Amazon presented its intelligent speaker and smart home assistant Amazon Echo in London last week. The Echo, and the smaller Echo Dot, are powered by Amazon's increasingly powerful Alexa software to bring voice control to your household. Find out more about these impressive products below.
Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Dot: Amazon's hardware for the living room
The Echo and Echo Dot are, essentially, small voice-activated speakers designed to provide constant access to Amazon's virtual assistant, Alexa. There's no interactive display on them, instead, they are activated and manipulated with speech recognition using the trigger word 'Alexa', similar to how Google Now or Siri works.
What's the difference between Amazon Echo and Echo Dot?
The Echo Dot is equipped with the same functions as the Amazon Echo. However, it lacks the 360-degree speakers. The Echo Dot work does work as a standalone product, though, and can serve as an extension of Echos in other rooms. Sound reproduction is possible via line-out or a connected Bluetooth speaker.
Amazon's digital assistant, Alexa, is the brain behind the Echo. This provides information from Wikipedia, plays music from Amazon Music, Spotify and other services, and is open to APIs from other products, meaning developers are able to integrate Alexa functionality into their own devices and software.
Four issues that Amazon had to solve with Echo
Voice recognition: Amazon Echo can recognize voice commands even in noisy rooms. This is ensured by seven intelligently-connected microphones that allow the Echo to detect the direction from which the user speaks. Echo Cancellation is a property which means the Echo can detect the Alexa activation word even while music is being played. Once the Echo is active, the system streams the incoming speech to the Amazon Cloud, where the instructions are analyzed.
Speech Recognition: The Amazon Echo's recognition of specific commands rely on machine learning algorithms, which have improved greatly in recent years.
Privacy: Special emphasis will lay on how the Echo handles privacy. This is extremely important in a device that can stream all words it hears while active, to the cloud.
In the Echo web interface, voice commands can be deleted from the history. Also, a blue light ring on top of the speaker indicates whether the Echo is currently sending data to the cloud. A mute switch turns off the Echo and the light ring becomes red to show its no longer listening.
Transform text into speech: Over the years, Amazon has been working to make the Alexa voice unit sound natural. It's still a little artificial, but significant progress has been made in this sphere.
Hands-on: Amazon Echo review
Speech recognition for the Echo requires no explicit training but Alexa will learn from the characteristics of your voice. In addition, Alexa makes use of location data to offer context-based results from questions and searches.
In the demo area where I had access to the Echo, it responded promptly to commands despite ongoing conversations in the room permeating the airwaves. The quality of music reproduction appeared to be good, but you shouldn't expect spectacular quality here.
Amazon is confident that the Echo will be a success. The Alexa is not just a digital assistant, but a smart home and entertainment platform. The Amazon Echo and Alexa could be compatible with lights, thermostats and other applicable household products.
Moreover, Alexa serves as a source of information, providing, for example, the next train time or helping you call a taxi. Third-party devs can also take advantage of Alexa without worrying about the speech recognition components, which are handled by Amazon.
Amazon Echo: price and release date
The Amazon Echo is available now in black and white versions for $179.99 while the smaller Amazon Echo Dot will be available from October 20 for $49.99.
What is the competition doing?
Probably the biggest competitor to the Amazon Echo comes from Google in the form of Google Home. This will house similar functions to the Amazon Echo, but it isn't yet available. Google is on the verge of releasing Google Home and Google Assistant but the exact release date is yet to be announced and regional availability is still under wraps.
What are your thoughts on the Amazon Echo? Let us know in the comments.