Amazon has just launched a new device that’s kind of like Apple’s Siri… but it’s for your home, not your smartphone.
Amazon Echo is an internet-connected speaker can play music, answer questions, set reminders, and answer questions you ask.
The Echo has a list price of $199, but for a limited time Amazon Prime members will be able to order one for $99… but you’ll need to request an invitation first.
You can think of Echo as a smart speaker: it has a 2 inch tweeter, a 2.5 inch woofer, and a reflect port that Amazon says results in deeper sounds. You can stream music from Amazon or from third-party services including iTunes, Pandora, and Spotify using a mobile app on your phone or simply by asking the Echo to play music using your voice.
It can also provide news updates from NPR, ESPN, and other internet radio apps, play alarms (which you can set and snooze or dismiss with your voice), and answer questions by grabbing information from Wikipedia and other sources.
The Echo connects to the internet over WiFi and it’s designed for home use: there’s no battery, just a plug. It has an array of 7 microphones with noise cancellation so it can pick up your voice and understand queries no matter where in the room you’re standing. Amazon says it can even respond to your questions while it’s playing music.
Amazon has put together a demo video which makes Echo look both super useful, and maybe a little creepy. During a scene where one family member is cooking, we see Echo answer questions about converting teaspoons to tablespoons, add an item to a shopping list, and set an alarm — all using nothing but voice commands.
Echo is clearly a product designed to fit into Amazon’s existing ecosystem — the video shows it working with an Amazon Fire Phone and Fire tablet and you can use it to connect to music from Amazon’s cloud services.
But if you’re not creeped out about an internet-connected device that’s always listening for you to say a “wake word,” the Echo seems like it could be kind of useful. Maybe.
Or maybe you’re already using Apple’s Siri or Google Now on your phone and don’t need a dedicated device like this sitting in your living room, kitchen, or bedroom.