- Amazon debuted the Echo Buds on Wednesday – a pair of wireless earbuds that let you talk to the Alexa voice assistant anytime, anywhere.
- They’re priced at $US130 and are available for preorder starting on Wednesday.
- It’s a big move for Amazon, as it takes Alexa out of the home where it’s been most successful, and into the wider world.
- Here’s what they’re like to use.
Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant can be found in everything from microwaves to washing machines, and now it’s coming to wireless earbuds, too.
Amazon on Wednesday announced the Echo Buds, its first pair of truly wireless earbuds that come with Alexa built-in. They’re priced at $US130 and are available for preorder starting on Wednesday.
The retail giant is the latest major tech firm to launch wireless earbuds that can be used to summon digital assistants, following in the footsteps of Apple and Samsung. It’s a critical move for Amazon as it seeks to expand Alexa outside of the home.
I had the chance to briefly try out the Echo Buds following Amazon’s event on Wednesday, and here’s a closer look at what it was like to use them.
Design and comfort
The Echo Buds look and feel a bit similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Buds, and they fit snugly in your ear. I usually have a difficult time getting truly wireless earbuds to remain securely tucked into my ear, but during my limited time with the Echo Buds they seemed to fit easily and comfortably. The earbuds also come with three ear tips and wing tips in different sizes.
While Alexa may be the Echo Buds’ headlining characteristic, Amazon’s new headphones also come with another practical feature: active noise reduction and passthrough mode.
You can turn on active noise reduction to downplay surrounding noise if you’re in a loud or busy environment. Amazon’s bustling press event which was overrun with media attendees turned out to be an ideal setting to test this, and it certainly succeeded in drowning out the surrounding noise. Both the sound from the crowd around me and the Amazon representative I had been speaking with faded out after I double tapped one of the earbuds.
Double tapping again will trigger the so-called passthrough mode, which as its name implies makes it possible to hear sound from your surroundings as you’re listening to music.
These features are by no means unique to Amazon. Samsung’s Galaxy Buds have a feature that’s similar to passthrough mode called Ambient Sound. Sony also sells wireless earbuds that offer noise cancellation. But such features could give Amazon’s Echo Buds an advantage over Apple’s AirPods, which don’t offer any type of noise isolation or cancellation.
The Echo Buds make it possible to use Alexa hands-free even when you’re not home – an important move for Amazon if it wants to stay competitive with rivals like Google and Apple.
During the few minutes I spent using the Echo Buds, I was able to make basic requests like asking Alexa to recite the weather or start playing a playlist. Later this year, Amazon is rolling out another feature that will let Whole Foods shoppers ask whether items they need are in stock at their preferred location, which you can set in the Amazon app.
And despite the fact that Amazon operates Alexa, its earbuds are also compatible with whichever digital assistant you use most frequently on your phone – whether that be Siri, the Google Assistant, or Alexa itself.
Like Apple’s AirPods, the Echo Buds also automatically pause music when you remove one bud from your ear – a feature that worked well in my limited testing.
Amazon’s Echo Buds seem like they could be cheaper and more flexible alternative to Apple’s $US160 AirPods, especially since they offer features that Apple’s earbuds lack like noise cancellation.
But what will really make them stand out is whether or not Amazon continues to build out Alexa-specific capabilities for them like the Whole Foods shopping feature it announced on Wednesday. Such features could give Amazon loyalists a reason to choose the Echo Buds over rivals from Samsung and Sony, too.
More than anything else, though, the Echo Buds represent an important step for Amazon to push Alexa forward. Amazon is everywhere in the home, from wall clocks to ovens and bedside alarm clocks. The one area Amazon hasn’t been expanding, however, is in the mobile space. The Echo Buds now give the online retail giant a viable way to do so.