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By now, everyone knows about Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot, but a newer addition is the Echo Flex. Despite how the name sounds, it’s not some type of flexible cable or cord version. However, it’s a more convenient option for adding Alexa to your home or adding on to your current Echo setup.

What Is the Echo Flex?

Before diving into the benefits, you should know what this Echo device is. It’s a smaller device that plugs directly into an outlet. There aren’t any cables to deal with. Think of it as a nightlight, though it has much more functionality than just a light. It includes a speaker to let you talk directly with Alexa.

However, that is the one major con for the Flex. The speaker isn’t meant for music. While it’ll play music, it won’t sound great at all. You can connect it to another speaker via Bluetooth or by setting another preferred Echo speaker in your home for playing music.

1. Convenient to Add Almost Anywhere

Unlike the Echo and Echo Dot, the Echo Flex doesn’t require a shelf, table, or counter to sit on. This means you can add it to any outlet, even if there’s nothing around it. This makes it more convenient to add to your home exactly where you need it, such as in a hallway, bathroom, or any area where you just don’t have room to set a device.

2. Charge USB Devices

Since you’re giving up an outlet, the Flex comes complete with a USB port to easily charge your USB devices. Of course, if you’re charging devices, you may want to have a table nearby to lay your phone, tablet, or other device on while it charges.

3. Add Attachments

The Echo Flex’s USB port has a dual purpose – attachments. Customize your Flex by buying the add-ons you want most. At the time of writing, Amazon currently has three different attachments that can plug directly into the USB port:

Smart Clock – Set the brightness, use it to see your set timers in action, and switch between 12- and 24-hour formats.

Smart Night-Light

– Control the brightness, color, and when it turns on and off.

Motion Sensor – Trigger Alexa motion-activated routines.

All of these are available for $14.99 each. You can only use one at a time. However, you can customize each individual Flex, such as adding a night-light to a hallway or a clock to the kitchen.

4. Affordable

The Echo Flex is just $24.99, and as with most Echo products, Amazon regularly runs promos with cheaper prices. For instance, there was a $15 discount when you buy two promo at the time of writing. The Echo Dot is $49.99, though regular promos make it around the same price as the Flex, especially if you buy more than one.

5. No Cables to Deal With

If you hate trying to hide cables, it’s tricky to find the perfect place to add your Echo device. You have to make sure the cable’s long enough to reach or try to bunch up excess cable for shorter distances. With the Flex, there aren’t any cables to deal with at all. As an added bonus, if you have small kids or pets, there aren’t cables for them to mess with, and the Flex can cover an outlet, protecting curious little fingers.

Overall, the Echo Flex is a great addition to the Echo line. While it won’t make your music sound great, you can still hear Alexa clearly throughout a room. Plus, the convenience alone makes it a good way to expand Alexa through your home.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons/ReferenceMan

Crystal Crowder

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

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How Private Is Amazon Echo?

How private is Amazon Echo?

Put a microphone in your product, and someone is going to assume you’re listening to them. That’s one of the challenges Amazon Echo – the online retailer’s “Siri in a totem pole” – faces, with suspicion about just how much Jeff Bezos & Co. (or his algorithms, at least) are actually eavesdropping on. Given the power of Amazon’s recommendation engines and the amount of data it gathers just from casual browsing, you can certainly see where some of the paranoia might come from, too. A microphone-mute button takes pride of place on top of Echo, but will it be enough to persuade potential users that the virtual assistant is working for them and not for Amazon itself? I went hunting for some answers on just what Echo shares and how you can tame it.

Amazon bills Echo as your family’s friend: answering the kid’s questions while they do their homework, and keeping a running shopping list for the parents without making them reach for a pen in the kitchen. The concern, though, is just how much listening Echo is doing.

As soon as the product was revealed, in a quiet pre-registration launch on Thursday this week, critics were already making semi-serious jokes about how sensible it would be to pay Amazon for the privilege of bringing Echo into your home.

