Amazon on Wednesday introduced a new Alexa-compatible appliance, the Echo Flex, at its annual product event in Seattle.
Could this be the smartest smart plug ever? Almost certainly – the Amazon Echo Flex is a compact Echo speaker that plugs straight into a wall, no cables required.
Once plugged in, its onboard mic and small speaker brings Alexa AI voice smarts to corners of your home where it’d otherwise be inaccessible. It’s not without compromise, but with some cool accessories and flexible placement, it could prove incredibly popular.
he Amazon Echo Flex is available for pre-order now, priced at a pocket-money impulse-purchase point of just $24.99 / £24.99 (its additional add ons will be $14.99 each). That’s one of the cheapest ways to get Alexa in your home, rivaled only by the super-cheap Echo Input puck. The Echo Flex has the benefit of wall-socket power, giving it added flexibility of placement, whereas the speaker-less Input has to piggy-back off another audio device.
The Amazon Echo Flex is, admittedly, not much of a looker. It most closely resembles a Wi-Fi range extender – plugging into a wall socket, it’s a gloss white box with a low profile and a couple of Alexa buttons – one to trigger the assistant, the other to mute the onboard mics. Two speaker grilles are on the lower part of the front side, while the ever-present signature blue Alexa-is-listening light is on the front, too. With no cabling, you simply plug it into the wall, connect it to your network via the Alexa app, and you’re good to go.
From here, its onboard mics give it all the functionality you’ve come to expect from other Alexa devices. Use that wake word, and the Flex comes to life, ready to playback songs, control smart home devices, set timers, reminders and give trivia and news updates, among many, many more useful functions. It’s essentially an Echo Dot in terms of what it can do, right down to an AUX-in port’s presence, except it plugs straight into a wall. This makes it far more flexible in terms of placement around a home, giving you plenty of options on how you want to access Amazon’s assistant in each room.
Where it sets itself truly apart from the other Amazon Echo devices in the range is an onboard USB port, situated on the lower side of the Flex. It’s a 7.5 watt USB 2.0 port, which will be useful for charging devices without losing a power port on your wall.
It gets particularly interesting with its ability to support add on devices, though. Amazon has partnered with device manufacturer Third Reality, the Echo Flex also supports a night light that can be plugged into the bottom, and a motion sensor. Both of these can be configured to work with Alexa routines and voice commands, adding further flexibility and functionality to the Flex. It’ll be very interesting to see what other accessories come to the Flex, with Amazon already teasing there are more waiting in the wings.
The Amazon Echo Flex is not designed for music, that much is clear. Sure, it’ll play back any tune from any streaming service of your choosing, but its speaker is small, tinny and weak. This is very much an auxiliary Echo device, and while you could feasibly add it to a multi-group set up (and connect a more accomplished speaker over AUX in), you wouldn’t really want to – it’s simply not designed as a real listening device.
Instead, think of the Flex as a companion device to your Alexa ecosystem elsewhere. If you’ve smart bulbs in an attic, for instance, this would be the perfect accompaniment, being a low profile and low cost way of controlling them. As a bedside device it’d give you a quick update on the day’s weather, while we’d quite cheekily enjoy being able to listen to a podcast while on the toilet. We can dream, right?
Amazon wants to get Alexa in every room of your home – Flex makes this truly possible for the first time.
It ain’t pretty, but it doesn’t have to be. The diminutive Echo Flex opens up Alexa to otherwise inaccessible parts of your home, and thanks to its additional add-on accessories, could eventually be an interesting device in its own right.