The new $40 Echo Pop arrives and the Echo Show 5 smart display gets an upgrade as Amazon prepares to bring generative AI to its Alexa voice assistant.
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Amazon has slashed its Echo Dot in half. No, it’s not on another sale, but the design of the company’s newest smart speaker — the $39.99 Echo Pop — looks an awful lot like someone took a meat cleaver to an Echo Dot. The result is actually kind of cute — especially in purple.
The jaunty-looking Pop is now the entry-level Alexa-powered smart speaker in Amazon’s Echo lineup. It has all the signature features of an Echo speaker: a voice-controlled device that can do various tasks, including stream music, control smart home devices, run timers, and add eggs to your shopping lists.
Along with the new Pop, the $89.99 Echo Show 5 smart display is getting a long-overdue refresh. The third-gen model of the smallest and most popular of Amazon’s smart speakers with a screen now has better sound and improved processing power.
The Echo Pop and Echos Show 5 are available to preorder today at Amazon.com, with orders shipping May 31st.
Amazon is beefing up its entry-level offerings in a continued push to get its Alexa smart voice assistant in every room of your house. “As you start thinking about the smart home of the future — which is here today — you want an Echo endpoint in every room,” Dave Limp, SVP of devices and services at Amazon, told The Verge in an interview. While Amazon regularly discounts its devices, the current entry-level option is the $39.99 third-gen Dot. The Pop is poised to replace that model, which is now five years old, although the third-gen Dot remains available.
Despite reports of huge losses and massive layoffs in its division, Alexa has been growing in use, and the company says it has a strong future. “We’ve sold well over half a billion Alexa-enabled devices, and so it’s something we’re pretty confident is here to stay,” says Limp. Customer engagement with Alexa is up 35 percent year over year, he says. Plus, 90 percent of Alexa Routines that ran in the last two months didn’t have any voice interaction at all. “A lot of what we’re trying to do is figuring out how to have people talk to Alexa less but still have Alexa be proactive,” he says.
Part of this effort will be incorporating generative AI and large language models through its Alexa Teacher Model into the assistant, which is poised to bring a “dramatically different experience,” says Limp. This shift will be primarily about making Alexa smarter and more conversational but also about helping to harness the smart home more effectively, he says. “Our North Star is the Star Trek Computer. With the emergence of generative AI and Large Language Models, that now seems like a very tractable problem. Whereas eight or nine years ago it seemed like a blue sky vision, it now feels like we have the tools to get there.”
Alexa has leveraged AI for a while now, specifically in products like hunches that suggest automations for you based on actions you repeatedly do — such as turning off all the lights and locking the door at around the same time every night. LLMs will make this type of “intelligence” much more powerful, says Limp.
But it’s not coming to an Echo near you anytime soon. Amazon is still working on integrating the tech in a way that won’t cause chaos. “There are certain things that you don’t want to have to happen,” says Limp, pointing out that you don’t have to work hard to have LLMs “hallucinate.” “If you ask to buy paper towels, we need to get the price right, and we need to ship it to the right address.”
With its semisphere design, the Pop borrows heavily from the old Echo Spot style-wise, but there’s no screen or camera here. The familiar Alexa LED light appears as a small strip at the top of the speaker. As the new entry-level Echo, the Pop is not aimed at audiophiles. Its 1.95-inch forward-facing directional speaker is bigger than the $50 fifth-gen Echo Dot’s 1.73-inch driver, but that device’s larger size produces deeper bass, says Limp. However, the Pop’s sound is “significantly better in bass, loudness, and clarity than the original hockey puck Dot,” he notes.
The Pop also lacks a few hardware features of the current Dot — there’s no temperature sensor or the option for a clock display — but it does get the same AZ2 processor. This means it can process more commands locally, resulting in faster response times than non-AZ2 Echos — something that held up in my testing of the latest Echo Dot. The Pop is also a Matter controller so that you can use it as a hub for the new Matter smart home standard, a Sidewalk bridge, and a Wi-Fi extender for an Eero mesh network.
It wouldn’t be a new Echo speaker if there weren’t some new colors, and Pop introduces two new hues: purple and green. These give the speaker a fresher look that might fit better in a bedroom or kids’ room than the muted white and black colors (which are also options).
Amazon is also giving its Echo Show 5 entry-level smart display a proper upgrade — after a very minor refresh in 2021. The $89.99 third-gen Echo Show 5 has a redesigned speaker system that Amazon says delivers more bass and clearer sound. A reengineered microphone array should also make the wedge-shaped device more responsive to commands — a good thing as, in my experience, the current Show 5 is one of the worst at hearing requests of all of Amazon’s smart displays.
The smart display should be snappier all around, thanks to the addition of Amazon’s AZ2 processor. Amazon says it’s 20 percent faster than the previous generation. The Show 5 is only the second Echo smart display to get the upgrade after the top-of-the-line Echo Show 15. The display is useful for added context, watching video clips, viewing compatible security cameras, and Alexa video calling with the built-in camera.
As with the previous model, the camera can be a security device, allowing you to view the camera’s feed through the Alexa app and use it as a motion sensor to trigger Alexa Routines. The Show 5 is a popular device as a bedside alarm clock, and while the camera poses privacy concerns, there is a physical shutter to block it.
There’s also a new adjustable $26.99 Show 5 stand that adds a USB-C charging port for charging a phone or other device. This will make it more useful as a bedside table device — although having a USB-C charging port on the Show itself would have been better.
The new Show 5 comes in black, white, and blue, and there’s also a new Echo Show 5 Kids with a space-themed look. This is $99.99 and comes with a two-year guarantee and a year of Amazon Kids Plus, a kid-friendly ad-free service with audiobooks, videos, and games.
Amazon also announced a new, cheaper version of its Echo Buds for $49.99, and that Echo Auto, its in-car Alexa system, is being released in more countries: Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, and Japan. The Echo Auto will start shipping immediately, and the Echo Buds on June 7th.