Echo’s technology aims to look like magic to users, but it’s actually built on top of several acquisitions Amazon has made over the past few years. Back in late 2011, for instance, the retailer bought Yap, a voice-to-text and speech recognition company that at the time was offering services like voicemail transcription.

In 2013, meanwhile, Amazon bought both Evi – a Siri-style app which had already been pulled from the iPhone’s App Store for apparently being too close to Apple’s own functionality, though was later restored – and IVONA Software, a text-to-speech specialist.

IVONA was already providing the tech which powered the Kindle Fire’s ability to read out text on-screen, part of its “Explore by Touch” feature among others.

Some of those talents have already been implemented in Amazon Dash, a barcode-scanning wand that can also be instructed by voice as to what you want to buy through the Amazon Fresh grocery delivery service. Dash’s voice recognition is triggered by a button, rather than the always-listening feature on Echo.

Exactly what Echo is listening to, though, has led to some confusion. Just as with the Moto X, “always on” actually means “always listening for a specific command.” In Echo’s case, that’s either “Alexa” or “Amazon”, either of which will wake the column up and start it monitoring for more complex instructions.

Over time, Amazon tells me, Echo will support more wake-commands, though it’s uncertain whether there’ll be support for user-customizable commands as Motorola added in the 2014 version of its phone.

What you also get is a physical microphone mute button on the top. Pressing that shuts off even the trigger word system and, in theory, stops Echo from listening to you at all.

Of course, whether people will actually walk all the way over to wherever Echo is plugged in and press that button is questionable. The device’s seven microphone array and beam-forming technology is designed to listen to you wherever you are in the room, which suggests Echo can hear clearly from a lot further away than the length of most peoples’ arms.

A spoken command to mute the microphone – which would require physically re-enabling it afterwards, though even when muted you can still trigger with the voice button on the bundled Echo remote, Amazon pointed out to me. - could be a useful addition. Amazon will be able to remotely upgrade Echo with new features, as well as add voice-controlled services in the cloud.

As with other voice recognition systems, Amazon relies on recordings to improve the quality of its algorithms. While there’s an optional Voice Training system in the Amazon Echo App, the wireless speaker will do run its own learning process in the background, too.

“When you use the wake word to talk to Amazon Echo, the audio stream includes a few seconds of audio before the wake word, and closes once Amazon Echo has processed your question or request,” Amazon told me. There’s also an optional “wake up sound,” the company said, effectively a short tone that indicates Echo is streaming audio to the cloud.

A similar “end of request” tone can be activated, too, to flag when Echo has stopped streaming.

There’ll also be access to all of those recordings if you log into Amazon’s browser-based dashboard. Interactions are grouped by question or request, Amazon says, and you can not only listen to the clip but send feedback about how well it was processed.

Individual clips can be deleted, or the entire history wiped out, though Echo’s accuracy will take a dive back to out-of-the-box condition if you do so.

Nonetheless, Amazon is still doing a little extra homework in the background as a shortcut to knowing you better. Things like your music playlists are automatically processed by Echo’s voice services, “to improve response time and accuracy”; similarly, Amazon reserves the right to share your music titles, radio stations, and zip code with “third party services”, though doesn’t confirm who they might be.

In the end, how much you trust Echo comes down to a more wide-ranging question about how you trust the cloud. On the one hand, there have been enough data leaks and privacy goofs over the past twelve months to make you understandably wary of what’s going on with the servers of other; on the other, if you want the convenience features, cloud processing is still the most efficient and flexible way of doing it.

A minor software tweak could certainly improve Echo’s usability in getting a temporary respite from its eavesdropping, and it’s not something that would be too tricky for Amazon to implement. Still, for the truly privacy-concerned, any sort of microphone – no matter how many buttons to turn them off they have – is going to be a no-go area on a device.

7 Best Amazon Echo Cases And Covers

Amazon Echo, the voice controlled, AI powered personal assistant and home automation device, is certainly a futuristic piece of technology. It can stream music and podcasts, provide real-time news updates, make to-do lists, control other devices, and do a lot more, all with voice commands. Now, generally, Amazon Echo sits in a fixed place, constantly listening for voice commands. But there might be times when you need to take the device with you. And for that, you need a carry case.

