Hands on: Amazon Echo Dot review

The Echo Dot is back and better than ever

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The Amazon Echo Dot is a cut-down but still impressive version of the Echo. If you want Alexa but don't want to pay a premium price, this is a great option.

For

  • Great, smaller design
  • Full Alexa functionality
  • Fantastic price.

Against

  • Needs a speaker
  • Amazon services baked in.

The Amazon Echo Dot has been around for some time now, helping us give our speakers an embedded artificial intelligence and connect them to streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio and Amazon Music. But while the original version of the Echo Dot, the one that launched in March of this year in the US alongside the Amazon Tap, has been around for a few months, the product itself was difficult to get ahold of and was only available for purchase through an Amazon Echo product.

That's about to change - for everyone, not just those living in the States.

Eschewing exclusivity and improving on the original model released a few months back, Amazon has finally brought its Echo smart speaker to the UK and, more importantly, it's being accompanied by a smaller but no-less smart, Amazon Echo Dot.

This is Amazon's push to have an Echo product in every room. The Dot is essentially the brains of the full-sized Amazon Echo unleashed and ready to attach to any speaker you have in your house. Hook it up via a 3.5mm auxiliary cable and it will make a traditional "dumb" speaker smart and voice controlled.

Design and features

The Echo Dot is small with a puck like design but it's not as tiny as its obvious rival, the Chromecast Audio - measuring 83.5 x 83.5 x 32mm. It might be a small in stature but Amazon has managed to pack a lot into it.

Amazon Echo Dot

For a start, you have dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5GHz) network connectivity, a tiny speaker for voice feedback - needed if you decide to not connect it to a bigger speaker - and there's also seven microphones inside, the same as in the Amazon Echo.

There are volume controls at the top of the device and the all-important mute button. This is a big deal for Amazon. Given the Echo Dot is an always-on, always-connected device it will be uploading your voice and information to the cloud - but only when you say the wake word 'Alexa'.

Amazon Echo Dot

Do this and the top of the device glows blue. Hold mute down and it will glow red. (Red means it is not recording anything.) You can also check on the accompanying app to see what phrases have been uploaded. If you don't like them you can delete them. And there's also the option to delete all the information it holds of you.

The key to Amazon Echo Dot is voice recognition. Much like how Apple has Siri, Amazon has Alexa and has been pushing its voice AI for sometime now.

Having voice control on board means that you will be able to control myriad things in your house - from playing music, to controlling your heating and even requesting taxis and takeaways. The Echo Dot can be a central part of the smart home puzzle, you just have to have the right connected hardware to help hook all of this up together.

Amazon Echo Dot

But that doesn't mean the Dot can't stand on its own two feet - if all you have is a speaker and Echo Dot, however, you can still do a lot of cool things.

Hooking up the Echo Dot to a speaker is easy. If your speaker is Bluetooth compatible then you can connect the device that way. If not then you will have to connect through a 3.5mm cable - something that isn't supplied in the box.

Once connected - the speaker also utilizes your WiFi - you will be able to ask Alexa an array of questions. We played with the Echo Dot at the UK launch, so the questions we asked were of a British slant.

UK and US differences

This was a big point for Amazon - it hasn't just launched the Echo Dot in the UK, it has tailored the voice recognition so it will be UK specific. If you ask it about football, it will tell you about the round-ball variety (the better football). It even knows - as everyone should - about Monty Python and Blackadder. Ask it to spell the word colour and it spells it with a 'u'.

Amazon Echo Dot

Play with the Amazon Echo Dot in the US and the answers are tailored for US audiences, too.

Although the Echo Dot is new to the UK, the version being launched there is essentially the second iteration of the Dot. The US had the first version which cost the best part of $90.

This one has had a serious price reduction. It's available for $50/£50, which makes it a whole lot more desirable. The reasons for the price change aren't actually that apparent at first look.

Amazon Echo Dot

It has a more compact design but it does all the same things. In fact, it's improved with something called ESP (Echo Spatial Perception). This is something that's also coming to the Echo and it essentially picks out where your voice is in the house and, depending on how many Dots you have, it will pick the right Dot-enabled speaker to talk back to you.

And Amazon really really wants you to fill your home with Echo Dots. So much so, it has an offer on where if you buy five Dots you will get one free. Ramp this up to 10 and you will get two Dots free.

Amazon Echo Dot

The Echo Dot is Amazon's big push for total smart home domination. It may not have the speaker system that the Echo has but it has been designed to fit into your existing home setup.

If that setup includes smart heating, such as Hive in the UK or Nest in the US or smart bulbs like the ones offered by Philips or LIFX then you'll be able to speak to these systems through your Dot. You will also be able to check your calendar, add alarms, check travel information, order takeout and taxis through the device and the list continues to grow monthly.

Early verdict

Since Amazon opened up its Alexa app store to third-party developers, the power and capabilities of the Echo Dot and Echo have only increased. These are smarter products than they were just six short months ago, and will likely be even better six months on from here.

At $50/£50 it feels like something of a no-brainer to have an Echo Dot and, in turn, Alexa functionality in your home. But we will have to get it in our home first, and away from a launch environment, to really know for sure.

The Amazon Echo Dot (2016) release date is October and it comes in both black and white.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.