Smart Home

A battery-powered Amazon Echo? I wish all smart speakers had this feature

For the past few days, I haven’t felt the need to shout at the smart speaker sitting beside my desk. Whether I was trying to play music after just waking up in the morning or cooking lunch, it was somehow always at an arm’s length from me.

No, I didn’t place one in each of my apartment’s rooms. On the contrary, I have spent the last week testing Amazon’s latest India-exclusive smart speaker called the Echo Input Portable.

Amazon Echo Input Portable Smart Speaker Edition

Untethered for mobility

In an increasingly wireless world, smart speakers, at least the first-party ones from Google, Apple, and Amazon, have refused to give up cords and still need to be constantly tethered to a wall.

The addition of a battery unlocks several new use cases.

Amazon addresses that conundrum with the Echo Input Portable, a compact smart speaker that has a built-in 4,800mAh rechargeable battery — a first among Echo products and even the Google Home lineup.

The addition of a battery unlocks several new use cases for the smart speaker. It allows the Echo Input Portable to function pretty much like any other smart speaker — without being tied down to a power outlet. You can carry it around your house and talk to Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, as long as the Echo Input Portable is connected to the internet.

An Echo that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker

This also enables the Echo Input Portable to double as a Bluetooth speaker. Similar to other Echo devices, it comes equipped with Bluetooth that allows you to beam audio to it from your phone or computer. When it’s offline, though, you cannot pair a new device and can only connect the ones you’ve already linked to it in the past.

The battery does add a bit of heft to an otherwise small speaker. But Amazon has managed to turn that extra weight to its advantage. The Echo Input Portable, compared to the regular Echo or Google Nest Mini, sounds remarkably better. While Amazon didn’t share any specifics, the Echo Input Portable’s output is undeniably louder and richer, especially in the bass. This was likely a conscious upgrade primarily to ensure the Echo Input Portable doesn’t fall short when it’s pitted against the Bluetooth speakers in its price segment.

Amazon Echo Input Portable vs Google Home Mini

Other than that, the Echo Input Portable is largely identical to the rest of the Echo lineup. It features a familiar fabric exterior and a design that’s best described as if someone mashed an Echo Input and Dot together. Thanks to the far-field microphones, you can ask it to control smart appliances, place orders on Amazon, set timers, read audiobooks, the works.

In spite of seemingly being a relatively minor feature, the Echo Input Portable’s battery has fundamentally impacted my whole smart speaker experience. It also broadens how much you actually interact with it. Earlier, a smart speaker was simply stuck in the corner of a room and I used to call it only when I was in its vicinity. The Echo Input Portable changes that as I can just pick it up and take it with me to another spot.

Will 2020 be the year of wireless smart speakers?

The Echo Input Portable makes me wish every smart speaker had a battery and I wonder what took Amazon so long. Its India exclusivity does spill a few clues to answer that. It’s a market nearly every tech company has trained its sights on of late, as the country undergoes an internet boom giving rise to millions of new users. Amazon is no different.

India has its own set of idiosyncrasies and challenges, and the Echo Input Portable is how Amazon is adapting to them to win over India’s burgeoning smart home space. The Echo Input Portable’s battery is perfect for India, where a huge chunk of people rely on mobile hot spots to surf the web and suffer power cuts fairly regularly.

And it’s not just India. Even in other countries, the fact that your smart speaker can fall back to a battery has numerous upsides. It ensures, for instance, that you don’t have a paperweight lying on your table when there’s a thunderstorm and you’re stranded without electricity.

The battery almost feels like a no-brainer upgrade.

You’d be surprised to know, however, the Echo Input Portable isn’t Amazon’s first stab at a battery-powered speaker. In 2017, the company introduced the Amazon Tap, a (non-Echo) smart speaker you could operate without a power source. But the Amazon Tap was met with an underwhelming response primarily because at launch, the only way you could invoke Alexa is by pressing a little button on it (a hands-free mode was added a year later).

The Echo Input Portable overcomes these stumbling blocks and now, the battery almost feels like a no-brainer upgrade for smart speakers. Hopefully, more companies will follow suit soon. The Echo Input Portable itself may eventually land in other countries, although Amazon hasn’t shared a timeline yet.

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