If you have any interest in the smart home scene, you’ve surely heard of the Amazon Echo devices. Once laughed at as a gimmick, Alexa now powers a growing number of devices that can make your home a smart home.
We’ve previously looked at the differences between Echo devices, but a lot has changed since then. With so many devices, you don’t need a list of technical specs — you need to know which speaker is best for your needs and your home. Here’s what each device offers, and what you can expect to get out of them.
Amazon’s Echo is the core device against which you compare the others. With a price of $180, it offers all the “main” features you’d expect from a premium device.
What Can You Do With the Echo?
Of course, the Amazon Echo can process information out of the box and is compatible with all the skills on the store page. This means you can get information from the web, convert units quickly, and connect it to services like Domino’s Pizza and Uber.
The core Echo has a high-quality built-in speaker, so any music you stream on the device will sound awesome. In addition, a recent update allows the Echo to connect to other Bluetooth devices. You can now connect your Echo to your pimped-out home stereo system, or Bluetooth earbuds, if you desire. Amazon has also recently added a calling and messaging feature, which works on the Echo.
Finally, you can also connect your mobile device to your Echo via Bluetooth. This lets you use the Echo as a Bluetooth speaker to play music or video audio.
What Can’t You Do With the Echo?
The Echo’s limitations are few compared to the other devices. Though this is common to all devices, the Echo won’t work with phone calls or any notifications if you’re using it as a Bluetooth speaker. If you’re playing some music from your phone and you receive a text, you won’t receive an audible notification when it comes in.
Otherwise, the Echo must be plugged into a wall outlet to work. This means you can’t take it with you on trips, and moving it between rooms is a bit of a pain. Compared to the later devices we’ll look at, the Echo also doesn’t have a screen or camera. Thus, all of your interactions with the Echo come through voice or via the Alexa app.
The Best Fit for the Echo
The standard Echo is best for a person who wants to have an Alexa-enabled device with a powerful speaker sitting in one room. This room should be the place where you most often listen to music, get your news briefing, and ask what year a celebrity was born to end an argument.
Henry told me I get all my dad jokes from @amazonecho Alexa. I love her humor.
— Mr Seth Ponder (@SethPonder) June 2, 2017
The original Echo is the most expensive of the speakers, so if you already have a good Bluetooth speaker it’s probably not worth the cost for you. A small-to-medium-sized home where you don’t need Alexa in more than one room will benefit the most from the regular Echo.
Amazon Echo Dot
The $50 Echo Dot is Amazon’s low-cost, smaller Echo device. Refreshed in October 2016, it now offers better microphones, a lower cost, and support for multi-room Alexa usage.
What Can You Do With the Dot?
The Echo Dot is essentially an Echo with inferior speakers, so anything its big brother can do, the Dot can do too. All of Alexa’s out-of-the-box tricks and new skills from Alexa developers work just fine on the Dot. You can also connect your phone to the Dot to stream audio, though your device’s speakers are probably better than the Dot’s.
Since the Dot has low-end speakers, it’s intended to connect to another speaker via Bluetooth. But one of its unique offerings is an aux-out port: if you have an older speaker without Bluetooth, just grab a 3.5 mm cable and the Echo will output its sound to that.
With its price and size, Amazon designed the Dot so you can spread multiple devices throughout your home. To help with this, it includes a feature where only the closest Dot will respond to you when you say Alexa.
What Can’t You Do With the Dot?
You’ll find the same limitations with the Dot as the Echo. You must plug it into an outlet for it to function, unless you buy a separate battery pack. The Dot doesn’t work with phone calls or notifications, and it doesn’t have a screen. The biggest can’t with the Dot is its poor audio quality, as mentioned. The built-in speakers will work fine for hearing the weather or a few jokes, but the Dot won’t do justice to romantic tunes or a summer BBQ soundtrack.
The Best Fit for the Dot
The Dot fits into several scenarios. If you’re curious about Alexa and just want to try an Echo device at the lowest price, the Dot is the way to go. People who already have an awesome Bluetooth speaker should buy the Dot because it’s cheaper than the regular Echo.
So I chose one of my bluetooth speakers to pare to my echo dot. It is working great! It sounds awesome! Listening to 80s radio on tune in.
— Vicki Andrada (@tigrayrocks) November 28, 2016
And if you have a large house that you want to power-up with Alexa, you can buy several Dots and scatter them in different rooms. Those without a lot of space in their houses should get the Dot as well, since its slim profile sits well on a coffee table in the corner of a room.
Amazon Echo Tap
While the Echo Dot slices off the Echo’s speaker, the $130 Echo Tap originally removed the voice functionality. At launch, the only way to talk to Alexa was pressing the button on the speaker. However, Amazon has since updated the device to wake up to saying Alexa just like the others.
What Can You Do With the Tap?
The biggest selling point of the Echo Tap is its portability. In addition to the Tap being a smaller size than the Echo, it doesn’t need power from an outlet to work. Instead, it has an internal battery that Amazon claims lasts for up to nine hours of music playback. When it’s time to charge, you don’t have to plug it in — just set it on the included cradle to charge it up.
You’ll also find an audio input jack on the Echo Tap. This lets you connect devices directly to play music if you don’t want to use Bluetooth, which also works.
What Can’t You Do With the Tap?
The Echo Tap carries two big limitations. First, it doesn’t support the new Alexa calling feature. Second, you can’t connect the Tap to another Bluetooth device for audio output. This shouldn’t be a big deal since the Tap’s speakers are great, but means you can’t connect it to your sound system at home.