1. Fintie Protective Case for Amazon Echo

One of the best cases available for Amazon Echo, the Fintie Protective Case is a must have accessory. It’s made up of premium synthetic leather, lined up on the inside with soft, non-scratch microfiber material. Furthermore, the cover has speaker vents made with nylon fabric, that doesn’t hinder the audio output. The removable carrying strap design lets you use the case both for carrying Amazon Echo, as well as use it perfectly while it’s sat down. And what’s life without a little variety? The Fintie Protective Case is available in over 15 funky colors and designs, so you can be sure of finding one that suits your taste.

2. ACdream Premium PU Leather Sleeve

True to its name, the ACdream Premium PU Leather Sleeve is a premium case that fits your Amazon Echo like a second skin. The cover’s exterior is made up of Polyurethane (PU) leather, while the soft interior protects the device from scratches and abrasions. There are precise cuts for all features and controls, and Amazon Echo can be perfectly used with the cover. Want to carry the device with you? Just hook up the provided strap, and you’re good to go. The ACdream Premium PU Leather Sleeve comes in 6 different colors (e.g. Crocodile Brown). Oh, and did we mention that it’s backed by a lifetime warranty?

Price: $17.59, regardless of color chosen

3. co2CREA Travel Carrying Case for Amazon Echo

It may not be heavy on the bling factor, but the co2CREA Travel Carrying Case is great for securely hauling the Amazon Echo anywhere. The case is made up of two semi-cylindrical halves, both lined up on the inside with soft, cushiony EVA padding. The cover snugly closes around the device by means of a zip fastener, and has a taut handle for easy portability. But what’s best about the co2CREA Travel Carrying Case is that it also has a separated chamber, that you can use to carry the Amazon Echo’s power adapter, along with the device itself.

Price: $19.99

4. Bluetech Premium Hard Travel Case for Amazon Echo

Want a rugged solution for lugging your Amazon Echo everywhere? Look no further than Bluetech Premium Hard Travel Case. It’s made from a 5 mm thick durable EVA based material that’s not only shock-resistant, but looks good as well. The molded inner side is built from a felt material, and has separate compartments for both the Amazon Echo and its power adapter. Moreover, the case’s carrying handle is reinforced with rubber for a stronger grip. Other than the usual Black, the Bluetech Premium Hard Travel Case is also available in Pink and Green.

Price: $34.99

5. Lightning Power Lycra Zipper Carrying Case for Amazon Echo

Price: $11.88

6. Octobermoon Soft Case for Amazon Echo

Offering reliable protection without adding any heft, the Octobermoon Soft Case is a solidly built cover for the Amazon Echo. The case has a hollow cylindrical design, and you can just slide the Echo into it, and close the zipped cover. It’s made up of soft diving material, and is perfect if you intend on packing the Amazon Echo with other stuff in a bigger luggage bag. However, the Octobermoon Soft Case doesn’t include any space for carrying the device’s power adapter, so that’s a bit of a letdown. There are quite a few color choices available, such as Yellow and Blue.

7. Pushingbest Protective Bag for Amazon Echo

The Pushingbest Protective Bag offers a nice way of carrying Amazon Echo with you anywhere. It’s made up of Premium PU (Polyurethane) Leather, and has zipper openings on both sides for sliding the Amazon Echo in and out of it with ease. The fit offered by the case is quite good, and the mesh design is a nice added touch as well. Also, the base of the cover features a hole for passing through the power cable, so Echo can be plugged in while still being covered. That said, the cover does hamper the working of the device (at least a little) bit, and thus is best suited for carrying purposes only.

