All About the New Amazon Astro Robot and Amazon Echo Show 15

All About the New Amazon Astro Robot and Amazon Echo Show 15

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It’s early fall, which means it’s time for Amazon to drop a bunch of new smart-home gear into the world. The company didn’t launch any new Alexa speakers this year, and Alexa smart displays and Ring cameras are pretty standard fare for Amazon, but robots and smart thermostats are brand-new territory. Over the next weeks and months we’ll be trying out many of these devices to see if they’re worth your money. In the meantime, here’s a brief look at what’s coming.

Alexa on wheels and a bigger Echo Show

An Amazon Astro robot near an open door on a hardwood floor.
Photo: Amazon

The big finale to the Amazon event was the reveal of the Amazon Astro, an autonomous home robot that, as one Wirecutter editor noticed, looks a lot like a mashup of Wall-E and his paramour Eve. The Astro has nifty features such as a telescoping camera that extends to countertop height, and you can fit it with a cup holder or other accessories. The Astro has a large display for a face, along with built-in cameras, and it can respond to voice summons and commands thanks to built-in Alexa support. Aside from roaming around a home and freaking out the cat, the Astro is intended to integrate with Amazon’s bevy of brands and services. You’ll be able to use the Astro as a roaming camera that links up with a Ring Security System, for example, or with Amazon Together, a service intended to allow caretakers to keep an eye on seniors and loved ones with special needs. The Astro is currently $1,000 and for sale by invite only, but Amazon says the price will bump to $1,500 at some point.

An Echo Show 15 hanging on a wall.
Photo: Amazon

Amazon also announced its latest smart display, the Echo Show 15. The company’s biggest smart display at 15 inches (thus the name), it’s made to be wall-mounted or placed on a tabletop stand. That bigger screen is designed differently than those of past Echo Shows, with a new interface that allows you to access multiple controls or items simultaneously, such as following a recipe while a live security-camera feed appears. It’s also large enough to double as a small TV in spots like the kitchen, and it can rotate from portrait to landscape mode if you want to use it as a large digital photo frame. Surprisingly, it’s priced at $250, the same as the smaller Echo Show 10, but this could be because the Show 15 has only a 5-megapixel camera (the other most recent Echo Show models have 13-megapixel cameras). It’ll also have an optional feature called Visual ID, in which the display will identify who’s speaking to it and show specific things for that person, such as their personal calendar and the music they last played.

A smart thermostat for the price of a dumb one

An Amazon Smart Thermostat on a wall.
Photo: Amazon

The Amazon Smart Thermostat has many of the same energy-saving and convenience features as in our current picks, including auto-programming, custom scheduling, remote and voice control, and geo-location—but at $60, it’s a fraction of the cost. It does require that your thermostat wiring include a C wire for power, but you can opt to include a C-wire adapter (for an extra $15) if you need one. Unlike the more expensive models in our smart thermostat guide, the Amazon Smart Thermostat doesn’t have remote smart sensors, which can better balance temperatures in homes with zoned HVAC. Curiously, Amazon’s thermostat also doesn’t have Alexa built in; to use voice controls, you’d need to pair it with an Alexa device or use the Alexa app. To develop its thermostat, Amazon says it partnered with Honeywell, one of the biggest names in home HVAC, which gives us hope that this model will perform well.

Ring packs more power (and monitoring) into alarm options

A Ring Alarm Pro installed on a wall.
Photo: Ring

The Ring Alarm Pro builds on our budget pick for home security systems, packing new cybersecurity features and cellular web connectivity into a new base station, which has a built-in Eero Wi-Fi 6 router. If you have the existing system, don’t throw out your sensors; they will work with the new base station (which you can purchase separately or in an eight-piece or 14-piece starter kit). The Ring Alarm Pro can work as a self-monitored system, with the existing Ring Plus plan, or with Ring Protect Pro, a newly announced plan that combines live monitoring with cloud storage for cameras, local video storage and processing, ​back-up internet for outages (if you also have the $130 Ring Power Pack), cybersecurity features, and Alexa Guard Plus.

To keep closer tabs on your property, you can soon enable Virtual Security Guard, an add-on subscription service to the Ring Alarm and any Protect plan, which allows a third-party monitoring service to peek in whenever motion events happen. The monitoring agents can talk with intruders through the cameras’ speakers, letting them know that they’re being recorded and that authorities have been notified. At launch, Virtual Security Guard will work with Rapid Response (which currently operates the monitoring service for Ring Alarm customers) and is expected to start at $99 per month per location.

And if you want to keep prowlers (and possibly all people) away, you might invest in the Ring Always Home Cam, a $250 flying indoor camera that can travel along preset flight paths, be triggered by Ring Alarm sensors, and provide 1440×1440 HD video at angles you’ve never seen before. It’s weird, cool, and very exclusive, since the Ring Always Home Cam is currently available by invitation only.

A Blink Video Doorbell shown installed by a front door.
Photo: Amazon

Amazon is adding to the budget Blink security lineup with the introduction of the Blink Video Doorbell, a $50 1080p smart doorbell that can be hardwired or powered by two AA batteries. Available in black or white, it can store recordings locally using the Blink Sync Module and a USB drive (sold separately) or on the cloud with a Blink Subscription Plan.

For areas needing a little extra light, the Blink Outdoor + Floodlight adds a battery-powered 700-lumen floodlight to the Blink Outdoor camera. If you already have the camera and Sync Module, you can just buy the add-on mount.

Care Hub gets a paid upgrade

Last year, Amazon announced Alexa Care Hub, a free collection of services for checking in on loved ones. Alexa Together allows you to upgrade those services—for $20 per month (or $200 per year). The new option will include Care Hub features such as activity alerts and feeds, as well as the ability to call out to Alexa to reach a designated loved one. The paid subscription also adds 24/7 hands-free access to a trained response team, fall detection, and the ability for caregivers to remotely add reminders, create shopping lists, and tweak Echo settings. Amazon is offering early subscribers six months for free when the service launches later this year.

An interactive projector for kids to befuddle their grandparents

A child talking with a person on an Amazon Echo Glow.
Photo: Amazon

The Amazon Glow (hey, Amazon, you already sell the Amazon Echo Glow) surely must have been inspired by students’ remote-learning experiences over the past year. It’s a new type of device, part of a subcategory of smart displays, with a large tablet embedded in a sturdy stand with a built-in projector and sensors. A physical privacy button on the side blocks the camera and mutes the microphone. The idea with the Glow is that, while video-chatting with a loved one, teacher, or tutor, a child can use their hands to interact with a projected image directly in front of them, similar to the way classroom whiteboards work (the other person uses the Glow App and a tablet or smartphone, and they can see the activity as well as the child in real time). Included is a year’s subscription to Amazon’s Kids+ for games and books, and Amazon has partnered with a handful of kid-centric brands, such as Sesame Street and Disney, to provide interactive content, with more expected.

An update to their fitness game

The Halo View fitness tracker, shown next to a smartphone displaying the Halo app.
Photo: Amazon

The Halo View is Amazon’s new Fitbit-like fitness tracker, a clean-looking watch that will come in two sizes and three colors and offer a crisp color AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diodes) display. Tracking metrics include steps and heart rate but also blood oxygen levels and sleep. As with other trackers, the device represents only half the experience; the companion app displays all your activities and progress but also enables access to one free year of Amazon’s fitness portal, Halo. There you’ll get workouts, a Movement Assessment, and personalized fitness programs, as well as recipes and nutrition information. The Halo View has a seven-day battery life, charges in 90 minutes, and is waterproof to 150 feet.

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