Most modern smartphones have built-in voice assistants, be it Siri, Google Now or Cortana. Amazon's new virtual secretary, though, lives inside its own Sonos-like speaker.

Amazon Echo is a small (9.25-in tall) cylinder that you control entirely with your voice. Say the magic word ("Alexa," because apparently virtual assistants need real names) and ask the speaker things like the weather, unit conversions, and random facts from Wikipedia. It's an Amazon-made Siri or Google Now rival that lives in your home instead of your phone.

It looks like Amazon put some thought into the voice control aspect – and the potential obstacles in a room-based assistant – as Echo has seven microphones with noise cancellation and beam-forming technology. The company says it can recognize you from "across the room" and in any direction – even while it's playing music.

Speaking of music, that's the other big function here. Amazon describes the omni-directional audio as "fine-tuned to deliver crisp vocals with dynamic bass response." Whether that translates to Sonos quality, or something more akin to a mid-ranged Bluetooth speaker, remains to be seen.

Like Sonos, though, the unit maintains a constant Wi-Fi connection and can stream from several cloud services. That list is pretty small right now: Amazon Music, Prime Music, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. That means no Spotify, Pandora, Beats Music, Rdio, Deezer, Rhapsody, or Google Play Music. Sonos-esque, yes. Sonos-quality streaming library, no.

The Amazon Echo will be available "in the coming weeks," and will cost US$200 to the general public or $100 for Amazon Prime members. Right now it's invitation only, but you can sign up to request one at the source link.

You can find out more about Echo in the video below.

Source: Amazon

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