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Amazon Announces New Echo Show With Touch Screen, Introduces Alexa Calling

Variety logo Variety 5/9/2017 Janko Roettgers
© Provided by Variety

Amazon added another device to its family of Echo speakers Tuesday with the introduction of the Echo Show, a smart speaker with an integrated 7-inch touchscreen that will go on sale for $229.99 at the end of next month. The company also introduced a new voice and video calling service that connects existing Echo speakers with the new Echo Show and mobile devices.

The Echo Show is in many ways similar to the existing Echo. It features seven microphones to take voice commands from across the room, is integrated with music services like Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn and Amazon’s own Prime Music, and can be used for a wide variety of tasks, from reading the news or weather report to controlling smart lightbulbs and calling an Uber.

With the addition of the screen, Amazon is also adding support for videos from YouTube, Bloomberg, CNN and its own Prime Video service. The screen can also display photo slideshows, and give visual feedback to a range of other voice commands. Hulu and Netflix aren’t available on the device at this time, a spokesperson told Variety Tuesday. “But we’d love to have them create a skill for Echo Show,” he added.

But perhaps the biggest selling point is video calling. Amazon officially introduced a new voice and video calling service dubbed Alexa Calling Tuesday, which allows Echo Show owners to video call each other with simple voice commands.

Users can also set their device to automatically allow trusted contacts to “drop in,” which automatically launches the video feed of the caller on the receiving device as a kind of preview — similar to the “knock knock” feature that Google introduced with its Duo video calling app last year. And Amazon is adding video calling to its Alexa mobile app, so Android and iOS users can connect with Echo Show owners where ever they are.

What’s more, Amazon is also bringing audio calling to existing Echo and Echo Dot speakers with a firmware update. Alexa Calling is available on these existing devices effective immediately, allowing users to call each other other leave messages for another.

There’s no interconnection to the existing phone network yet — for now anyway. Amazon also didn’t reveal whether it will add Alexa Calling to other devices with Alexa integration, which include anything from TVs to fridges to car dashboards. But there’s some clear potential here for Amazon to use voice and video calling as a way to get consumers to embrace Alexa everywhere.

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