If you have any interest in home entertainment, you’ve surely heard of the Amazon Echo. Once considered nothing more than a gimmick, Alexa now powers a growing number of devices.
Between revamped models and all-new offerings, a lot has changed since the Echo first launched in 2015. With so many devices, it can be tough to know exactly which type of Amazon Echo is the best one for your home and needs. To help you make that decision, here’s what each Amazon Echo device offers and what you can expect from each one.
The Amazon Echo is the core, baseline device for comparing the others. In late 2017, Amazon refreshed the Echo with a lower price, improved sound and microphones, and a sleeker look. The revamped Echo is cheaper than its first generation, making the original obsolete.
What Can You Do With the Echo?
The Amazon Echo can process information straight out of the box and is compatible with all the Alexa 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, the Echo can connect to other Bluetooth devices like a home stereo system or Bluetooth earbuds. Amazon’s free calling and messaging works on the Echo too.
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 notifications.
Otherwise, you must keep the Echo 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 Echo Is Right for You If…
The standard Echo is best for a person who wants to have an Alexa-enabled device with a powerful speaker sitting in just one room. 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.
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.
Amazon Echo Plus
Alongside the refreshed Echo, Amazon released a premium Echo Plus in 2017. This device looks nearly identical to the first-generation Echo, but features one key difference: a built-in ZigBee smart home hub.
While the base Echo does have smart home functionality, it requires a third-party hub to manage them all. The Echo Plus has this built in, cutting out the middle man and making connecting smart devices super easy. Other than that, its feature set is nearly indistinguishable from the Echo.
The Echo Plus Is Right for You If…
Buy the Echo Plus if you’re a tinkerer who’s interested in full-blown home automation and want your Echo device to serve your smart home’s central hub. Otherwise, you’re better off choosing another model.
Amazon Echo Dot
The Echo Dot is Amazon’s low-cost, smaller Echo device. Refreshed in 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 a smaller 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, you should connect it to another speaker via Bluetooth. Like the Echo, it offers an aux-out port. If you have an older speaker without Bluetooth, just grab a 3.5mm 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, each Echo devices includes a feature where only the closest unit will respond 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.
But the biggest drawback 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 Echo Dot Is Right for You If…
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 a great Bluetooth speaker should buy the Dot because it’s cheaper than the regular Echo.
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.
While the Echo Dot is the Echo without the speaker, the Amazon Tap was meant to be the Echo without wake-word functionality. At launch, the only way to talk to Alexa was pressing a 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 Amazon Tap is its portability. The Tap is smaller the Echo Plus, but also 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 Amazon 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 Amazon Tap carries two big limitations. First, it doesn’t support the 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 local music.
The Tap Is Right for You If…
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.
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 Show
The Echo Show is Amazon’s first Echo device with a screen. This 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. You can ask Alexa to find a how-to video on YouTube about a new workout routine. And if you connect a smart wireless 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. You 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.
What Can’t You Do With the Show?
The Echo Show doesn’t have any specific missing features aside lacking an aux port, but the device as a whole is a little underwhelming. It’s a rather large unit and doesn’t have the sleekest aesthetic, meaning it won’t blend in nicely like the revamped Echo or Echo Dot.
Furthermore, the app support and use of the screen isn’t great. Aside from looking up a quick recipe video, you probably won’t want to watch TV shows or movies on the underwhelming screen. Compared to an iPad or other tablet, the Echo Show is anchored to the wall and offers a fraction of the apps.
Plus, with the included camera, you’ll want to think about the potential security risks.
The Echo Show Is Right for You If…
If you want an Echo device with a screen, this is the one for you. It features all of Alexa’s best audio-only features, plus visual enhancements. If your home has security cameras, or you want convenient video calling in a large home, the Show fits your use case well.
However, for most others, it’s underwhelming and bulky compared to other models, especially for the price.
Amazon Echo Spot
Like the Show, the Echo Spot features a screen. It’s a much smaller device, however, and is a sort of combination between the Echo Dot and the Echo Show.
What Can You Do With the Spot?
The Echo Spot sets itself apart with a unique round design and 2.5″ touchscreen. It’s perfect for a nightstand, and even features unique clock faces for that purpose.
You’ll find a camera in the Spot as well. This means it can do pretty much everything the Show can do, including watching media content, video calling with friends, and similar.
What Can’t You Do With the Spot?
Like the Echo Dot, the Spot doesn’t feature powerful speakers. They’re passable for talking with Alexa, but you’ll want to connect another speaker for music playback.
Due to the odd screen size, videos on the Spot will scale to fit the available space—which may not always look right.
