WSJ: Amazon to Reveal New Echo as Soon as Tuesday

Amazon Echo Apparently "Looks" just aren't enough anymore in the relationships of the smart speaker world.  Hot off the heals of its release of the customer-invite only Echo Look, per Laura Stevens with The Wall Street Journal, Amazon is due to pull the wraps off a new Echo speaker that will utilize video calling capabilities, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Amazon's new product, which is expected to be announced as soon as Tuesday, would give users the chance to make internet-based telephone calls, positioning the speaker to be the centerpiece for home communications.

The unit is expected to possess a 7-inch touch screen, visually obtain answers to verbal questions, and allow you to get information on your Amazon queries in a more easily able to read manner.  The product has been in beta testing with Amazon employees for a few months, and after tomorrow's expected announcement, could start shipping units to consumers as early as next month.

An Amazon spokeswoman had declined comment.

On the downside, it's widely expected that the new speaker will price over $200.  The current Echo device, which doesn't have a touch screen, regularly sells for $180.  Although, as perhaps a sign of things to come, or a Mother's Day promotion, refurbished units can be had for great prices and new units are being discounted for a limited time as well.

Echo Speaker Wars

As mentioned earlier, the smart speaker competition is heating up with Alphabet Inc's Google Home, and Microsoft Inc getting in to the fray as well with their Invoke speaker, that can make phone calls.  The premise with smart speakers is that consumers can use the devices to turn off lights in their homes, close garage doors, lower the temperature, as is the case with the Echo, order products online.  Rumors are afoot as well that Apple may announce their own offering as soon as next month at their annual WWDC conference.

While it's unknown why Amazon is planning on releasing this version of Echo so close to the release of its "Look" device, it could be due in part to the previously mentioned competition that seems to be increasing.

Amazon is planning to roll out the device's calling capabilities in stages, perhaps starting as an intercom between Echo devices in a consumer's home or even between Echo owners.  Given that the device's capabilities will be Internet based, there is no need for a SIM card or other cellular types of technology.

Deal Alert: Amazon Echo with Alexa - Certified Refurbished

Amazon Echo Online retail giant Amazon has really carved a lead at the top of the smart speaker category with it's Amazon Echo with Alexa product, especially with its forthcoming Echo Look.  This has led to Google offering it's own speaker product, as well as leading many to think Apple could soon enter the fray with a Siri product of its own, possibly as soon as June reports MacRumors.

That being said, with this offer, you can currently pick up a certified refurbished Amazon Echo with Alexa speaker for well below the list price.  Certified refurbished products get tested and certified to look both work and look brand new, as well as coming with warranties.  Normally the typical list price of the product is $179.99, with certified refurbished models coming in at $164.99.  Now though, it's available for $134.99.

For those unfamiliar with the product, Amazon Echo is a hands-free speaker that you are able to control with your voice.  Connecting to the Alexa Voice Service allows it to play music, provide information, provide the latest news and scores of your favorite sports team, weather, and even play some rounds of Jeopardy.  The product contains seven microphones, and beam forming technology so that it can hear you when you're well across the room, even if music is emanating from the speaker at the time.  The speaker can fill any room with a 360 degree sound.

We got ours in a Black Friday special last year, and have absolutely loved it.  It has come in handy for setting multiple timers while cooking, or even playing music for our little one.

Amazon's Echo Look: A Fashionista's Friend

Echo Look There is no doubt that Amazon has continued to make way into our households with its Echo devices and smart assistant Alexa.  Today, Amazon unveiled a new addition to the Echo family, with its Echo Look device, being offered by invitation only to Prime members.  The device is being billed as a "style assistant" camera that will help to catalog your outfits, and assigns your look a rating based on "machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists."

Each Echo Look comes with a built-in LED light, microphone, as well as a base mount that can either be attached to a wall, or it can be left to be freestanding such as on a nightstand, dresser, etc.  It can also work with a companion app that has a Style Check feature for comparing two outfits.  If you're not necessarily interested in the Echo Look, you can access this feature by going to your iOS Amazon app, go to Programs and Features, and look for it in that menu.

