Amazon announces second-gen Echo with better audio, new design, and lower price

At a surprise press event on Wednesday Amazon revealed a new and improved Amazon Echo smart speaker. The device features an upgraded audio system and an updated design.

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The second-generation Echo touts immersive sound thanks to an all-new speaker architecture that packs in Dolby processing, a dedicated tweeter, and a 2.5-inch down-firing woofer. It also has Amazon's second-generation far-field technology, which means it's going to get a lot better at understanding you. Here's what Amazon says about the new voice technology:

The new Echo uses Amazon's second generation far-field technology, which features better wake word processing, improved beamforming technology, and enhanced noise cancellation. The Echo far-field technology works to detect the wake word from across the room even in the noisiest parts of your home.

Interestingly, the shorter, wider device also features interchangeable "shells" in six different finishes — charcoal fabric, heather gray fabric, oak, sandstone fabric, silver, and walnut — so you can choose a design that best fits with your decor. This is similar to the Google Home, which also features removable bottom covers that change the look of the speaker.

Alexa, Amazon's intelligent voice assistant, is also getting a couple updates that'll make having an Echo all the more irresistible:

  • Alexa Routines: Routines combine a series of actions into a single voice command. You can, for example, say, "Alexa, good morning!" and your Echo will turn on your bedroom lights, raise the blinds, turn on the TV, and raise the thermostat temperature. Essentially, routines are a way to combine Alexa's smart home integrations into one simple action so you're not forced to bark out a bunch of individual commands for the lights, blinds, TV, and thermostat. Amazon says you can also schedule routines:You can also create Routines based on the time of day – for example, you can create a Routine that has Alexa turn on the kitchen lights, start the coffee maker, and read the weather forecast at 6 a.m. every weekday and at 9 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday.
  • Improved smart home groups: Trying to tell your Echo to turn on the overhead light in the kitchen when the device is in the kitchen can be a little annoying. You'd think you could just ask it to turn on the lights. With improved smart home groups, you can!Now you can place your Echo and smart devices into smart home groups, which enables Alexa to act intelligently on your request, making your interactions with your smart home more natural and effortless. For example, when you walk into the kitchen, you can now say to your Echo "Alexa, turn on the lights" rather than "Alexa, turn on the kitchen overhead lamp."
  • Call anyone with Alexa: Amazon's Alexa calling and messaging service, which lets you call or message others with Alexa-enabled devices, is getting an update. Now you can call phone numbers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico for free. Calls to 911 are not supported.Just say "Alexa, call Mary's mobile," and Alexa will call Mary's mobile phone from your smartphone's contact list. Alexa can also dial phone numbers that you speak to her so that you can reach people or businesses that aren't in your contacts.

The new Echo goes on sale today starting at $99.99 and will start shipping out to customers next month. Amazon says it'll also be selling a three pack of second-generation Echos with a $50 discount.

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Mikah Sargent

Mikah Sargent is Senior Editor at Mobile Nations. When he's not bothering his chihuahuas, Mikah spends entirely too much time and money on home automation products. You can follow him on Twitter at @mikahsargent if you're so inclined.