The Echo Spot Is Right for You If…
If you’re curious how having a touchscreen changes Alexa but don’t want the Show, or plan to keep your Echo on your nightstand, the Echo Spot is a good choice.
But since the Echo Spot is more expensive than the regular Echo despite its lackluster speakers, this isn’t the best choice if you plan to use it for music regularly.
Amazon Echo Look
The previous Echo devices are fairly similar, but the Echo Look offers an entirely different experience. Amazon created this device for you to put in your bedroom so you can get fashion advice.
What Can You Do With the Look?
Amazon’s Echo Look carries basic Alexa features, but adds a slew of new tricks thanks to its integrated hand-free 5MP 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?
The Echo Look has basic speakers that Amazon says sound like a smartphone, so this device isn’t for playing music. You also can’t use Alexa’s calling and messaging features on the Look. And there’s no Bluetooth or aux options for output on another speaker.
Additionally, the Echo Look’s primary functionality poses some privacy concerns. Amazon likely uses information in the pictures you take to learn more about you and show you more relevant recommendations. Remember that Amazon loves using its products to make you buy more from Amazon.
The Echo Look Is Right for You If…
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 can use this as well.
The Look is expensive, best placed in a bedroom, and only has basic speakers for weather, news, and similar. 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.
Amazon Fire TV Cube
One of Amazon’s newest offerings, the Fire TV Cube is essentially an Echo Dot combined with a Fire TV.
What Can You Do With the Fire TV Cube?
Unsurprisingly, the Fire TV can do nearly everything an Echo device can do, plus everything a Fire TV does. This means you can control any compatible TVs and receivers. Alexa voice commands allow you to find shows and movies, pause playback, and similar. And it has the capability to control smart home devices as well.
We’ve covered the Fire TV Cube in-depth if you’d like more information.
What Can’t You Do With the Fire TV Cube?
The Fire TV Cube doesn’t have all of the Echo’s tricks. It doesn’t work with Alexa calling and messaging, and doesn’t support multi-room music.
You also can’t connect the Fire TV Cube to your phone via Bluetooth. Since you’ll probably want to play music with it through your entertainment system anyway, this isn’t a great loss.
The Fire TV Cube Is Right for You If…
You’ll get more from a Fire TV Cube than you would from just an Echo or just a Fire TV, but it’s not for everyone. If you have a small entertainment system, voice control with Alexa probably won’t provide much convenience. Similarly, those with no smart home devices will find this device overkill.
The Fire TV Cube is best suited for someone who doesn’t own an Echo or Fire TV yet, and who has a sizable entertainment system and smart home setup. Controlling them all through one device is pretty neat.
Other Amazon Echo Devices
We’ve covered all the mainline Echo devices, but there are a few others that bear that Echo name we want to briefly mention.
One is the Echo Buttons, a simple accessory. Amazon sells these in a pack of two, and you can use them to bring a new level of fun to Alexa-compatible games.
The other is the Echo Connect. This device lets you connect your landline phone to Alexa so you can make calls with your Echo. Oddly, this requires a smartphone to set up.
Given that landline phones are on the decline and many who still use landline phones don’t have a smartphone, we can’t imagine this device will be a huge hit. The device has also suffered from a large number of negative reviews, so we recommend avoiding this one.
Aside from Echo devices, there are also plenty of Amazon Alexa-compatible gadgets that you can consider once you’ve settled on your Echo of choice.
Which Amazon Echo Device to Buy? A Summary
In case you’re still having trouble deciding, here’s a one-sentence summary of the best scenarios for each Echo device:
You want Alexa’s feature set combined with a good Bluetooth speaker in one room.
- Echo Plus
You have a robust smart home and want an Echo with a dedicated smart home hub.
- Echo Dot
You want Alexa access for as little as possible and/or already have a good Bluetooth speaker.
- Amazon Tap
You often move your Echo between rooms or take it out of the house.
- Echo Show
You’d take advantage of the extra features that having an Alexa screen provides.
- Echo Spot
You want an Echo device to keep on your nightstand and are curious about the touchscreen.
- Echo Look
You want to take pictures of your clothes to find new outfits and get opinions.
- Fire TV Cube
You have an impressive entertainment system and smart home and want to control them both from one device.
Hopefully, this helps you decide which Alexa device you should get. While they all have the same basic Alexa functionality, each covers different niches for various needs. Each device will improve as Amazon adds new features and crafty developers come up with new skills.
If you’re the DIY type, you can give store-bought Alexa devices a miss and build your own Alexa smart speaker with a Raspberry Pi!