Three years since its launch in 2014, the Amazon Echo has finally received an upgrade.
Originally designed as a smart speaker controlled by voice, Echo products have transformed into a hub for managing more than 12,000 home appliances and products.
Though smart devices have been around long before the Amazon Echo, they lacked a unifying feature that linked users directly to their products without the need for a third-party app or external remote. Amazon’s launch of the Echo sparked large-scale consumer demand for integrated technology-home appliances that a growing number of consumers depend on for everyday functioning.
Alexa, the virtual assistant that powers Echo products, was the technology consumers were searching for in that its long-range microphone and voice recognition properties allow consumers to easily control a variety of smart home equipment – all by simply speaking to the device.
Amazon recently cut the prices of the Echo from £149.99 to £99.99 before pulling them off the shelves all together. You can still pick it up from places like Currys, Argos and Tesco, but stocks won’t last forever and we’re not sure why you would want to pay more for an inferior product.
In place, it has launched the Amazon Echo 2, which is currently available for pre-order and will be released 31 October. The Echo 2 comes with features such as a new design, better wake-word processing and a Dolby audio system, which according to Amazon allows for better sound and recognition than its predecessor.
If you already have your hands on the Amazon Echo, is it worth upgrading to the Echo 2? See below for a comparison of both generations.
Though it contains the same cylindrical shape, the Echo 2 is considerably smaller than the original speaker. You may find the newer model less obtrusive and easier to tuck away. At 187 x 187 x 90mm, the Echo 2 is much shorter than the first-generation, which measures around 235mm.
Unlike the original model, there is no volume dial on the top of the Echo 2 speaker. The Echo 2 does, however, maintain all of the same buttons and ports as the Echo Dot, such as mute and volume buttons on the top, micro USB power and audio ports in the rear.
Amazon introduced a variety of new shell fabrics and colours that allow users to easily incorporate their Echo 2 products into their home aesthetics. In the UK, you can choose from charcoal, sandstone and heather grey fabric, though Amazon additionally offers an oak, walnut or silver finish.
Users may also purchase non-fabric versions in oak, walnut and silver.
With a new speaker architecture, Amazon claims that the sound is louder and clearer than ever. A dedicated tweeter, 2.5inch woofer and new Dolby audio processing result in a better audio experience than the original model.
Similar to the Echo 1, the cylindrical design of the second-generation model enables a 360 projection of audio. Listeners can enjoy a range of music streaming services, such as Spotify, Amazon Music, TuneIn and more.
Users can continue to play music simultaneously across multiple Echo devices with multi-room music – a familiar feature also available with Echo 1. Bluetooth, however, is now supported in the Echo 2, a much anticipated (and long-awaited) property that the Echo 1 lacks.
Amazon has updated its far-field technology for better wake word processing, improved beam-forming technology and enhanced noise cancellation.
Currently the Echo 1 is not always accurate in detecting a user’s voice in a crowded environment.
Amazon claims that the Echo 2, equipped with a seven-piece microphone, can detect a user’s voice command and respond accordingly, even if they are situated in a noisy room.
The virtual assistant Alexa is always getting smarter as it automatically updates through the cloud and continually learns new ‘skills.’
Echo 1 currently can answer questions, read audiobooks, report news, provide weather and traffic reports, offers information on sport matches and others using Alexa Voice Service. The first-gen also controls lights, switches, thermostats and a variety of smart home appliances with compatible software.
The Echo 2, in addition to updated versions of the features listed above, offers a new property called ‘Routines’ that allows Alexa to perform multiple tasks at the issue of a single command. If you’d like to turn off the lights, clothes the blinds and activate an alarm, you could say “Alexa, good night,” triggering the series of commands.
An exciting new feature is the ability to call and text, hands-free, from your Echo. However, the person you are messaging must also have an Echo or the Alexa app.
Lastly, if you use your Echo 2 to control smart devices, you no longer have to command the specific name of the device. Instead, you can place smart home devices into groups and interact with them more naturally.
Price and Where to Buy
You can buy the Echo 2 from Amazon for £89.99 ($99.99 in the US).
Amazon is currently offering deals for purchasing the new Echo 2. If you’d like to buy three, you can save £50 by using the code ECHO3PACK at the checkout. Or, if you’d prefer to buy two, you can get £25 off using the code ECHO2PACK.
As we mentioned at the top of this article, the original Echo is still available from selected retailers such as Currys, Argos and Tesco, but stocks won’t last forever and we’re not sure why you would want to pay more for an inferior product.