Amazon introduced a second-generation version of the Echo today with a dedicated bass tweeter and a modified, shorter design. The new device looks to be about half the size of the original Echo, is cloth-covered, and goes on sale today for $99. The company is also selling a three-pack for the first time, offering multi-room audio for $250. To qualify, you’ll just need to add three Echos to your cart and Amazon will deduct $50 off the total.
Multi-room audio has been a major request of Echo users nearly since its inception. The introduction of audio that can stream to multiple devices simultaneously means that Echo now poses a direct competitive threat to Sonos. It will also offer a low-cost alternative to Apple’s forthcoming HomePod.
In addition to multi-room audio, the Echo can now make free calls to the United States, Canada, and Mexico for the first time. The feature is similar to one Google has made available inside Gmail and Hangouts for years. To help push the idea of Alexa as a phone replacement, Amazon also introduced a separate $35 device called Connect; it will go on sale today as well. Among other things, it can make 911 calls, Amazon devices chief Dave Limp said onstage today.
Amazon announced its first Echo speaker unexpectedly and rather cryptically in fall 2014. (The device just appeared on the Amazon.com website, with a short demo video and little explanation for what it was.) In a short period of time, Alexa became the darling of voice-controlled virtual assistants, offering a relatively effortless experience compared to Apple and Google’s own voice assistances.
Since then, Amazon has rolled out other versions of the Echo: the Echo Dot, the Echo Show, and the Amazon Tap (which doesn’t officially have the “Echo” monitor but still has Alexa built in). Leading to today’s event, however, the original Echo speaker was listed as “out of stock” on Amazon.com, and only available to purchase at brick-and-mortar stores or Whole Foods locations.