Amazon really wants to make itself at home in your home. Like, everywhere in your home, from your doorstep to your kitchen, your kids' rooms, and everywhere in between.
During a virtual press event on Tuesday, the company unveiled a veritable cornucopia of new smart home devices (along with an upgraded wearable) and services designed to help you communicate with others, entertain your kids, and secure your home.
At its climax, Amazon minted a new product category that will either delight you or creep you out, depending on where you fall on the new technology spectrum.
Meet Astro — Your Robot Companion
By far the craziest, most jaw-dropping reveal was Amazon Astro, an autonomous robot with a video display, periscope camera, and, uh, a personality, that can navigate your home on three wheels using simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM) algorithms.
Astro essentially wraps most of Amazon's smart home capabilities into what is essentially an Echo Show and Ring camera mounted on a Roomba, just without the vacuum.
With the Echo Show portion of its capabilities, you can not only communicate with friends and family, but also give them a virtual presence in your home, as Astro can follow you around, not unlike a particularly amusing gag from cult comedy Community. Like Echo devices without wheels or a face, Astro can also stream music and videos.
Fulfilling the Ring half of the package, Astro can patrol your home when you are away and alert you if a stranger is in view. It can also check on specific areas of your home on your command, such as the pantry so you can check if you're out of Cheez-Itz or the stove to make sure you turned it off. The periscope camera enables Astro to get wider or higher viewing angles.
If it wasn't enough to mount an Echo Show and Ring camera on wheels, the robot also has its own AI personality and can express itself with a digital face, audio tones, and body movements. Astro appears less threatening than those Boston Dynamic robots, but I certainly don't want to see an angry face pop up on that screen.
Astro costs $1,499, but it will be available later this year in limited quantities and by invitation only at an introductory price of $999 (including a six-month trial of Ring Protect Pro).
Amazon Glow Turns Video Calling into Remote Playtime for Kids
In addition to Astro, Amazon introduced a few new form factors to its suite of smart video calling devices, with the most unique being Amazon Glow.
Falling outside the Echo label, Amazon Glow has an eight-inch display and camera for video calling. However, instead of a touchscreen, Amazon Glow comes with a 19-inch touch-sensitive mat and projector to create an interactive canvas.
With branded content from Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon, and Sesame Workshop, kids can solve puzzles, draw pictures, read animated stories, and more. Using the Glow app on iPads and Android tablets, with support for Fire tablets to follow, remote callers can also play along, with their touch interactions displayed on the Glow placemat.
Glow can also scan objects and integrate their digital presence into the action. Amazon will also offer its own line of scannable toys dubbed Glow Bits, starting with the Tangram puzzle game.
While Glow retails for $299, Amazon is offering it for the introductory price of $249, which includes the hardware, Tangram Bits, a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids Plus, and a two-year guarantee, because kids break things.
Amazon Echo Show for Your Wall
Continuing the Echo legacy is the new Amazon Echo Show 15. As the name suggests, Echo Show 15 has a 15.6-inch touchscreen and camera. Like its predecessors, you can set it on your kitchen counter or wherever else you need to conduct video calls and play media.
But that's not all. The latest Echo Show model can also be mounted horizontally or vertically on your wall.
To take advantage of all that screen real estate, the Echo Show 15 supports widgets for household calendars, sticky notes, to-do lists, reminders, package tracking, recipes, and such. And while it won't replace your big-screen TV, it can stream Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and Hulu, with support for Sling TV coming soon. When not in use, the device displays photos or art, similar to the screen savers for Apple TV and Google Chromecast.
Because Echo Show 15 is meant to be a shared device, its video camera doubles as a visual ID sensor that recognizes household members and displays content, such as customized widgets and media, or age-appropriate content for children.
Echo Show 15 costs $249.99, but that doesn't include countertop stands and under-cabinet mounting accessories, which are sold separately. So, just be prepared to possibly add accessories when ordering.
In a way, the Amazon Echo Show 15 fulfills the science-fiction fantasy from Iron Man, in which Jarvis projects useful information onto Tony Stark's massive bedroom window. I suppose with this product we can start smaller and work our way up.
Alexa Welcomes Disney to the Digital Assistant Party
What happens when you cross Disney with Alexa? You get Hey Disney, a digital assistant from the House of Mouse that works alongside Alexa on Echo devices.
Summoned by its own eponymous wake phrase, Hey Disney serves as a virtual amusement park where you can converse with your favorite characters from the Disney empire, including Pixar and Star Wars. The assistant will also have a role at Disney Parks. Hey Disney will arrive in 2022, but in the meantime, you can sign up for notifications.
In addition to its new companion, Alexa is getting several new features, including the previously-mentioned household calendar and sticky notes widgets for Echo Show 15 and voice command and streaming support for Sling TV and TikTok for Echo Show.
Additionally, Amazon now offers Alexa Together, a $19.99/month subscription service designed to assist elderly family members. An expansion of the Care Hub service, Alexa Together includes a 24/7 helpline, support for fall detection devices, and optional remote assistance capabilities.
Halo with a View
After joining the fitness wearable arena with the screenless Halo last year, Amazon has added a display for the next iteration of the device. The fittingly named Halo View has an AMOLED screen for viewing health data for its various sensors, such as sleep scores, blood oxygen levels, workout results, and the like.
The device itself is only part half of it, as Amazon provides services like fitness tracking, body composition analysis, sleep monitoring, and conversational tone detection under its Halo subscription. Amazon now offers Halo Fitness with curated workouts a la Peloton and Halo Nutrition for diet tracking as part of the service.
Amazon, Ring, & Blink Expands Security Offerings
Between its acquisitions of Ring and Blink, Amazon already has a sizable fleet of home security cameras to compete with Google's Nest subsidiary.
Adding to its arsenal, Amazon now has a smart thermostat, too. It's actually called Amazon Smart Thermostat, and it costs $59.99. Like Nest, it uses AI to manage your indoor climate and supports voice control via Alexa.
Along with the thermostat, Amazon is beefing up its security offerings with Ring Alarm Pro, a hub with a built-in eero Wi-Fi 6 router for managing all of your Ring devices, along with the Ring Protect Pro subscription service for video backup and security monitoring.
For even more hardcore protection, Ring is launching Virtual Security Guard in partnership with Rapid Response, which provides security agents to monitor your home per your specifications and "intervene on your behalf" should an intrusion occur.
Flying under the radar with the Astro unveiling, Ring also has an autonomous device under its banner. The Ring Always Home Cam is an indoor drone with a charging station. You can also control the Always Home Cam with your smartphone. However, it doesn't come with a fun personality like Astro.
Finally, Blink now has a video doorbell, too. Priced at $49.99, the Blink Video Doorbell takes up a lower price point than similar products under the Ring banner and can be installed wired or wireless. It also has a requires a subscription service, but it is separate from the Ring service.
Maybe you're not in the tax bracket to hire your own security force, nutritionist, personal trainer, nanny, and Disney character, but with Amazon's newest round of gadgets and services, you can have your own virtual servant team.
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