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Amazon Echo Loop -- everything we know about Amazon's wacky new smart ring

We delve into the fine print about privacy, phone calls and how to know if it'll fit your finger.

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The Echo Loop is an Alexa-powered smart ring that dishes out reminders and can even function as a speakerphone.

James Martin/CNET

Amazon announced a heap of devices last month, including five new Echo smart speakers, more Ring smart home security, new Alexa commands and pair of smart glasses it's calling Echo Frames. But the new Echo Loop smart ring ($130) is the one making most people scratch heads and wonder what they would do with it.

Echo Loop puts Amazon's digital Alexa assistant on your body in a way that's different than the more anticipated earbuds route Amazon announced with the new Echo Buds ($130 or £120). Earbuds, after all, aren't usually worn all day the way a ring is. By bringing Alexa to your hands, Amazon is making sure the digital assistant can answer questions, set and announce reminders and operate your smart home gadgets all day long.

Echo Loop raises a host of questions about what it does, who it's for, whether you can customize it and even how to buy it -- it's not as easy as a trip to the electronics store or adding them to your Amazon shopping cart. Here's what we know so far.

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What is Amazon's Echo Loop?

The Echo Loop is the first Alexa-enabled smart ring. It has an action button you use to wake up the device with a single click, two microphones to listen for your commands and a nearly microscopic speaker for replies. The ring also has a vibrating haptic engine for notifications. There's no display, but you can monitor notifications and otherwise interact with Alexa through a companion smartphone app. 

The Echo Loop connects to your phone's Alexa app over Bluetooth and uses your existing data plan. Loop will be compatible with both Android phones and iPhones ($600 at Amazon), meaning you can summon either Google Assistant or Siri with a long press of the Loop's action button.

Who is Echo Loop for?

Good question, and it's not even clear if Amazon knows the answer yet -- that's why they're releasing it, along with Amazon Echo ($63 at Amazon) Frames, as part of their Day 1 Editions line of smart products. According to Amazon, Day 1 Editions gadgets are fully-developed products that the company believes in, but doesn't see as appealing to as wide of a mainstream audience as, say, its line of Echo smart speakers. 

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The new Amazon Echo Loop comes in four sizes: small, medium, large and extra large.

James Martin/CNET

Amazon stressed that Day 1 Editions aren't beta releases, which is probably true as far as the products themselves are concerned. However, although Amazon has likely already beta tested the hardware and software for bugs and whatnot, the "beta" at this point is more about discovering what kinds of things customers will do with products like the Loop once Amazon lets them out into the wild.

A representative from Amazon said, "Day 1 Editions products, like Echo Frames and Echo Loop, are things that we've found delightful internally and we want to get customer feedback on it so we can continue to innovate."

Why did Amazon make Echo Loop? 

Wearables are a potentially huge technology sector, but so far only smartwatches and fitness trackers have really taken off. Several companies, notably Google and even Amazon itself, have already introduced smart glasses to the market (think Google Glass), but they've hardly gone mainstream. 

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Although obvious if you know what to look for, the Echo Loop ring doesn't immediately call itself out as a smart wearable, at least not until you start talking into it.

Amazon

At $130, the Echo Loop offers you the ability to take Alexa and its extensive collection of skills with you wherever you go, at a relatively inexpensive price. If successful, the new device could help further expand Amazon's influence outside of the home, something that Google's been able to do in phones with Google Assistant, but which Amazon hasn't yet achieved. 

Is Echo Loop always listening to me?

Unlike pretty much every other Alexa device on the market, including the new Echo Frames, Echo Loop is not always listening for a wake word. Instead, you wake the device with either a short press for Alexa or a long press to summon either Google Assistant or Siri, whether you have an Android phone or iPhone.

When you summon Alexa, however, a recording of your command does get sent to Amazon servers where it is processed into an action and then saved in your account. Commands issued through Google Assistant and Siri are sent to either Google or Apple, where they are processed in much the same way.

