Amazon Echo voice-controlled smart speaker comes to UK and Germany

The speaker and cloud-powered digital assistant goes on sale in UK and Germany, alongside a smaller Echo Dot device.

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The Amazon Echo, and Echo Dot.

Image: Steve Ranger/ZDNet

Amazon is to start selling its voice-controlled speaker, the Amazon Echo, in the UK and Germany.

Amazon Echo is a cylindrical speaker that also functions as a digital assistant for the smart home. Triggered by someone saying the name 'Alexa' (or 'Amazon', or 'Echo'), it can play music that you request from services like Amazon Music and Spotify, or play audio books from Audible.

When it detects the wake word, Echo's light ring turns blue and begins streaming the request to the cloud: Amazon Web Services processes the query and responds, using a neural network-based speech recognition system to handle the request. The device can respond to questions such as "Alexa, will it rain tomorrow?", or "Alexa, how is traffic?" or "Alexa, what's my commute?"

This way, the cloud-powered Alexa Voice Service can also provide information such as news, sports scores and weather; you can also check your calendar or set a timer or an alarm.

The Echo has evolved into a digital home hub and allows users to control -- by voice -- things like lights, switches, and thermostats with compatible WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest, and ecobee smart home devices. Other companies can also offer 'skills' -- like apps -- such as the ability to order an car through Uber or a pizza from Dominos. It's estimated that Amazon has sold around three million of the devices.

In the UK the Echo is available for £149.99, and the company said it will be shipping "in the coming weeks". In Germany it will cost 179.99 euros.

Amazon is also making the redesigned Echo Dot available in the UK. Effectively a smaller version of the Echo, the Dot can be directly connected to speakers with an audio cable or via Bluetooth to add voice-control to your home stereo system.

To prevent more than one device responding to a question, Amazon has developed what it calls Echo Spatial Perception to calculate the clarity of a user's voice and determine which Echo is closest and should respond to the request. The Echo Dot is available for £49.99, or in a six-pack (buy 5, get one free) and 12-pack (buy 10, get 2 free) and will start shipping next month.

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