Amazon Echo & Echo Dot Review

Hands-on review of the Amazon Echo & Echo Dot smart home Hubs.

What the Difference Between Amazon Echo & Echo Dot 2nd Gen?

The Echo is Amazons Bluetooth home speaker with a built in virtual assistant. This device provides immersive sound for large rooms while also offering the convenience of Alexa virtual assistant that allows for one-click shopping, home automation integration, and will even let you order a pizza. The Echo Dot is great if you’re looking for a less expensive version of the Echo, that offers all of the features but without the larger built-in speaker. The Dot is meant to be plugged into a larger speaker (if you want to play music), or to be placed in locations where you want Alexa, but don’t have enough space for a full-size Echo like a bathroom or guest room.

  • Echo
  • The Good
     
    Great Design
    Easy Setup
    Immersive 360 Audio
    Excellent Voice Recognition
  • The Bad
     
    No Built-In Battery
    Compact Design
    Can't Connect To Existing Audio Setup
  • Echo Dot
  • The Good
     
    Affordably Priced
    Compact Design
    Connects To Exisiting Audo Setup
     
  • The Bad
     
    No Built In Speaker
     
     

Overall

The Eco dot is a great less expensive alternative to the Echo despite lacking a speaker it packs all of Alexa’s features into a compact design. While we preferred having the built-in speaker of the Echo you may prefer the dot if you wish to hook it up to an existing audio system (it’s the only Echo device capable of doing this)


What Can the Amazon Echo Do?

Amazons Echo recently unveiled new “skills” that let you do everything from order a pizza from Dominos to streaming Spotify music. You can also play songs from the Amazon Prime Music library (about 1 million songs), Pandora, iHeart Radio, and Tunein using simple commands like “Alexa, play The Rolling Stones on Pandora.”

The Echo backs this vast music selection with 360 degree “immersive sound” provided by dual speakers. However, during testing we noticed the bass would distort at maximum volume. But most of the music we played was no louder than 75% and distortion wasn’t a problem. Echo really shines when it comes to spoken audio. Audio books and podcasts, what we listened to most, came through crisp, with speech playback being very clear. That said, if your solely looking for a Bluetooth speaker there are much better options for the money. Especially since you can’t synch your Echo with an external sound system.

However streaming music isn’t the best part of the device. Its best feature is the Alexa virtual assistant. As a virtual assistant Alexa competes well against Siri. It proved more than capable of understanding what we were asking, worked quickly, and provides the ability for one click Amazon shopping (surprisingly convenient).

When it launched Alexa’s, native capabilities included reading off weather forecasts, setting timers & alarms, and managing your to-do & shopping list. Since launch the capabilities have expanded exponentially especially now thanks to Alexa’s “Skills” (essentially apps) and the available 3rd party developer kit. There are currently hundreds of “skills” that basically teach Alexa a new trick every time you enable one. This allows you to do things like control your alarm.com home security system,order an Uber, Domino’s pizza, or control a number of other devices without native Alexa support.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Echo won’t let you program smart home scenes the way that competing platforms like HomeKit will. You can add compatible lights and devices in the Alexa app easily and then group them to turn multiple things on and off at once. But you can’t natively create a setting that would allow you to adjust your lights and thermostat at once. However, by using Alexa’s IFTTT channel you can find plenty of simple work around to this issue.

MORE: Alarm.com Now Compatible With Amazon Echo

What Can The Echo Dot 2nd Generation Do?

The Amazon Echo Dot is the most flexible Echo device available making it a great access point for Alexa services. The Echo Dot 2nd gen dropped the external volume ring around the top and added 2 volume buttons. This made the device a little more compact and lighter. They also added white as an available color option. Other than these minor updates its similar to the 1st generation Dot offering easy set-up and voice activated control.

Unlike the Echo that is a Bluetooth speaker, the Dot simply acts as an access point for Amazon’s Alexa. Basically, the Dot doesn’t have a powerful speaker but offers all the same features as the Amazon Echo or Amazon Tap. However, unlike the other two devices you can connect it to your existing speakers via Bluetooth or aux cable. Allowing you to add whatever speaker setup you’d like to your Dot.

Previously Amazon Dot devices had voice recognition problems specifically when music was playing, forcing users to have to scream to get Alexa’s attention. This isn’t an issue with the 2nd gen Dot. During testing the device proved to be more capable of detecting our voice even at distances of up to 10-15 feet despite music playing. Now if you have a robust in home speaker set-up you may experience some problems. But as long as there is some distance between the dot and your speakers it should work just fine.


Editors Note: Amazon doesn’t include an aux line-in cable with the new Echo Dot like it did with the first one. But it can still instantly connect with Bluetooth.


How Alexa Performed During Testing

Amazons’ Alexa virtual assistant is powerful and reliable. To start using Alexa on your Echo or Echo dot you will need to download the free App for Android or iOS. Once the app is connected to your Wi-Fi network and Amazon account you’re good to go.

