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Smart Home

Amazon's new $100 Echo promises to do everything better

Amazon's second-gen Echo speaker is here, and it's nearly half the price of the original.

Amazon's new, smaller Echo costs less, but promises better sound and a variety of design options.

Ry Crist/CNET

Amazon on Wednesday announced a ton of new speakers to its already-impressive hardware lineup, including the new $100/£90 Echo. Available for preorder now and shipping in October, the new Echo is shorter and bulkier than the original $180 model (but still taller than the mini Echo Dot). 

Here's an overview of its upgrades and features, according to Amazon:

  • Improved voice recognition
  • Six shells available in cloth and other materials
  • Dedicated woofer and tweeter
  • Second-gen far-field mix array
  • Dolby sound
  • Free calling to phone numbers in the US and Canada

Amazon's massive hardware lineup

These changes are significant for a few key reasons. First, Amazon already offers its speakers in a variety of prices and styles. Adding even more hardware devices gives potential smart speaker customers way more buying options than either Google or Apple offer. 

This is Amazon's existing lineup:

In addition to the new Echo, which will be sold at a $50 discount if you buy a three-pack, Amazon also debuted the $35 Echo Connect, the $20 Echo Buttons (two-pack), the $150/£140 Echo Plus and the $130 Echo Spot at Wednesday's press event. (Of these, only the Plus got UK pricing.) Google only sells the $130 Google Home and Apple's first smart speaker, the $349 HomePod, doesn't hit stores until December.

Improved sound quality: Watch out, Sonos, HomePod

Second, Amazon put a lot of emphasis on the new Echo's improved sound quality during the press event. Just look at the features list above -- a dedicated woofer and tweeter, Dolby sound, and so on. Basically, Sonos and HomePod should be concerned. If the new Echo's sound quality comes close to rivaling either of these devices, then, well, why would you spend $200 on one Sonos mini home speaker or a whopping $349 on one Apple HomePod speaker when you can have an Amazon Echo for so much less? 

I guess if you specifically want Siri voice control in a dedicated speaker, you'd still consider buying a HomePod, but how many folks will actually spend that extra $250? 

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Design, design, design

Finally, Amazon is giving its new Echo interchangeable shells. That means you'll be able to customize your Echo with up to six different shells made of cloth, wood and other materials. The cost of those extra shells is yet to be determined.

Google already does this with the Google Home. It sells a variety of bases made of fabric or metal in a variety of different colors. Adding this level of personalization to the new Echo gives anyone craving Google-level customization more choices if they'd rather buy an Alexa device. 

Another notable design improvement: the new Echo features an aux out jack that'll let you connect it with an external audio setup. You can also connect with external Bluetooth speakers. Both were popular additions to the Echo Dot -- now, the Echo offers them, too. Smart move, Amazon.

One notable omission: the volume ring. It's gone with the new Echo, and replaced with the same volume buttons as you'll find on the second-gen Echo Dot. That might strike some as a shame, as the volume ring helped give the Echo a more premium feel, but overall, the speaker still looks and feels like an upgrade over the original.

The takeaway

Amazon is flooding the smart speaker market with new hardware devices for nearly every possible use case in your home. And its flagship device now costs just $100 and promises to do much more than before. With standalone speakers continuing to grow in popularity, Google and Apple's lead over Amazon in the smartphone market probably won't be enough to save them in the smart home. 

So, what's next? There are rumors of Google Home Mini and Max speakers and with a Google event scheduled for Oct. 4, we might just see a bunch of new smart devices. Apple is another story; with the HomePod not scheduled for release until December, there's little hope of Apple catching up with Amazon in the short term. 

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Amazon: All things Amazon, from Echo to Prime deals.