experiment in the kitchen rather than on the page. That said, tomorrow is the annual shop-a-palooza known as
Black Friday, and the
deals have already started. To help, we’re resurfacing our 2017 guide to Amazon’s Echo products and adding a few updates (like blurbs on the Alexa Smart Plug, the Echo Auto, the Echo Input, and the Echo Sub). This piece originally ran on November 23, 2017.
Amazon debuted the original Echo a few years ago, and it raised eyebrows in the tech industry. The Echo is a smart home speaker that houses Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant, an AI helper that helps you complete daily tasks using only your voice. Since its debut, users of all levels of tech prowess have embraced Echo and Alexa, finding practicality in a voice-controlled assistant and all the things it can do.
Both Alexa and the Echo have evolved since then to meet the needs of an ever-growing market. After the Echo and Alexa came Google Home with the Google Assistant, the Harman Kardon Invoke with Microsoft’s Cortana, and the forthcoming Homepod with Apple’s Siri. Amazon has an advantage over all these competitors because it has had the time to develop many different Echo devices and expand Alexa to be a multifaceted assistant, thanks to third-party integrations and skills. (“Skills” is Amazon’s word for apps, in this case.)
Plenty of smart home device manufacturers have integrated Alexa into their products, and Alexa now has more than 25,000 skills made by third-party developers. Alexa skills are features that Alexa can leverage to do more than what its built-in features allow. For example, Alexa has native features that let it tell you weather and traffic forecasts, control smart home devices, and buy things from Amazon. Using third-party skills, Alexa can play soothing sleep sounds at night, read stories to your children, tell you random food facts, and act as the host of a trivia game for you and your friends.
Alexa has a plethora of features ready for you to use no matter which device acts as its home in your home. In the relatively short time since the debut of the original Echo, Amazon has made a number of other Echo devices in the hopes that any users can find one that fits their needs. With so many choices in Amazon’s Echo family, deciding which is best for you can be hard. We’ve outlined the major differences and use cases for all Amazon Echo devices here to help you decide which to buy.
|Specs compared: Amazon Echo products|
|Device||Echo Buttons||Amazon Smart Plug||Echo Auto||Echo Connect||Echo Input||Echo Dot|
|Price||$20 for 2 Buttons||$25||$25||$35||$35||$50|
|Availability||Available now||Available now||Preorder now, by invitation only||Available now||December 12, 2018||Available now|
|Alexa integration||No, must connect to Echo device||Yes||Yes||No, must connect to Echo device||Yes||Yes|
|Speaker specs||No speaker||No speaker||No speaker||No speaker||No speaker||0.6″ speaker|
|Screen specs||No screen||No screen||No screen||No screen||No screen||No screen|
|Camera specs||No camera||No camera||No camera||No camera||No camera||No camera|
|Smart home control||No||Yes, turns any device into a smart one with Alexa integration||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Free calling with Alexa||No||No||Yes||Yes, but through home phone service||No||Yes|
|3.5mm audio port||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Can be used wirelessly||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No|
|Primary use||Alexa game controllers/buzzers||Turn regular items into smart devices||Connects to car speakers to put Alexa in your automobile||Voice-controlled calling with Alexa through your home phone connection||Turns any speaker into an Alexa-capable speaker||Alexa commands in any room in a tiny device that connects to Bluetooth speakers|
|Specs compared: Amazon Echo products|
|Device||Echo||Echo Sub||Echo Spot||Echo Plus||Echo Look||Echo Show|
|Availability||Available now||Available now||Available now||Available now||Available now, by invite only||Available now|
|Alexa integration||Yes||Yes, when paired with an Echo or Echo Plus||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Speaker specs||0.6″ tweeter, 2.5″ woofer||6-inch down-firing woofer with 100W class D amplifier||1.4″ speaker||0.8″ tweeter, 3″ woofer||1.6W speaker||dual 2″ drives with passive bass radiator|
|Screen specs||No screen||No screen||2.5″||No screen||No screen||10.1″|
|Camera specs||No camera||No camera||low-res front-facing camera||No camera||5MP, Intel RealSense SR300 for depth-sensing||5MP|
|Smart home control||Yes||Yes, when paired with an Echo or Echo Plus||Yes||Yes, also includes built-in device hub||Yes||Yes, also includes built-in device hub|
|Free calling with Alexa||Yes||Yes, when paired with an Echo or Echo Plus||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|3.5mm audio port||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Can be used wirelessly||No||No||No||No||No||No|
|Primary use||Updated classic Alexa speaker||Boost sound quality of existing Echo speakers||Alexa speaker with a small screen (video chats and skills)||Alexa speaker with built-in smart home hub||Alexa camera to take outfit photos for suggested styles||Alexa speaker with a large screen (video chats and skills)|
Amazon’s Echo Buttons are the most mysterious of its devices thus far. Announced along with a slew of other Echo devices in a September event, Echo Buttons were demoed as devices that “bring game night back.” They act like buzzers in trivia games, allowing different players to press the top button to answer questions in various Alexa-based games.
