Amazon has unveiled what can only be described as a peculiar product - a connected speaker for your home with a built-in virtual assistant that's always listening and ready to help out in any way it can. If there's one thing we can say about Amazon's hardware division, it's that they aren't afraid of taking risks.

It's called Amazon Echo and the hardware itself is rather boring - it's just an unassuming black tube that looks more like an air purifier or humidifier than a speaker. Inside is a 360-degree-firing speaker (a 2.5-inch woofer and a 2-inch tweeter, to be exact) that can play music from your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth or online from Amazon Music Library, Prime Music, TuneIn and iHeartRadio.

The cylindrical gadget features seven microphones that use far-field technology so it can hear you from anywhere in the room. You can use voice commands to pull off all sorts of tasks. In addition to music playback, Echo can get the news, answer general knowledge questions, create to-do lists, set timers, set alarms, tell jokes and more. You can even access it from anywhere via a companion app.

While it's always listening, it only wakes up when you say the "wake word" you've chosen.

While there's no shortage of virtual assistants today (Siri, Cortana and Google Now immediately come to mind), the problem is that they're trapped inside your smartphone or tablet. A product like Echo seems to make better use of such technology although I suspect Amazon will ultimately end up pushing it as a voice assistant to help you order products from its site. You've heard of one-click ordering; well, Echo would enable no-click ordering. Just tell it what you want and it'll be on the way. But of course, let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

Amazon Echo retails for $199 although Prime members can shave $100 off the top. The only catch is this is an invite-only product - you request an invitation to purchase Echo and if you're selected, Amazon will send you an e-mail in a few weeks with details on how to order.

What do you think about Amazon Echo? Intriguing or outright silly?

Lead image via CNET