Similarly to other Echo devices, with the Look, you can still have Alexa read you your daily news flash briefing, play music, or check on how long it will take you to get to work with traffic estimates.  Amazon plans on adding additional skills to the Look also.

From the product page:

  • Introducing Echo Look—everything you love about Alexa, and now she can help you look your best
  • Using just your voice, easily take full-length photos and short videos with a hands-free camera that includes built-in LED lighting, depth-sensing camera, and computer vision-based background blur
  • See yourself from every angle with the companion app. Build a personal lookbook and share your photos.
  • Get a second opinion on which outfit looks best with Style Check, a new service that combines machine learning algorithms with advice from fashion specialists
  • Echo Look helps you discover new brands and styles inspired by your lookbook
  • Ask Alexa to read the news and audiobooks, set alarms, get traffic and weather updates, control smart home devices, play music, and more
  • Always getting smarter and adding new features, plus thousands of skills like Starbucks, Fitbit, NPR, and more

Great Amazon Deal on TP-Link Smart Plug

An image of the TP-Link Smart Plug During their Black Friday sale last year, we finally took the plunge and picked up Amazon's Echo with Alexa built in.  We have thoroughly enjoyed being able to use it to listen to music through Amazon Music Unlimited, set timers, and being able to voice control turning lights and the TV thanks to devices like the TP-Link Smart Plug.

With this particular smart plug, you can plug it into any conventional wall outlet, and connect anything like a fan, a coffee maker, or in our case, our living room lamp, and can then use Amazon's Alexa to turn the device on and off.

See below the fold for the discount!

Now, when you click on the link, the device will still show it's regular price of $24.99, but when you add it to your cart, and go to checkout, you'll notice the price will drop to $17.99!  We're not sure how long this price will last, and given Amazon's usual price and inventory fluctuation, you may want to take advantage of this now.  Smart plugs are a great way to get your smart home up and running rather inexpensively.

Product highlights from the page include:

  • Works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant for voice control
  • Remote Access: Control devices connected to the Smart Plug wherever you have Internet using the free Kasa app on your smartphone
  • Turn electronics on or off from anywhere with your tablet or smartphone using the free Kasa app (Compatible w/ Android 4.1 or higher & iOS8 or higher)
  • Use Away-Mode to turn devices on and off at different times to give the appearance that someone is home while you are away
  • Easy to use and install. Just plug a device into the Smart Plug and connect to your Wi-Fi network. 120VAC Volt Compatible

Also of note is that if you want a smart plug that's a little on the smaller side, TP-Link Smart Plug Mini that normally lists for $49.99 is on sale for $34.99.  But like the above, if you add it to your cart, the price will drop to $24.99!

Amazon News: Have 5% of Your Purchases Go To Charity and Alexa Coming Soon to your iOS Device

To celebrate their #1 ranking on the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), today only, March 16, Amazon is donating 5% (10 times their usual donation rate) of the purchase price of eligible products you buy at AmazonSmile.  It's the same shopping experience as what you get normally on the site, but the difference instead is that each purchase you make can help to support a charity of your choice.  To date, the company says that they have donated over $46 million.  At a time when many non profits and charities aren't sure of what funds and funding they may receive down the road, now is the chance to make a pretty good impact!
Then in other news, according to VentureBeat, starting today, and soon to all iPhone users next week, you will be able to talk to Amazon's voice assistant Alexa while using the Amazon app.  Of course, the AI assistant will be able to assist you with your shopping and tracking of those Amazon Prime orders, but it can also mimic many of the things a regular Alexa unit like the Echo can already do, such as tell jokes, provide updates about the weather, play music, control your Smart Home devices and more.  

Wonder how Siri will feel about this?
UPDATE: While the Smile promotion may have ended, we here at Script-Notes would like to encourage you to still consider going this method when making purchases.  Charities can always use revenue for their causes!