Amazon is bringing “hands-free” access to Alexa – a feature currently found on its flagship Fire HD 10 tablet – to the rest of its Fire tablet line, the company announced this morning. Starting this week, owners of either the Fire 7 and the Fire HD 8 (2017) will be able to launch Alexa using their voice, whenever the tablet’s screen is in use or the device is connected to power.
While Alexa has been available on Amazon’s devices for some time, it wasn’t until the Fire HD 10 arrived that Alexa could be used in a hands-free mode. Now that same functionality will roll out to Amazon’s other tablets through a free, over-the-air software update.
Once enabled, device owners will be able to talk to Alexa without touching their tablet – asking her to do things like play a song, turn off the lights, start or pause a movie, check your calendar, control your smart home (including viewing video from connected cameras or doorbells) and more.
The feature essentially turns the tablet into a poor man’s Echo Show, the $230 Echo device with a screen. Of course, there are some drawbacks to Alexa on tablets. The speakers aren’t as good as a full-sized Echo, and tablets don’t have the mic array you’d find on an Echo, either. But being able to say “Alexa,” is a familiar experience for users who expect to be able to talk to a device’s virtual assistant hands-free, as they can with Siri or Google Assistant on other devices.
Alexa on the Fire HD 10 is a better experience than on the 7 or HD 8 because customers can access Alexa hands-free even when the screen is on standby. It also doesn’t require a power connection.
But because the Fire 7 or Fire 8 HD device has to be plugged in or the screen has to be in use, it’s a better option for using the tablet as a smart display, rather than a full replacement for an Echo that works anytime.
Amazon says the feature is rolling out this week.