Price: $16.99 (White color); $21.99 (Black color)

SEE ALSO: Top 15 Amazon Echo Skins 

Carry Amazon Echo with you everywhere

Bloomberg: Thousands Of Amazon Employees Are Listening To Echo Voice Recordings

Amazon has thousands of employees listen to Echo audio clips as part of improving Alexa’s machine learning so that the personal assistant could better respond to voice commands.

These people are listening to what some Alexa owners tell the assistant, reviewing, transcribing and annotating audio recordings to help train Alexa’s machine learning model.

Bloomberg has the story:

The work is mostly mundane. One worker in Boston said he mined accumulated voice data for specific utterances such as ‘Taylor Swift’ and annotated them to indicate the searcher meant the musical artist.

So far so good, but…

Occasionally the listeners pick up things Echo owners likely would rather stay private: a woman singing badly off key in the shower, say, or a child screaming for help. The teams use internal chat rooms to share files when they need help parsing a muddled word—or come across an amusing recording.

I get sharing a customer’s audio recording with a fellow worker for the purposes of getting the job done. But sharing an audio clip with a colleague just because the user might have happened to say something funny or stupid feels totally wrong and unprofessional to me.

Sometimes they hear recordings they find upsetting, or possibly criminal. Two of the workers said they picked up what they believe was a sexual assault. When something like that happens, they may share the experience in the internal chat room as a way of relieving stress.

While Amazon has a process in place for its workers to follow whenever they hear something distressing, some employees were rebuffed in no uncertain terms with the explanation that it wasn’t Amazon’s job to interfere.

For those concerned about privacy, the report claims that people on this team are listening to only some of the voice recordings that were captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices.

We take the security and privacy of our customers’ personal information seriously. We only annotate an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings in order to improve the customer experience.

For example, this information helps us train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems, so Alexa can better understand your requests, and ensure the service works well for everyone.

Sudio files are stripped of identifiable information like a user’s full name and address. That being said, Amazon could’ve been more transparent with its data collection:

The Alexa voice review process, described by seven people who have worked on the program, highlights the often-overlooked human role in training software algorithms. In marketing materials Amazon says Alexa ‘lives in the cloud and is always getting smarter.’ But like many software tools built to learn from experience, humans are doing some of the teaching.

Users can adjust settings to stop Amazon from using their voice recordings to improve Alexa.

The online retail giant acknowledges that Alexa requests are being used “to train our speech recognition and natural language understanding systems,” but this is buried in a list of frequently asked questions on their website. No matter how you look at it, contextual voice recognition is a tough nut to crack but machine learning promises to be the right solution. The problem is, machine learning models must be trained.

Amazon has teams of people labeling and categorizing Alexa voice queries

For instance, Apple has trained Face ID with more than a billion photographs of people’s faces. As for speech recognition, achieving high accuracy does require large amounts of labeled data.

That’s why launching Siri in a new language isn’t possible without having enough data to train the acoustic models, and that data has to come from real people performing real voice queries. The only difference between Amazon and Apple is that the former has humans listening to some of those recordings while the latter, presumable, does not.

Now that you know that Amazon has a global team listening to Alexa audio clips, are your more or less likely to continue using Echo products?

Amazon’s Echo Show Smart Hub Has A Built

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Video calling is a big selling point for Amazon’s new Echo Show device. Amazon

Just two weeks ago Amazon introduced the $200 Echo Look, a smart-home hub that includes a built-in camera to help evaluate your outfit before leaving the house. Now, the company has taken another step, introducing its flagship hub, the $229 Echo Show, which has both a 5-megapixel camera and a 7-inch touchscreen display.

The device itself is built like a fancy digital alarm clock, with the 7-inch screen sitting above a grill that obscures a pair of speaker drivers. It’s driven by Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, so you can interact with it using your voice just as you would a typical Echo, Echo Dot, or the Alexa app. It can display information like weather forecasts, YouTube videos, and of course screens meant to help you buy stuff from Amazon.

In many ways, the built-in screen seems to take the place of smartphone integration in the Alexa infrastructure. It can natively display live video footage from compatible doorbell and security cameras like Ring and Arlo.

