Amazon is encouraging Alexa to get out more.
The obedient cloud-based voice inside Amazon’s cylindrical Echo speaker (and versions of Fire TV), is moving into two new spin-off products. There’s Amazon Tap, which is essentially a portable, battery operated version of Echo. And there’s Echo Dot, which looks like Amazon chopped the top inch-and-a-half off the full-size Echo model.
The just over one-pound $129.99 Tap speaker is so named because of the way you summon Alexa—by tapping a microphone button and then putting in your request--for music (via the likes of Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio and TuneIn), for headlines, to fetch an Uber, order a pizza and so on. Tap delivers all the same functionality as the original, full-size Echo.
It connects through Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and has a dual speaker system that is backed by Dolby audio processing and produces, Amazon says, 360-degree omni-directional sound. The battery inside Tap is supposed to last up to 9 hours, and Alexa will pipe in and warn you shortly before Tap is about to run out of juice. The product will ship with a charging cable.
Amazon is also selling a protective $19.99 Tap Sling cover accessory (available in multiple colors) with a handle you might attach to a backpack.
But Tap lacks the far-field voice recognition technology inside the original Echo, and now the new $89.99 Echo Dot as well. What that means is that you can wake up Echo or Dot by saying the name “Alexa” out loud. Echo and Dot are always listening for that "wake word" but that's not practical for a battery-operated product such as Tap. Dot has an array of seven microphones.
Amazon designed the 8.64-ounce Dot as a version of Echo that you might place in any room of the house, including the bedroom where you might use it as alarm clock. You can wirelessly connect it to a Bluetooth speaker or connect Dot to a speaker with an optional 3.5mm cable. Dot also has its own small speaker which might be adequate to have Alexa give you the weather forecast or some news headlines, but isn’t the kind of speaker off which you’d want to listen to music all day.
Both new products are slated to ship by the end of March and you can preorder them starting today. But while Amazon Tap can be purchased by anyone who chooses to buy one, Echo Dot, for now anyway, is limited to Amazon Prime members. And not just any Prime members, but Prime members who have already shown some loyalty to Alexa. That is, you must order the product by voice, either on an existing Echo or through Fire TV--"Alexa, order Echo Dot." The reason is that Dot may be in short supply at first, and Amazon also wants to do more testing with the myriad wireless Bluetooth speakers that are out there, since not all may function properly out of the gate.
It's worth remembering that the original Echo (which remains in the lineup at $179.99) was an invitation-only product at first as Amazon managed the early supply and worked out the kinks.