What Is Amazon Echo Dot?

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

The Amazon Dot is a smart speaker that packs all the technology and functionality of the original Echo into a smaller package. It's Amazon's best-selling smart speaker, primarily due to its low entry cost. Dot provides access to the Amazon virtual assistant Alexa, which plays music, creates shopping lists, provides weather reports, and a lot more. The built-in speaker isn’t as good as the Echo, but the audio jack makes it easy to plug the Dot into any external speaker.

What Is the Dot?

At a basic level, the Dot is a speaker, some microphones, and other computer hardware built into a compact form factor. The Dot is about the size of a hockey puck and is available in a limited variety of fabric colors.

Amazon's Echo Dot with clock function
Lifewire / Lance Ulanoff

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 the Echo, Dot is 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.

Echo Dot 3rd Gen on coffee table

The Dot includes the 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 microphones and some technological hand-waving.

How Does the Dot Work?

Despite its smaller size and price tag, the Dot does most everything that the original Echo does. The Dot plays music from compatible services, provides news briefs, gives a weather report, and more.

Dot is designed around the Amazon virtual assistant Alexa, and everything is handled by voice commands. Dot is always listening for a wake word, which is Alexa by default. It records anything it hears after that for processing in the cloud. There's 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 device data is transparent. View and listen to recordings from the Alexa app or by accessing your Amazon account online, and these records can be deleted.

How Is the Dot Different From the Echo?

The main differences between the Dot and the Echo are size and price. The Dot is smaller, and the associated price tag is more affordable. Most of the functionality is the same, and speaker quality is the biggest technical factor that differentiates the devices.

Amazon echo vs dot side by side

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

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

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

Echo Dot Kids Edition

The kid-friendly version of Dot puts parents in control and prevents children from ordering toys, buying candy, or accessing inappropriate material. The hardware is the same, but the Echo Dot Kids Edition is a safer experience for small children.

echo dot kids edition on nightstand next to child's bed with child talking to mother at bedtime

The Echo Dot Kids Edition comes with a Dot, a colorful protective case, and a one-year subscription to the Amazon FreeTime Unlimited app for up to four kids.

FreeTime Unlimited provides access to books for kids that Dot reads out loud. If your kid has a Kindle Fire, they can 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 comes with voice shopping disabled and automatically filters out inappropriate content when used with Amazon Music. Parents are 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.

To make a Dot kid-friendly, install the FreeTime app 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.

The Latest Generation: Dot With Clock

In September 2019, Amazon announced the newest iteration of the Echo Dot along with other Alexa-enabled devices. The 3rd generation Dot is similar to previous devices, but it includes a new convenience.

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

This Echo Dot comes with a clock in the form of a small LED display located behind the Dot mesh front. The screen tells the time and displays other information such as the current temperature when you ask Alexa for it.

The Dot with Clock isn't a game-changer, but it improves on the Dot functionality of previous models.

Who Needs a Dot?

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

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