Each Button has a glowing top that can shine in different colors so each player can have their own individual color in group games. While playing a game skill through Alexa, each player can press their Button to answer a question and move the game forward. Alexa already has a bunch of game skills, but we know of three so far that will support Echo Buttons: Beat the Intro from Musicplode, Dungeon Escape, and Sounds Fun with Mike Epps from Ground Control.
The catch with Echo Buttons is that they must be connected via Bluetooth to an existing Echo device. Amazon hasn’t stated which Echo devices will support the Buttons, but it’s likely that most full-featured Echo devices (like the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show) will connect to the Buttons. The Buttons are also the first “Alexa gadgets,” or devices that are meant to connect to an Echo device you already have and let you interact with Alexa in new ways. Amazon claims the Echo Buttons will be available on December 19e, but we do not know about any other forthcoming Alexa gadgets yet.
- Buy this if: you regularly have game night with friends and family.
- Don’t buy this if: you don’t already have an Echo device.
Alexa Smart Plug
It’s hard to believe Amazon didn’t have its own smart plug before 2018, but that was the case. The new Alexa-enabled smart plug works like most other smart outlet adaptors available: stick it into the wall and plug a “dumb” device into it to make it a “smart” device. You can use the smart plug to turn a regular lamp into a smart lamp, a boring fan into an intelligent one, and more.
Through the Alexa mobile app, you can program the smart plug (and therefore, anything you plug into it) to turn on and off automatically or work on a schedule. The in-app controls also let you turn on and off the plugged-in device whenever you please.
It wouldn’t be a true Alexa-enabled device if it didn’t support voice control, and the smart plug does indeed support the unique voice commands you can create for it. For example, if you have your coffee maker plugged into the smart plug, you can program it to turn on when you say, “Alexa, turn on the coffee maker.” To do this, you just have to have another Alexa-enabled device, like the Echo Speaker, a Fire TV, or just the Alexa mobile app, within range so it can hear your command.
Best of all, the smart plug doesn’t require a smart home hub like many others do—just plug it into your outlet, set it up in the Alexa app, and use all of its features with no limitations.
- Buy this if: you want to dip your toes into the smart home world without too much effort.
- Don’t buy this if: you’re already deeply entrenched in the Zigbee or Z-Wave ecosystem.
Alexa can now be your companion in the car with the new Echo Auto, a tiny rectangular device that connects to Alexa via your smartphone’s Wi-Fi and LTE connections. It’s designed to put Alexa in your passenger’s seat, making it easier for you as the driver to call upon the assistant using voice commands.
The device itself has a mute button and an action button, similar to full Echo speakers, and it has eight mics to hear you over the roar of your car’s stereo system, blasting AC, honking traffic, and other noises. When connected to the Internet via your smartphone, Alexa comes along for the ride with you. Anything you’d ask Alexa to do at home, like read the news, set a reminder, list calendar events, and more, you can now ask her to do while you’re driving.
Since it’s connected to your car, the Echo Auto plays out responses and content like music and audiobooks through your car’s speakers. Essentially, the Echo Auto has the power to make older cars that lack a new infotainment system a bit smarter, giving drivers the ability to use Alexa even when their hands are tied.
- Buy this if: you want to update your car with Alexa voice commands.
- Don’t buy this if: you already have a car with a new infotainment system that supports voice commands.
Amazon added voice calling and messaging with Alexa to Echo devices recently, and the Echo Connect brings that feature to landlines. The $35 box connects via your phone jack or VoIP adapter and Wi-Fi network. After completing the setup in the Alexa mobile app, you’ll be able to use your voice to ask Alexa to call anyone. Your landline number will be the one that shows up on the receiver’s caller ID, so there’s no confusion when you’re calling another landline.
However, much like the Echo Buttons, you need an existing Echo device to use the Connect. The Connect box basically acts as a bridge between your phone line and Alexa, with Amazon’s voice assistant living in the Echo device you already have. When you ask Alexa to call a contact, a local business, or any other number, you’re asking the voice assistant in an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, or another full-featured Echo device. The Connect ensures that those calls go through your landline rather than your mobile phone.
