The Amazon Echo is now on sale in the UK, bringing Amazon's digital assistant speaker to Britain for the very first time. Here are the best Alexa 'Skills', apps and services you'll soon be able to take advantage of.
At an event in London earlier this month, Amazon confirmed that its long-awaited Amazon Echo speaker would be coming to the UK and Germany in autumn this year, as well as introducing a new white version of the product and refreshing its smaller Amazon Dot sibling.
When it launched, it had just 13 skills, but Amazon says this skill set has now grown to over 3,000. Below are some of the best Amazon Echo 'Skills', services and apps you'll be able to make use of, but first, here's what they look like in the flesh.
In the UK, you can pre-order starting today for £149.99, and in Germany for €179.99 euros. If you're a Prime customer, you can bag £50/€50 off if you order within the next two days.
Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that was launched for US Prime members back in November 2014. It eventually went on general release in the states in June last year, but there was no word on a UK release at the time.
Best Amazon Echo skills and services
As we mentioned, Amazon Echo arrives in the UK with an expanded skill set. There are loads of things you can get your Echo speaker to do, from reading you the news to ordering you a pizza and hailing you a cab.
Here are eight Amazon Echo Skills we think you'll want to take advantage of immediately.
- Uber – One of the first Skills to land on Echo, you'll now be able to order yourself a cut-price cab just by talking to Alexa.
- Spotify – Spotify is the best music streaming service around, and with Echo, you can simply shout out what you want to be played.
- Hive – Echo is built to help facilitate the smart home revolution and the integration of British Gas-backed Hive will make it easier than ever to control your smart heating and lights.
- National Rail – Gone are the days of having to fiddle with an app to find out Southern have fecked up again. With Echo, all you'll need to do is chat to Alexa. Crying into your porridge? That bit will likely remain a constant.
- Just Eat – Empowering obesity and laziness everywhere, Echo will let you order a kebab, pizza or curry just by using your voice. We'd have preferred Deliveroo integration, but it's a start....
- Google Calendar – Habitually late to, well, everything? Alexa might just be your saviour, as you'll be able to ask your Echo to remind you about meetings and other important appointments. Like that anniversary you missed only yesterday.
- Sky Sports – Getting mad when your team concedes a last minute equaliser has never been easier, as Echo will feed you back all the latest scores and sport news. All you have to do is ask.
- Philips Hue – Another big smart home name that's coming to Echo is Philips Hue, makers of pricey but oh-so-sweet intelligent bulbs. Want to get in the mood at short notice? This is the answer.
Have you got your own favourite Amazon Echo Skills you're looking forward to utilising? Scroll down and let us know in the comments below.
Amazon Echo – what you need to know
Echo features a digital assistant called ‘Alexa’, which is like Amazon’s version of Siri (Apple), Google Now (Google, and Cortana (Microsoft). Alexa responds to her name, and will help you get stuff done. Echo features include voice interaction, music playback, making lists, setting alarms, streaming podcasts, playing audiobooks, and providing real-time information on traffic and weather.
"Echo is a piece of hardware that’s very low cost, but it’s connected to the cloud. And the brain behind Echo is Alexa. Alexa sits in the cloud and she’s always getting smarter,” said Dave Limp, Senior VP of Device and Services at Amazon, speaking at today’s event. "We have a team of over 1,000 people around the world including people here in the UK that are working on making Alexa better and better for customers.”
"When we see people using the results of all this hard work, they often use the word that it’s magic," continued Limp, adding that the voice team would not stop working until "Alexa is indistinguishable from a human voice".
The Echo’s original launch was marred by concerns over privacy, after some complained that the device could listen to private conversations in users' homes. Amazon was quick to respond, confirming that Echo will only stream recordings from your home when the wake word – i.e. ‘Alexa’ – is used.
However, it’s worth remembering that the Echo will always be listening out for ‘Alexa’, and so is technically always on. There's now a 'red-light' system that signals when the customer has turned the microphone off. This prevents the Echo from streaming audio to the cloud, stops it from listening to the 'wake word', and disconnects power from the microphone.
Amazon also announced a new version of the Amazon Echo Dot. The Dot was originally launched in the US back in March, but an "all-new version" will now be coming to the UK in both black and white colour variants. It's a smaller version of the Echo that can hook up to your existing speaker systems, and retains its larger sibling's 'Alexa' functionality.
The new Echo Dot costs £49.99 in the UK, $49.99 in the US, and €59.99 in Germany (on an invite-only basis). Better still, if you buy 10 of them, you'll get two more Dots free of charge.
- Buy Now: Amazon Echo Dot at Amazon.com from £49.99
- Buy Now: Amazon Echo at Amazon.co.uk from £149.99
- Buy Now: Amazon Echo at Amazon.com from $179.99
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What do you think of Amazon Echo? Let us know in the comments.