The 5-megapixel front-facing camera may seem a little out of place in a bedroom setting. Amazon

The Echo Show can make video calls to other users who have an Echo Show or even just the Alexa smartphone app. Amazon also takes it one step beyond with Drop In, which, when set up, allows you to instantly connect to another person’s device in case you want to check in on an elderly relative or call other people in your house down for dinner.

Despite the addition of the touchscreen, Amazon still clearly intends for users to interact with Alexa by voice for the most part. The Echo Show has an array of eight microphones on top so it can hear commands from any direction. Noise cancellation helps it recognize voices even when music is playing.

Amazon on Tuesday also announced that it is bringing voice calling and messaging to the Echo ecosystem, meaning two people who both own an Echo device (whether it’s an Echo Dot or the Show, for example) could use them to speak with each other or simply leave a message, like an old-school answering machine. The same features work through the company’s free Alexa app.

The Echo Show can do all the familiar Alexa stuff, but you get extra information presented on the screen without the need to use the smartphone app. Amazon

While this is Amazon’s most expensive smart hub, it also seems like the most accessible for users who may not be as tech savvy. The device can be set up without having to download an extra app, and having information displayed on a screen may be simpler than arguing with a virtual assistant to try and achieve some specific tasks.

This product announcement comes at a time where Amazon is already showing its strength in the smart hub market. Research firm eMarketer has just published a study claiming a 70.6 percent U.S. market share for Alexa-powered smart hubs, compared to just 23.8 percent for Google Home. Microsoft’s Cortana is just now finally making it into a speaker device made by Harman Kardon, so it has some serious catching up to do in both hardware and market share.

Early criticisms have taken aim at the Echo Show’s design, likening it to an old CRT TV, but that may a byproduct of trying to attract users who are unfamiliar with the smart hub device genre. Amazon even specifically mentions some of these use cases, like checking on elderly relatives or remotely sharing photos with family members who live far away.

Ultimately, the addition of a screen seems like a natural evolution for the smart hub, especially from the Amazon camp who likely wants to fold more users into the Alexa infrastructure.

The Echo Show is currently available for pre-order for $229, which is just $30 more than the Echo Look, which lacks a touchscreen. Units will start shipping to customers around June 28th.

10 Best Echo Spot Accessories You Can Buy

Amazon Echo Spot ($109.99) is probably my favorite Amazon Echo device. Since the day I got my hands on it, it has been sitting on my bedside table without fail. I really like the versatility of my Amazon Echo Spot. For me, it’s an alarm clock, a smart speaker, an assistant, a music player, a smart home hub, and more. I love my Amazon Echo Spot so much that I bought a bunch of accessories to enhance my Amazon Echo Spot experience. The accessories help me use my Amazon Echo Spot in a better and more powerful way. If you also want to supercharge your Amazon Echo Spot, here are the 10 best Amazon Echo Spot accessories you can buy:

Best Amazon Echo Spot Accessories You Can Buy 1. Amazon Echo Spot Adjustable Stand

Although Amazon Echo Spot’s bottom is designed in a way that allows users to put it on any flat surface, it doesn’t allow you to change the viewing angles of the device if you want to. That’s why I recommend that you buy this adjustable stand for Amazon Echo Spot which quickly attaches to the device using a secure magnetic connection and allows you to adjust the viewing angles. This comes in really handy as you can easily adjust your Amazon Echo Spot and use it whether you are in the bed, sitting on a chair, or standing. Just buy this stand and use it for a week, and you won’t be able to go back.

Buy From Amazon: $19.99

2. ADIKA Screen Protector for Echo Spot

Buy From Amazon: $8.99

3. MERES 3ft Power Cable for Echo Spot

Although Amazon Echo Spot comes with a power adapter, I hate the fact that the wire is permanently attached to the adapter as the adapter doesn’t use a USB-A power delivery system. That means that whenever you want to use your Amazon Echo Spot, you will need to bring that power adapter with you. If you want to save yourself from carrying an extra power adapter, you need to buy this power cable from MERES which brings a USB-A port, allowing you to plug it in any universal power adapter. One more benefit of using this cable is that you can even run the Amazon Echo Spot using a portable charger which makes the Amazon Echo Spot even more portable.

