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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.
When the Amazon Echo Dot was first announced in March 2016, it had the less-powerful specs of a device that you’d buy as an addition to your regular Amazon Echo. But the newest Echo Dot, the 3rd generation, is powerful and versatile enough that you could now use this as your primary Echo device. The 3rd Gen Echo Dot has better speakers and is 70% louder than the previous version, so you can actually listen to music or take calls. And it does everything you’d want with Alexa voice controls, like telling Alexa to bring down the lights or turn off the TV. The new Echo Dot also has soft, knit fabric on the outside in charcoal, heather gray, and sandstone colors, giving the device a more elegant look. The final reason you might consider buying an Echo Dot instead of a regular Echo is that it costs just $49 versus $99 for an Echo.
Apple has had trouble making its HomePod smart speaker appeal to a mass audience, and one of the reasons is the comparable — and much less expensive — Amazon Echo Plus. The 2nd generation Echo Plus is a more premium version of the standard Amazon Echo, with an emphasis on better sound quality thanks to top-notch speakers with Dolby Play 360-degree sound. On top of good sound, the Echo Plus also has a built-in Zigbee smart hub so it can control more than 400 smart home devices. The Echo Plus includes a temperature sensor too, so you can easily see what the current temperature is inside your house and make adjustments as needed. And of course, it offers all the perks of Alexa, which means you can tell the device to turn your lights off, flip your TV on, and much more, all with your voice.
The Echo Plus is available as a standalone device, as a bundle with a free Philips Hue Smart Bulb, and in a bundle with an additional Echo Plus and the Amazon Echo Sub (for those who love listening to music).
The family of Amazon Echo products continues to grow, and the new Input device represents a simple solution for those who don’t want to spend the money on a dedicated Alexa speaker because they've already spent a ton of money on a full-fledged sound system. This sleek, half-inch disc folds Alexa functionalities — including voice control and a huge library of skills — right into your existing system, so you can ask your favorite speakers to play music (and much, much more) without lifting a finger.
The Input can connect to your speaker via a 3.5mm aux cable or Bluetooth. Just hook up the Input to your Wi-Fi (either 2.4 or 5 GHz) with the Alexa app, and then connect it to your system. Now Alexa will speak to you through the sound system, and you can teach it more than 50,000 skills including weather readouts, music streaming, and even fun trivia games like Jeopardy. And, at less than three ounces (and under $50), it's a non-invasive way to get all the smart assistant functionality of the more expensive, more substantial Echo devices.
The Amazon Echo Show is a hybrid of Amazon Echo and tiny TV, and because of this form factor, it does the most of any Echo device. First, the device can act as your central smart hub and can control more than 400 Zigbee-compatible devices for home automation. It does everything the regular Echo can do as well, so you can tell Alexa to turn off your lights, ask it questions, get weather and news updates, turn on music, and more. The Echo Show has a 10.1-inch 1080p HD screen, so you can also use the device for placing video calls and watching movie trailers, Prime videos, and live TV and sports (with a Hulu subscription). One place the Echo Show might make the most sense to place is the kitchen. Since you likely aren’t setting up a full TV there, the Echo Show can be good for streaming TV, placing video calls, setting timers/alarms, and reading off a recipe. One last thing: For video calling, the Show only can place calls to Amazon devices (or to devices with the Alexa app), but Amazon says it is adding Skype support soon.
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.
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.