Amazon's Echo wireless speaker and its voice-activated virtual assistant Alexa have dominated our smart home coverage in recent weeks. Other than the Nest Thermostat, it's one of the few smart home devices to really claim mainstream attention. We'll see two more Alexa-equipped devices from Amazon this coming quarter, but that's not all we're looking forward to.
Take the Alexa portion out of Echo and you get the Echo Dot. The appeal of Echo Dot is you can connect it to any existing speaker system via either Bluetooth or a standard audio line-in cable. That means no redundant Echo speaker if you already have a great sound system at home. The $90 Echo Dot is also cheaper than Echo, which sells for $180.
The initial round of Echo Dot pre-orders, which you could only place via an Echo or Alexa-equipped Fire TV, will arrive March 31st (still Q1, fine), but they've already sold out. Pre-order now and you'll get one in June.
Along with Echo Dot, Amazon also has a speaker-equipped Tap to join Echo. Unlike the wired, always-listening Echo original flavor, the Tap is battery-powered, and requires you to push a button to talk to Alexa. $130 for the Tap, which also ships the first round of pre-orders on March 31. Order now and you'll get one in April.
Smart lock maker August has expanded its product portfolio this year. A new lock is already available (still waiting on that Apple HomeKit integration, though), and a lock-controlling keypad is out now, too. The bigger departure is the forthcoming August Doorbell Cam.
Like Ring, Skybell, and others before it, the $199 Doorbell Cam has a camera that will let you see who's at the door when they ring. It will also work in conjunction with the other August devices to give you a totally connect front door access control system. We liked August's first lock, and we're anxious if it can do well in another smart home product category. Expect to see the Doorbell Cam soon.
I'd have thought you were crazy if you told me last spring that one of the most anticipated smart kitchen products for 2016 would be a $1,500 countertop oven with WiFi and an Nvidia processor, but here we are. The June Intelligent oven enjoyed a ton of hype when it emerged in October 2015.
The highlight feature of the June oven is that it's supposed to be able to automatically recognize the food you put into it, and then recommend cooking settings. We'll find out if it works this spring.
When we reviewed the PicoBrew Zymatic smart beer-making machine, we liked the idea, but found it still required a lot of hands-on work, especially with having to clean and sanitize all the components. The PicoBrew Pico is supposed to streamline things with a built-in steam cleaning feature, and pre-made PicoPak ingredient kits from over 50 different breweries.
You have to really value making beer at home given the $1,000 Pico asking price. We'll be more than happy to do the research on this one when it goes on sale this spring.