong and bassy. In a smaller, quieter room, it blew our hair back.
Like the new Echo Show, you can use the new equaliser function on the Echo Sub. The bass, mid-range and treble can all be adjusted by voice to your specifications.
It's not a small gadget, this: it's the size of a child's stool and ideally sits on the floor. You can pair the Echo Sub wirelessly with either one or two Echos for a 1.1 or 2.1 configuration, and Amazon is clearly hoping for the latter because they're selling it as a package deal with two Echos to make a stereo system.
If you don't fancy shelling out £240 for the whole package, or you've already got Echo speakers you can use, the Echo Sub on its own is £119.99 and will be out in the UK on -- you guessed it -- 11th October.
Amazon Smart Plug
Not a whole lot to see here, apart from the fact that the American one looks like a disturbed face. It's a chunky thing, but so are most smart plugs, and the lack of LED made us happy (we do not need more lights in our bedrooms). Do note, though, that you'll need some kind of Alexa device to be able to use it – Echo, Fire TV, Fire Tablet, Sonos One or even just the Alexa app on your phone.
The most interesting thing about the Amazon Smart Plug is that it's one of the first examples of Amazon's new Frustration-Free Setup. When you set up an Alexa device, you have the option of saving your home WiFi password in Amazon's secure WiFi Locker, and apparently most people do. From there, whenever you add a new Frustration-Free device to your home network, that device can get the WiFi credentials securely from other gadgets on the network. It just has to prove it's owned by you, which is either done automatically (because you bought it with your Amazon account) or by scanning the QR code in your Alexa app. From there, it's pretty much instant. Very cool.
We checked with Amazon and you'll still be able to do Frustration-Free Setup with gadgets given as gifts (bought on someone else's Amazon account) by scanning them in the Alexa app, and you'll also be able to dissociate a device from your account if you'd like to sell it or give it to someone.
You'll be able to use Echo routines and schedules with the Smart Plug, so you can set your devices to turn on and off automatically either independently, or as part of a set of tasks with other actions.
At £24.99, the Amazon Smart Plug will be the no-brainer choice for anyone buying smart plugs for their Alexa network. It's available for preorder now and will be released on the 11th of October.
What do you make of all the new Alexa gadgets? Anything you definitely will or won't be putting in your trolley? Let us know in the comments.