Amazon held a surprise Echo event today at its Seattle headquarters and took the wraps off a brand new, second-generation Amazon Echo. The new Echo is considerably cheaper than the original, retailing at $99.
The new Echo is shorter than the original, and eschews the plastic casing for a more cloth-like gray. You will be able to buy shells for the device to customize it to your liking though. There'll also be a three-pack for $249 that enables multi-room audio. Much like a Sonos system, you'll be able to sync up all your music to multiple rooms.
Speaking of audio, the new Echo comes with a dedicated bass tweeter and 2.5-inch down-facing subwoofer that'll give it better, richer sound. Amazon specifically says this new sound will be "room-filling", perhaps putting it in more direct competition with Apple's HomePod (though at a much more affordable price). We'll have to wait to see how they stack up acoustically.
As for the Echo's new microphones, they use Amazon's second-generation far-field technology. The company says it features better wake-word processing and improved beam forming and noise cancellation. This all means it should hear you more easily when you're across a noisy room.
The new Echo will allow for free unlimited calls to anywhere in the US, Canada and Mexico, leveling the playing field a bit with Google Home. That's not the end of Amazon's calling ambitions though, it also announced the $35 Echo Connect, which is a landline adapter that allows you to use your landline phone number for outgoing calls - this includes 9-1-1, which Wi-Fi calling solutions struggle with.
If you've ever played a game on your Echo device, you know that it can be a little weird. To solve that, Amazon also announced the Echo Button, which looks and acts like a gameshow button you use for games. And while they're primarily used for games, complete with LED lights for notifications, it's not hard to imagine how they could be used as alerts for other Echo skills. You'll get two of them for $20.
All of the new Echo products including the new Amazon Echo Plus, which packs in a smart home hub, will be available today on Amazon's website. While Amazon is clearly building up the Echo line of devices with the Connect and Buttons, the star of the show here is the second-generation Echo, which Amazon hasn't truly upgraded since it was announced way back in 2014. Instead, Amazon has released products that sit alongside it, like the Echo Dot, Show and Tap. With Google and Apple starting to muscle in on the smart home speaker game, it was about time the Echo got a refresh.
As for UK pricing, we know that the second generation Amazon Echo will ship for £89, though there's currently no word on whether the three-pack will also be available outside the US.
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