Amazon Echo is a voice-activated, cloud-connected speaker for your living room. With seven microphones embedded in the top of its 9.25-inch, tower-like design, it promises to hear you from anywhere in the room -- ask it to stream your favorite music, ask it to set an alarm, or ask it for information, and it promises to respond in kind.
Amazon unveiled its new toy today at an introductory cost of $199 (there's no word as to when/if it'll be available internationally, but that price converts roughly to £125 in the UK, or a little over AU$230 in Australia). If you're an Amazon Prime member, you'll be able to buy Echo for $99 in the coming weeks (£62, AU$115 converted), though anybody who wants to buy one (Prime or otherwise) needs to request an invite from Amazon to do so.
Amazon claims that you can put its speaker anywhere in the room and still talk to it without needing to shout. To wake it up, you'll address it as "Alexa," the system's wake word. "Amazon" will work, too, and moving forward, Amazon plans on adding additional wake words.
As soon as you wake it up, Echo will light up and start listening for your question or command. Your options run the usual gamut of virtual assistant queries, from weather forecasts to Wikipedia entries. Integration with cloud-based music streaming services (right now, Amazon is promising compatibility with Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn) adds another layer of functionality, given that Echo boasts "immersive sound" from its speaker system.
In addition to streaming music over Wi-Fi, Echo promises to stream music from your phone or tablet over Bluetooth. That brings services like Spotify and Pandora into play, too.
Echo comes with a remote with an additional built-in microphone and music playback and volume controls. It'll also work with a free companion app for Fire OS and Android, along with desktop and iOS browsers. From the app interface, you'll be able to manage Echo's alarms, playlists, shopping lists, and more.
Purchase invitations are currently available by request only -- those selected will receive their invitation "in the coming weeks."