While it’s not a restriction per se, remember that Alexa requires an internet connection to work properly. If you take a Tap to the beach or a friend’s house for a party, without Wi-Fi you won’t be able to do much beyond streaming music.
The Best Fit for the Tap
Unsurprisingly, the Tap is a good fit for someone who wants to move their Echo around a lot. If you’re in the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker already and have interest in Alexa, try out the Tap for the best of both worlds at a good price.
We are not big device geeks in my family, but the Amazon Echo Tap is a new favorite
— Seth Packham (@smpackham) May 24, 2016
Those who want an Echo with good sound quality but often take it between rooms at home should get the Tap as well. With the charging cradle, you can dock it in a room and use it like a standard Echo.
Amazon Echo Look
The previous three Echo devices are similar, but the Echo Look offers an entirely different experience. Priced at $200 and only available by invitation at the time of writing, this device sets itself apart by adding a camera.
What Can You Do With the Look?
Amazon’s Echo Look can do everything Alexa does on the Echo speakers, but adds a slew of new features thanks to its integrated 5 MP camera. With a voice command, you can snap full-length pictures of yourself. Amazon invites you to use this to preview your outfit for the day. You can even build a collection of your photos and share them with your friends. Over time, the Look will pick up on your style and start recommending new clothes.
If a picture isn’t enough, the Look also supports short video clips. To see yourself from every angle, you can spin around or do whatever you need, then review the clips using the Echo Look app. And the new Style Check service uses algorithms and input from “fashion specialists” to tell you which of two outfits looks better.
What Can’t You Do With the Look?
At this time the Look isn’t in the wild yet, so it’s tough to discuss its limitations. The device’s appearance suggests that the speakers will be minimal, so expect sound quality similar to that of the Echo Dot. We’ve seen rumors that the Look won’t connect to Bluetooth speakers, but can’t confirm this.
The Best Fit for the Look
Obviously, those who buy the Look should have interest in its camera capabilities. If you often wonder about what to wear and would appreciate the advice from computer algorithms and fashion experts, get the Look. Fashion fanatics who want to compile an album of all their past outfits should buy this one, too.
Seems like the #EchoLook could be a useful safety, security, education, photos, kitchen, etc. tool. Why not at least mention the potential?
— Aaron Leach (@fascistPLAGUE) April 27, 2017
The Look is expensive, best placed in a bedroom, and likely won’t have speakers proper for playing music. Thus, it makes a good supplemental Alexa device. If you already have an Echo in your living room or kitchen, you can add a Look to your bedroom. You could also move the Echo Dot currently in your bedroom to another room and replace it with a Look.
The integrated camera also raises some significant privacy concerns, so you should stay away from it if you’re not comfortable having it in your home.
Amazon Echo Show
Finally, the Echo Show is Amazon’s newest device. It arrives on June 28 and costs a big $230. It adds a game-changing feature to the Echo: a built-in display that lets you interact with your smart device in new ways.
What Can You Do With the Show?
Everything the Echo can do works on the Show, but it’s further enhanced by the screen. For instance, if you ask for the weather, you’ll see the upcoming forecast on the screen in addition to hearing it. A newsflash briefing comes with a video clip. You can ask Alexa to find a how-to video on YouTube about a new workout routine. And if you connect a smart video camera, one command lets you view live footage on your Show’s screen.
The Show supports Alexa calling as described above, but beefs it up with video calls. A Show can call anyone else with a Show, or friends using the Alexa app on Android and iOS. There’s also a feature called Drop In, which lets you specify certain friends who can start a video connection to your Show anytime. Amazon says this feature is made for checking on a baby or elderly relatives.
You plug the Show into the wall for power. Powerful speakers live in the Echo Show, and it can output audio via Bluetooth as well as playing audio from your phone. You won’t have any music problems with this one!
What Can’t You Do With the Show?
Since the Show isn’t available to the public yet, we don’t know all its limitations. It’s fair to assume that since the camera isn’t elongated like the Echo Look’s, it probably won’t work as well for taking self-pictures as the latter. Additionally, the Echo Show is rather large and doesn’t have the sleekest aesthetic. It looks a bit like a mid-90s TV. As with the Look, given the device’s camera capabilities, you’ll want to think about the inherent security risks.
The Best Fit for the Show
If you want the latest and greatest, the Show is for you. It features all of Alexa’s best audio-only features, plus all the enhancements that a built-in screen brings. If your home has security cameras, or you want convenient video calling in a large home, the Show fits your use case well. Those who don’t have an Alexa device yet, don’t mind spending a lot, and want good speakers and a screen should get the Show, too.
like when I saw the Echo Show I immediately saw how useful it'd be in a completely different way that traditional video calling.
— Hilary Parker (@hspter) May 23, 2017
Which Echo Will You Buy?
In case you’re still having trouble deciding, here’s a one-sentence summary of the best scenarios for each Echo device:
- Echo — You want Alexa’s feature set combined with a good Bluetooth speaker in one room.
- Echo Dot — You want Alexa access for as little as possible and/or already have a good Bluetooth speaker.
- Echo Tap — You often move your Echo between rooms or take it out of the house.
- Echo Look — You want to take pictures of your clothes to find new outfits and get opinions.
- Echo Show — You’d take advantage of the extra features that having an Alexa screen provides, and don’t mind spending the most money.
Hopefully, this helps you decide which Alexa device you should get. As long as you know what each one provides, you can’t really go wrong with any of them. Each device will improve as Amazon adds new features and crafty developers come up with new skills.
Not interested in an Echo after all? Take a look at the best Echo alternatives.
Which Amazon Echo device piques your interest? Do you think you’ll upgrade in the future? Tell us which Echo you have and why!