One of the breakthrough success stories of the smart appliance world is the virtual assistant speaker. The pioneering brand, of course, is Amazon's Echo. Released in June 2015, consumer tech fans back then weren't really sure about what the Echo will bring to the table.
Fast forward to today's Amazon Echo, or as we lovingly anthropomorphize as "Alexa," it is now the most popular "smart" appliance. The voice-activated Alexa answers questions, plays music, helps you organize your day, sets timers, reads you the news and can even brighten your day with a joke or two.
With its ever-expanding skill set, it seems like the sky's the limit for Alexa. If you're looking for a futuristic constant home companion, the Amazon Echo may just be the appliance you need.
But with multiple options in the Amazon Echo family, which Echo is right for you? Read on and we'll help you decide.
Not sold on Alexa? Get an Echo Dot first
If you're not sure if you need an Amazon Echo in your home then the Echo Dot is the perfect entry point for you.
It is a small hockey puck-sized version of the Amazon Echo and with its impulse-buy price of $50, it's the cheapest way to get acquainted with the official Alexa experience.
Although the Dot will not have the Echo's cylindrical speaker, it does come with a smaller built-in speaker, or if you prefer, you can also connect any Bluetooth speaker wirelessly or any regular speaker via the built-in 3.5mm jack.
The Echo Dot can do anything an Amazon Echo does but with its tiny form factor, you can place it inconspicuously anywhere in your home.
If you already have an Amazon Echo, you can pepper your other rooms with Echo Dots for full coverage and take advantage of the Echo system's multi-room audio and intercom abilities.
Amazon Echo - great sound, cheaper price
Did you miss the 1st-generation Amazon Echo party? Well, don't feel that bad because the Amazon Echo 2.0 is an improved version of the original!
With a more affordable $99.99 price tag, a smaller form factor, different colors, improved sound and next-generation far-field sound technology, the new Amazon Echo may just make you love Alexa even more.
The revamped design should look great in any room but it will work best in central areas like the living room or the kitchen.
If you're sold with what Alexa can do for you and you want a great sounding smart speaker, you can't go wrong with the Amazon Echo.
Amazon Echo Plus - best for the smart home
The original Amazon Echo form factor lives on with the new Amazon Echo Plus. Aside from its usual Alexa functions, the Echo Plus has one distinct advantage - it can act as your central smart home hub!
With the Echo Plus, just say "Alexa, discover my devices" and it will automatically discover and set up Zigbee compatible gadgets.
This includes smart lights, locks, plugs, switches without the need for a separate hub or app for each of your smart appliances!
The Echo will work with different brands like Philips Hue smart bulbs, GE, Kwikset smart locks and more. As an added bonus, Echo Plus buyers will receive a free Philips Hue smart lightbulb.
Other features that set it apart from the 1st-gen Echo include enhanced audio with deeper bass and crisper treble, Dolby processing, and next-generation far-field technology.
It's a bit pricier at $150, but if you want an integrated and less cluttered smart home, then the Amazon Echo Plus is the one for you.
Amazon Echo Show - The high-end Echo
At $230, the Echo Show is a pricey Amazon Echo for a good reason. It has a built-in 7-inch screen and a front facing camera! Why would you want a screen and a camera on an Echo? Well, as its name implies, Alexa can now "show" you things.
So instead of just hearing your daily news, you can watch clips as well.
Listening to your favorite song? The Show can display lyrics too so you can sing along. Calendars and to-do lists? Perfect for the Echo Show. Just about any Alexa task that will benefit with the addition of a visual component is better on the Show.
The Echo Show can also stream videos from Netflix and Amazon (unfortunately, no YouTube) and act as a screen for your security cameras and baby monitors.
But what makes the Amazon Show special is a feature called Drop-In. This lets other Echos automatically connect to another Echo to start a conversation. The other party doesn't even have to pick the call; the line is automatically open.
You can probably guess where I'm going with this. With two Echo Shows connected, you can have a virtual open window between two locations all the time.
Amazon Echo Spot - the future of the Echo
The new Echo Spot is the most interesting member of the Echo family. Think of it as a smaller and cheaper version of the Echo Show. It's essentially an Echo Dot with a screen and a camera!
You can use it as an Alexa-enabled smart alarm clock that will look perfect on your nightstand, desk or kitchen counter.
Frankly, with its circular display, it's the most futuristic-looking gadget among the lot. You can see weather forecasts, watch video clips, check the time - the possibilities are intriguing.
And with its front-facing camera, it brings the Echo Show's "Drop In" video calling with a better price point. You could pretty much build a complete home video intercom system with this cool gadget.
Other features include next-gen far-field technology, acoustic beam-forming and enhanced noise cancellation.
The Echo Spot is not cheap at $129 but if you want the futuristic features of the Echo Show, then it's well worth the price.
Amazon Echo Look - Fashionista's choice
The Amazon Echo Look is only currently available through invitations right now but I can that say it caters to a specific niche market. With its $199 price tag, it's definitely not for everyone.
Amazon is marketing it as the Echo for the style- and fashion-minded among us. The Echo Look will have all the same capabilities as other Alexa devices but the hook is that this new device can help you choose what clothes to wear.
The Echo Look's main reason for being is its hands-free camera that can take head to toe photos. With it, you can supposedly capture will a picture of your outfit options and have an AI and Amazon's team of fashion gurus help you decide.
The depth-sensing camera will even use background blur so the fashion gurus won't see the dirty laundry in your room (if any). This bokeh effect will also make your outfit stand out better. Aside from that, it can also record short 360-degree videos of your clothes.
Another thing that's exclusive to the Look is its Style Check feature. This uses machine learning to gather information from fashion specialists and based on fashion trends and what looks good on you, it can help you decide between two different outfits.
Amazon Tap - Portable Alexa
Smaller, lighter and portable are the first three words that come to mind when describing the Amazon Tap.
Standing just over 6 inches and weighing in at 1 pound, the cylindrical Tap isn’t quite pocket size, but it’s easy to carry in a bag or backpack. The speaker delivers crisp sound in all directions with a little more bass for your music.
It can do most of the tasks a regular Echo can do but you can't summon Alexa without a Wi-Fi connection so it's not a true take-Alexa-anywhere device.
However, if you're looking for a rechargeable Bluetooth speaker with built-in Alexa features then the Amazon Tap is a good choice.
Do you have any questions to which Kim can lend a hand?
In other news, Alexa’s latest skill is one so many people were waiting for, but not everyone can use it!
For sure, Alexa wears many hats and her virtual assistant talents just keep on expanding. Unfortunately, there's one cool new feature that's not available for everyone. Click here to get the scoop.