Amazon announced a baffling array of connected home products on Thursday. In total, the company introduced 14 new products at a surprise hardware event in Seattle, along with a handful of software and feature updates. Attempting to follow along with the event on live blogs and on Twitter proved impossible. Unlike an Apple event that focuses on a few hardware announcements, with much of the time spent detailing specs, features, and demos of those products, Amazon rattled through more than a dozen new products (and 70 total updates) with the speed and ferocity of an auctioneer (or so it seemed—I stopped following the event live and waited to make sense of it all once Amazon sent out more detailed press information). While Amazon delivered on some expected product updates, it also threw some curveballs, including an Alexa-controlled microwave and a wall clock.
Now, it’s clear that Amazon introduced products across four primary categories: Echo smart speakers, Echo accessories and companion devices, connected home control, and smart home monitoring. Some of the products make perfect sense. Amazon unveiled the Echo Dot in 2014 and last updated it in 2016. It was due for a refresh. Amazon also officially brought Alexa into the automotive space, something competitors Apple and Google already have a strong foothold in.
As for some of its other product announcements, it’s clear that Amazon wants to expand the Echo ecosystem and Alexa, its digital assistant, into as many homes as possible—and once in your home, into as many rooms as possible (and your car and your yard, too). Amazon is taking a spray-and-pray approach here: Some of the products are niche and high-end, designed for audiophiles. Others are cheap mass-market ploys. They are all over the place. While each of the products, on its own, has a logical role in the Amazon-product ecosystem, lumped together in one launch event, the result is overwhelming. With so many overlapping products announced at one time, Amazon may have even cannibalized some of its own potential sales. Then again, Amazon’s the one with the data on our purchasing habits, so maybe it knows exactly what it’s doing.
Here are the new products Amazon debuted today, both the sensible and the nonsensical, and how they fit into the greater Amazon, Echo, and connected worlds.
Amazon issued a light refresh for the pucklike Echo Dot. The squashed cylinder now looks like a squashed ball of dough, with rounded edges at its top and bottom and a fabric cover ringing its sides. It has four mics inside compared to the previous model’s seven. Its sound quality has improved along with its overall volume—it can play audio 70 percent louder than the previous model. It’s still priced at $49.99, but Amazon has been known to put the device on sale for significantly less. The Echo Dot is the gateway drug into the Alexa ecosystem and one of the cheapest ways to outfit an entire home with Echo devices.
While it skipped updating the Echo, which got a refresh last year, Amazon gave the $149.99 Echo Plus a familial redesign with the same fabric-covered outside but with rounded edges like the Echo Dot. In addition to improved audio—bass performance, specifically—the device now includes a temperature sensor, making it a more useful addition to homes with connected heating or cooling products. While the Echo is “just” a speaker, the Echo Plus is a true smart home hub that happens to be in speaker form.
Amazon beefed up the Echo Show with a larger 10-inch display. The previous model, introduced last summer, had a 7-inch display. The updated version also improves as a video-playing device with Dolby audio, a bass radiator, 2-inch drivers, and an eight-mic array for voice recognition. Like the Echo Plus, the $229.99 device has a Zigbee-connected home hub inside. The Echo Show aims to lead the growing smart-display space and offer users the combined benefits of a smart speaker and a tablet, but with hands-free operation.
Amazon also introduced Echo Auto, a new Echo product designed specifically for the car—a solution for those who want Alexa integration during their daily commutes but aren’t interested in, or able to upgrade to, a new vehicle that has Alexa built-in. While the $50 (currently on sale for $24.99) device doesn’t sound like much (it uses your phone’s cell connection and Bluetooth to work), it does allow for location-based routines that trigger certain smart home functions when you leave the house or arrive back home.
This is all within the realm of expected product updates and expansions. With its array of companion devices, Amazon has stretched its consumer-tech presence into some surprising new arenas.
