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Amazon unveils two new versions of Echo, including one you can take to the beach

Alexa, show me the Amazon Tap and Echo Dot.

Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Amazon’s Echo was Jeff Bezos’s play to create the voice-controlled hub of the future inside the home. Now Amazon wants to give customers a similar experience while on the go.

The company on Thursday unveiled two new voice-controlled devices that are more mobile than the original Echo, but still powered by Alexa, its Siri-like personal assistant.

The Amazon Tap is a battery-powered portable bluetooth speaker that is voice controlled like Echo and can run up to nine hours on a charge. At six inches tall and weighing about one pound, it’s about a third smaller than the original. It costs $130.

The other device, called the Echo Dot, is about the size of a hockey puck and connects to your existing speaker via Bluetooth. At $90, Amazon hopes customers will be drawn to its ability to turn traditional Bluetooth speakers into "smart" ones that respond to voice commands. Like the original Echo, it needs to be plugged into an outlet to work, but can be moved easily.

 The Echo Dot (m) and Amazon Tap (r) join the Echo in Amazon's voice-controlled device family.
The Echo Dot (m) and Amazon Tap (r) join the Echo in Amazon’s voice-controlled device family.
Tyler Pina/The Verge

Together the new devices mark an attempt by Amazon to capitalize on the surprising success of the original Echo, which has accumulated more than 20,000 five-star reviews since it was first released in late 2014.

If successful, they would extend what many in the industry believe is Amazon’s lead over Apple and Google in the race to become the gatekeeper to the next phase of the Internet, where people increasingly navigate the Web through voice commands.

Amazon gave some reporters a sneak peek of the devices during a briefing at its San Francisco user experience lab this week, hosted by David Limp, its senior vice president of devices.

"What we want to do is give customers choice," Limp said.

"For me, what’s going to be really exciting … is seeing the multitude of ways that customers start using these products," he added. "Customers always surprise us, which is great."

The Tap speaker comes with one big difference from the original $180 Echo: You have to tap a button on the device to wake it up — a power-saving measure. Otherwise, Amazon promises it can do all the same things the original Echo can, such as play music, order an Uber or give news updates.

Amazon imagines that some customers will prefer the smaller Dot and hook it up to an existing speaker. The Dot has its own speaker, but it’s only useful for a limited set of functions such as an alarm clock.

"[W]e kept hearing from customers that they wanted to use their own speaker, they loved their own speaker," Limp said.

In a marketing gimmick, the Dot will only be available initially to Amazon Prime members who own an Echo or Fire TV device (which also accepts voice commands). These customers will have to order the Dot by telling Alexa, "Alexa, order Echo Dot." The device will be made more widely available at some point in the future, Limp said.

The idea of a device like the Dot has been percolating inside of Amazon for several years, according to a source. Before the first Echo was released, Amazon was considering releasing a similar portable device that would be used to control the Echo when a person was too far away to give it commands. Instead of releasing that companion device when the Echo first launched, Amazon ended up selling an accompanying remote that people could speak into to control an Echo from afar.

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