Amazon Intros 'Echo' With Built-In Siri-Like Assistant

On Thursday, Amazon quietly launched Amazon Echo, a single Bluetooth speaker that includes a Siri-like service called Alexa. Consisting of a cylinder form factor measuring 9.25 x 3.27 inches, this device remains on and waits for the user to speak its name – no button pressing needed. This speaker also produces 360-degree room-filling sound thanks to two speakers pointing down.

Like Siri and Google Now, users can ask Alexa questions and speak commands. For instance, the user could ask "Alexa, what's the weather like this week?" or "What's the difference between euros and dollars?" According to Amazon, users can even set alarms, set timers, get information from Wikipedia and so on. More is coming soon, the company indicates, by way of system updates.

The brief list of specifications show that Amazon Echo includes a 2.0-inch tweeter, a 2.5-inch woofer, and a reflex port. There's also a volume ring at the very top highlighted by a blue light ring, and a seven-microphone array hidden at the top that uses beam-forming technology. Also included is a microphone-off button, an action button, and a separate remote that provides volume control, music playback and a built-in microphone.

Users can connect the Amazon Echo to their network by using a special app for Amazon and Fire OS, or via a browser on the desktop and iOS devices. The speaker system includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, allowing the user to place the speaker anywhere in the house or office. And thanks to Bluetooth, users can pair a tablet or smartphone to stream music directly to the device.

That said, Amazon Echo provides built-in voice control for a number of music services such as iHeartRadio and Amazon's own Prime Music, which was launched back in June 2014. Services such as Google Music, Pandora and Spotify can also be streamed to the speaker via the Bluetooth connection.

In the video below, Alexa says it/she can "play music, answer questions, get the news and weather, create to-do lists and much more" when asked. One family member says "Alexa, play rock music," and Alexa does just that. The father says "Alexa stop," and the music ceases. Totally cool.

What's interesting here is that Amazon didn't make an official announcement, but rather revealed the device in a splash advertisement on the main Amazon site. The product is rather neat, but we also thought the Fire Phone would be a huge seller thanks to its curious 3D-screen design. Still, Amazon Echo would be a great gift this holiday season if it works as advertised.

Currently, the device costs $199, but Prime members can purchase Echo for $99 for a limited time. For now, the only way to purchase this device is to request an invitation from Amazon. If selected, Amazon will send the customer an email within the next several weeks, allowing the customer to make a purchase.

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