Amazon's new Echo and Echo Plus help you control your household

If you've wanted to get in on the voice-activated home-assistant action but balked at the high price of devices like Apple's HomePod or Amazon's Echo, you're in luck. Amazon just announced a brand-new, lower-cost Echo. The new device can wear up to six different casings to synchronize with your decor. Along with the cheaper and prettier Echo, Amazon has a a souped-up Echo Plus on the way, which can function as a smart home hub. Finally, the compact Echo Spot takes a novel approach by adding a screen.

The six interchangeable casings for the new Amazon Echo.

The extra finishes for the new Echo are dashing, but likely the biggest hardware change is to its audio output equipment. Amazon's replaced the single speaker in the older model with a separate tweeter-and-woofer arrangement. Along with that change, the new Echo now supports multi-room audio so you can fill your home with streaming music from multiple services. Amazon says that the second-generation Echo has an upgraded far-field microphone that should improve voice recognition accuracy.

Amazon Echo Plus, in silver.

Meanwhile, the Echo Plus incorporates all of the changes in the new Echo and includes a smart home hub. Amazon says the Echo Plus will automatically detect and set up any ZigBee-compatible home automation devices from companies like Philips, GE, and Kwikset. While supplies last, folks purchasing an Echo Plus will get a free Philips Hue smart lightbulb to get a taste of that home automation goodness. Amazon also says the audio quality is further improved on the Echo Plus.

The Echo Spot is probably the most unique of today's devices. It looks roughly similar to an alarm clock but includes a small screen that should come in handy for displaying weather information, watching videos, for video calling, or as a clock (surprise). This smaller device doesn't share its bigger brother's fancy speaker setups, but otherwise includes most of the same capabilities. Its dimensions are 4.1" tall by 3.8" wide by 3.6" long (10.4 cm x 9.7 cm x 9.1 cm), so it should fit most any place in a home.

As part of today's announcements, Amazon mentioned a number of new capabilities for Alexa. The assistant can make phone calls now (including to 911), and the call service is free in North America. Adding this functionality to an Echo device requires an Echo Connect add-on. If you're a fan of Alexa, Amazon says the AI is coming to BMW and Ford cars in some form.

Amazon's updated Echo goes for $100 and will hit virtual store shelves on October 31. The company also offers $50 off a three-pack of Echoes if you use the code ECHO3PACK. Meanwhile, the new Echo Plus has a $150 price tag and will also arrive October 31. The screen-infused Echo Spot will set buyers back $130 and ship on December 19. Last but not least, the Echo Connect phone add-on costs $35 and will be available on December 13.

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