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New $100 Amazon Echo, $35 Echo Connect lead giant Alexa update

The e-commerce giant reveals a newly designed Echo, the Echo Connect, Echo Plus, Echo Spot and even Echo Buttons.

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The new Amazon Echo, left, and the Echo Plus.

Ry Crist/CNET

Amazon on Wednesday unveiled a slew of new Echo products, in hopes of integrating itself even more tightly into the smart home of the future.

The company revealed a new shorter Echo, giving the device its first major upgrade after introducing it nearly three years ago. The gadget, which is powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, costs $100 (£90 in the UK), a drop from the original Echo price of $180. A pack of three will be sold for $50 off.

Anyone still nostalgic for the look of the original, taller Echo won't have to worry: Amazon updated that product, too, renaming it the Echo Plus and giving it improved sound and a built-in smart home hub. The Echo Plus will cost $150 (£140) and will come bundled with a Philips smart lightbulb.

A new 4K Fire TV device, priced at $69, was also announced, as well as the Echo Spot, essentially an Echo Dot speaker with a small display, priced at $130.

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Amazon is a leading player in the young smart home market, and it likely wants to use all these Echo devices to solidify that position before its competitors can catch up. It had a surprise hit with the original Echo in late 2014, with the product helping popularize both voice computing and smart speakers. But Amazon is now facing much more heat from Google, Apple and Samsung, all of which are working to snag a piece of both the smart home and voice assistant markets.

The news from Amazon comes a few days before Google will host its own product launch, when it's expected to show off a smaller, cheaper Google Home smart speaker. Apple plans to release its first smart speaker, the HomePod, in December.

Echo Connect, Echo Buttons, BMW partnership

Amazon on Wednesday also revealed a device called the Echo Connect, an accessory that lets a user link his Echo to his home phone line, letting people make phone calls hands-free, including to 911. Priced at $35, it's coming in the fourth quarter. For people who already own an Echo, Echo Dot or Echo Show, Amazon added free outbound calls to phone numbers in the US, Canada and Mexico. For these devices, though, calls to 911 are not supported.

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Additionally, Amazon revealed Echo Buttons, which are Bluetooth-connected, multicolored buzzers that can connect to Alexa for games. They will cost $20 for a set of two. 

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David Limp, Amazon's head of devices, shows off Echo Buttons during an event at the company's Day 1 headquarters in Seattle.

Ry Crist/CNET

Preorders for the new Echo, Echo Connect, Echo Spot and Echo Plus start Wednesday. (As an FYI, we may earn affiliate commissions when you click from our site to a retailer's to order a product. That doesn't affect what products we cover or how we cover them.)

Next year, Amazon said, Alexa will be coming to BMW vehicles next year. Amazon already is working with Ford on integrating Alexa into its cars. The Echo Show device is also coming to the UK (for £200) and Germany.

Amazon holds a commanding lead in the smart speaker market, accounting for 70 percent of US device sales, according to eMarketer. It's worked to maintain that dominance by fostering a strong ecosystem that includes over 20,000 Alexa apps (Amazon dubs them "skills"), and more than 1,000 products can now talk to the voice assistant.

Even before Wednesday, the Echo line had been expanding. Amazon last year introduced the smaller $50 Echo Dot and on-the-go $130 Amazon Tap. This year, it followed up with the camera-enabled $200 Echo Look, which offers fashion advice, and the $230 Echo Show, whose touchscreen lets you video-chat with other Show owners.

The low-priced Echo Dot has become the biggest hit in the Echo line so far, with the black model currently the second top-selling electronics product on Amazon and the white model in the fifth slot.

Alexa-powered glasses on the way?

The lead-up to Wednesday's announcement saw a flurry of rumors about potential Amazon devices. For weeks, Amazon had stopped regularly stocking its original Echo speakers on its website, and had previously discounted the devices by 50 percent to $90 apiece. 

With the Echo going nearly three years without a hardware update, speculation grew that Amazon was planning to release its next Echo model, especially as a way to better compete with the upcoming, higher-end Apple HomePod speaker, priced at $349. Building on that concept, Engadget reported in July, Amazon was preparing to come out with a shorter, slimmer Echo with a cloth covering.

The Fire TV, too, was going out of stock. The publication AFTVnews released leaked images of a new Fire TV Stick and Fire TV box that appeared to have increased Alexa capabilities, bolstering rumors that the streaming device was getting an update of its own.

Also, the Financial Times reported this month that Amazon was developing a pair of smart glasses that use Alexa, as well as a new internet-connected security camera system.

Amazon had declined to comment on any of these past reports.

Originally published Sept. 27 at 10:56 a.m. PT.
Update 11:50 a.m. PT: Added more details and other product announcements.

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