Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Best Amazon Echo and Alexa Speakers: Which Models Are Best?

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Best Amazon Echo and Alexa Speakers: Which Models Are Best?

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Amazon’s family of Echoes keeps growing. From the first can-shaped Echo, to the big-screen Echo Show, and even the cute Echo Dot, you can get Alexa into your home any number of ways. These devices can answer your questions, help you order essentials for your home, play all sorts of audio content, and even function as the control hub for your burgeoning smart home. Here are our favorite Echo and Alexa-compatible speakers for every home and budget.

Updated July 2019: We’ve refreshed this list for Prime Day, with the latest Echo devices. Prices may be lower during the sale. Be sure to check out our picks for Best Smart Speakers, Best Bluetooth Speakers, and Best Google Speakers, as well.

Note: When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Read more about how this works.

The Best Overall Echo

Amazon Echo Plus ($150)

Amazon

The 2018 Echo Plus is the best-sounding Echo. Like the cheaper second-generation Echo, it has a tweeter and subwoofer, but it sounds impressive enough to justify its $50 premium. The newer 2018 version is also a step up from the original, with smoother bass and treble. If music and audio quality are your jam, the Sonos One is still the speaker to own, but the Echo Plus isn’t bad, especially if you pair it with an Echo Sub ($130).

It’s also the best version to buy if you own smart home devices, thanks to its Zigbee support. Zigbee allows it to directly connect with products in your home that use that standard form of mesh networking—a network created by daisy-chaining devices together. It has a built-in temperature sensor, too.

The Best Echo Smart Display

Amazon Echo Show ($230)

Amazon

The Echo Show has come a long way in a short time. The first Show was a blocky chunk of a device to look at, but the new model is much easier on the eyes. It’s all screen on the front, with a larger 10-inch display, and the rear speakers also sound better and have a fabric covering them.

It may seem odd to buy an Alexa speaker with a display. After using it you’ll understand the appeal. When you ask it for the weather, it tells you and shows you. Alexa’s daily news briefing now has video with it, giving you a quick visual dose of what’s going on in the world, and Amazon added recipe and cooking help to it, too. You can also video call other Echo Shows or watch Amazon Prime videos on it. Lyrics for songs on Amazon Music scroll as they play.

The Best Echo for Voice Only

Amazon Echo Dot ($30)

Amazon

If you want an Alexa speaker, but don’t plan on rocking out with it, the Echo Dot is for you. It’s a hockey puck-shaped speaker that puts out decent spoken audio. The new version has a softer fabric coating its sides and does sound better for music—though still not up to the audio quality of a larger speaker. It’s ideal if you want to double down and add Alexa access in more rooms of your home, or add voice control to your smart home gadgets.

Honorable Mention

Amazon Echo Show Five ($90)

Amazon

This isn’t our favorite Echo device, but it does fill a particular niche. The Echo Show Five is the smaller, pared down version of its larger sibling the full-size Echo Show. While it is significantly cheaper, it’s also a lot smaller which makes it a good choice if you’re just looking for an Alexa-enabled alarm clock. It’s not useful as its larger cousin, though. Think of it as bedside-table-Alexa more than a dining-room-table-Alexa.

Other Alexa Speakers Worth Considering

Echo speakers are great, but the best way to use Alexa isn’t with an Amazon device at all. Below are three speakers that we like more than the Echo Plus, Spot, Dot, Tap, or Show. Find more recommendations here.

Sonos One ($200)

Sonos

The Sonos One is the WIRED Gear team’s favorite smart speaker and multi-room speaker (we gave the first generation 8/10 and our WIRED Recommends seal of approval). If you’re going to buy one (or two) speakers for your home, the One is a smart bet thanks to its Wi-Fi networking that lets you string any Sonos speakers together, and robust support for nearly every music and audio app you can imagine. It also features Google Assistant, if you want to betray Alexa for its biggest rival (and you just might).

Sonos Beam ($400)

Sonos

The Sonos Beam is one of our favorite soundbars. It will seamlessly work with any other Sonos speakers you have, and you can easily play music on it when you aren’t binging Netflix. It sounds amazing no matter what audio is coming out of it.

Polk Command Bar ($299)

Polk

The Polk Command Bar isn’t flawless, but it’s a great value for the price. It’s hard to get a regular soundbar and subwoofer for this price, let alone one that basically has an Echo Dot plopped in the center. It’s one of the better soundbars you can own.

