Amazon ‘Echo Buttons’ Trivia Game Accessories Now Available to Pre-Order

Amazon has made its Echo Buttons, the company's "first Alexa gadgets", available to pre-order on its U.S. website. First announced in September, the $20 accessories come in packs of two and are designed to allow Amazon Echo owners to play family trivia games with the voice-activated smart speakers.


About 3 inches (76mm) wide and 1.5 inches (38mm) tall, the Echo Buttons each have a multi-color LED on top that lights up the push button. The devices are powered by two triple-A batteries and connect to Echo speakers via Bluetooth.

Amazon says the buttons will work with four Alexa skills when they ship on December 19 in time for the holidays, including name-that-song game "Beat the Intro" and "Fourth Down Football Trivia", with support for more sound effect and quiz games expected further down the line.


The Echo Buttons are compatible with all old and new Echo devices as well as the forthcoming Echo Spot, but they don't work with the Amazon Tap, Amazon Fire TV, or any other non-Echo device.

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Ultimate Ears Debuts ‘BLAST’ and ‘MEGA BLAST’ Speakers With Alexa Support and Charging Dock

Ultimate Ears, a company known for its line of rugged, colorful speakers with high-quality audio, today announced two new additions to its product lineup: the BLAST and the MEGABLAST. BLAST and MEGABLAST are Ultimate Ears' first Wi-Fi connected speakers.


Designed as successors to the UE Boom 2 and UE Megaboom 2, the BLAST and MEGABLAST feature the same cylindrical body shape, bold design, and vivid colors as their predecessors, but Ultimate Ears has tweaked the look of the two devices, introducing less rounded edges for a sleeker form factor and a more streamlined color scheme.


With the cylindrical design, the BLAST and MEGABLAST continue to offer 360-degree sound, and with the addition of Amazon Alexa support, the two speakers can be controlled hands-free with voice commands. Through Alexa, BLAST and MEGABLAST can play music from Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, with support for Pandora and Deezer coming in the near future.

Wi-Fi support in the two speakers means music can continue to play even when your iPhone is in use, and through Alexa, the music can be controlled by anyone, making BLAST and MEGABLAST ideal for parties.


Alexa integration is available in the United States, the UK, Germany, and Austria, and with a BLAST or MEGABLAST purchase, Amazon is offering a three-month subscription to Amazon Music Unlimited. Playing from Apple Music will continue to require a Bluetooth connection to an iPhone.

MEGABLAST has been engineered to be Ultimate Ears' loudest and best sounding speaker yet. It features two 25mm tweeters, two custom 35mm active drivers, and two passive radiators for a maximum output of 93 dBC, which is 40 percent louder than the Megaboom. According to Ultimate Ears, the MEGABLAST features a more powerful mid-range, deeper bass, and clearer vocals and instruments.

BLAST features two 35mm active drivers and two passive radiators with a maximum sound level of 90 dBC.


Both BLAST and MEGABLAST are IP-67 water and dust resistant, drop proof (up to 5 feet) and offer all-day battery life. BLAST will last for 12 hours before needing to be recharged, while MEGABLAST boasts a 16 hour battery life.

Along with BLAST and MEGABLAST, Ultimate Ears is introducing the POWER UP, a sleek white charging dock that's designed to inductively charge BLAST and MEGABLAST. POWER UP is a standalone accessory, but will be sold alongside the two speakers in packages from some retailers.


In the United States, BLAST and MEGABLAST will be available in Graphite (black), Blizzard (white), Merlot (red) and Blue Steel (blue). BLAST is priced at $230, while MEGABLAST is priced at $300. The POWER UP dock is priced at $40. All three products will be available for purchase from Ultimate Ears starting in late October.


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Amazon Rolls Out Alexa Device Messaging and Calling to U.K. and Germany

Amazon is updating its Alexa app today to add support for messaging and calling on Alexa-powered smart devices in the U.K., Germany, and Austria (via The Verge).

The second-generation Echo in Charcoal Fabric

The Alexa voice calling feature will work on standard Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers, allowing the devices to call each other free of charge. iPhone and Android owners can also use the Alexa app to call the Alexa-powered devices directly.

Amazon's second-generation Echo devices hit Europe on October 31 and support the feature as standard, while video calling is limited to the display-based Echo Show device, which is set to become available in the U.K. and Germany next month.


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Amazon Reportedly Working on Smart Glasses With Integrated Alexa AI

Amazon is actively developing a pair of smart glasses with Alexa virtual assistant built in, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday.

Designed like a regular pair of spectacles, the device will enable Alexa to be invoked by the wearer at any time and at all places, the report said, citing people familiar with Amazon's plans.

The founder of Google Glass is said to be working on Amazon's Alexa smart glasses

The company is reportedly including a bone-conduction audio system in the specs so that the wearer can hear Alexa's voice without inserting headphones.

