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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

With Echo Spatial Perception, two Echoes finally are better than one

When I first got my Echo Dot, I commented that I had to change the wake word from “Alexa,” which I was using with the full-size Echo, to “Echo,” because otherwise, the two would race to answer my query. Sometimes they’d respond in sync, but sometimes they’d be slightly offset, which would be maddening. My conclusion?

It would be nice if the two Echo units could somehow work together to improve the microphone coverage in my house and then route replies to a chosen device—kind of like running multiple Wi-Fi base stations on the same network—but that’s probably a ways off. I have a pretty small apartment, which makes it feasible to have just one Echo, but for those who have a house, the Dot could be a nice ancillary device if there’s someplace outside of your existing Echo’s coverage.

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“A ways off” turned out to be only about six months. Amazon today began rolling out the Echo Spatial Perception (ESP) feature that it first announced alongside the second-generation Echo Dot; as soon as I saw this morning that the feature was live, I changed my Dot’s wake word back to “Alexa” so I could try it out.

In short, it’s just as good as I’d hoped.

Standing in my living room, I can see both the full-size Echo in my kitchen and the Dot in my office. So I tried a variety of simple queries, such as asking about the weather, the date, the time, and so on. In every case, both of the Echoes lit up when I made a request, but only one ended up responding. Moving closer to one made it much more likely that it would be the one to answer.

My immediate response was that Apple needs a similar feature on Siri—especially if they ever implement Hey Siri on other devices like the Apple TV or Macs. My iPhone and its paired Apple Watch seem to do okay with not both triggering Siri at the same time, though you can sometimes confuse them. (I also had a couple times in my quick tests where neither of them responded.)

The ESP feature makes it a lot more plausible to have multiple Echoes in the same house, but I can think of a couple ways it could be improved. For example, I pretty much never want to play music on the tinny speaker in the Echo Dot, so it would be great if there were option to, say, always have music start playing on the full size Echo, even if the Dot is the one responding. Or if there were simply a way to address each device: “Alexa, play NPR in the kitchen,” for example. Some of that capability may be possible with the upcoming Sonos integration that Amazon has previewed, but hopefully it will be available for multiple Echoes too.

Right now, though, I’m mostly happy not to have to remember whether to say “Alexa” or “Echo” based on which room I’m in. My life with robots just got a little bit easier.

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[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


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