AMAZON HAS announced the UK and European launch of its freaky Echo voice assistant, following through on one of the worst kept secrets in tech this year.
Echo goes on sale today and has been fully regionalised with a frankly foxy-sounding British English voice for 'Alexa' and a range of local 'skills', including BBC News, Jamie Oliver recipes, National Rail and a knowledge of Monty Python lines.
The voice assistant was launched in the US in late 2014 and may or may not be tapped by the FBI. It has been a huge hit with everyone who is too lazy to turn their own lights on.
Echo is capable of managing calendars, playing music, setting timers and reminders and, of course, managing your Amazon Shopping List. It's available to pre-order from today in the UK for £149, and in Germany by invitation for €179 as part of an active beta programme.
Amazon Prime customers will have the opportunity to order with a £50 or €50 discount for the first two days.
Echo has been particularly popular in helping customers with special access needs as it interfaces with many leading smart home brands. Most notably for UK users it supports British Gas Hive, which is not known for its compatibility.
Also coming is a redesigned version of Echo Dot, the little brother device that links to Bluetooth speakers and allows Alexa access in every room.
The Echo and Dot join the growing range of Amazon hardware, including Kindle Fire, Fire TV, Kindle and, most recently for UK users, Amazon Dash which helps to manage shopping lists.
The Dot retails for £49.99 or in six and 12 packs at discount prices. So if you have a really good idea while sitting on the toilet (and, hey, who doesn't?) there's no excuse.
This prevalence means that Alexa will now be able to tell the relative distance of a voice in a software update that will also roll out to existing users in the coming weeks.
Google announced a similar product, Google Assistant, at the I/O conference earlier this year but there is no release date as yet. µ
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