Are you ready for an Alexa-powered world?
The company announced 14 new Alexa devices at a surprise media event in Seattle.
Ok, so I wasn’t invited, but I won’t hold that against Amazon. Maybe they just forgot the email address that I signed up for Prime with the day it launched back in 2005.
At any rate, Amazon took reporters on a wild ride, announcing over 70 new devices, features, and developer tools across Alexa, Echo, and Fire TV. It’s very clear that Amazon has huge plans for Alexa and it is going to power just about every aspect of everyday life. As Amazon builds its portfolio, the missing piece might just be another smartphone.
Let’s go through some of the most notable new products, starting with the Echo lineup.
The Echo Dot now comes wrapped in fabric and it has a louder speaker with better sound. The price stays the same at $50 and it launches on October 11.
The Echo Plus is their top of the line Echo speaker, it sports a new, rounder design and is also wrapped in fabric. It also functions as a smart home hub, it sells for $150. Amazon says they upgraded the speaker in this device as well. It is also available October 11.
The Echo Show is sort of a mini-TV / tablet / show screen / video conferencing tool. This is the second generation of the device. Amazon upgraded the design, added a better speaker plus it has a larger 10 inch HD display. It sells for $230 and is available October 11. They’re also adding Skype to the options for video calling, which is really nice since you’re not longer limited to Amazon’s proprietary option and anyone with Skype will be able to talk to you on the other end.
Echo Auto brings Alexa into your car. This is sort of a stopgap until more automakers jump on board with Alexa built into their cars. This is a small device that connects to the car via Bluetooth or the AUX input. It has eight microphones built in so Amazon says it will hear your commands above road noise and the A/C blasting. This device will be $50 when it officially launches but right now you can request an invitation to buy one for just $25.
From here, things get really interesting. Amazon launched a bunch of Echo “companion” devices. Think Alexa in just about every aspect of your house. There is a Wall Clock which connects to Echo devices. It looks like your typical wall clock but it helps you visualize timers you set with Alexa. I like this since I regularly set timers for my kids for reading, watching TV or whatever, and I like the idea that they can glance up and see how much time is left. That’s $30.
Then there are a whole bunch of Echo accessories for your home theater setup: an Input that lets you add Alexa to any speaker for $35, a Sub for more bass when you play TV or music on your Echo devices, that’s $130, an Echo Link which connects to your stereo system and allows you to feed your streaming music in high-quality format to your existing receiver. That’s $200. There’s even an Echo Link Amp which is powered and works to pass music to any pair of speakers for $300.
Can you tell Amazon is getting really serious about Alexa being in every part of your home and life?
As if that’s not enough, Amazon also announced an AmazonBasics Microwave. This is a $60 microwave that doesn’t necessarily have Alexa built in, but it does work with a nearby Echo to take commands for cooking food. You can say things like “reheat coffee” or “microwave frozen vegetables.” I love the idea of this, and suddenly wish my microwave wasn’t built into my kitchen setup. This is a no-brainer purchase for the price. And you can finally use the popcorn button on your microwave… even though every bag of popcorn says not too. The Amazon microwave is smart enough to ask you the brand of your popcorn and the size of the bag so it perfectly pops it every time. There is also a one-touch popcorn replenishment button. This is available on November 14.
Finally, there is a now an Amazon Smart Plug you control with Alexa. These are fantastic, I have other brands of them around my house and find them especially useful for controlling holiday lights, the Christmas tree and little tabletop lamps I have around the house that turn on and off at sunrise and sunset. Sure, there are lots of these around from various brands, but Amazon offering their own is smart since you know it will easily work with Alexa and the quality will be there. An Amazon Smart Plug is $25, which is about the average going price from competitors. I would have liked to see this offered at $10 or $15, but perhaps that will happen when Amazon sells them as a bundle or puts them on sale. The Smart Plus is available October 11 as well.
There is a lot more – including a feature that lets Alexa control basic functionality of your smart home devices even if the internet goes out – but I’ll just focus on one more interesting addition to the lineup. A new Fire TV DVR.
It’s called the Fire TV Recast, and it’s sort of the missing link between what we were used to – a DVR – and the new age of cord cutting and streaming everything through a box like Fire TV.
I still haven’t made up my mind whether this is brilliant or too late to be useful, but this device is a simple little box you set up pretty much anywhere in your house where you can put up an antenna and get the best reception. Then it goes to work, recording your favorite shows and saving them on its internal hard drive.
You can then view your shows on an Amazon Fire TV, tablet, iOS or Android device. It doesn’t sound like there is Apple TV, Roku or Chromecast support out of the gate, but I could see that being added down the line. Of course, you can easily browse your recordings, see what’s currently live and more on a Fire TV connected to your TV set.
What’s cool about this is that you can finally get and record all of your local channels for free. And for a lot of folks, this along with a Netflix subscription will be all they need. Plus Amazon Prime Video, of course. It’s like a modern TiVo, and the other great thing is that this is a one time purchase, there are no ongoing monthly fees. You can even choose shows from an on-screen guide, or use your voice with Alexa to tune in channels, shows or record them.
I’m kind of loving the idea of this, especially since the channel I work for – KTLA in Los Angeles – isn’t on any streaming service just yet. Of course, you can easily grab the channel over the air. Now I can pipe our programming right onto the TV screen and my devices. I really hope that Amazon adds the ability to download shows recorded on Recast to our devices. That would really be the missing link here.
The Fire TV Recast comes in two models. A 2 tuner model (500 gigabytes) that can record two shows at once and up to 75 hours of programming for $230. There is also a 4 tuner model that can record 4 shows at once and holds up to 150 hours of HD shows for $280. Clearly, this is the better buy, but you will be able to add an external hard drive sometime down the road. The Recast TV is shipping November 14, you better believe I’ll be buying one. I don’t think it can re-capture the excitement of my first TiVo and inviting all my friends over and watching Survivor (back in 2000) and watching the look on their faces as I paused live TV for the first time, but it still sounds pretty cool.
There you have it, Amazon Alexa overload. It is full on game-on between Amazon, Google and Apple for smart assistant dominance in the home, car and everywhere in between. Apple and Google might have a head start on phones, but Amazon is certainly making a big play for the house.
As heard on the Rich on Tech Podcast, available in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and anywhere you listen!