4. Amazon Echo Spot Power Adapter

While the USB-A cable mentioned above is great for traveling with your Amazon Echo Spot or using it when you don’t have access to the original power adapter, it is not a replacement for the original charger. That’s why if you have somehow caused damage to the original power adapter, you should buy a replacement adapter. Thankfully, Amazon itself makes replacement power adapters for the Amazon Echo Spot so you don’t have to rely on third-party accessory makers.

Buy From Amazon: $19.99

5. XHS Silicone Case for Echo Spot

Since I keep the Amazon Echo Spot on my bedside table as I use it as my alarm clock, the probability of my Amazon Echo Spot falling is more than other Echo smart speakers that are in my house. That’s why I always keep my Amazon Echo Spot inside a case to protect it from breaking in case of falls. If you also want to protect your Amazon Echo Spot from breaking, buy this silicone case for Amazon Echo Spot from XHS. The case provides ample protection to the Amazon Echo Spot and can easily handle minor falls and drops. The case comes in various colors so you can also use it to provide more flair to your Amazon Echo Spot.

Buy From Amazon: $12.98

6. Mission Color Skin for Echo Spot

If you want to make you Amazon Echo Spot stand out from the rest but don’t necessarily want to install any case on it, you can do that by applying skins. Skins are already popular in the smartphone world and now they are penetrating other electronic devices market too. Applying a skin on Amazon Echo Spot will allow you to customize its looks and protect its body against minor scratches. The skin from Mission is precisely cut to snuggly fit the Amazon Echo Spot while accommodating its speaker holes, microphone array, and buttons.

Buy From Amazon: $14.99

7. MightySkins for Echo Spot

Buy From Amazon: $9.99

8. DURAGADGET Auxiliary (AUX) Cable for Echo Spot

One of the things that I love about Amazon Echo Spot and even other Amazon smart speakers is the fact that they come with a 3.5mm jack which basically allows me to either play songs using my smartphone or connect it to non-bluetooth speakers to turn them into smart speakers. However, to do that, you will need a dual-3.5mm jack male cable. I love this one from DURAGADGET as it is over 5 feet long, has gold plated connections, and has OFC (oxygen free copper) inner conductor material for crisp audio quality with less loss of volume.

9. Alexa Voice Remote for Amazon Echo Spot

While the Amazon Echo Spot comes with an array of microphones which can easily catch your voice even from a distance, there are some scenarios when you don’t want to shout at it. In those discreet cases, you will be better served by the Alexa voice remote which allows you to talk to your Amazon Echo Spot from a distance without having to shout. The remote is very similar to the remote that comes with the Amazon Fire TV Stick and has a button at the top which you can press and hold to summon Alexa and connect to your Amazon Echo Spot.

Buy From Amazon: $29.99

10. ECHOGEAR Outlet Shelf for Amazon Echo Spot

The last product on this list is an outlet shelf from a company ECHOGEAR which allows you to easily convert any wall outlet into a small shelf which can be used to place electronic devices such as the Amazon Echo Spot. The stand is powerful enough to handle weight up to 10 pounds. If you don’t have a bedside table and still want to place your Amazon Echo Spot there, this accessory can help you do that. It is one of the best accessories you can buy for your Amazon Echo Spot.

Buy From Amazon: $14.99

Bonus: 3-Year Protection Plan for Amazon Echo Spot

This one is not a physical product but rather a software accessory for your Amazon Echo Spot. As it name suggests, this is a protection plan for the Amazon Echo Spot which not only covers the normal warranty conditions but also provides accidental damage coverage to the Amazon Echo Spot. For just $19.99, you can get free repairs for your Amazon Echo Spot for three years which is just a crazy deal.

Buy From Amazon: $19.99

Use The Best Echo Spots Accessories!

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