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Dave Limp, Amazon's senior vice president of devices and services, stressed Amazon's commitment to its customers' privacy concerns during the company's product launch event last month.

James Martin/CNET

What we know about Amazon keeping copies of those recordings

Just like with other Amazon Echo devices, Amazon saves all your interactions with Alexa on Echo Loop, including audio recordings. According to Amazon, "an extremely small fraction of voice recordings are manually reviewed," meaning human beings sometimes listen to them for product development purposes. 

In an era of mounting consumer privacy controversies, Amazon has tried to stay ahead of customers' concerns by creating a portal for Alexa users to control how their personal data is collected, saved and used. There, you can choose to not let Amazon collect or review your data at all, or you can set recordings to automatically delete after three or 18 months. 

Can I make phone calls on Echo Loop?

Yes, but your arm's going to get a bit of a workout as you constantly shift between holding the Echo Loop in front of your mouth to speak and your ear to hear. As a finger-sized device, neither the speaker nor microphones are very big, so don't expect speakerphone-quality conversations on the device. That said, you can call any number in your contacts list by summoning your phone's assistant. Amazon also added a neat little shortcut that allows you to program one (but only one) speed-dial number into your Loop, which can be called by quickly double-pressing the action button.

Does it have a camera? What about a display?

Amazon Echo Loop has neither, so you won't have to worry about other people who have it snapping photos or shooting video of you without your knowledge. Notifications and responses will be communicated with vibrations, thanks to the device's haptic engine, as well as with sounds and speech thanks to the onboard speaker. Also, Loop wearers can interface with the device using the Alexa app on their smartphones.

Is Echo Loop a fitness tracker?

Perhaps surprisingly, no, although an Amazon rep said Amazon would be interested to know if fitness tracking is a feature customers would like to see in future updates or releases. Although it's impossible to know Amazon's exact reasoning, fitness tracking hardware, like an accelerometer or heart rate sensor, would certainly add to the cost of manufacturing the device, as well as its bulkiness. 

Can I wash my hands with it on?

Amazon says Echo Loop is water-resistant and you can safely wash your hands while the Loop is on. However, "showering and swimming are not recommended." 

How do I charge it? How long does it last on a full charge?

Amazon says Echo Loop takes 90 minutes to charge on the accompanying magnetic charging stand and a full charge should last a full day of "intermittent usage," noting real-world battery life will vary per user.

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Amazon's proprietary charger for Echo Loop connects magnetically to the device and completes a full charge in about 90 minutes.

Amazon

Are there multiple colors or sizes available?

The Echo Loop comes in only one finish -- black titanium -- and four size options: small, medium, large and extra large. Those sizes correspond to 9, 10, 11 and 12 in ring size, respectively. Even if you know your ring size, Amazon still recommends ordering a free "fit kit" to ensure the proper fit after getting an invitation to purchase the Loop. Amazon will hold your place in line while it ships you a set of four dummy rings to try on. 

How do I order Echo Loop?

Amazon hasn't shared all the details, like shipping dates or holiday availability, but we do know that you'll need an invitation, which you can request for Echo Loop here . (This is also how the company is managing the rollout of its Amazon Echo Auto device for cars and  Echo Frames.)  

Once you get your email invitation, you'll be given a code that's good for 30 days and that you'll need to complete your order at Amazon. We also know that the Echo Frames and Echo Loop will sell in limited quantities.

Catch up on Amazon's other announcements, including a new 8-inch Echo Show smart display, a color-changing Echo Glow night-light for kids and the smart wireless Echo Buds earbuds designed in conjunction with Bose. It also refreshed the original Amazon Echo speaker for 2019, unveiled an upgraded the Echo Dot with an LED clock, and debuted a studio-class speaker called Echo Studio. Here's the complete list of every new product and service Amazon announced, as well as all the new Alexa features

Originally published last month.