The founder of Google Glass, Babak Parviz, is said to have been working on the Alexa product since he was hired by Amazon in 2014. Earlier this year, Google re-introduced its Google Glass wearable headset after discontinuing production in 2016.

In addition, The Financial Times reports that Amazon is also working on a more conventional home security camera, and that one or both of these products may appear before the end of this year.

Previous reports have claimed that Amazon is working on a successor to its popular Echo connected smart speaker and plans to bring the device to market this year in time to compete with Apple's HomePod, which is set to launch this December.

According to rumors that first surfaced in 2016, Apple is also working on several different kinds of smart glasses, with the main application of bringing augmented reality experiences to the wearer.

Reports this year suggest Apple's glasses will connect wirelessly to the iPhone, much like the Apple Watch, and will display "images and other information to the wearer".

Related Roundup: Apple VR Project
Tags: Google Glass, Alexa

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Alexa Virtual Assistant Coming to Bragi Dash Wireless Earbuds in October

Bragi has announced that Alexa is set to become a new feature of its Bragi Dash wireless headphones later this year. The company revealed at the IFA trade show today that a software update coming in October will allow Dash and Dash Pro owners to talk to Amazon's virtual assistant in both English and German languages (via The Verge).


After the forthcoming 3.1 update is installed, to activate Alexa users will need to either tap an earbud or use the Dash's "4D menu", which relies on motion sensing to enable users to turn their head left or right and select from a virtual menu.

While Dash (and Dash Pro) users can already use their earbuds to activate Siri and Google, today's news means Bragi Dash are likely to become the first truly wireless earbuds to offer Alexa support, allowing wearers to, say, order a ride from Uber or a coffee from Starbucks.


MacRumors reviewed the Bragi Dash Pro ($330) wireless earbuds back in July and found that the gesture controls impress, but some UI and design frustrations remain. You can read the full review here.


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Alexa Virtual Assistant Coming to Bragi Dash Wireless Earbuds in October

Bragi has announced that Alexa is set to become a new feature of its Bragi Dash wireless headphones later this year. The company revealed at the IFA trade show today that a software update coming in October will allow Dash and Dash Pro owners to talk to Amazon's virtual assistant in both English and German languages (via The Verge).


After the forthcoming 3.1 update is installed, to activate Alexa users will need to either tap an earbud or use the Dash's "4D menu", which relies on motion sensing to enable users to turn their head left or right and select from a virtual menu.

While Dash (and Dash Pro) users can already use their earbuds to activate Siri and Google, today's news means Bragi Dash are likely to become the first truly wireless earbuds to offer Alexa support, allowing wearers to, say, order a ride from Uber or a coffee from Starbucks.


MacRumors reviewed the Bragi Dash Pro ($330) wireless earbuds back in July and found that the gesture controls impress, but some UI and design frustrations remain. You can read the full review here.


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Alexa and Apple AirPlay 2 Support Coming to Libratone Zipp Wireless Speakers This Fall

Bluetooth speaker maker Libratone has announced that beginning this fall, Zipp and Zipp Mini speaker owners will be able to use their devices to invoke Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant as well as tap in to Apple's forthcoming AirPlay 2 protocol.

The company said it will make a free firmware download available in the coming months that activates Alexa support in the wireless speakers, which connect to Wi-Fi and have integrated microphones.


Following the update, Zipp and Zipp Mini owners will be able to touch the button on the top of the speakers to ask Alexa for news, sports, traffic updates, and all the other things that can be done on Amazon's Echo range of speakers, including controlling smart home devices.

Libratone intends to add Apple AirPlay 2 support as soon as Apple releases the new protocol, which will enable users to stream music wirelessly to multiple speakers of different brands on the same Wi-Fi network. AirPlay 2 is expected to arrive with the release of iOS 11 next month.


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iPhone Users Will Be Able to Say ‘Hey Cortana, Open Alexa’ in Future

Amazon and Microsoft today jointly announced that Alexa and Cortana will soon be able to communicate with each other.


Microsoft said the collaboration will allow access to Alexa via Cortana on Windows 10 PCs later this year, and via the Cortana app for iOS and Android at an unspecified point in the future. Similarly, users will be able to access Cortana on Alexa-enabled devices like the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show.

iPhone users should eventually be able to open the Cortana app and say "hey Cortana, open Alexa," to access Amazon's virtual assistant. Alexa can be used to shop and manage orders on Amazon, ask a variety of questions, stream music and audiobooks, check the news and weather, and many other tasks.

However, iPhone users won't be able to say "hey Cortana, open Alexa" from the Home screen, or when the device is locked. Apple only allows third-party virtual assistants to function within their apps, so accessing Alexa via Cortana will be a lot more cumbersome than simply using Siri.

For a complete virtual assistant experience, iPhone users could also say "hey Siri, open the Cortana app" and then say "hey Cortana, open Alexa."

Alexa can already be used in the Amazon app on iOS [Direct Link], while Cortana has been available on the App Store [Direct Link] since December 2015.


