Amazon Expands Echo Range, Adds Wearables, Alexa Personalisation

Amazon is expanding its Echo smart speaker portfolio with a range new devices, as well allowing for the personalisation of its Alexa personal assistant.

This personalisation will soon allow users (for a fee of 99 cents or £0.88) to make Alexa mimic the voice of the actor Samuel L Jackson, as well as other celebrities.

The shakeup of the Amazon Echo speaker range comes amid growing competition in the smart speaker speaker segment, from the likes of Google Home and a number of other Chinese firms.

Echo speakers

Amazon currently has the lead in the smart speaker market thanks to the Echo, the Echo Spot, the Echo Dot and the Echo Show.

But Amazon at a launch event on Wednesday unveiled a host other additions to this range, including a move into wearable tech and a device for pets (mostly for dogs), as well as changes to its Ring Doorbell that see the integration of Alexa.

Among the new arrivals is an all new Echo speaker that comes with updated fabric design and even better sound. This includes a 3-inch woofer and increased back volume so the bass feels stronger, and the mids and highs are clearer. The cost is $99.99.

A totally new device is the Echo Flex wireless speaker, which only costs $24.99, and adds the Alexa assistant in to any space in a home.

There is a new Echo Dot with a clock, which includes a bright LED display that shows the time, outdoor temperature, timers, and alarms, for $59.99.

The Echo Show 8 comes with an 8-inch display, as well as powerful sound, and a built-in camera shutter for added peace of mind. The cost is $129.99.

For the music lovers, there is the Echo Studio, which Amazon says is its best-sounding Echo ever, with five directional speakers for immersive sound, room adaptation technology, and a built-in smart home hub for $199.99.

On the wearable side there is Amazon’s challenge to Apple’s Airpods, with the Amazon wireless Echo Buds that (unlike Apple) come with Bose active noise reduction technology and hands-free access to Alexa for $129.99.

Another wearable device is Echo Frames, which are a pair of titanium-framed glasses that vibrate to provide notifications, and have built-in microphones and speakers to use Alexa, but no display. The cost of this is expected to be $179.99.

Another wearable device is the Echo Loop ($129.99), which is a ring that features two microphones and a “tap-on” button, which allows owners to record messages and send them to an Echo smart speaker.

For pets (i.e. dogs) there is the Fetch, which is pet tracker designed to attach to a dog collar that can still operate when the dog is 500 meters away.

“We love hearing feedback from customers about how they use Alexa throughout their day – whether that’s listening to music, dropping in on a loved one, trying out a new recipe, or playing a game with the family,” said Tom Taylor, senior VP Amazon Alexa.

“We hope these new Echo devices will give customers even more ways to access Alexa – whether that’s through the best-sounding Echo device yet – Echo Studio, a reimagined Echo and Echo Dot, new designs like Echo Show 8 and Echo Flex, or new experiences for Alexa on-the-go with earbuds, glasses, and a ring,” said Taylor.

Alexa personalisation

Amazon reportedly said it would use a “neural text-to-speech” engine to mimic celebrities’ voices on Alexa devices. It will use recordings the stars provide as the basis for other computer-generated utterances.

Actor Samuel L Jackson is notoriously a sweary individual, and consumers will apparenly be given the choice of whether they want a version that swears or not.

And in an effort to address privacy concerns, users can now command an Alexa device to delete everything they have said that day.

The Alexa app also provides an option to allow users to opt out of having their voices transcribed by humans to improve the service’s accuracy.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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