Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.
Amazon announced a raft of new products that expands the reach of its digital assistant, Alexa; focuses on high-quality audio; and addresses some key privacy concerns.
In all, the company unveiled 15 items, including a high-end Echo Studio smart speaker, a would-be AirPod headphone competitor called Echo Buds, a bargain-priced Eero mesh router, and various Ring security cameras. It rolled out a few eccentric options, too, such as an Alexa-powered ring and eyeglass frames.
Almost all the items are available for preorder now and will ship in time for the holidays. Here’s a closer look at what’s on the way.
Boosting the Sound Quality
The company is hoping to step up its audio game and focus more on sound quality, an area where it has lagged behind the competition, including Apple, Bose, Google, and Sonos.
Echo Studio. Earlier this month Amazon announced Amazon Music HD, which offers a selection of music tracks at a much higher audio quality than currently available on Spotify or Apple Music. But Amazon’s Echo speakers so far haven’t been known for high-quality audio, especially compared with competitors such as Apple’s HomePod and the Google Home Max.
The Echo Studio uses a directional tweeter; left, right, and top midrange speakers; and a built-in 5.25-inch bass driver to deliver a lot more oomph. Like the HomePod, the speaker will automatically calibrate itself to deliver optimal sound based on the size of the room and where the device is positioned. It’s also armed with Dolby Atmos technology, which creates an immersive effect, allowing you to experience sound all around you when you listen to soundtracks mastered with the tech.
The Dolby Atmos is particularly intriguing because the Studio can also function as a speaker for any 4K Fire TV devices. You can get two Studios and pair them for stereo separation, as well.
Available for preorder, the Echo Studio sells for $200, compared with $270 for Google Home Max and $300 for the Apple HomePod.
Echo Buds. Amazon also announced true wireless earbuds meant to serve as an alternative to Apple’s AirPods. Available for preorder for $130, the Echo Buds will be $20 cheaper than AirPods and will come with Bose Active Noise Reduction technology—AirPods have no noise cancellation. Amazon claims the Echo Buds have 5 hours’ worth of battery life, and the included case has a built-in battery that will recharge the headphones four times.
We’ll need to test how the Echo Buds stack up against the AirPods. But at first glance, $130 for wireless earbuds with active noise-reduction technology is really cheap—comparable Sony earbuds retail for $200.
Amazon Echo. Amazon also unveiled the third generation of its main Echo speaker. It says it represents a major audio upgrade to the base model, transferring the audio setup of last year’s second-generation Echo Plus into a much cheaper package.
Our testers found that the Plus’ sound was just okay, with a noticeable absence of deep bass response, grainy midrange, smeared treble, and muted upper treble.
The new Echo comes with one more color option for the fabric covering: Twilight Blue. The speaker retails for $99 and is available for preorder starting today.
Cheaper Eero Routers
Earlier this year, Amazon bought Eero, the manufacturer of one of our top-scoring mesh routers. In addition to rolling out a new model that responds to Alexa voice controls, Amazon has now slashed the price, offering the router for sale starting today at $100 for a single unit or $250 for a three-pack.
The earlier model was priced at $200 for a single unit and $500 for the three-pack.
Amazon’s increasingly popular ecosystem of smart doorbells and security cameras will also receive a few updates.
Ring Stick Up Cam. This next-generation camera is designed for indoor or outdoor use. It can operate via battery power, and even integrates with a solar-powered charging device. It sells for $100 and is available for preorder today.
Ring Indoor Cam. This camera is meant for recording inside your home and must be attached to a power outlet. It can be purchased now for $60.
Ring Retrofit Alarm Kit. This kits allows you to connect the Ring to preexisting security sensors from other security systems used in your home. The kit will sell for $200 when it ships in November. It will also come bundled with the Alarm Hub (needed to control a Ring security system) for $376.
Addressing privacy concerns, Amazon announced that all Ring security products will now have a “home mode,” which will stop all audio and video recording when a family member is at home.
Privacy and Alexa Improvements
Amazon will also allow people who use its Alexa-powered devices to auto-delete everything recorded on a device every three or 18 months.
