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Amazon Tap’s new hands-free Alexa update means it’s actually useful

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Alexa, without having to push a button

Amazon Tap hands-on photos

Guess they’ll have to re-think the name “Tap.” Amazon today rolled out an over-the-air software update for its portable Amazon Tap that makes the voice-assistant Alexa work without having to tap a button. The new hands-free mode is enabled through the Alexa mobile app and requires the Bluetooth-equipped Tap to be connected to WiFi.

Amazon first introduced the Tap speaker last fall, on the same day it announced the Echo Dot, a smaller version of its popular Echo speaker. But the Tap speaker doesn’t have the same omnidirectional microphone array as the Echo, and was built with a physical button that would “wake up” Alexa, leading some users to conclude that the Tap just wasn’t as useful as the Echo. The Tap was also designed to be portable — meaning it would eventually run out of battery life — while the Echo products are plugged in and could support an always-ready virtual assistant.

Even with a new hands-free function, the Tap should get about eight hours of continuous battery life, Amazon says, and can be put into sleep mode by pressing the power button. The speaker will also support what Amazon calls “echo spatial perception,” which means you could have two or more Alexa-equipped devices in the same area and the speaker closest to you will respond.

A spokesperson for Amazon declined to answer whether this update could eventually impact other Alexa-equipped products that require physical interaction, which would be a significant move, given that the voice-controlled assistant loses some of its magic when it involves pushing buttons.