Amazon Launches Big Screen Smart Speaker—and Mobile Robot

The new product lineup also includes a fitness tracker, smart thermostat, and a smart speaker that lets kids chat and play games with relatives and friends

Amazon Echo Show 15 Photo: Amazon

Amazon introduced a broad range of devices and services at its fall product launch, including a big-screen smart speaker that acts as a digital bulletin board and a mobile robot that monitors your house while you’re away.

The smart speaker, called the Amazon Echo Show 15, features a 15.6-inch HD touchscreen that can be mounted on a wall (in either portrait or landscape mode) or positioned on a flat surface.

The company is pitching the $249 device as a family organizer, the digital equivalent of tacking papers and sticky notes to a corkboard or a refrigerator door.

The Show 15 features a new user interface that employs Alexa Widget apps to allow family members to share and update a common calendar or send messages to one another.

Check out the latest new products from Amazon-owned Ring, including the Alarm Pro home security system and the Virtual Security Guard service.

More on Smart Speakers

The Show 15 can also function as a 1080p TV for the kitchen with support for Hulu, Netflix, Prime Video, and later this year, Sling TV. And when it’s not in use, the laptop-sized screen can blend into the background as a smart picture frame, displaying family photos or other pre-selected art. The device will be available later this fall, the company says.

Alexa, the company’s voice-controlled digital assistant, is getting a variety of new skills that seem designed to dovetail with the Show 15.

For example, the digital assistant can now use a smart speaker’s camera to identify members of a household and allow them to see their individual calendars, messages, or even recently played music.

And, you can now set up alerts linked to sounds in your home; for example, a notification that lets you know the smart speaker has heard the beep your fridge makes when it’s left open.

The company also announced a potentially important privacy change for its higher-end devices.

Instead of sending all voice recordings to Amazon’s cloud servers for processing, the company’s more expensive smart speaker models will process some verbal commands—such as "turn on the lights"—locally on the device.

The option will be available on the Echo Show 10, Echo Show 15, and the fourth generation Echo, but not on less expensive devices, like the entry-level Echo Dot, which have more limited processing capabilities.

A Robot to Call Your Own

Amazon also introduced Astro, a small $999 mobile robot designed to monitor your house or apartment when you’re not at home.

Imagine a Roomba outfitted with a pivoting tablet that can send live video as it roams around. Astro features a camera on a periscope that can extend to capture video well above floor-level, for example, to show you if a kitchen burner was left on.

Amazon Astro Robot

Photo: Amazon Photo: Amazon

The device, which can reach speeds of 1 meter per second, can check on pets or keep watch for burglars while you’re away. The device allows users to set Out of Bounds zones that put a bedroom, bathroom, and other areas off-limits. A Do Not Disturb mode limits Astro’s patrol times.

The robot will eventually sell for $1,499, but Amazon is offering an introductory price of $999, which includes a 1-year subscription to Ring Home Protect Pro home security service. Amazon is now taking requests for invitations to buy the device, which is set for delivery by the end of the year.

The Family That Plays Together

Amazon also introduced Glow, a video-calling and interactive device aimed at kids. The $249 brick-like gadget has an eight-inch video display that works a bit like a small smart screen and lets kids make video calls with friends and relatives.

There’s also a 19-inch touch-sensitive projection space in front of the device where both parties can draw, play interactive games, or read animated storybooks together, accessing content from Disney, Mattel, Nickelodeon, and Sesame Workshop. Other family members don’t have to have a Glow of their own to join in the fun. They can use an Android or IOS tablet to access the Glow app.

Privacy features on the device include a visible shutter that allows parents to disable the camera and the ability to restrict calls to a list of pre-approved contacts.

Amazon Glow

Photo: Amazon Photo: Amazon

The company also added to its Halo line of fitness trackers. Unlike the Halo Band, introduced last year with a controversial body scanning feature, the $79 Halo View is a more conventional device. While the original Halo didn’t have a display, the View features an AMOLED color display and tracks activity, generates sleep scores, and measures blood oxygen levels.

The tracker comes with a choice of bands in black, sage, and lavender, as well as a variety of optional straps. It looks more than a bit like Fitbit’s recently introduced Charge 5.

Halo View - Biking

Photo: Amazon Photo: Amazon

The device is swim-proof and, according to Amazon, has a battery life of up to seven days and can be fully charged in 90 minutes. The View comes with a one-year membership to Halo’s suite of fitness and wellness content. That includes a new Halo Nutrition feature, which delivers recipes, devises meal plans, and adds ingredients to an Alexa shopping list.

Amazon also enhanced its smart speaker-based services for older individuals with Alexa Together. Building on last year’s Care Alerts, Alexa Together allows multiple caregivers—more than one sibling, for example, or several friends and a neighbor—to check on someone by video call. The service also allows remote caregivers to set up reminders, add people to a contact list, or find music or video content. Care Alerts has a 24/7 urgent response feature that enables it to call for emergency services. It also features support for fall detection from third-party wearable devices.

Amazon announced an Alexa-controlled smart thermostat, too. The main selling point of the device, which was designed by Honeywell, is the $59 price, which is roughly half that of the average smart thermostat sold on Amazon, according to the company.

Allen St. John

I believe that technology has the power to change our lives—for better or for worse. That's why I’ve spent my life reporting and writing about it for outlets of all sorts, from newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) to magazines (Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone) and even my own books ("Newton’s Football" and "Clapton’s Guitar"). For me, there's no better way to spend a day than talking to a bunch of experts about an important subject and then writing a story that'll help others be smarter and better informed.