The next iteration of Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo device is going visual. The company on Tuesday officially unveiled the Echo Show, a smart home speaker with all the voice-activated innards of the original Echo system, but with an additional 7-inch touchscreen and new video calling features.
Or as Amazon's new (kinda wonky) tagline puts it: "Now Alexa can show you things." For instance, the device will let users watch video flash briefings and YouTube, see music lyrics, check on security cameras, swipe through photos, view weather forecasts, make to-do and shopping lists, and more.
The Echo Show's coolest new feature is the video chat experience that lets users make hands-free video calls to friends and family who also have an Echo Show or use the Alexa smartphone app. Another feature called Drop In allows users to send messages to other Echo Show devices "for the special cases when you want to connect with your closest friends and family," Amazon said.
In terms of connectivity, the Echo Show can link up to smart home products including Ring, WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, ecobee, and Wink, among others.
While the video calling feature isn't necessarily groundbreaking, it does open up a new realm of opportunity for the device and its mass market appeal. According to a recent study by the US Health Department, more than half of US households have ditched landlines and rely on cellphones only for their in-home communication needs. Assuming most households have Wi-Fi, it's not hard to see a device like the Echo stepping in to fill the landline void.
Case in point: Amazon is also rolling out Alexa Calling, a free voice call and messaging service that works on all Echo devices. According to the product page, "Alexa will let you know when someone is calling, and a green light ring will appear on your supported Echo device. You can ask Alexa to answer or ignore the call." As of now the feature is "coming soon."
The Echo Show marks the fourth device to join Amazon's voice-activated speaker lineup, which now includes the original Echo rolled out in 2014, and its follow up, the Echo Dot. Last month, Amazon introduced the Echo Look, a quirky Echo version that comes equipped with a depth-sensing camera and LED lighting. The device will take a picture of your outfit via voice command and use machine learning algorithms to offer fashion advice.
The Amazon Echo Show is available for pre-order in black and white for $229.99, with shipping slated to begin June 28. Amazon is also offering a $100 off promotion for those who purchase two Echo Show devices at once.