We found that straight out of the box Alex could understand us on both the Echo and Echo Dot. However, If you run into issues you can run the voice training on the app. This will run you through a preset list of things to say to help Alexa understand your speech patterns. Also, during normal use, the Echo app logs each inquiry you make, and asks if Alexa understood you correctly. Helping it improve its performance as you go.

“Alexa is an incredibly powerful Virtual Assistant”

Alexa can handle a ton of different tasks. For example, you can create to-do lists and reminders, add items to a shopping list, purchase new items, and check everything from sports scores and news to weather. You can even play podcasts, books, and music all with the power of your voice.

We found the one-click shopping to be one of our favorite features. We could easily add some deodorant to our shopping list to buy later. And after setting up our one-click shopping preferences were even able to order it with our voice. Unfortunately, while this functionality proves great when ordering one off products its somewhat frustrating ordering or adding multiple since you must say each item as a separate command.

When it comes to things that are useful when getting ready in the morning, like checking the weather or news, Alexa also performed extremely well. When we asked “What’s the weather today?” it responded with the current temperature and weather conditions as well as todays complete forecast. When we followed up with “Alexa what’s in the news?” we were read a curated list of news headlines and blurbs from news sources and categories we chose.

The capabilities of Alexa are expanding daily. It’s now easy to have Alexa accessible everywhere thanks to devices like the Echo Dot. And with 3rd party developer software available for Alexa and IFTTT Recipes & Alexa “Skills” growing daily it won’t be long before Alexa has the ability to completely integrate with your home and life.


Editors Note: When using Alexa its important to specify what she should be searching with commands like, “Alexa play music …” or “Alexa, play movie …”. If you only say “Alexa, play Yellow Submarine” it may look for the movie instead of the song.


MORE: Complete List Of Amazon Alexa Commands

What Products Work With Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, & Alexa?

Both the amazon Echo and Echo Dot are compatible with and capable of controlling tons of leading smart home devices thanks to Alexa, Alexa “Skills” and IFTTT support. Devices from WeMo, Nest and August are all compatible. Wink and Samsung SmartThings Hubs are also paired easily with Alexa. For more information on products supported by Echo visit Cnet’s list of Echo Compatible Devices.

During testing the Echo paired easily with our LIFX bulbs. Allowing us to group the bulbs as we wanted and control the groups individually. The best part, they don’t have to be the same brand to be grouped, a useful feature for those of us trying to save money. For example, if you get a deal on several Phillips Hue bulbs and then later GE smart bulbs go on sale you can purchase them knowing they will still be able to be grouped.

Integration with energy management and home security devices was also incredibly easy to setup. Our Echo found our installed August Smart Lock and Ecobee3 Thermostat easily. Allowing us to unlock and lock our front door with our voice as well as adjust the temperature of the room we were in.

The ever growing list of Alexa “Skills” allow you to do things like order a ride or some food with your voice. And with IFTT support you can create a “recipe” to do things like Unlock your front door, adjust the temperature, and turn the entry lights on automatically when you arrive home. You really do have the ability to control nearly every aspect of your home with your voice.

MORE: Best Home Automation Devices

How do Amazon Echo & Alexa compare against Google Home?

Google Home offers a lot of the same features as the Amazon Echo but is less expensive. Similar to the Echo it needs to be plugged in to work and responds to a preset prompt for voice services. We found that the Echo delivered better sound thanks to its dual speakers. But Google Homes ability to integrate with Google Cast allowing you to play YouTube videos and music on your TV with your voice was a nice feature (though buggy on occasion) that Echo lacks. It’s important to note that neither device support the streaming of other company services meaning you can’t play Prime Music on your Echo or Apple Music on either device.

Really when choosing between these two devices/services it comes down to your personal preference and setup. If you use Amazon for most of your purchases, music, and video needs you’ll want to get an Echo or Echo Dot. However, if you predominantly use Gmail, Google Docs, or other Google services the Google Home Will Prove invaluable for you.

What Can Alexa do that Google Assist Cant?

How To Set-up Amazon Echo & Echo Dot

Set-up was incredibly easy taking us just 2 minutes. During testing only the Wink Hub 2 set up more quickly. To get going, simply take the Amazon Echo or Echo dot out of the box, plug it in and you’ll hear the device power on. Once on you’ll need to connect the Echo’s Wi-Fi network on your phone and then pair it with your Wi-Fi in the Alexa app.

Now you’re ready to connecting 3rd party devices. This is also very easy. Once your other devices are installed and set-up they will appear in your Echo App. From here you can tap a device and follow the on-screen instructions to pair them.

MORE: Wink Hub 2 Review

Review Wrap Up

The Amazon Echo & Echo Dot are incredible powerful Smart Home products thanks to Alexa Virtual Assistant. They are compatible and easy to pair with most major IoT and automation devices allowing for complete control of your home. We loved the Echo’s audio quality especially when it came to audio books. But if you’re more price conscious or want the ability to connect your device to your own speaker system then you’ll want the Echo Dot. We loved these devices so much that both the Echo and Echo Dot have become staples of our own Smart Home. If you’re looking for a great starting point and brain for your SmartHome Alexa and the Echo devices are a great place to start.

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