Orion Labs is a company that has spent the last few years developing a modern take on the push-to-talk device. They call it the Onyx, it goes on sale today ($199 for a pack of two), and it’s come a long way since we first saw it in late 2014. The design has been overhauled and refined, but it’s still basically the same idea: you carry Onyx with you, or clip it to your shirt, and it connects to your phone to transmit real-time voice messages to other Onyx users. You can talk to someone directly, or loop them into groups so that you can allow a whole team to talk together, no matter where they are in the world.
It’s a cool idea, and when it works well it’s really fun to use — Orion has sent us some preproduction units to try out — but it’s still a niche device. We have plenty of options when it comes to communication, collaboration, or both these days, so you need a specific reason for a device like Onyx.
That said, alongside taking Onyx out of its preorder phase, Orion is announcing today that, come October, the walkie-talkie-style product will have Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant built right in. Orion CEO Jesse Robbins says that it’ll let you access any official Alexa “skill” — the app integrations that Amazon rolled out earlier this summer — other than music streaming. (As in, you can’t stream music on Onyx.) It’s like having a pocket-portable version of the Amazon Tap speaker, which sounds better than owning an Amazon Tap.
It’s a smart move for Orion, because it essentially changes the entire purpose of the product. You may never need the push-to-talk features, but if you want on-demand access to Alexa for home automation, or the ability to control your Sonos system with your voice in any room without buying multiple Amazon Echoes, the Onyx could be an interesting alternative or compliment to existing Alexa hardware. Of course, you could always just use an app.