Microsoft recently rolled out deeper voice assistant integration on Xbox One, hooking up select smart speakers to the console. Following unprecedented growth of connected home platforms, the new "Xbox Skill" allows Cortana and Alexa-enabled devices to feed commands to the platform. Building on strong foundations established by Kinect, this brings further convenience to daily interactions.
Despite powering Xbox One voice commands from launch, Microsoft has slowly phased out Kinect, even for existing owners. Not only is the sensor hard to purchase today, but its now-mandatory adapter for modern consoles has been discontinued, making the accessory near-impossible to use. However, the Xbox Skill revives much of Kinect's original functionality, lining up a suitable $50 alternative for many.
Alexa, meet Xbox One
The Amazon Echo smart speaker range has flourished, all hooking into its Alexa digital assistant. Alexa has pushed Amazon to become a leader in home automation, with an assortment of home accessories deeply integrated into the platform. At the lowest end of the line is Amazon Echo Dot, a small Alexa-enabled speaker, without comprimising on features seen in pricier counterparts. And costing just $50 for its latest revision, it's an unrivaled entry point for Amazon's digital future.
While the Amazon Echo doesn't pack the motion controls that defined Kinect, it sports its most-used features. The value was in its voice controls, bringing snappy shortcuts for the Xbox One OS. Microsoft has since started drawing this functionality away from Kinect, and there's not been anything comparable for gamers
The Xbox Skill revives most of Kinect's voice command capabilities, with support for console power controls, software startup, and general OS navigation. It's limited to Skip Ahead, Alpha, and Beta members of the Xbox Insider Program in the U.S. right now, but we expect a wider public rollout in the coming months. Even in a pre-release state Alexa integration looking strong, allowing for improved natural language with responsiveness that's close Kinect's original local console commands.
Xbox One voice commands on a budget
The Amazon Echo Dot is an entry-level speaker, packing Alexa's core functionality into a low-cost, lightweight body. It features the same microphone array seen in other Amazon Echo devices, delivering responsive recognition throughout varying distances and conditions. And with its Micro USB connector, you can power it directly with your Xbox One console.
While the integrated speaker isn't great, it's not necessary when angled as a Kinect replacement. Higher-end models provide further flexibility to explore Amazon's offerings beyond Xbox, but as always, these come at a premium. Furthermore, the small hockey puck-style design fits nicely next to a console, with a black or white finish to match.
If you're considering a Kinect in 2018, piecing together the sensor and adapter can be expensive via resellers. The Amazon Echo Dot costs just $50 for its revised second generation, with regular discounts directly through Amazon. In its pre-release state, the Alexa Xbox integration isn't flawless, but it's a strong foundation for the future. Alexa improves on areas where Cortana previously faltered, with more responsive commands, generally improved natural language, and a larger worldwide presence. Motion control holdouts may want to look elsewhere, but as Alexa's foothold grows, this could steadily become a must-have Xbox accessory. And for $50, it's a steal.
Also, be sure to check out our roundup of the best Xbox One smart speakers if you're looking for a premium alternative.
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