A smart home bomb has dropped! Amazon has revealed and placed up for pre-order the Echo Show, and allowed invitation requests for the Echo Look, and they look showy. These devices have a whole wide range of possibilities and I can’t wait for the releases.
For those of you who haven’t seen them yet – the Echo Show is a small, wedge-shaped screen and speaker, with the Alexa you love, plus a screen and camera. The release date is June 28, but they’re available for pre-order, and being advertised as having a video-calling feature to other Show owners. This exciting development will make hands free video-chatting incredibly accessible to people, even those who have trouble with existing video-chat softwares and devices.
Amazon is also offering free voice-calling, on your Echo and on the new Show, between any two Echo owners. This beginning to an Echo-owner community is a big deal – it could be the start of a new breed of house phones. If you own an Echo, or Echo Dot, make sure your app is up to date and open it up, because there’s finally a voice messaging and voice call feature, and you need to associate your phone number and contacts with it to be able to use it.
My mom and I both have Amazon Echoes, so we tested out the voice messaging and direct calling features with enormous success. We were able to send phone-to-Echo messages, phone-to-phone messages, Echo-to-phone messages, and we were able to have a crystal-clear 15 minute conversation directly through our Amazon Echoes. We even accidentally had a conversation Echo-to-phone, meaning that the Echo App is a full-service voice messenger to other Echo equipment. There was no static or noise on the call, and I didn’t feel the need to shout, or stand near the microphones. I walked around my apartment having a full conversation through the speakerphone. It was incredibly satisfactory, and I’m thinking of getting Dots for my boyfriend and brother so that we can all talk.
The Show doesn’t just boast video-calling, it introduces a new range of abilities and uses for the Echo line. You can use it as a video baby monitor now by connecting it with security cameras that integrate with the Echo, like the Arlo security camera. It can show lyrics on screen of your Amazon Music library. You can use it as a video door-bell, or take advantage of the new video “flash briefing” feature, which plays clips from news programs similarly to the audio flash-briefings available on the standard Echo.
While the Show appears to have the ability to play video clips, it does not appear to be a full-service TV with the capabilities of Fire TV – it gets clips from various “skills” like CNN and Weather. One video seems to include Amazon Video amongst these skills, which is definitely an exciting expansion upon the uses for the Echo Show, especially for Prime members. The screen also shows information at a glance, including time, date, weather, and various notifications, making it a useful tool even for the hard of hearing. That said – it does seem to be in a more exclusive club for Echo users, and cannot make calls or video messages to other applications or device brands.
The Echo Look is a standalone camera and microphone/speaker set, and even though it looks the most like an evil robot out of all Echo options, it seems to be more geared towards a fashion and selfie tool than an all-in-one smart home hub. The camera has built in LED lighting, and blurs the background of pictures so that it can isolate you and your clothes. The Echo Look bases its advice and inspiration on Style Check, a new service using AI and fashion expert information to judge your clothes and suggest new ones for you, as well as to help you build a Clueless-style Photo Closet. The Look also functions as a normal Amazon Echo, giving you weather, news, and access to your Amazon media like Music and Audible.
To be honest, this sounds silly, but I bet boyfriends and partners of Facebook fashionistas everywhere are sighing in relief that they won’t have to take 100 pictures of their loved one per day anymore.
Unfortunately it’s difficult to tell if the Look can integrate as a security camera at all, or if the Show can take pictures, but to be honest, they’ve created in me a thirst for more Echo devices, and I’m very interested in getting the Show, at the very least. An easy way to video-chat my mom, or an easy way for my mom to video-chat our dogs, never goes amiss. Amazon are generously running a “$100 off when you buy 2 Echo Shows” deal that is very tempting for those who have an ongoing video-messaging struggle with a long distance relationship or an estranged relative. I’ll be very interested to hear people’s first-hand accounts of the video chat quality when it comes out.
Never to be outdone, Google announced that they will be allowing actual landline and mobile calls dialed from the Home, using voice recognition to pick a person from your contact lists. It will also be casting responses, calendars, etc. to smart TVs equipped for Google (using chrome/chromecast) to counter Amazon’s built-in visual on the Show. As an owner of both a Chromecast and a Fire TV, I’ve been hoping for a long time to see more seamless integration between my display and voice-activated devices, and hopefully this Google update will be what I’ve been looking forward to. As Google already has their own video-chat software, it would be interesting to see the Home integrated into a video-calling ability with the Chromecast, but it seems as though that’s a long way off, if a part of the agenda at all.
Along with bucket hats, wide-legged pants, velour, and tiny backpacks, house phones from the 90’s appear to be back in a new format, and I’m excited to see how much use smart-home owners are able to get out of these new capabilities.