More than two years after its debut, the Amazon Echo can now stream audio to external speakers over Bluetooth.
Amazon's team made no announcement about the update, and it's unclear exactly when they first started rolling it out. Amazon would only tell us that they pushed the update "recently" before referring us to updated pairing instructions in the Echo's help section. Bloggers and news outlets only started picking up on the news at the end of last week.
Those pairing instructions are pretty simple -- to connect, you'll want to put your external speaker into pairing mode, then head to the settings section of the Alexa app. Select your Echo device, then tap Bluetooth, then select the speaker you want to pair with.
That gives the Echo at least some of the additional flexibility that you get with the Echo Dot, a much smaller and less expensive Alexa speaker that's always been able to pair with external Bluetooth speakers. Keep in mind, though, that the Echo Dot can also connect with external speakers via line-in jack. There's no such jack in the full-size Echo, so the Echo Dot is still the more flexible of the two.
Streaming to an external speaker (or a set of speakers) has a couple of key advantages. First, it's an obvious win for audiophiles who weren't impressed with the omnidirectional speaker built into the Echo, or ones who've already invested in their own high-end audio setup. Second, separating the microphone from the speaker can make it a little easier for Alexa to hear you if you try and talk to her during playback.
That makes this a nice update for anyone who's already picked up an Echo, but I'm not convinced that it's much of a needle-mover for anyone who's still looking to buy in. If you're planning on using the Echo with your own speakers, then you're almost certainly better off just getting the Echo Dot, since it offers the same full Alexa functionality at less than a third of the Echo's asking price, and also includes that line-in jack for added flexibility.
The update also might provide a clue as to what Amazon could be cooking up for a second-gen Echo. With the Echo's new Bluetooth functionality and a recent update to the battery-powered Amazon Tap that lets you control it with voice commands, Amazon's focus seems to be on unifying the varying strengths of each Alexa offering -- connectivity, portability, hands-free interaction, etc. -- into singular devices. With a second-gen Echo almost certainly on the way, don't be surprised if we end up getting a speaker that promises to do a little bit of everything.