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Definition: Amazon Echo

A family of extremely popular devices from Amazon.com that combines a wireless speaker, music streamer and the Alexa virtual assistant in one unit. In the millions of homes that have multiple Echos, individual units can be configured to play their own tunes. Echo devices are also used to control lights and home appliances (see smart home).

Although an Echo is the hardware, and Alexa is the service, people mostly refer to the device as Alexa. Introduced in 2015, several variations followed (see all models below).

Voice Calling and Messaging
In 2017, voice calling and messaging (both text and voice) were added so that users can call and message other Echo devices. In addition, Alexa users can install the Alexa app in their smartphone, which integrates the contact list and allows hands-free calling from Echo devices to the phone.

Intercom Capability
A year later, Echos were enabled to broadcast messages to all other Echos ("dinner is ready"). In the same year, Amazon put Echo on the road (see Echo Auto).

"Alexa - What's the Capital of Maine?"
Always connected via Wi-Fi, when any of the Echo's seven microphones hears the word "Alexa" from across the room, it "wakes up," emits an audible signal and waits for a question. Most people use the default Alexa wake word; however, "Amazon," "Echo" or "computer" can be selected instead.

The Echo App
Available for the user's desktop and mobile devices, the app provides device setup and logs all questions and answers. The app also manages a to-do list, timer, alarms and music sources, and it accepts general questions as well. See Alexa Voice Service, virtual assistant, Bluetooth speaker and Amazon Dash.

Echo Virtual Assistant for the Home
As well as a virtual assistant, the Echo streams music from Amazon, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and the user's own music collection. It is also a Bluetooth speaker. This first model was shortened three inches after the Echo Plus came out, which has a hub for smart home devices. See Bluetooth speaker. (Image courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Echo Dot in 2016 and Kid Friendly in 2018
A compact version of the Echo, the Dot can connect to an external speaker and bypass its own for room-filling sound. Colorful models geared to kids (top) include one year of entertainment and education. (Images courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Amazon Tap - 2016
Along with the features of stationary Echo models, the Tap was designed for music on the go. Rechargeable in its cradle, it connects to a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot, and it is officially an "Amazon Tap," not an "Echo Tap." (Image courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Echo Spot - 2017
With capabilities similar to the big Echo, the Spot is a small smart display that can serve as an alarm clock or kitchen timer as well as video call other Amazon users. It can also display the output of a security camera. See smart display. (Image courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Echo Show - 2017
The Show is a smart display that was designed for entertainment, video calling, information and smart home control. For example, a verbal command might turn on music, dim the lights or switch to the babycam. See smart display. (Image courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Echo Look - 2017 - How Do I Look?
Ask Alexa to take a picture and see yourself on your smartphone. Submit two photos, and Style Check will tell you which outfit looks best. The Look also plays music. (Image courtesy of Amazon.com.)

Echo Buttons
Echo buttons are paired via Bluetooth to an Echo for game playing as well as activating smart home devices. Up to four buttons can be connected to one device. (Image courtesy of Amazon.com.)