Amazon can certainly run a gauntlet. At its surprise 2018 Alexa event, the company announced a whopping 12 new devices. On top of that, it announced 24 new abilities for Alexa inspired by those new devices. Phew.
You can read about those new Alexa features, but how do those new devices - which include updates to the popular Echo Dot and a reimagining of the Echo Show - work out? We went hands-on with a number of them. Alexa, take it away.
2018 Echo Show - $229.99
Of all the updated Echo devices, the 2018 Show is the one that's undergone the most change. The design is much sleeker, eschewing out the retro TV look and going for something a little slimmer. The new Show is much better ta hiding how fat it is in the back, as it now contours into a triangle-like shape. That back, by the way, is covered in a nice fabric.
The new display is wonderfully crisp, and shows like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and music videos like Maroon 5's Girl Like You looked pretty good on that new 10-inch HD screen. It certainly feels like you could watch an entire episode of a TV show while cooking here, and it comes across as more vibrant than the previous Echo Show, which could be a bit dull in the color department. Like the other new Echo devices, sound is a big improvement here.
More than performance, the Show feels more useful now. You can pop on live TV or check out your recordings from your Fire TV Recast. You can watch music videos via Vevo. The biggest improvement is the new Silk browser, which you can use to browse the web or watch YouTube - yes, YouTube.
One thing that was potentially concerning was voice recognition. The Show we tried out had a hard time understanding commands, which wasn't a problem on the other Echo devices we tried out. This was also a problem we experienced on the previous Echo Show, but we'll need to try it out in the home to know if this is still a thing, or if it was just struggling to hear us over the hubbub of the crowd.
2018 Echo Dot - $49.99
The first thing you'll notice about the new Echo Dot is that it looks much better. It sports the same fabric design that debuted on the second-generation Echo, and it's quite a looker. There's a subtle curve to the top of the device that bleeds into the now-iconic Alexa ring, which bleeds once again into the fabric mesh on the outside.
You wouldn't notice that it's about a third bigger than the current Echo Dot unless the two were next to each other. While it is bigger, it's also better at blending into your home. Amazon had the new Dot and old Dot side-by-side for comparison sake, and the old Dot felt and looked pretty dated.
One reason for that bigger size is all new drivers, which power new sound performance that Amazon says is 70% louder than the old Echo Dot. While I didn't get to directly compare the performance, the new Echo Dot can certainly fill a room pretty well. It's not going to blow you away, but it is good enough to deliver rich music in a bustling room filled with talking - even when competing with the Echo Sub.
2018 Echo Plus - $129.99
The story of the new Echo Plus is similar to the new Echo Dot. The new design is also borrowed from the second-generation Echo Plus, and it's actually difficult to tell whether you're looking at an Echo Plus or second-gen Echo.
The three big new features here are simple Wi-Fi setup, a temperature sensor and better sound quality. While we didn't get to setup any smart devices - like the Amazon Smart Plug - we did test out the temperature sensor. You simply ask Alexa what the temperature is and, rather than pull a weather report, it'll tell you the temperature of the room. Amazon says this will let you set up temperature-based routines, like sending you a notification to turn on a fan when your room reaches 80 degrees.
Sound quality was impressive. The new larger 3-inch neodynium woofer and increased back volume bring much richer and crisper sound. It's still not quite HomePod quality, but it's a noticeably deeper sound compared to the existing Echo Plus - especially when it comes to the bass.
Echo Sub - $129.99
Speaking of sound, the new Echo Sub is all about that bass. We tried it with two connected second-generation Echos and turned it up as high as we could. It's not quite earth shattering - the Polk Command Bar sub is certainly better at delivering room-shaking sound - but it's certainly deep and loud.
It's definitely good at filling up a room, and consistently interrupted or disturbed other demos in Amazon's demo smart home when it was turned up. It felt like it could have been a little crisper, but that may have been the bustling environment of a demo room rather than the actual speakers. Alexa still performed well with the Sub around, cutting through the noise and hearing my requests.
One thing: This thing is massive, and you might even mistake it for an ottoman to rest your legs on. Finding space for it may be difficult for some.
AmazonBasics Microwave - $59.99
And finally we come to the AmazonBasics Microwave. This doesn't actually have Alexa built in but links up to a nearby Echo device and leeches Alexa off of that. You simply put something in the microwave, push the Alexa button and say a command. We put in a potato and said "One potato" and Alexa started up the microwave and got cooking. It's that simple.
It all feels super silly and sort of unnecessary, but it's also much simpler to use than putting in a time. However, we can't say we often microwave single potatoes. More often it's leftover food or pre-cooked meals. It'll be interesting to see how good Alexa is at cooking different food types to perfection.
And while plenty of jokes were made about an Alexa microwave, it's really a showcase for Amazon's potential home domination.
Amazon Echo smart speakers
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