Alexa in your glasses isn’t the only unusual place Amazon has been embedded its assistant today, with the Echo Loop another exploration of how wearables and voice tech could blend. Second of Amazon’s Day 1 Editions, its tentative innovation tech offering an invite-only taste of what the future could hold, the Echo Loop is a smart ring with Alexa embedded.
Like the Echo Frames smart glasses, it focuses on audio as the primary method of interaction. Rather than relying on a smartwatch, the Echo Loop embeds Alexa into a titanium ring on your finger.
There’s a single button, which you click to let Alexa know you want to interact. A brief vibration tells you the assistant is listening, then you bring you hand up to your mouth and speak into the ring. The two microphones are on the inside edge, so you basically cup your hand and whisper.
Another short buzz with the vibration motor tells you Alexa has heard your question, and then you hold the ring up to your ear to hear it. The speaker is, unsurprisingly, very small: scant millimeters to each side, in fact. Still, it proved loud enough to just about hear over the loud background noise of Amazon’s demo room.
As for what you might want to ask, Amazon says the Echo Loop can handle most of the queries that an Echo smart speaker would. Conversions, weather forecasts, news reports, your reminders, smart home control, and more. There’s also navigation: the Echo Loop could tell me where the nearest Whole Foods was, for example, giving me a list of three nearby options. Alexa then offered to guide me to one of them.
I’m not sure I’d want to walk all the way to the nearest grocery store with my hand clamped to my ear, listening to Amazon’s AI mutter turn-by-turn directions to me. Still, for quick interactions it could be a lot swifter than pulling out your phone. Echo Loop will work for voice calls, too, and you can assign a primary contact and have them as a speed dial for faster access. Double-clicking the button will call them automatically.
While proactive requests are one possibility, the Echo Loop can also grab your attention with its vibrations. If you get a reminder, or an alert, the ring will vibrate subtly to point it out. A long-press triggers the assistant on your smartphone.
The ring itself has a fairly masculine, brushed metal finish, and feels sturdy. Amazon says it’s scratch- and water-resistant, though suggests while washing your hands with it on is okay, showering and swimming aren’t advisable. There’ll be four different sizes to suit different fingers, too, and those invited to purchase the smart ring will get a “fit kit” first that has size guides to make sure they’re picking the correct one.
As for battery life, Amazon says that’s sufficient for a day of use. You won’t be listening to music, of course, but Amazon counts some Alexa interactions, quick phone calls, and periodic vibrations as being typical. A full charge, via the charging cradle, takes about 90 minutes.
Obviously you’re not going to be divorced fully from your smartphone with the Echo Loop on your finger. For a start, it needs to pair with a nearby Android or iPhone via Bluetooth to get its data connection and interface with the Alexa app. Nonetheless, anything that allows you to keep that phone tucked away – and not get distracted, as I so often do, by the latest emails, messages, and tweets, when all I’d meant to do was add something to my shopping list – could be a good thing.
Amazon has opened up its invite system, and so you can sign up for the potential chance to buy the $129.99 Echo Loop when it launches in the coming months. We’ll just have to see if the reception is positive enough for the Echo Loop to graduate from the Day 1 Edition range to something more serious.
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