You now can also ask “Alexa, tell me what you heard,” and Alexa will read back your most recent request. Later this year, you will be able to ask “Alexa, why did you do that?” if you don’t understand why an Alexa device was triggered.
Amazon is making some improvements to its digital voice assistant, too. It is introducing Multilingual Mode, which allows an Alexa device to field voice commands and respond in two languages at once. (In the U.S., Alexa in Multilingual Mode will use English and Spanish; in Canada, Alexa will understand and speak English and French.)
You’ll also be able to connect to your Alexa account when using an Alexa device away from your home by saying “Alexa, connect my account.” Alexa will use voice authentication to sync up your information from there. This may make things like an Echo in your hotel room or Airbnb much more useful.
Amazon is also expanding Alexa Hunches, where Alexa will attempt to spot patterns in your daily routine, such as asking for the weather and then listening to the radio in the morning, and offering to create an automatic routine for you.
The Expanding Echo Universe
Here are some more ways Amazon plans to expand the Alexa ecosystem.
Echo Dot with clock. Amazon’s mini smart speaker gets an update that includes an LED-display clock on the side of the device. According to Amazon, asking Alexa the time is one of the most common queries. The new Echo Dot sells for $60 and is available for preorder starting today.
Echo Show 8. Amazon unveiled a refresh to the Echo Show 5. Why skip all the way forward to the Echo Show 8? Because the device has an 8-inch HD screen. The company says it also has improved audio over the Echo Show 5, and keeps the Echo Show 5’s physical camera shutter to protect privacy. The Echo Show 8 will sell for $130; it’s available for preorder starting today and will ship in time for the holidays.
Echo Flex. For homeowners who want to extend the reach of Alexa but don’t necessarily need booming sound, Amazon is offering the Echo Flex, a simple plug-in microphone and speaker with a USB port you can use to charge your phone or hook up smart home accessories such as a motion detector and a smart night light. The Flex sells for $25 and is available for preorder starting today.
Echo Auto. Amazon announced that General Motors will now support Echo Auto, increasing the number of automakers working with Alexa integration to five—Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Spanish automaker Seat were already onboard. Our testing has found that Alexa still has some quirks to work out when it comes to working in an automobile; we’ll see if expanded reach also means a better vision of how a voice assistant AI should work in a car.
Alexa Beyond the Speaker
Last year, Amazon announced a microwave with Alexa integration, which the company says became the best-selling microwave on Amazon. This year, it’s going even further with the Amazon Smart Oven, a combination microwave, convection oven, and air fryer that you can control with your voice.
When you scan the packaging of certain items, the Smart Oven will automatically set the time and temperature. Amazon showcased this feature with a package of Whole Foods frozen broccoli, which means you might see more meals from Whole Foods with Smart Oven integration. The product retails for $250, is available for preorder today, and comes packaged with an Echo Dot.
Echo Glow. Literally an oddball item, the Echo Glow is a light-up globe meant to pair with Alexa and communicate mainly through changing colors. Some example use cases simulated a flickering campfire, a sleep timer that will gradually dim as bedtime approaches, and a dance party mode with colorful lights and music. The Glow sells for $30, and is available for preorder starting today.
Echo Frames. Amazon announced a new initiative called Day 1 Editions, featuring products the company will release only in limited production runs. One of the first products: Echo Frames, thick eyeglass frames with small built-in Alexa microphones and speakers (but, it should be noted, no cameras or display). They’ll retail for $180 and be available for purchase by invite only.
Echo Loop. Another Day 1 Edition item, the Echo Loop is a finger ring with a built-in microphone and speaker for Alexa voice commands and a haptic motor for silent notifications (that is to say, the ring will vibrate). It retails for $130.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Ring Indoor Cam is available for pre-order and the Echo Flex sells for $30. The camera is available for purchase now and the Flex sells for $25.
Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works side by side with consumers to create a fairer, safer, and healthier world. CR does not endorse products or services, and does not accept advertising. Copyright © 2019, Consumer Reports, Inc.
#SmartSpeakers #Amazon #HomeAutomationSystems #Privacy #Headphones