UE Megablast ($160)

Ultimate Ears

The UE Megablast (8/10, WIRED Recommends) is one of the best-sounding portable smart speakers we’ve tested with one of the longest-lasting batteries. Did we mention that its waterproof, just like UE’s smaller Blast speaker, which is fantastic as well. Be sure to buy the optional charging stand or you’ll have to tip them on their side to charge. It’s getting a little long in the tooth though, so some of the newer options might have a bit more longevity.

Harman Kardon Allure ($200) for Bass:

Harman Kardon

If you’re all about that bass, consider the Allure (it earned a 7/10 in our review, a respectable score). It has a huge downward-firing subwoofer that will shake up any party and has Bluetooth support if you get tired of barking orders at it. Don’t buy it if it costs more than $200, though. Its price bounces up and down regularly, so wait a few weeks and try again.

What’s WIRED and TIRED About All Echo Speakers?

Here is the good and bad of Amazon’s own Alexa speakers, summed up.

WIRED: Amazon’s own Echo speakers with are the easiest Alexa speakers to set up. You just download the Alexa app and you’re good to go. They also have some exclusive features, like screens, audio/video calling, and Zigbee smart home support, which other Alexa speakers don’t have. Amazon’s dedication to low prices also makes them quite affordable.

TIRED: Some Echo speakers don’t sound great, and in our experience Alexa is not as useful as Google’s Assistant. The Echo Show is the only Amazon-made speaker we recommend in our list of the Best Smart Speakers.

Is Now a Good Time to Buy?

Yes. The Echo Show Five was recently unveiled and even if your Echo is replaced, it will likely retain its functionality for many years.

We advise against buying a refurbished 1st-generation Echo speaker. Buy one of the 2nd or 3rd Generation Echo or Echo Dots to get a significantly better experience. The mild savings won’t justify having an older model that may not get supported as long.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Amazon Is Making a ‘Lord of the Rings’ MMO Game

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Amazon Is Making a ‘Lord of the Rings’ MMO Game

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired

Soon, thanks to Amazon, anyone will be able to play in J.R.R. Tolkien’s world.

Everett

Greetings, gamers! Welcome to a new edition of Replay, WIRED’s lightning-fast videogame news roundup. Undoubtedly the biggest deal this week was the announcement of Nintendo’s new Switch Lite, but that’s just the beginning. There’s also a new Lord of the Rings MMO on the horizon, and Cuphead might be getting a TV show. Let’s press play.

Lord of the Rings Is Getting Another Chance at MMO Glory, This Time From Amazon

Lord of the Rings has a big, complicated history in videogames. Famously, it had a major foray into the massively multiplayer world with The Lord of the Rings Online, a game that launched in 2007 and remains a cult favorite to this day for its expansive, detailed approach to living inside Middle-earth.

That game wasn’t exactly a success, though, and now a new one is coming to snatch the glory it never attained. Amazon Game Studios is currently in the process of developing a massively multiplayer online game in collaboration with Leyou Technologies that will reportedly be free to play and available for PC and consoles. Amazon, you might remember, is currently developing a Lord of the Rings TV show, but according to reports, the two efforts won’t be connected. The title might fare a bit better than the game that came before it, though—the devs at Amazon have worked on MMOs ranging from EverQuest to World of Warcraft. It’s in good hands.

Some Changes Are Coming to the Nintendo Switch—and We Don’t Just Mean Switch Lite

This week, we got the major (though not unexpected) announcement of a new, lightweight Nintendo Switch model coming this fall. The model includes permanently attached JoyCons and a smaller screen, but no television dock, making it a cozy little portable baby in the budding Nintendo Switch family.

It’s not the only change coming to the Switch, however. The Verge reports that Nintendo has made filings with the FCC to change the internal components of the base model console, specifically the system-on-chip, the NAND memory type, and the CPU board. Changing out these central components doesn’t mean, necessarily, that the system’s performance or capabilities will change in any way. It may just be a move to less expensive components, or away from in-built design problems in the original hardware. Either way, it means that soon the Switch could be just a little different from the original, which is probably a good thing.

Cuphead Is Getting a Netflix TV Show

Netflix is turning Cuphead, a videogame about old cartoons, into a new cartoon. Reasonable. The Cuphead Show, currently in production, will channel the game’s homages to 1930s Fleischer-era animation to, presumably, tell wacky violent stories about a sentient cup and his struggles with the world around him. It’s a tricky thing to do, though; as writer Yussef Cole has laid out elegantly, Fleischer-era art often drew from imagery and tropes found in earlier minstrel shows, and Netflix will have to work hard to avoid falling into the trap of repeating the same mistakes of that earlier era without understanding the context of what it’s doing. We’ll see when the show launches if it’s managed to thread that needle.

