Gadgetry: Amazon’s Echo Family of Devices


By Albert Ornelas
DIGITAL MEDIA SPECIALIST

REALTORS®and their clients are likely to receive some of the latest offerings in the Amazon Echo family of devices as gifts this holiday season.

REALTORS® may soon be seeing (if they are not already) Amazon’s growing Echo family of devices in their clients’ homes, perhaps given as gifts during the holiday season. Among these products are the all-new Echo (2nd generation), the Echo Plus with a built-in smart-home hub, and the Echo Show, which makes video phone calls, helps view photos or video content, or can be used as a security camera.

What is the difference between Alexa and Echo anyhow? Alexa is the voice-controlled technology created by Amazon.com Inc. as an intelligent personal assistant developed to work on the Echo family of devices via an Internet connection. Alexa is capable of voice interaction that can be used for playing music, answering questions, helping to make phone calls, sending and receiving messages, and providing news updates, sports scores, weather reports, and more.

All-New Echo (2nd Generation)
The recently released all-new Echo (2nd Generation) is available in six styles and can hear you from any direction—even while music is playing. The update came in response to competition from Google and elsewhere, which made the original Echo (released in 2014) somewhat dated. Also, the Echo Dot, which sells for half the price of an Echo, was cutting into sales as a starter device for younger homeowners and their families.

The all-new Echo has new speaker technology that includes Dolby processing for clearer musical range and more dynamic bass response while playing your music from an Amazon Music, Spotify, or Pandora subscription service. You can listen to audiobooks, radio stations, and news briefs. You can voice-activate your Amazon Stick Device to play videos on your television. And you can make phone calls with the all-new Echo using an app on your Apple or Android smart phone. Basically, this Echo has been updated to take full advantage of Alexa’s 25,000 skills, most of which are currently used for music or Internet inquiries. The all-new Echo (2nd Generation) retails for $99.99.

Echo Plus
The upgraded version of the Echo is the Echo Plus with a built-in hub, which can control several smart home devices from manufacturers such as Philips Hue, General Electric, and Kwikset Door Hardware. The Echo Plus can do everything the Echo does; but for the extra price, you can control your compatible smart home lighting, thermostats, locks, garage doors, and sprinklers simply by asking Alexa to discover your connectable devices. The Echo Plus is a few inches larger than the all-new Echo and comes in a black, silver, or white casing. The Echo Plus with a built-in hub retails at $149.99.

Echo Show
Finally, there is the Echo Show, which really is from the future. The Echo Show is video-capable and has many uses, including asking Alexa to show you the front door or to view a monitor in the baby’s room with compatible cameras from Ring and Arlo. You can also watch videos via an Amazon Prime subscription or call up lyrics to your favorite songs while listening to your favorite music. But the truly futuristic aspect of this device is the ability to make hands-free phone calls to friends or family via an app that connects to your smart phone. You can also continue to make voice calls to anyone who has an Echo or Echo Dot. The Echo Show retails at $229.99.

As with any new product that is all the rage during a holiday season, we may buy it without fully understanding its capabilities. I feel compelled to mention that there has been some concern about the access Echo products might give Amazon (and pranksters) to private conversations in the home and to nonverbal clues that can identify who is present in the home with nonstop audio pickup from Alexa-enabled devices. Amazon counters these accusations by stating that the devices stream recordings from the user’s home only when the “wake word” activates the device. The company recommends that users turn off the microphone on Echo devices when they are away from home so someone cannot gain unauthorized access simply by asking Alexa to open the garage door.

To learn more about the all-new Amazon Echo and the Alexa family of devices, visit www.amazon.com/echo.