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Friday, October 13, 2023

Hands-on with Amazon’s new Echo Show 8 and Alexa’s enhanced AI functionality

Amazon announced its new 3rd-Gen Echo Show 8 and the Echo Hub during its annual Devices and Services event . While improving processing functions and quality of life aspects, Amazon is double-downing on its investments in generative AI to bring new features to the Echo devices.

The tech giant is incorporating several core AI features, all baked into Alexa. Designed to build upon its smart home services, Amazon has upgraded Alexa, including a more advanced large language model (LLM) . The goal is to help users have a more personalized, conversational experience with less latency while interacting with Alexa, according to the company.

“Based on a short stint of interacting with the new and improved Alexa, I’ve already started wondering whether I should be resyncing my Echo products across my own home.”

What does this all mean for users? Based on hands-on demos provided after Amazon’s fall hardware event, Alexa is able to conduct fluid and more intelligent conversations. The assistant’s ability to quickly address commands is also snappier. For instance, users can approach Echo Show 8 and Echo Hub, ask Alexa to “create some mood lighting” and in the blink of an eye, their smart lights are adjusted accordingly. Users can also make other commands without repeating the wake-up for each command. 

Adding to Amazon’s further commitment to AI, it’s partnering to bring Character.AI to Alexa. Although the features won’t necessarily revolutionize how we interact with our smart homes, this AI feature lets users interact with historical figures with accompanying generative voices. I was able to begin a conversation about suggested vacations and was later given historical facts about Greece, all within one fluid conversation.

Even more AI-powered features are coming to Alexa in the future. For instance, a new Call Translation is arriving for Alexa. Using Alexa audio and video calls, captions will be available in different languages in real time. Amazon hopes this will enable families to communicate more seamlessly. This feature is supported in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., and other global regions in over 10 languages.

Based on a short stint of interacting with the new and improved Alexa, I’ve already started wondering whether I should be resyncing my Echo products across my own home. Of course, what was available to demonstrate across Echo products today was the tip of the iceberg of what’s to come down the road. 

Beyond AI functionality, the Echo Show 8 isn’t offering a dynamically new design. However, the display now spans closer to the edges, providing a much more sleek look to it when sitting on a countertop or bookshelf. It also includes an upgraded 13-megapixel camera, which users will certainly see the benefit of during video calls. Onboard controls for volume are also found on the top. For security purposes, Amazon also includes a button to disable the microphone.

The main feature I tested out on Echo Show 8 was its Adaptive Content. Depending on my distance from the smart home device, different information is populated on the display. For instance, from afar, Echo Show 8 displays a simple background, current weather, the time, etc. However, a more detailed gallery of information seamlessly appeared once I took a few steps closer. Here, I found recent playlists, news, and other useful information. Unfortunately, in the crowded hands-on area, it was hard to gauge just how sensitive the adaptive display was. It appears as though the more minimalist display kicked in when I was two or three feet away from the device. When I got any closer, it would shift.

This new sleek version of personalized content was also shown on the new Echo Hub. Powered by Alexa, Echo Hub also has access to generative AI features noted above. This smart home device features a thin 8-inch touch display. For homeowners, Echo Hub is customizable and can display the status and settings of various smart home devices. Users can also set up schedules and routines. Commands like setting the lights when you wake up and starting the coffee machine can be set. Setting the temperature for when you come home from work is also possible. Thanks to the upgraded Alexa, making these commands and finetuning your settings is very intuitive.

This feature will be available on Echo Show 8 and Echo Hub at launch and other Echo Show devices next year. However, users in the U.S. with an existing Echo device will be able to test many of Alexa’s new generative AI functions this year.

Echo Show 8 will be available for $149 USD (roughly $199 CAD). MobileSyrup can confirm that the Echo Show 8 will be available in Canada “next year.” Amazon has also confirmed that Canadian pricing will be available “closer to launch.” Echo Hub launches “later this year” for $239 CAD.

BFIA Admin
BFIA Admin
The big boss.

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