Which Amazon Echo Device Should I Buy?

We're spelling out all the differences between Amazon's Echo line-up

Echo Show
Photo from Amazon

Originally launched in 2015, Amazon’s cylindrical, Internet-connected speaker called Echo introduced millions to the future concept of a smart home. Fast forward a few years and Amazon’s expanded Echo line now includes a handful of devices, each of which attempts to add a functionality to your life you never knew you were missing. The concept of a smart home didn’t originate with Amazon’s Echo devices, but they have helped mainstream the idea that speaking to a device in your house is less Hollywood and more a glimpse into a better, more connected tomorrow. Need a little help deciding which one you should spring for? Below, we spell out the differences between each one, so you'll have no problem finding the one that's perfect for you.

Rightly considered part of the evolution of Amazon’s Echo line, the Show does exactly as its name says. It “shows” you the very same information as the original Echo would speak. Your daily flash briefing is no longer just spoken word. It’s now shown to you via video alongside YouTube clips and a visual look at the day’s forecast. Like the rest of the Echo series, the Show remains completely hands-free, but the built-in seven-inch display allows a slew of extras, including video calling to other Show owners or voice-dialing to cylindrical Echo and Echo Dot users. The Show will also connect with compatible smart home cameras such as Arlo or Ring and show you your front door or monitor the baby’s room.

Tip: If the Echo Show is more device than you care to have, you can get the same features, including video, in a smaller form factor with the Echo Spot.

The dual two-inch speakers provide “expansive, stereo-sound” with rich bass for listening to your streaming music favorites across Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora and more. Lyrics from your music will even flash across the display as you’re listening to one of the aforementioned music networks. Past audio, the inclusion of Bluetooth partners nicely with dual-band Wi-Fi support on both 2.4 and 5GHz networks for a device that’s compatible with hundreds of smart home devices. Weighing 41 ounces, the Show is best featured on a nightstand, desktop or even a kitchen counter within the reach of its six-foot long AC power cable.

With eight microphones and noise-cancelation, the Show handily "hears" from any direction courtesy of far-field voice recognition and beamforming technology. The addition of thousands of “Amazon Skills” or new features comes often from both Amazon and third-party developers, which means you can discover new possibilities with Amazon’s Echo line almost daily.

The grandaddy of connected devices, Amazon’s original Echo helped usher in a new era of smart home devices. Now the second generation is here, and it’s smaller – and smarter — than its predecessor. At only 5.8 inches tall, this model features a new state-of-the-art Dolby speaker, an ever-growing library of Alexa skills, and expanded voice recognition capabilities. With the ability to control hundreds of connected devices, make phone calls, playback instantly from popular streaming services and so much more, the Echo 2nd Generation lets you control your media and your home without touching a remote. This model also includes multi-room music, so you can play your favorite songs from the different Alexa devices throughout your house. And with five stylish choices of fabric or faux wood finish, these devices look great in every room.

Like its predecessor, the Echo 2nd Generation requires a Wi-Fi connection. Once you set it up, create a voice profile to teach Alexa to recognize your voice. Then you’re hands-free, and Alexa immediately starts learning your preferences to optimize its suggestions for you. The Echo is equipped with advanced far-field voice recognition, meaning it can hear and recognize your voice from anywhere (even in noisy environments or while the device is playing music) and its seven multi-directional microphones use enhanced noise cancellation to accurately understand your voice commands. The Echo’s new Dolby speaker is also packed with cutting-edge technology, including a 2.5-inch downward-firing woofer and 0.6-inch tweeter to deliver high-quality audio for your music, eliminating the need for a separate speaker.

As an Alexa-enabled device, the Echo’s already-extensive range of capabilities continues to expand. Thousands of skills are added with new features and new possibilities arriving almost daily. Send messages, listen to news briefs, control smart home devices like garage doors and thermostats, and even order an Uber or a pizza, simply using your voice. Just ask Alexa to add more skills as you want them. With software updates downloaded automatically, the Echo requires little ongoing maintenance and only becomes smarter with continued use.

