Amazon on Thursday launched the $24.99 Echo Flex, a small device with a speaker and a USB port for adding things like night lights or motion sensors, that can be used wherever you have an electrical outlet.
Think of it as a way to add a tiny Echo speaker with Alexa to any wall outlet. It doesn't have any wires, which makes it convenient if you want Alexa in the bathroom, or somewhere else where a smaller wired Echo, like the $34.99 Echo Dot, won't fit.
I've been using the Amazon Echo Flex for the past couple of days. Here's what it's like.
The Echo Flex provides access to Amazon's voice assistant Alexa wherever you have an electrical outlet, and without any cables. I bought one (and Amazon sent me another and some accessories for review) because I've been frustrated with the Echo Dot in my bathroom, which I use for news briefings when I'm getting ready in the morning.
But my outlet is close to the sink, and I don't like that there's a wire hanging out on the counter. The Echo Flex solves that problem: It just plugs into an outlet and sits right on your wall.
It's great for keeping things uncluttered in the kitchen, bathrooms or maybe a workshop where you don't want cables around your power tools. Yes, there are accessories that can mount an Echo Dot, and you might want one where you want a better speaker than what the Echo Flex has, but this is an easier plug-and-go solution.
The Echo Flex works like any other Echo. You can ask Alexa the weather, how long it'll take to get work, to read you a book from Audible, play music and more. I found it best for spoken things, like the news or quick information on the outside temperature, since the speaker isn't great for music and doesn't get terribly loud.
There's a USB port on the bottom that can connect to two third-party accessories. One is a $14.99 nightlight that automatically turns on when it's dark and can change to about a dozen different colors. The other is a $14.99 motion sensor that can turn on lights, start playing music when you walk in the room or any other routine you configure.
You don't need either one, but I liked the nightlight on the Echo Flex I put in the bathroom. Plus, you just plug the accessories in and they work. There's no fiddling required, though you can customize things like the nightlight color or motion sensor routines in the Alexa app.
You can use it to make announcements and chat with other people in your house just like an intercom, features that are also in Amazon's more expensive and robust Echos. And I liked that I was able to add it to my Alexa Guard system, which alerts me if it hears smoke detectors or broken glass when I'm away from the house.
And, like other Amazon Echo products, there's a button to turn off the microphone when you don't want it listening to the Alexa wake word, or if you just don't like the idea of microphones all over your house.
I wish the speaker on the Echo Flex was better. As I said earlier, I used to just keep an Echo Dot in my bathroom for music and news in the mornings. The Echo Flex doesn't really get loud enough for me to hear over the running shower, especially for morning news briefings. But, it's fine when I'm next to it and brushing my teeth, or just walking by in other places like the kitchen.
I wish it had some of the other functions built-in, too. The night-light, for example, just plugs right in. Why not just add a night light to it permanently? But, I wonder if the USB port might be used by third party companies to add other features, like perhaps a better speaker that can boost the sound. I'm looking forward to additional things that might launch for it.
I did, and I'm planning on keeping it. The Echo Flex is great for certain situations and rooms where other Echoes don't make sense. You might have limited counter space in a kitchen or bathroom, for example, where an Echo or Echo Dot won't fit. Or maybe an outlet above your work bench in the basement where you don't want to try to rig up an Echo Dot. Or maybe in the hallway of your house so you can have Alexa and a little light at night. That's where the Echo Flex make the most sense. For other situations, where you have plenty of space for an Echo Dot, just buy that. It has a better speaker but doesn't have the USB port for a nightlight or a motion sensor.