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Anker’s $35 Smart Speaker With Built-in Alexa Claims Better Audio Than Amazon’s Echo Dot

Popular accessory company Anker launched its own low-cost smart speaker with built-in Alexa on Wednesday called the Eufy Genie. Costing $35, the Genie is a little bigger than Amazon's Echo Dot, which retails at $50, but claims to offer stronger bass and double the volume of Amazon's equivalent device thanks to a 2W speaker.

The Genie's list of features pretty much tally with Echo Dot's abilities, so it can play music, control other smart home devices, order products, answer questions, set calendars, report the weather and news, and more.


According to Anker, it's also possible to use the Amazon Alexa app with the Genie to access over 10,000 skills and services, such as Pandora, Domino's Pizza, Uber, ESPN, NPR News, and more. Future updates from Eufy are said to include the ability directly control Spotify with your voice, and Alexa messaging and calling.

The Genie also links up to other smart products under Anker's Eufy brand, which include a robotic vacuum cleaner, air purifier devices, and a range of domestic lighting. According to The Verge, Anker also plans to introduce a $40 version of the Eufy Genie that includes Bluetooth support, which might let it connect to external speakers for playing music.

The Eufy Genie is available to pre-order off Amazon today but doesn't ship until August 16. Further details on the Genie and Anker's other products under the Eufy brand can be found on the Eufy website.

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Amazon Echo Show Reviews: Privacy Concerns, Sound Improvements, and Video Calling as Killer App

Ahead of the launch of the Echo Show this Wednesday, June 28, Amazon has given review units to a few sites so that they can test out the new Echo and see how its 7-inch touch screen adds to the traditional Amazon Echo experience. Amazon revealed the $230 Echo Show earlier in May and bills it as having all of the features of the traditional Echo, with the addition of a display to enhance user interactivity.

According to The Verge, one of the best aspects of Echo Show is that, "you basically never need to tap the screen for anything, unless you really want to." Instead of adding an array of touchscreen-required actions that overcomplicate the interface, the company focused on adapting the abilities of the previous Echo models to work with a touchscreen.


While there were some moments when the touchscreen's "secondary importance" caused UI annoyances, the site largely admired Amazon's decision to keep the voice control focus of the Echo line with Echo Show.
Are there things I don't love about the Echo Show? Of course. I think it's pretty homely and I think that the sound quality could be better for the price. But the improvements over the original Echo are big enough that it's my favorite smart speaker right now.

From nearly any other company, adding a screen would have resulted in feature-itis of the worst kind. By holding back, the Echo Show feels like it does more. Its strength is in its simplicity.
In its review, TechCrunch described Echo Show's video calling feature as the "killer app" for many users, allowing calls between two Echo Show devices, or between an Echo Show and the Alexa smartphone app. After entering a phone number, the Echo Show displays a list of other Echo owners from your own personal contact list, and from there you can directly call their Echo.

Image via The Verge

The site noted that the screen is far too small for long movie sessions (currently only supporting video from Amazon Prime), and described its resolution as "middling," but in video calls the Echo Show's 7-inch touchscreen makes the most sense. Still, both TechCrunch and The Verge did find Echo Show's "Drop In" feature slightly intrusive, as it lets selected friends and family pop into your Echo Show and see your home whenever they feel like it, but it's not activated by default.
It’s a lot easier to use than Skype (though, to be fair, most things in this life are), but it’s currently limited to Show users, which means Amazon is going to sell a lot of these to family members looking for a simple way to keep in touch. There’s also an odd Drop-In option, which takes the whole picking-up-the-phone bit out of the equation, so select friends and family can communicate directly with little warning. I suppose there’s some value for users looking to periodically check in on loved ones, but the whole thing is too intrusive for my tastes.
Wired also referenced worry about Echo Show's always-watching camera, but ultimately sees potential in the device's future, particularly once Amazon begins adding in more "skills" for the Echo Show. The site continued an opinion shared in multiple reviews posted today, which is that the Echo Show's speaker is better than that of the original Echo's, but "it's no Sonos."
Still, I find the Show’s potential fascinating. The Alexa ecosystem has grown big enough that I suspect Netflix and Hulu will soon make video skills, most smart-home manufacturers will support the new device, and games and apps will pop up all over the place. Alexa’s voice recognition works well enough to make all of this work, and developers can access the camera, the screen, the microphone, and the speaker. The Echo Show is basically an always-on, plugged-in smartphone, which could become hugely powerful.
Amazon's Echo Show is the latest in the company's line of smart speaker systems, following the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Look. Apple is gearing up to finally enter the same market, with an announcement at WWDC this year for the "HomePod." Apple said that its speaker is more focused on high-quality music playback than its smart speaker rivals, while also offering Siri-based AI features.

Check out more Echo Show reviews from the following sites:
- Business Insider
- Buzzfeed
- CNET
- Engadget
- TIME
- Bloomberg
- Gizmodo
- USA Today
- SlashGear
- The New York Times


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