Echo Spot

 One of the sleekest designs in Amazon’s smart home line, the Echo Spot, like other Echo devices, is powered by the cloud-based Alexa App. Unlike the compact Dot, however, the model also offers a 2.5-inch interactive screen — on which you can set a background photo and play videos — and updated far-field voice recognition.

The 4.1 x 3.8 x 3.6-inch, 14.8-ounce device is available in black and white and is compatible with iOS, Fire OS and Android devices. Once connected to your home Wi-Fi network, the Spot can sync with other Echo devices across multiple rooms to play music and news briefings, make hands-free calls and control your thermostats. Though the device’s built-in speakers can bump your tunes — through Amazon Music, Pandora or Spotify — with no problems, you can also connect the Spot to external speakers via Bluetooth or with the aid of a 3.5 mm stereo cable.

Like the other Echo devices, the Spot responds to thousands of voice commands and learns to recognize your voice the more you talk to her. The device is always bettering itself, adapting to speech patterns and keeping track of your personal preferences, and with four far-field speakers, it’s not often that Alexa is hard of hearing. If you’re a real tech geek, you’ll also appreciate that the Spot is compatible with other smart home-connected devices from brands like WeMo, Philips Hue, Wink and more.

The baby of Amazon’s Echo line, the 1.6-inch tall Echo Dot is best described as the top section of the full-sized Echo with one speaker. Equally as smart, the always-on Echo Dot connects to the very same cloud and controls the same connected devices at a fraction of the price. The largest difference between the two devices is the full-sized speaker that’s missing on the Dot. Instead, Amazon is counting on you hooking the Dot up to your existing audio setup via Bluetooth or audio-out cable (3.5mm) and utilizing Alexa with your existing speaker set.

The built-in speaker is great for reading news, setting alarms and listening to audiobooks from Audible, but it lacks the bass or acoustic depth you’ll find on the larger Echo. Ideally, the Dot will be placed centrally in a house, perhaps in the kitchen, but it behaves just as well on a nightstand where it can double as a smart alarm clock that’s also capable of turning on the lights when connected to products such as Philips Hue lighting. Hands-free voice control is present for playing music on Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio ​and TuneIn where it’s as simple as asking “Alexa, play love songs from the 90s” to help set the mood for date night.

With its connection to your smartphone via the downloadable Amazon Echo app on both Android and iOS, voice calling and messaging are present and accounted for. Whether it’s a quick call to Mom or sending a message to a friend that you’re running late, the Echo Dot offers instant contact without any extra charges. Weighing just 5.7 ounces, the Echo Dot offers thousands of additional uses with Amazon Skills without the size and price of its big brother. For buyers who want a quick and inexpensive way to introduce their home or office to a connected lifestyle, the Echo Dot is the best way to do so.  

Echo Look

Amazon’s Echo Look is unique and is very much a niche product that’s designed for fashion-conscious users who have trouble deciding their daily outfits. Before diving into the Look’s intended use case, it’s worth noting that it does include a (mostly) full set of standard Echo options such as news, weather, traffic, control of other smart home devices and music. Past its basic skills, the built-in five-megapixel camera and Intel RealSense SR300 depth-sensing technology camera are where the magic truly lies and they work together with the downloadable Android and iOS Amazon Look app. Wall-mountable, the Look also includes a built-in array of microphones and speaker for the more traditional Echo features.

Amazon bills the Look as a “connected fashion consultant” and it’s not far from the truth since the Look allows users to snap pictures of themselves in various outfits. Once an image is captured, the Look software will automatically blur the background in the image to make each outfit the dedicated focus. Once that process happens, machine learning takes over and helps advise you through a feature called “Style Check” to offer advice on what you should (and should not) wear.

As a style assistant, the Look succeeds with add-ons that include taking a short video so you can see your outfit choice from every angle. This 360-degree view of your outfit can even be used to create a personal lookbook that can you refer to later for fashion reference. Ultimately, there’s little debate the Look is a niche product that’s heavily focused on fashion-first users and won’t appeal to the same masses as the other models in the Echo line. However, if you’re eager for a “friend” that will help you look your best, the Look is a unique take on having your very own personal shopper.

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