What is the Amazon Echo Dot?

Amazon Echo's baby sister is making loud noise in a small package

amazon echo dot
Dot is a smaller and more affordable version of Amazon Echo. Amazon.com, Inc.

Amazon’s Dot is a smart speaker that packs all the technology and functionality of the original Echo into a much smaller package.

For anyone who isn’t already familiar with Echo, what that means is that Dot gives you access to Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa, which can play music, create shopping lists, provide weather reports, and a whole lot more. The built-in speaker isn’t as good as the Echo, but the inclusion of an audio jack makes it easy to plug the Dot into virtually any external speaker.

What is the Dot?

amazon echo dot
The Dot is a tiny smart speaker that gives you access to Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant. Amazon, Inc.

At a very basic level, the Dot is a speaker, some microphones, and other computer hardware built into a very compact form factor. While the Echo is about the size and shape of a Pringles can, the Dot looks like it could find a second career as a hockey puck if the smart speaker thing doesn’t pan out.

For connectivity, the Dot includes built-in Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a 3.5 mm audio jack. The Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity are shared with the larger Echo, but the audio jack is a unique feature.

Like her big sister Echo, Dot is more or less a paperweight without access to the internet. This is why it uses Wi-Fi to connect to the internet, which is how it gains access to Alexa. All the heavy lifting is done in the cloud.

The Dot also includes the exact same far-field microphone technology found in the Echo, which allows it to recognize commands given from across a room in a normal speaking voice. This is accomplished with an array of seven microphones and some technological hand-waving that users don’t really have to worry about, since it just works.

How Does The Dot Work?

Despite its much smaller size and price tag, the Dot can do pretty much everything that the original Echo can do. That includes playing music from a variety of compatible services, providing news briefs, giving a weather report, and a lot more.

Since Dot is designed around Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa, everything is handled by voice commands. Dot is always listening for a wake word, which is Alexa by default, and then records anything it hears after that for processing in the cloud. There is no noticeable lag during this process, so talking to the Dot is almost like talking to a real assistant.

While there are privacy concerns surrounding the issue of Alexa spying on users, the whole thing is pretty transparent. Users can view and listen to recordings via the Alexa app or by accessing their Amazon account online, and these records can also be deleted if so desired.

How is the Dot Different From the Echo?

echo vs dot
Dot is a whole lot smaller than Echo, and the speaker isn't as good, but it packs in all the same functionality. Amazon, Inc.

The main differences between the Dot and the Echo are size and price. The Dot is much smaller, and the associated price tag is also a whole lot more affordable. Most of the functionality is the same across the board, and speaker quality is the biggest technical factor that really differentiates the two devices.

While Echo includes two built-in speakers and a resonating chamber, the Dot only has a single speaker. That means it isn’t well suited to filling a large space with rich sound, and it can’t even touch the already anemic bass response of the Echo.

The other really noticeable difference, in terms of hardware, is that the Dot includes a 3.5 mm audio jack. This jack allows you to easily plug the Dot into your home theater system, a portable speaker, or anything else that has a compatible audio input.

Bluetooth connectivity is the same across both the Dot and other Echo devices, which means you also have the option to pair the Dot to a wireless speaker if you prefer that to a wired connection.

Echo Dot Kids Edition

echo dot kids edition
The Echo Dot Kids Edition provides a safer Alexa-enabled experience for kids, with age-appropriate stories and activities. Amazon, Inc.

The kid-friendly version of Dot is designed to put parents in control and prevent children from ordering expensive toys, tons of candy, or accessing inappropriate material of any kind. The basic hardware is exactly the same, but the Echo Dot Kids Edition represents a safer experience for small children.

When you buy an Echo Dot Kids Edition, you receive a Dot, a colorful protective case, and a one year subscription to Amazon's FreeTime Unlimited app for up to four kids.

FreeTime Unlimited provides access to a ton of kids books that Dot can read out loud. If your kid has a Kindle Fire, they can also use the service to watch free movies and TV shows and play free games.

In addition to one year of FreeTime Unlimited, the kid-friendly version of Dot also comes with voice shopping disabled and automatically filters out inappropriate content when used with Amazon Music. Parents are also provided with powerful tools to control exactly when, and how, their children are able to interact with their Dot.

Parents can also install and activate age-appropriate Alexa skills, allow their kids to control specific smart devices like light switches, and more.

Note: For parents who already have a Dot and want to make it kid-friendly, the FreeTime app can also be installed on a regular Dot. The app requires a monthly subscription after a free trial period. For more information, check out the FreeTime Unlimited app on Amazon.

Who Needs a Dot?

Since the Dot doesn’t have a great built-in speaker, it’s a good choice for anyone who already has a high quality portable speaker. Speaker quality may also a non-issue for anyone who wants Alexa’s virtual assistant functionality and doesn’t care about listening to music.

Due to the way that far-field voice recognition works, you can also use a Dot to extend Alexa functionality into a bedroom, office, bathroom, or other space if you already have an Echo in your living room.