Amazon will reportedly bring unprompted notifications to Alexa

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Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant may soon gain the ability to speak without first being asked to speak, according to The Information. Currently, the only way for Alexa to make any noise without you speaking to it is to alert you of a timer or alarm you’ve set. Developers may soon have the ability to trigger push notifications in Alexa Skills that audibly, through spoken words, and/or visually, through the Amazon Echo’s light ring, notify you of something. This could be a very powerful new feature if executed correctly, or a very annoying feature if abused by developers. The Information hasn’t revealed any details about how the feature will pan out, or whether it will come to all Alexa-enabled devices like the Fire TV or new tablet, so we’ll have to wait and see.

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Alexa-enabled devices will be able to control Sonos speakers in 2017

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Amazon and Sonos have entered into a “long-term strategic collaboration,” accoriding to Engadget, that essentially makes Alexa the primary voice interface for Sonos’s line of speakers. This integration is much more than a bluetooth connection or Alexa Skill. It allows the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, and Amazon Tap to find Sonos devices on your home network and communicate in both directions. All of the playback occurs on the Sonos device and Alexa just handles the controls. You’ll be able to select specific songs from specific services supported by Sonos, and of course have access to the usual playback controls. Where this partnership takes things to another level is the ability for Alexa to understand Sono’s speaker placement.

In the video above, Alexa begins playing music on a Sonos speaker in the kitchen, but is then asked to “play in the livingroom” and switches playback to a Sonos Playbar in the livingroom. Amazon’s own speakers, to the disappointment of myself and many Echo fans, are not aware of each other and cannot control one another. Alexa will also be able to tell you what song is playing on a Sonos device, something that can’t be done through a regular bluetooth connection. Since Sonos is much better at making speakers than Amazon, and Amazon is much better at voice control than Sonos, this is a great pairing. As with too many of these Alex announcements, it’s unclear right now if these new Sonos control abilities will be coming to Alexa on the Fire TV or Fire TV Stick. A private beta of this feature will launch later this year, with public access coming in 2017.

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Amazon reportedly launching an inexpensive Echo-exclusive music service in September

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Amazon launch an inexpensive streaming music service that would only work on the Amazon Echo, according to Recode. This service would be in addition to the $9.99 per month music service they’re already rumored to be working on, which is meant to take on Spotify, Google , and Apple’s streaming music services. Industry sources say the cheaper Echo-exclusive service will be $4 or $5 per month. Both the $9.99 and the cheaper service are expected to launch in September. While the report doesn’t mention the Echo Dot or Amazon Tap, I’d be very surprised if the service wasn’t available on those devices as well. The big question to me is if this is an Echo-exclusive service or an Alexa-exclusive service. The latter would mean that Fire TV devices could also have access to the new half price streaming music service.

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Amazon Echo and Echo Dot can now connect to mobile Wi-Fi hotspots

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The Amazon Echo or Echo Dot have been unable to connect directly to mobile Wi-Fi hotspots unless a second device was available to facilitate the connection. This is because, to connect an Echo or Echo Dot to a Wi-Fi network, you must transfer those network settings to the Echo or Echo Dot via a temporary Wi-Fi connection. If all you have is a phone that is itself the source of the Wi-Fi network/hotspot you want the Echo or Echo Dot to connect to, then you can’t both connect to the Echo or Echo Dot’s temporary Wi-Fi connection while also keeping the hotspot connection active. This is why, up until now, you’ve needed a second device to configure the Echo or Echo Dot’s Wi-Fi settings while the phone is emitting a Wi-Fi hotspot. A new Echo and Echo Dot software update, version 3389, has resolved this limitation and now allows the Echo and Echo Dot to connect to a mobile Wi-Fi hotspot.

Update

7/11/2016 The instructions for connecting to a hotspot have just went live. When setting up an Echo or Echo Dot, there is now an option to “Use this device as a Wi-Fi hotspot” in the Alexa app where you manually enter the network ID and password.

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Battery Base turns your Amazon Echo into a portable speaker for less

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Mission Cables, the same company that makes the PiggyBack Remote for the Fire TV Stick, has released Battery Base for the Amazon Echo. Battery Base, as you’d expect, is a battery that attaches to the base of the Amazon Echo to make it a portable device. Much like the Battery Boot that I wrote about last week, the Battery Base claims to last up to 6 hours of playback time. However, unlike the Battery Boot which costs $69.99, the Battery Base retails for a much more reasonable price of $49.99. The Battery Base attaches to the Amazon Echo via a non-slip silicone inner liner, has a power button on the front, two indicator LEDs, and charges using the standard Echo power cable. The Echo can be used while the Battery Base is charging, so you never need to disconnect the Battery Base.

