Amazon Unveils 'Echo' Smart Speaker, Digital Assistant And Home Entertainment Device

Once upon a time, Amazon was an online e-tailer. Now, the company has become a full-on technology maker, with loads of hardware and software to speak of. There's the Kindle, Fire TV, Fire TV Stick, Fire tablet range, Fire Phone, Amazon Appstore, and plenty more. The company is continuing its foray into the hardware realm with the release of Echo, which is a voice-controlled speaker that not only supports streaming music, but also order commands for items on Amazon.

It's black, sleek, and quite impressive. Design-wise, it does a lot of things right. On the functionality side, it provides information, music, news, weather and more, and it's completely controlled by one's voice. Supposedly, it's capable of hearing you from "across the room," and since it's always online, it's capable of becoming smarter as it adapts to its environment. In a way, this is a Siri or Cortana-like device for your living room. Instead of having to pick up your phone to ask your digital assistant a question, you can just holler for "Alexa" (that's the name it hears, anyway), and then ask common questions that you would normally ask Google.

Up top is a right of seven microphones, and the sensor-packed lid relies on beam-forming technology to hear you from "any direction." With built-in noice cancellation, you can even ask it a question while music is playing. Echo's brain is in the cloud, running on Amazon Web Services so it continually learns and adds more functionality over time. The more you use Echo, the more it adapts to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.

The unit supports hands-free voice control for Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, and since Bluetooth is also included, you can stream tunes from pretty much anything else that has an app for a phone or tablet. Naturally, there's an accompanying app for Fire OS and Android, while iOS and desktop users will have to use a web app. Amazon promises that this is only the start for Echo, and that more features will be added in time. For now, Prime members can pre-order one for $99, while the standard price is set at $199. Interestingly, you'll need an invite to even order one (taking a note from Google?), and there's no clear ship date posted just yet. Whatever the case, this is certainly a shot out of the blue -- it's a curious creation, and we're very interested to see how it takes shape and if it gains traction.