Amazon designed the next-gen Echo (pictured in Sandstone) to fit in better with your furnishings.
Alexa voice-control from a restyled speaker
The original Amazon Echo speaker was a breakthrough product — it quickly got many of us accustomed to using voice control in the house. But that tall, techy-looking cylinder really stuck out when you placed it in the middle of the living room. Since we've now welcomed Alexa as part of our home, Amazon redesigned this next-generation Echo to blend more neatly into all types of décor.
Each compact speaker includes a removable outer "shell" that's splashed in low-key, muted tones. But don't worry, you still get the same Alexa voice assistant treatment and the already iconic "pretty blue light." Order pizza, ask questions, or control smart home devices — all hands-free.
Call out your song requests
Our favorite use for Alexa voice control? Has to be music. If you want the Echo to play some background tunes, just say "Alexa," and tell it what you want to hear. It's easy to select songs and playlists. Tell Alexa to mix and match from Pandora®, Spotify®, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and more.
And when you need more volume? Say, "Alexa, turn it up." You can even group two or more Echo speakers together to play the same song in different rooms.
How to get better sound from your Echo
I mentioned in my article Voice Control for your Home Stereo that convenience is only part of the story here at Crutchfield. We always ask ourselves: how can we get better sound? One way is using the Amazon Echo's built-in Bluetooth transmitter. It lets you send audio wirelessly to any Bluetooth-enabled speaker, sound bar, or home theater receiver.
This made for a clean setup when we paired an Echo wirelessly with the powerful Klipsch R-15PM powered speakers. I found it more convenient than a wired connection. You can sit in your favorite chair and request songs without having to shout across the room to where your speakers are set up.
On the top panel, you'll find optional touch controls and Alexa's responsive blue light.
Have a Sonos system in your house?
Sonos recently added Alexa voice control. So if you have Sonos speakers and add the Echo (or the smaller Echo Dot), you can tell Alexa what to play in each room. Or say, "Alexa, play my Tom Petty playlist in the whole house."
Hands-free control over smart devices
But it's not only about music. Alexa can control smart home lights, switches, and thermostats from companies like Wemo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Nest, and more. You set everything up with the Alexa app, a free download for your Fire OS, Android™, or Apple® device.
Always getting smarter
Alexa can answer questions, read audiobooks to you, and give you sports scores. Amazon refers to these types of abilities as "skills." Just ask, and you might be surprised what Alexa can do — order food, check the weather — more and more skills are added all the time.
And since this speaker is connected to the cloud, Alexa can learn something new in the blink of an eye.