In brief: As we reported yesterday, Amazon was rumored to be developing its own alternative to Apple's popular AirPods earbuds. At the retail giant's hardware event today, this news was largely confirmed: the Echo Buds are a real thing, they start shipping next month, and they'll run you about $130.
With basic availability and pricing out of the way, let's get down to brass tacks. What benefits do the Echo Buds offer over the many alternatives on the market? According to Amazon, the key features are hands-free Alexa access, high-quality audio, IPX4 splash resistance, and Bose's Active Noise Reduction technology.
The Echo Buds will let you do pretty much everything you could with any other Echo device; smart speaker or otherwise. You can ask Alexa for directions to the nearest coffee shop, or get help with calling an Uber. You can also use the assistant to control music playback or place calls to friends and family. Again, this is all pretty standard Alexa stuff, and the Buds don't bring any new requests to the table.
However, Amazon promises that the device's microphone array (two outer, one inner) will allow Alexa to dampen ambient noise and accurately understand you under virtually any conditions. We'd have to test the Buds ourselves to say how true this statement is, but in theory, the assistant will be able to hear you even if you're in a noisy environment; such as on a bus or train.
Digging deeper into the Buds' audio chops, the devices will have two "premium, balanced armature drivers" in each earbud. These drivers, Amazon claims, are inspired by similar technology used by pros in the music industry. If you want to isolate the outside world and focus on your music or podcast, you can double tap on either Bud to turn on Active Noise Reduction. Double tapping again turns this functionality off in favor of "Passthrough Mode."
Given that the Echo Buds are completely wireless, decent battery life is critical. To that end, you should expect performance about on par with other in-ear wireless buds on the market, such as Apple AirPods -- much like the AirPods, the Buds can be used for up to five hours on a single charge. However, the Buds' included charging case can only store up to 20 hours of additional battery life, versus the AirPod case's 24.
As nice as the Buds sound, some of our readers may (understandably) be concerned about the privacy implications of having an Alexa-powered device in their ear at all times. To address these concerns, Amazon says the Buds are "designed to protect your privacy," and "built with multiple layers of privacy protection." For example, you can mute the Buds' mic using your phone's Alexa app or you can view, hear, and delete your voice recordings at any time.
If the Buds seem like your cup of tea, you can pre-order them now directly from Amazon -- doing so will net you a free 3-month Audible subscription. The first units will leave the company's warehouses on October 30, 2019.