So you’re in the market for an Amazon Echo device with the Alexa voice assistant, but are not sure where to begin. After all, there are so many to choose from. Do you want one with a screen, or will you just be needing a speaker? Got more cash to spend, or less? Want one that also serves as a smart home hub? Regardless of your preferences, Amazon probably has a smart speaker for you. Note that while each of these offers different features, Alexa’s voice assistant capabilities are the same in all of them. Read on to find out how all the devices differ, and you’ll be on your way to asking Alexa to add ice cream to your grocery list in no time.
The second generation Echo (a reboot of Amazon’s original flagship speaker) comes with both a revamped design and a new speaker system. It’s a friendly, shorter Echo that features interchangeable shells (you can buy different ones in fabric, wood, or metallic looks). The new speaker also includes Dolby processing and omnidirectional audio for a sound boost, while the mic array comes with beamforming technology and noise cancellation so it can hear even whispers in noisy rooms (we’ve only had an Echo mistake random noise for the “Alexa” command once or twice).
Otherwise, smart features remain largely the same as they were on the original Echo. You can connect to a friend’s Echo via the Drop In feature, order an Uber, buy stuff on Amazon, find the latest news, and control most modern smart devices with the right voice commands.
As the flagship model, it makes sense that the Echo is a jack-of-all-trades. More than any of the other Echo models, it’s made to be placed in a central location where people around the house can easily call out to it. While the other Echo models are more specialized, they also tend to be a bit more limited in placement and use.
Best for: Hallways and living rooms. It’s a good choice for those unacquainted with Alexa who want a decent speaker.
Amazon Echo Dot ($40)
The Echo Dot is a tiny version of the original Echo that is cheaper. It still has a seven mic array for listening to voice commands, but the speaker takes a serious hit. You can, however, plug in better-sounding speakers or connect to them via Bluetooth. The 3.5mm jack makes it easy to plug in your headphones and use the Dot as your personal media player too—although most people already have one of those.
Best for: Those who don’t want to spend a lot of money but who want to dip their toe into the voice assistant market, and large homes that already have an Echo but need satellite devices for more complete coverage. The Dot is a great choice as a first Echo device, just to see if you like talking to Alexa.
Amazon Echo Plus ($150)
The Echo Plus is a high-end version of the Echo. It keeps the metallic column of the original Echo design, a more contemporary style better suited for modern homes.
So, except for the different design, what justifies the higher price on the Plus? One feature specifically—the smart home hub, which uses the Zigbee connectivity standard to control smart devices. That means that the Echo Plus can connect to your smart home devices directly without the need for a new Skill, app, or Wi-Fi bridge. This simplifies the process and helps smart devices respond more swiftly.
Best for: Homes with a number of smart home devices, or a lot of smart devices that deserve more direct voice management. It’s also suitable for people who really, really prefer the old Echo design. Unless you’re interested in both an Echo speaker and a smart home hub, the Echo 2nd generation is probably a better buy:
Amazon Echo Show ($230)
The Echo Show takes the original Echo, slaps a tablet-like touchscreen on it, and props it up with a front-facing speaker. There’s a lot of give and take going on here. On the plus side, the screen is helpful for anything that’s better with visuals, including movies, sportscasts, recipes, smart security cams, as well as digital chat windows with your friends or family. It’s particularly easy to each the touchscreen to swipe through lists, choose different content for more complicated tasks, or watch instructional videos and funny cat GIFs.
On the downside, the touchscreen needs to be within arm’s reach to use properly. Also, the front-facing speaker setup doesn’t provide the same room-filling audio as an Echo can, making this model not as great for playing music.
Best for: Kitchens, desks, craft rooms, and other areas where projects tend to happen. The screen is an excellent addition that adds much more functionality to the Echo…if you’ll use it. Otherwise, it’s probably not worth the expense.
Amazon Echo Spot ($130)
The Spot is a strange but cute little addition to the family, somewhere between the Show and the Dot: It’s a propped-up circle with a round screen in the middle. It can display basically everything that the Echo Show can, including video calls and internet searches.
However, while the Show’s screen is large enough to use in many situations, the smaller, round screen on the Spot is far more restrictive. It just isn’t very suitable for research, videos or anything that you have to read. The screen only really shines as a clock or as an occasional visual call device.
Best for: Anywhere you used to put an alarm clock, such as beside your bed, or on your mantelpiece, desk, or counter. If you aren’t using this as a clock or a phone, you are probably better off getting the Dot or the Show.