Amazon Echo may get a smaller, on-the-go sibling

The e-commerce company plans to release a shrunken, cheaper model of its cylindrical speaker, code-named "Fox," according to a report. However, the new device may not include voice activation.

Ben Fox Rubin Former senior reporter
Ben Fox Rubin was a senior reporter for CNET News in Manhattan, reporting on Amazon, e-commerce and mobile payments. He previously worked as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and got his start at newspapers in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Ben Fox Rubin
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The Amazon Echo first released on late 2014. A refreshed version may be coming soon.

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The Amazon Echo has a New Year's resolution: Slim down and lose the power cord.

The online retailer plans to release a smaller, portable and cheaper version of the Echo, a digital voice assistant crammed into a cylinder speaker, in the coming weeks, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing anonymous sources.

The current Echo can be voice-activated to play music, turn on Internet-connected lights, answer questions or even tell jokes, though it needs to be plugged in to work. The new device -- code-named "Fox" -- can charge on a docking station and fit comfortably in the palm of someone's hand. Also, it will sell at a lower price than the Echo's $180 price tag. However, to preserve battery life, the new device won't be voice activated, and instead respond to voice commands only when a user pushes a button, the report said.

An Amazon spokeswoman declined to comment on the story.

Amazon developed the new speaker at its secretive hardware lab in Silicon Valley, called Lab126, which created many of Amazon's other devices, including its Kindle e-reader and Fire tablet and phone, the Journal said.

The Echo, which debuted in late 2014, became a surprise hit with customers, despite its odd shape and few, if any, similar products on the market. The device brought the e-commerce giant into the competitive market of voice assistants. Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Google's Google Now speech-recognition software all work in smartphones to allow users to make calls or bring up driving directions. The major difference is that Amazon's Alexa software, which powers the Echo, isn't used in a phone and instead is in a plug-in speaker.

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That allows the Echo to act as a dedicated hub for the connected home, able to turn on a lamp using a Belkin WeMo light switch, play Pandora or iHeartRadio music, or reorder kitchen supplies on Amazon.com by simply asking the device. The device can remain on at all times, with users able to activate Alexa by saying her name and then asking her to complete a task.

While Amazon hasn't detailed sales of the Echo, it is currently the fifth-best selling electronic product on Amazon.com. The device has over 30,000 reviews on the site, with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

At last week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, several tech companies showed off their devices' new compatibility with the Echo, displaying how the speaker is continually adding new features. Still, the Echo is just one of many smart-home devices from Samsung, Alphabet's Nest and others working to add more technology into people's lighting, appliances and other household objects.