Recommendation of the Week: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, by Monolith Productions on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4

Let’s keep going with the Tolkien theme and recommend one of the strangest, most videogame-y Middle-earth adaptations ever made. Edgy, violent, and absolutely non-canon, this brilliantly crafted third-person action game sets you as a supernatural invader taking on Sauron before the events of the Lord of the Rings, trying to get revenge and overthrow the Dark Lord before he can cause any bigger problems. The game is known for its Nemesis System, wherein an in-game mechanic crafts custom orcs for you to fight, with ongoing storylines improvised by the game’s algorithms between you and your orc foes. It was innovative and fascinating, and we’ve not seen anything quite like it since.


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Hexbyte  Tech News  Wired Amazon Pledges $700 Million to Teach Its Workers to Code

Hexbyte Tech News Wired Amazon Pledges $700 Million to Teach Its Workers to Code

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Amazon announced Thursday that it will spend up to $700 million over the next six years retraining 100,000 of its US employees, mostly in technical skills like software engineering and IT support. Amazon is already one of the largest employers in the country, with almost 300,000 workers (and many more contractors) and it’s particularly hungry for more new talent. The company currently has more than 20,000 vacant US roles, over half of which are at its headquarters in Seattle. Meanwhile, the US economy is booming, and there are now more open jobs than there are unemployed people who can fill them, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“The purpose isn’t really to create a job ladder from fulfillment center to CEO, but rather to meet employees where they are and to create opportunities for them to build on the skills that they have,” Ardine Williams, Amazon’s vice president of workforce development, said in an interview Thursday morning.

Amazon joins a number of other companies who have announced multimillion-dollar investments in retraining in recent years, as a tightening labor market and technological change forces businesses to evolve. Amazon has already spent thousands of dollars on worker retraining in its Career Choice program, which helps hourly associates pay for degree programs in other, high-demand fields. CEO Jeff Bezos said in a shareholder letter last year that more than 12,000 US employees have participated in the program since it began in 2012. Amazon said they will expand the program Thursday.

In addition, some of Amazon’s new retraining initiatives include: Associate2Tech, a 90-day program for warehouse workers who want to learn IT skills; Amazon Technical Academy, a coding bootcamp designed to transition corporate non-technical employees into software engineering roles; and Machine Learning University, for engineers who already have a background in technology and want to learn machine learning and AI skills. Noticeably absent are programs that would specifically prepare Amazon’s workforce for climate change and the shifting energy landscape.

When asked about training for new energy roles, Williams said she wasn’t aware of any Amazon education program that would address climate change jobs, at least not at this point. “I don’t know that. In the programs that we build, we build them as we have demand for skills internally,” Williams said. “I suspect that over time there will be skills associated with [climate change] that could be included in the program.”

Thousands of Amazon’s own employees have criticized the company in recent months for courting the business of oil and gas companies and failing to take substantial action to combat climate change. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that some of the fastest growing occupations over the next seven years will include solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians, though the overall number of jobs in these fields are projected to be relatively small.

The retraining programs also arrive as Amazon continues to ramp up automation efforts in its fulfillment centers. While executives tend to say they love the efficiency and cost-cutting benefits of automation, 76 percent of Americans say inequality between the rich and the poor would increase if robots and computers perform most of the jobs done by humans by 2050, according to a Pew Research Center study published in December. Only around a third of respondents said they believed widespread automation would create many new, better-paying jobs for humans. (Economists have been more divided over automation’s impact.) Against that backdrop, Amazon’s jobs skills efforts provide some reassurance that—in theory at least—you could be retrained into a new role when the robots arrive.

Labor activists and lawmakers have criticized Amazon for years over how the company treats its employees, particularly those in warehouses and fulfillment centers. Last year, Senator Bernie Sanders introduced the Stop BEZOS Act, which would have taxed companies whose employees receive certain government benefits, like food stamps—as hundreds of Amazon workers reportedly did. Since then, Amazon has raised its minimum wage to $15 an hour, more than double the current federal minimum wage of $7.25. However, some of its workers still remain unhappy with Amazon’s working conditions. Fulfillment center employees in Minnesota are planning to strike during the company’s annual Prime Day sales day next week, which will mark the first time US workers have walked out during the event.

Thursday’s announcement is a shrewd way for Amazon to bolster its image as a positive force in American workers’ lives, but it remains to be seen how viable the retraining programs will be in practice. Similar efforts by the federal government, for example, have failed to be effective.

Is there something about Amazon you think we should know? Contact the author at louise_matsakis@wired.com or via Signal at 347-966-3806.


