While Amazon has launched the Echo in the US, the rest of the world is yet to experience the company's digital assistant, Alexa. We take a look at just what the Echo and Alexa are all about.
Amazon has been busy trying its hand at a number of new product categories in recent years. One of the most intriguing has been the Amazon Echo and Alexa.
With the range branching out and improving all the time, the Echo has attracted something of a cult following.
So what exactly are the Amazon Echo and Alexa? Allow us to explain.
What is Amazon Echo?
The Amazon Echo is a smart home appliance that can also act as a portable speaker. It's a 10-inch-tall cylindrical device that's designed to stand in a commonly occupied area of the home, such as the kitchen.
It comes packing Wi-Fi, and can stream music from certain music services (including Spotify) from your smartphone, to all intents and purposes acting as a Bluetooth speaker.
It can also provide information, scheduling assistance, and more - all of which is activated using your voice. The Echo's beam-forming and noise cancellation technology enables it to hear your commands from the other side of the room, even when it's simultaneously playing music, and it's always listening out for you.
This is is where Alexa comes in.
Related: Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri
What is Alexa?
Alexa is the Amazon Echo's pre-installed personal virtual assistant, which is capable of listening and responding to commands. Think of it as Amazon's answer to Siri.
Using Alexa on the Amazon Echo (just say "Alexa"), you can ask for a news update, create to-do lists, ask for facts and measurements, set timers and alarms, play music, and more.
Alexa can also interact with various smart home devices, so you can ask it to turn the heating up or dim the lights. Very cool.
It will respond to naturalistic phrases in kind, too, so you shouldn't have to remember any stilted phrasing techniques to get the desired results.
Is there an echo in here?
Besides the Echo, Amazon recently launched the Amazon Tap and the Amazon Echo Dot. The Tap is a slightly smaller (6.5 inches tall and 2.6 inches wide) and more portable version of the Echo, which doesn't require plugging in to the mains.
However, in order to conserve power, the Tap isn't always on like the Echo, meaning you can't say "Alexa" to activate it. Instead, you need to physically press the microphone button on the device.
The Echo Dot is even smaller yet, but it's actually another plugged in device that does exactly the same as the full-sized Echo. The only difference is that it lacks the meaty speaker, so you'll need to hook it into your home stereo set-up if you want decent music playback.
When is it coming to the UK?
Unfortunately, the Amazon Echo with Alexa, as well as its spin-offs, are only available in the US at present. There's no news on a UK release, either.
However, the fact that Amazon has expanded the Echo range suggests that it has big plans for its future. And the UK is typically the company's second market after the US.
The Echo will have been on the market for a whole year in June, so we wouldn't be surprised if a UK expansion was announced some time over the next few months. Watch this space.