Meet the Amazon Echo, a speaker with a built-in virtual assistant

The virtual assistant in your phone is now something that’s expected rather than an extra feature, and while they have their uses they still aren’t perfect and take a bit of effort to use. Amazon Echo is a different approach, its a virtual assistant that’s supposed to be talked to like a real person — so think of it as more like JARVIS or HAL, than Siri or Cortana.

So what exactly is Echo? In basic terms, Echo is a speaker that you plonk somewhere in your house where it sits and waits for your commands. The cool thing is that you can name the assistant whatever you like, and by doing so you set up the command for it to start listening to what you’re saying. So say you stick to what you know and name it Siri, by simply saying the word ‘Siri’ the speaker wakes up and starts listening for any commands. From there you can do things like add events to your calendar, play yourself some music, or whatever.

What makes it different from the virtual assistants on your phone is that Echo is designed to feel natural and conversational, there are no buttons to press only voice commands. Plus, unlike mobile assistants, it’s got what Amazon calls ‘far-field recognition’ which means that it will be able to hear and understand your commands even if you’re on the other side of the room.

Oh and it’s also a Bluetooth speaker with 360 degree sound, and can be accessed by an Android or iOS app if you don’t happen to be within its hearing range.

At the moment Echo is only available in the US, and is only available by invitation. Hopefully it’ll start to roll out to more people, and eventually make it to our shores. The other thing to note is that it costs $200 (£126) for regular people, and $100 (£63) for Amazon Prime members which, when you think about it, isn’t actually a massive amount of money.

Tom Pritchard