While Amazon does make the Amazon Tap portable speaker with Alexa capabilities, it doesn’t have the always-listening feature of the full fledged Echo, which is easily its best feature. If you want portability and always listening capabilities, your only two options are attaching a battery to the Amazon Echo, or the newly announced Triby speaker from third party manufacturer Invoxia. Note that the Battery Base is not compatible with the Echo Dot, since it uses a different power connector from the Echo.

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Battery Boot makes the Amazon Echo completely portable

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If you want the portable battery powered aspect of the Amazon Tap, but don’t want to give up the always-listening functionality and superior sound of the Amazon Echo, then the Battery Boot may be for you. Battery Boot is a new 3rd-party accessory for the Amazon Echo, which began shipping to customers this week, that simply adds a battery to the bottom of the device. There are three models available, which range between 6 hours of battery life for the least expensive model, to 14 hours of battery life for the top model. Pricing starts at $69.99 for the low end EcoBoot, and climbs to $99.99 for the top tier MegaBoot. The least expensive Battery boot uses the Echo’s standard power cable to charge, while the middle and high end models come with a separate charging cable. With all models, the Echo can be used while the Battery Boot is charging. The Battery Boot is not compatible with the Echo Dot, since that uses a micro USB cable to charge and the Echo uses a round power port.

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Voice Remote for Amazon Echo and Echo Dot back in stock after backordered for 2 months

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The Voice Remote for Amazon Echo and Echo Dot has just come back in stock. The last time this remote was in stock was 2 months ago and it sold out in less than a day. Before that, it was out of stock for 3 months. The remote’s persistent low stock is due to resellers clearing out Amazon’s supply to sell on eBay for a profit. So if you want one, order it quickly before the resellers get wind of the resupply.

This remote connects to the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot via bluetooth and allows you to control the device remotely from up to 30 feet away. You can issue commands to Alexa through the remote’s built in microphone, in addition to controlling volume and music playback. The remote is especially handy to have in areas of your house where you’re too far from the Echo for it to hear you, but close enough where you can hear it.

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Amazon Echo now available online and in-store from Best Buy

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The Amazon Echo is now available for purchase from Best Buy for the first time. Staples became the first 3rd-party retailer to sell the Echo, followed by several others a few months later, but now it’s finally available through the U.S.’s largest consumer electronics retailer. You can find the Amazon Echo both in-store on Best Buy’s shelves and available for purchase online through Best Buy’s website. Since the Echo is currently out of stock through Amazon, the timing couldn’t be better. Considering they were just released today, it’s no surprise that the Amazon Tap or Echo Dot are not yet available thorugh 3rd-party retailers like Best Buy, but I expect them to be available soon, especially considering the Echo Dot’s packaging comes with a retail hanger slot built in.

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Amazon Echo now supports repeating alarms

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The Amazon Echo, and presumably the new Amazon Tap and Echo Dot, now have the ability to set repeating alarms. This has been a simple feature that has been missing from Alexa’s ever growing repertoire of abilities for far too long. Prior to this update, you could only specify a time for an alarm, which you would have to manually re-enable each time it went off. Now, you can simply say “Alexa, set an every day alarm for [time]” to have your alarm repeat every day. You can also specify a single day of the week for the alarm to repeat by saying “Alexa, set a repeating alarm for [day of week] at [time]” or if you prefer the alarm to only sound on weekdays or weekends, you can say “Alexa, set a [weekday/weekend] alarm for [time].” Alarm repetition can aslo be configured within the Alexa app or web portal, where you can also set the sound of each alarm, as well as the volume. This update comes just in time for the Echo Dot’s release on March 31st, especially because Amazon is pushing the device as the ultimate nightstand gadget. Alarms through Alexa on the Fire TV and Fire TV Stick are still not supported, which is unlikely to ever change since neither have a built in speaker to use for alarms if your TV is turned off when an alarm would sound. See Amazon’s help page on the topic for a full outline of all the various alarm and timer options available.

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Amazon Echo voice remote back in stock after 3 months out of stock

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The Amazon Echo Voice Remote has just come back in stock after being backordered for over 3 months. This remote connects to the Amazon Echo via bluetooth and allows you to control the device remotely from upto 30 feet away. You can issue commands to Alexa through the remote’s built in microphone, in addition to controlling volume and music playback. The remote is handy to have in areas of your house where you’re too far from the Echo for it to hear you, but close enough where you can hear it.

The remote is the exact same shape and size as the the 1st-generation Fire TV voice remote, but the two remotes are not interchangable. The Echo’s remote has been selling for over $100 on eBay due to its limited supply, so if you’re interested in buying one, do it quick before the resellers snatch them all up.

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