Echo Wall Clock
If you already own an Echo device, you can expand its utility—when it comes to setting alarms, timers, reminders, or checking the time—with the $29.99 Echo Wall Clock. While an Alexa-compatible wall clock sounds completely ridiculous, it has functionality that makes a lot of sense. It has a 60-LED ring that offers a visual cue as to how much time is left on multiple timers and automatically adjusts itself for daylight saving time. While the latter is worth the purchase price alone, this wall clock is particularly genius in its simplicity. I’ve forgone a wall clock in my home since adopting a smartphone nearly a decade ago; others likely fall in the same category. Amazon’s new clock manages to tie in utility with Alexa while maintaining an entirely reasonable price point. I suspect this could become a holiday-gift favorite for 2018.
For those who have high-quality speakers already and no intention of adding an Echo speaker to their home, the Echo Input fills the void. This $34.99 disc adds Alexa functionality to any existing speaker, offering a cheap connected speaker upgrade—without the speaker.
On the opposite end, Amazon is also expanding its speaker offerings so you can have a whole Amazon-audio outfit, if you choose. The $129.99 Echo Sub is a 100W subwoofer designed to deliver the bass in your home entertainment system. It can be paired with two compatible Echo speaker devices for a 2.1 stereo audio system.
Amazon’s next pair of products don’t include mics, as they’re meant to accompany your existing Amazon-based home audio setup. The Echo Link is a $199.99 device that connects to another receiver or amplifier and delivers quality audio. On front is a single volume dial. If you have an amp or receiver you already like, this will add access to Amazon’s streaming-music offerings. While it looks slick, I’m unclear why someone would opt for this instead of the $34.99 Echo Input.
The Echo Link Amp builds on the Echo Link by including a 60W two-channel amplifier inside. It costs $299.99 and, like the Echo Link, has numerous input and output ports for integrating with your existing audio arrangement. Since Amazon hasn’t yet made a name for itself in the high-end audio space, these products feel like a reach.
Fire TV Recast
Sticking with the living room, Amazon also debuted a companion DVR, the Fire TV Recast, for watching, recording, and replaying TV. This device, which needs a separate over-the-air antenna to work, plays content on a Fire TV, Echo Show, Fire tablet, iOS, or Android, and comes in two variants. For $229.99, you get a two-tuner version with 500GB of storage that can hold up to 75 hours of HD video. (For $50 more, you can get a version that stores twice as much video.)
Amazon also introduced new smart home devices.
Yes, Amazon has its own microwave now. You can now use Alexa to say things like, “Alexa, microwave two potatoes” or to heat up coffee, and with the assistant’s vast knowledge, she’ll heat things (theoretically) to the exact right degree. The microwave also includes Amazon Dash Replenishment with an “Auto Popcorn Replenishment” feature so you can automatically reorder popcorn before you run out. Seriously. It’s a compact countertop microwave unit that costs $59.99—Alexa isn’t built-in but rather works through a paired Echo device.
Amazon Smart Plug
If you have a specific appliance or electronic in your home you’d like to control with Alexa, the $24.99 Smart Plug will do the trick. It works with various Alexa devices or the Alexa app on your phone, which you can use to set up a routine with the plug. Like the Echo Input, this is a convenient, affordable way to add Alexa smarts in your home without a big purchase.
Ring Stick Up Cam (Wired and Battery)
Lastly, Amazon introduced a pair of products for monitoring your home from Ring, the company it acquired earlier this year for $1 billion. The Ring Stick Up Cam is an indoor-outdoor smart home camera that shoots 1080p wide-angle video with a night-vision mode and two-way talk abilities. It’ll work with Ring Alarm and Alexa in the near future, and it comes in wired and battery variants. Both cost the same: $179.99. Given Alexa integration is coming later, it’s likely Ring was already finishing up this product when it got acquired by Amazon. The device looks like a white can with a black camera on the front, and its affixed to a stand so it can sit on a flat surface or stick to a wall.
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