Honestly, not everyone needs an Amazon Echo. Sure, it’d be nice. But most of us don’t have $179.99 (£149.99 in the UK) burning a hole in our pockets.
The last thing we’d want you to do is overspend on a gadget you might not really need and have therefore come up with a quick and easy guide to figuring out which of the four – technically five if we include the Amazon Echo Look – smart speakers you should buy. But before we dive into the specifics of each speaker, let’s talk about the Amazon Echo platform as a whole and why you’d choose that over the Google Home or Apple HomePod.
The first and most important reason to pick up an Echo, in any one of its forms, is because it’s leading the pack of smart speakers at the moment. It has the most hardware partners, skills and while we can’t verify this for a fact, it seems like Alexa understands a few more commands than the Google Home can. It also hooks into Amazon’s Prime Music service and has the ability to call other Echo devices – or even ‘drop in’ on them whenever you’d like.
So which of them is the cheapest?
If you’re limited by budget and not concerned with sound quality or visual cues to go along with Alexa’s responses, your best bet is the Amazon Echo Dot. It might not offer the fullest, most robust sound on its own but it’s cheap and it can connect to any other speaker you already own via a 3.5mm Aux cable.
Buying the cheapest Amazon Echo is worthwhile for a few reasons. First off, it’s the cheapest way to get Alexa, the Echo’s built-in voice assistant who can communicate with other smart devices and act as a nexus for your smart home.
Second, because it has internal microphones, it can pick up your voice from anywhere in the room – allowing you to DJ a party without holding onto your phone all night or jot down some notes without ever picking up a pen.
The big differentiator between the Amazon Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap is the fact that the Echo Dot doesn’t have much of audio prowess on its own, and needs to stay plugged in at all time. The Tap isn’t an immaculate concept, but it does offer a few key features.
Are any of them portable?
If you’re looking for an Echo to take with you when you’re out and about, you should consider the Amazon Tap – a basic Bluetooth speaker that has Alexa built right in. That said, the Tap has one advantage over the Amazon Echo Dot, and one major disadvantage compared to the the Amazon Echo.
On the debit side, however, the Tap is the only Amazon Echo device that doesn't offer Echo-to-Echo calling or Drop-In. If you want to actually use your Echo like a speaker phone, you'll need to look somewhere else, unfortunately.
If you want a decent speaker, a faux-home phone and a voice assistant who’s ready to listen at any time, you’re going to need an Amazon Echo.
What’s the best all-around option?
For most people, we’d say the Amazon Echo is the best all-around option of the bunch. It offers an always-listening artificial intelligence, solid audio quality and doesn’t cost too much.
While some folks find the stalwart canister a bit of an imposing monolith of music and cybernetic brains, it’s relatively easy to tuck away on a shelf without any negative consequences in terms of voice recognition or sound quality.
It’s a staple for most smart homes simply because it can integrate with so many products, and continues to be a major building block in Amazon’s future plans – it’s likely that you’ll see further integration with the Home and products like the Fire TV and Kindle products down the road.
Everything considered, Alexa’s just getting warmed up.
While the Amazon Echo is somehow both the alpha and the omega of Echo products, it’s worth considering the two newest entries of Amazon family: the Echo Show and Echo Look. They both offer a unique gimmick of their own that might appeal to a different crowd.
For the visually inclined and fashionably insecure
Let’s run through two more use cases. If you’re someone who likes seeing visual notifications in addition to audio cues, you’ll probably want an Amazon Echo Show. It comes with a built-in screen that gives some visual flair to Alexa’s responses. Instead of simply hearing what the weather is like, it can show you a five day forecast. Instead of listening to Alexa read off a recipe, the Show can pop it on the screen for you.
For those who are more aesthetically insecure about themselves, there’s the Amazon Look, a device that builds Alexa into a camera that can take photos and suggest alternate outfits. We should point out, however, that the whole process is optional – it’s not like the Amazon Look is going to snap pictures of you without you knowing it. If you’re stuck between two different outfits, you can submit the pictures to Amazon’s Style Check algorithm that processes the photos and suggests which one to go with.
Both the Look and the Show are a bit more expensive than the standard Amazon Echo, and while we admire their added features, we’re not totally sold that they’re worth the markup in price.
You should feel like you know your way around an Echo, but if you need more buying advice don’t be shy to connect with us on Facebook and Twitter!