Amazon has just pushed a new software update to their Amazon Tap speakers that add the option to enable always listening capabilities for hands-free commands, just like you find on the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. When the Tap was first released, as the name suggests, the only way to talk to Alexa was to first tap the microphone button on the front of the portable speaker. The new hands-free option brings the device’s Alexa feature set nearly on par with the flagship Echo speaker.
It’s assumed the Amazon Tap originally required pressing a button before talking to Alexa in order to avoid draining the device’s internal battery. An always listening microphone would surely drain the battery in no time, but Amazon says enabling the new hands-free option will still result in about eight hours of continuous battery life. The Tap’s product page says it is capable of up to 9 hours of continuous playback, so it’s not clear if the new 8 hour hands-free value is for standby or playback.
To enable the option you need to go into the Settings section of the Alexa app or web portal. Once enabled, the Tap will beep when it hears someone say “Alexa” and will begin listening for commands. There does not appear to be an option to change the wake word from Alexa to one of the other available options, like you find on Amazon Echo and Echo Dot devices.
The hands-free capability works whether or not the Tap is charging or running off of battery power. To conserve battery life, you can press the power button once and the Tap will go into sleep mode. While asleep, the Tap will not respond to hands-free commands. If you temporarily don’t want the Tap to respond to the Alexa wake word, but don’t want to put the device in sleep mode, you can mute the always listening microphone by pressing and holding the Play/Pause button on the device.
Amazon says the Tap’s hands-free ability does support echo spatial perception (ESP), which is the recently added feature that prevents multiple Alexa devices, within listening range, from responding or executing commands simultaneously. So if you have an Echo or Echo Dot near where you charge your Tap, the two device’s shouldn’t interfere with each other. In my testing the feature works very well, but in some scenarios, it does tend to favor the Echo and Echo Dot, even though the Tap was slightly closer. This is likely due to the Tap only having one microphone, while the Echo and Echo Dot have seven microphones, and therefore hear commands much better.
I was already a big fan of the Amazon Tap, but now this update has made it a much more useful device. I, nor you, should expect it to be an Echo replacement, due to the aforementioned microphone difference, but it’s now far more convenient to use.