When the Amazon Echo made its wide debut back in 2015, people went crazy for it — and rightfully so. At first glance, it seemed like a cutting-edge device straight out of a science fiction film. And while the novelty has certainly worn off a bit, the Echo remains as one of Amazon’s most successful products.
But one common complaint against the Echo was that it had too many features and cost too much, so if you only wanted it for one specific purpose, it was hard to justify the purchase. Amazon’s response to that? Releasing two pared-down variations with smaller price tags: the Tap and the Echo Dot.
In other words, you can think of both of these as Amazon Echo Lite, but each one caters to a different kind of end user. Here’s our comparison of all three to help you decide which one is the right one for you.
The Amazon Echo is, at its core, a “smart wireless speaker” — and while the term is fully accurate, it fails to capture the full potential of this cutting-edge device. It technically isn’t a personal assistant, but considering just how much it can do, you’ll feel like you have your very own helper making your life easier.
But the thing that really sets the Echo apart from other “personal assistant devices” is its ability to recognize and process voice commands through its Alexa operating system. Sure, Siri and OK Google have been around for years prior, but Alexa is the first to exist outside the smartphone.
It currently retails for $180.
The Echo has seven microphones and an omnidirectional speaker, which means you can activate it from across the room and hear its response no matter where you are. Its voice recognition is spotty at first, but after training it over time, it will understand you just fine — even if you have an uncommon accent or dialect.
By default the Echo can answer questions, order items from Amazon, stream music (not just Amazon Prime Music, but also Pandora, Spotify, etc), read out audiobooks, report news and weather information, deliver sports schedules and results, and even provide details on local businesses and restaurants.
The greatest feature, however, is that the Echo can integrate with hundreds of affordable smart home products like WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Nest, and more. It can also integrate with IFTTT recipes for all kinds of automated and responsive tasks.
The Amazon Echo Dot is a miniature version of the Amazon Echo — it doesn’t come with the dedicated speaker that you’d find in the Echo, instead opting for a basic speaker that still gets the job done but allows the Echo Dot to be much smaller and lighter.
The Echo Dot is actually Amazon’s reply to customers who want to connect their own high-quality external speakers, which currently isn’t possible with the original Echo. With the Echo Dot, speakers can be hooked up by way of Bluetooth or a standard 3.5mm audio cable.
It currently retails for $90.
Other than that, the Echo Dot offers pretty much everything that the original Echo does: ordering from Amazon, streaming music from multiple sources, news and weather information, and yes, integration with smart home products. It’s also powered by the same Alexa-based voice recognition system.
At half the price, the Echo Dot is the perfect choice for when you want an Echo in every room of your house. Set one up as an alarm in your bedroom, another as a jukebox for the recreation room, another in the kitchen as a controller for all your smart appliances and gadgets, etc.
The one big downside is that the Echo Dot can only be ordered through Alexa Voice Shopping, which means it’s only available to Prime users who already have an Echo or an Alexa-enabled Fire TV. It’s unclear if this limitation will eventually be lifted or not, but I’d that bet it will.
The Amazon Tap is a simpler and more portable version of the Echo. Whereas the Echo is 9.25 inches tall and 3.27 inches wide, the Tap is significantly smaller at 6.2 inches tall and 2.6 inches wide. If you plan on moving the device regularly from room to room, the Tap is the far more convenient option.
Another big difference is that the Tap is powered by battery unlike the Echo and Echo Dot, both of which must be plugged into an outlet at all times. What’s nice is that the Tap gets close to 9 hours of battery life on a single charge while playing music — three weeks on standby mode — which should be more than enough for most folks.
It currently retails for $130.
Why is it called the Tap? Because it doesn’t have a voice-activated wake word like the Echo and Echo Dot have. Instead, you have to press a button on the device before you can give it a command. A bit of an inconvenience, but on the plus side, you won’t have to worry about it spying on you with always-on listening.
The Tap can answer questions and stream music through Alexa, but also has a unique feature in that it can connect to your mobile devices through Bluetooth and stream music directly off of them. So, for example, you can take the Tap to the beach and play music right from your phone.
Which One Is Right for You?
All in all, it really comes down to this:
- Get the Echo if you only need one device and you only intend to use it in a single room without ever moving it.
- Get the Echo Dot if you want to hook up your own speakers OR if you want an Echo-like device in multiple rooms.
- Get the Tap if you need battery-powered portability and if you want to stream music directly from your phone.
But don’t stop there. These Amazon products are just a foretaste of what’s possible when you really get your hands dirty with smart products and the Internet of Things. Worried that you’ll blow your budget? Fear not and start with some of these highly-affordable gadgets for newbies.
If you need ideas on what to get first, we’d recommend something intensely practical such as the Nest Thermostat for slashing your heating bills, or maybe a smart door lock for convenient home access, or even a smart plug for controlling devices from afar.
Just remember to stick with one of these reputable smart home brands your first time around.
How do you feel about the Amazon Echo or its lesser variations? Are they pointless gimmicks? Or are they truly as useful as advertised? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!