- Buy this if: you want Alexa to make calls for your landline phone.
- Don’t buy this if: you don’t already have an Echo device.
Maybe you’ve set up your home speaker system exactly as you like it already. Amazon’s traditional Echo speakers may not fit into that setup, but maybe you still like the idea of having a virtual assistant on-call in your home. Enter Amazon’s new Echo Input, an Alexa device that connects to existing speakers through the 3.5mm audio jack or over Bluetooth.
The disk-like device follows the design of other small Echo devices: with just two buttons on its flat top surface, you control it mostly through voice commands. Its internal mic can hear you even over music, allowing you to ask Alexa to set timers and reminders, read the news, check the forecast, and so forth.
While you can’t call or message people via Bluetooth with the Input, it supports Alexa’s thousands of skills. Like other Echo devices, you can enable all the skills you want from the Alexa mobile app, and you can change the Input’s settings from there as well.
- Buy this if: you have a speaker system that doesn’t natively support Alexa or another virtual assistant.
- Don’t buy this if: you already have an Echo speaker, or an Alexa-capable speaker.
The Echo Dot has two big advantages over other fully featured Echo devices: size and price. For just $50, the hockey-puck-sized device gives you access to most of Alexa’s more than 25,000 skills and all of Amazon’s built-in features for its virtual assistant. The Echo Dot can read off weather forecasts, tell you about your daily schedule, provide traffic updates, control smart home devices, read the latest news, and more. The only features it isn’t compatible with are any Alexa skills that require a screen—there are some available now, but those are exclusively for the Echo Show and the forthcoming Echo Spot, the only two Amazon-made Echo devices with displays.
The design of the Echo Dot is a huge plus, and not just because of its size. Measuring 3.9×3.9×1.7 inches, it looks like Amazon sliced off the top-quarter of a regular Echo device, rounded the edges and corners, and turned it into its own device. The Echo Dot has a 1.6-inch speaker inside to play music, but its compact size doesn’t make it the best music maker. However, the device has an audio-out port for connecting to whatever other speakers and sound system you may have, and it works with Bluetooth speakers as well. That means you can connect your favorite sound device to the Echo Dot, ask Alexa to play tunes from Spotify, iHeartRadio, or other sources, and the Echo Dot will play those tracks through your favorite speaker.
The Echo Dot is the device to get if you want the voice-controlled convenience of Alexa and already have a sound system of your own in place.
- Buy this if: you want Alexa but don’t want to spend a lot of money.
- Don’t buy this if: you want a high-quality speaker.
The device that started it all got an update this year with the new Amazon Echo. Not only did Amazon lower the price of the Echo to $100, but the new device has an updated speaker system, improved far-field microphones for Alexa to use to hear you, and a refined design that makes it look more like a home furnishing than a piece of technology. The new Echo sounds better than the original, but it’s not our favorite smart home speaker in terms of audio quality. However, if you’re upgrading from a smartphone speaker or a cheap Bluetooth device, the Echo will be a solid speaker capable of filling a few rooms with sound.
The major case to be made for the Echo is that it’s a decent speaker that also houses Alexa. If you purchase an Echo Dot, there’s no question that you’ll want to connect it to a better sound system—it’s built to be more of a home for Alexa than a good speaker. On the other hand, the Echo is meant to provide both of those features at a relatively affordable price. If you’re not a stickler for sound quality and just want a decent speaker with Alexa, the Echo is a solid device. You can connect the Echo to a larger speaker system as well, as it has the same audio-out port that the Echo Dot has.
- Buy this if: you want the most Alexa features for a decent price.
- Don’t buy this if: you want access to Alexa skills that use a screen.
Amazon’s Echo and Echo Plus speakers work well to fill your living room with sound, but they won’t satisfy audiophiles or those who demand more powerful audio. The new Echo Sub helps with that by connecting to either of Amazon’s main smart speakers and providing dynamic, immersive audio.
With its wider Echo speaker-like design, the Echo Sub includes a 6-inch down-firing woofer and a 100W deep bass amplifier. It can also create a 2.1 stereo system when paired to one of Amazon’s standard Echo speakers (second-gen devices and newer).
Plenty of audio companies now have Alexa-compatible speakers, but many of them come at a high price. Those may work for the most audio-conscious among us, but others may fair better with their current Echo speaker plus a bit more oomph from the $129 Echo Sub.
- Buy this if: you want to give more power and richness to your Echo or Echo Plus speaker.
- Don’t buy this if: you don’t have an Echo or Echo Plus already.