Amazon launches a swarm of smart home devices

Amazon Devices

Amazon –  who at this point has its fingers in so many different pies its hard to know what to call it other than ‘tech giant’ – has unveiled a raft of new smart devices as it continues its drive for smart home supremacy.

Echo Auto, Echo Studio, Echo Dot, and Echo Dot with Clock

Amazon has dropped four new/refreshed smart speakers to its line up, an area it’s probably fair to say it’s the market leader in – the Echo Auto, Echo Studio, Echo Dot, and Echo Dot with Clock. Try saying that after a couple.

The Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock are the most powerful yet, boasts Amazon, though it would be weird for them to launch crappier versions. They come with redesigned audio architecture with a full-range driver and the highest excursion speaker of any Echo Dot, the chief result of which appears to be a doubling of the bass levels to the previous generation.

They have sensors that enable ‘more contextual Alexa experiences’ – it offers an example of what that means as the ability to ask Alexa to automatically turn on a smart fan when it gets too warm inside. They also have accelerometers which enable tap gesture controls. They come with AZ2 Neural Edge processors on board, which apparently enables more ‘experiences’ to be processed on the edge.

Perhaps most interestingly, they also serve as eero mesh wifi extenders to improve coverage around the house.

The flagship Echo studio gets various audio gubbins upgrades, while the Echo Auto – which is focussed on bringing smart speaker-ness to the car – has been made more svelte and there seems to be some services added for roadside assistance: “Just say, “Alexa, call Roadside Assistance” to connect with an agent who can request help on your behalf, and you’ll only pay for the services you need, like if you get a flat tire or if you run out of gas,” says the release.

Halo Rise

This is a no-contact sleep tracker – which presumably means no straps are required – and a smart alarm loaded with a wake-up light. Machine learning and sensor provide ambient analysis of sleep patterns and serve up some insights, we’re told.

There’s an effort to tie it into the wider Alexa ecosystem – which all firms in the space would like to do as it means you can sell them a million linkable products and you are less likely to stray outside the product line – by hooking it up to echo devices so you can ask it how you slept from another room, should you need to know there and then.

Fire TV Omni QLED series

Amazon’s new smart TVs are bristling with the latest televisual hardware, and are the first-ever TV lineup to feature the new Fire TV Ambient Experience – for whatever that is worth. The Omni QLED Series come loaded with 4K Quantum Dot Technology (QLED) displays with full-array local dimming of up to 96 zones, and support for Dolby Vision IQ and HDR10+ Adaptive. So it has a good picture – though how much of the advancement in television screen technology over the last few years is actually detectable to the human eye is up for debate.

They also have voice control via Alexa with features that ‘turn the TV into an always-smart device when not streaming.’ What this seems to mean is the TVs use sensors to detect when a person enters the room and takes that as a cue to switch on a hub screen to manage various other smart home devices, play content or, or display pictures.

“We’ve all been buying so-called smart TVs for decades, but they’re really not all that smart—and for much of the day, they’re not beautiful or useful either,” rants Daniel Rausch, vice president of Amazon Entertainment Devices and Services. “The Omni QLED Series delivers stunning artwork, glanceable information, hands-free controls, and so much more–it reimagines what customers can expect from a smart TV.”

There remains the question of why fork out for a state of the art smart TV when a dongle can provide access to the same online services for a few quid, as can hooking it up to a games console that might already be in the home. But some people just like having the new thing, of course.

Kindle Scribe

The Kindle has long been synonymous with e-readers in general, and the earliest and most logical foray for Amazon into consumer electronics given its historical roots flogging books online. As well as the usual incremental upgrades to internal specs and screen resolution – something you never get with new editions of boring old print books – the chief innovation is the ability to write as well as read, making this an e-notepad as well as an e-reader.

“It’s inspired by the Kindle customers who have added billions of notes and highlights to books over the years, and it’s also ideal for reviewing and marking up documents, managing your to-do list, or doodling over a big idea,” said Kevin Keith, vice president of Amazon Devices.

That tech isn’t new of course, but perhaps there’s something in the application that will make the ability to access existing online docs and scribble on them for work or play more popular than it has been in the past.

Chatter about the smart home was doing the rounds in the tech industry long before there were any convincing products in the space. While many more traditional hardware focussed tech firms have launched products into the area with varying success, Amazon has done more than most to bring IoT devices for the home to the masses, spearheaded by it’s Alexa devices.

Of course, for the few people left who worry about data privacy, there remain concerns about filling your home with recording devices hooked up to the internet and a large corporation’s hungry marketing algorithms – but on the other hand its quite handy being able to bellow at Alexa from the next room to turn the music up. The pros and cons of modern consumer tech in a nutshell.

Here’s a vid.


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