The Amazon Echo, available for purchase only by invitation since its release, is now open to the public. Amazon is making it available for preorder to all buyers, with shipping to begin July 14.
The Echo is a black cylinder for the home that is part audio system, part search engine, and part assistant. Simply talk to Alexa -- as the AI inside is called -- from anywhere within 30 feet and she will respond with the desired information. Queries are made with natural language, and the Echo is very good at parsing the request correctly.
I was so impressed with the Echo that I awarded it a rare perfect 10 rating. (Our sister site CNET also reviewed the device but gave it a 6.9 rating. See: Amazon Echo talks the talk, but still needs a little work on walking the walk.)
From my ZDNet review of the Amazon Echo:
"There's something about the Amazon Echo that takes me back to my childhood and having an invisible friend in the room. I believe that's part of the magic of the Amazon Echo and Alexa."
Amazon has been adding functionality since release of the Echo last year, and it can now work with smart home appliances and stream music from major services like Spotify, Pandora, and iTunes. One has to wonder if Apple Music will be soon added to the Echo's repertoire.
The Amazon Echo can be ordered beginning today for $179.99, with shipping starting July 14. During the invitation period Amazon Prime members could buy the Echo for $99, but Amazon told ZDNet the special price is no longer available and all buyers must pay $179.99.