Ninety7 specializes in battery docks that render smart speakers portable, so it's appropriate that the company's new product for the Amazon Echo 2 features a large, easy-to-grab handle. The Sky is a replacement sleeve for the Echo 2 that docks the speaker to an 8800mAh Li-ion battery, so you can take Alexa out in the yard or on even on the road. The company says the battery should power an Echo 2 for about 8 hours, and a column of four LEDs near the bottom of the sleeve report the battery life remaining. I'm sure that will vary depending on how many times you summon Alexa and how much you use the Echo 2 to stream music. The battery gets recharged from the Echo 2's factory AC adapter and cable.
I'm a big fan of Amazon's Echo line of smart speakers when it comes to smart home control, and the second-generation Echo is a big improvement over the first. But the Alexa-powered Fabriq Chorus delivers more bang for the buck and it sounds better, too. Where the Echo requires an AC outlet to operate, the Chorus features a 2200mAh rechargeable battery that Fabriq says can deliver up to 6 hours of performance, so you can take the speaker with you. The Chorus also comes with a contact-based charging cradle, so you don't need to bother with plugging and unplugging a USB cable to run the speaker--or charge its battery. The 6.3-inch tall cylindrical speaker is wrapped in wooly fabric (you can choose from four designs), with a thin LED ring around its base.
The Amazon Echo, powered by Amazon's Alexa digital assistant, were breakthrough products that forever changed how we control our smart homes. The inexpensive Echo Dot that came later made it possible to put Alexa in every room of a home without spending a fortune. The second-generation Echo is better and less-expensive than the first full-sized Echo, but it's not nearly as important as those first three products. The new Echo is roughly 1/4-inch wider than the original, but it's about three inches shorter. That makes it much less likely to topple over than the too-tall original.
Amazon is enabling lots of other manufacturers to build their own hardware that taps its cloud-based digital assistant, Alexa. That's a smart strategy if Amazon's objective is to make Alexa ubiquitous in the smart home and home entertainment markets. But the online retailer should also be careful not to allow too many subpar products like Jam Audio's Jam Voice to be associated with the Alexa brand. Even after Jam Audio slashed the Jam Voice's asking price from $79.99 to $59.99 in the wake of the $129 Google Home and Amazon's own $49.99 Echo Dot, the Jam Voice is merely a so-so product. And in a market where the competition is so good, being only so-so is a big no-no.
Amazon's Echo Dot is the most cost-effective way to add voice-activated control to your smart home. There's an Alexa skill for just about every smart-home platform, DIY or custom installed, and second-generation Echo Dot's cost just $50 each. I have six deployed in my own house, connected to a Vivint Smart Home system. The Vaux speaker dock changes that and delivers a bonus: A rechargeable battery that lets you take Alexa all over your house--and out onto the porch, too. The Vaux costs $50, so it and an Echo Dot still cost less than Amazon's own portable Alexa solution, the Amazon Tap.