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Hexbyte  News  Computers Amazon Jumps Into Freight Brokerage

Hexbyte News Computers Amazon Jumps Into Freight Brokerage

Hexbyte News Computers

Hexbyte  News  Computers AmazonAn Amazon package in a mailbox. (John Zeedick/Associated Press)

Amazon.com has jumped into the market of the third-party logistics broker, roiling the waters and raising concern that the Seattle-based e-commerce giant could disrupt the freight industry forever and indelibly.

Amazon’s new freight-hauling site — located at freight.Amazon.com — has been up and running since August 2018, but it went largely unnoticed by media until early May, when The Wall Street Journal and others reported on Amazon’s entry into the market. Reports noted Amazon was offering “beta service” full truckload hauling in dry vans. The service is available for pickups in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

Amazon has been brokering freight since 2016, according to Amazon spokesperson Rena Lunak, and the freight site, which offers spot rates, finally went up last summer.

Lunak told Transport Topics that in the flurry of reporting earlier in May, some outlets compared Amazon’s spot rates with contractual rates, which she said was not “apples to apples.”

IS AMAZON A LOGISTICS COMPANY? Why it doesn’t appear in our Top 50 rankings

Amazon officials bristled at the suggestion that the retail giant was using its might to muscle into freight markets and offer discounted rates to grab market share.

“We work with many linehaul service providers in our transportation network and have long utilized them to carry loads for Amazon,” Lunak said in an e-mail statement to TT. “This service, intended to better utilize our freight network, has been around in various forms for quite some time. The analysis suggesting dramatic undercutting of pricing is false.”

As for Amazon’s entry into brokerage, it likely is part of a plan to better execute delivery, say business observers. And by providing logistics, Amazon can lower its shipping costs, one top analyst said.

“It’s all about concentrating buying power,” Armstrong & Associates President Evan Armstrong told TT. “By offering services to shippers, they will increase their purchased transportation spend with providers and be able to garner more trucking capacity at better rates.”

Hexbyte  News  Computers Evan Armstrong

Armstrong

To other analysts, it is part of Amazon’s modus operandi: It’s not personal with freight, it’s just another service Amazon learned along the way. And when Amazon learns something, it begins to sell it. It’s a play Amazon has executed before, said Jeremy Bowman, a writer and analyst with The Motley Fool.

“I think with logistics/freight, they’re following a similar playbook to what they did with Amazon Web Services, fulfillment and other businesses that have become highly profitable for them: Develop a new business/infrastructure to serve the needs of its own massive e-commerce business and from there, once it’s ironed out the kinks, begin selling to whoever’s interested,” Bowman said in an e-mail to TT.

The comparison of Amazon Freight with Amazon Web Services is made often. Amazon started AWS in 2002 to accommodate Amazon’s web business. Eventually, the cloud-computing service was offered outside of house, to other businesses. At the end of 2018, AWS made $25.7 billion in revenue, earning $7.3 billion in net income, according to Amazon’s 2018 financial filings. The company also boasted of new businesses AWS attracted in 2018, with Korean Air and Santander’s Openbank going “all in” with AWS for cloud-computing.

Thus, one analyst wrote it is not that surprising that Amazon now offers freight hauling.

“Twenty years in, Amazon’s modus operandi is clear,” Freightos CEO Zvi Schreiber wrote on his blog. “They build internal tools and then offer them as a service, just like Amazon warehouses were first used for their inventory and then opened up for fulfillment by Amazon [FBA] sellers, trucking will go the same way.”

Hexbyte  News  Computers Amazon

Schreiber

Schreiber wrote that “[Amazon’s] snowball of success has relied on expanding from one market to the next, leveraging market dominance to penetrate new markets.”

Schreiber later told TT that with 60% of American households signed up for Amazon Prime memberships, “I think they have an unfair advantage that needs to be watched carefully.”

Amazon does things very well, and it wants to control the whole supply chain, from China to the ports to fulfillment centers to home delivery, Schreiber said. And to make money along the entire route, he added.

Bowman told TT that Amazon’s motives may be in-house before they are related to seeing market opportunity in freight, much like AWS. Bowman said past problems with insufficient capacity and speed during holidays likely has led Amazon to want to handle as much in-house freight and delivery as it can.

Hexbyte  News  Computers Amazon

Bowman

“And it doesn’t hurt that logistics is a huge industry/opportunity,” Bowman said.

Amazon’s new final-mile standard of one-day delivery means every season is like Christmas, and that means Amazon has to examine its own logistics better.

“To me, with their recent announcement of one-day delivery for Prime members, the company very clearly envisions a huge ramping up in its own need and demand for delivery,” Bowman said. “In order to make sure that goes right, they want to handle as much of it as possible themselves and build that logistics business from there.”