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The name Alexa is synonymous with the term smart speaker because Amazon’s Echo is the best one you can buy. Amazon has lots of Echos now, but its new Echo is the best choice for most people. It’s more compact than the original Echo, costs less, and has an Auxiliary port to physically connect to a better sounding speaker.
Amazon surprised a lot of people in 2017 when it announced several new members of the Echo family in a single, short keynote. Some of the smart speakers were completely new and others were replacements for existing Echos, but all pointed to Amazon taking the smart speaker seriously. There are so many different Echos now that we’ve put together this guide to help you find the best one for your specific needs.
Before we get into the specifics, though, it’s worth pointing out that there are some features every Echo has, regardless of its specialty. All of the Echo models below can control a wide variety smart-home accessories using your voice or the Alexa App. Each has access to the thousands of third-party skills developers have made over the past couple of years as well as your Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, or Spotify library. Most Echos have an audio out port to connect to external speakers, too.
In the slides below, we’re going to focus on what makes the best Echos stand out, be it the Echo Plus’ extra smart-home radio, the Echo Dot’s small size, the Echo Show’s screen, or the Echo Tap’s portability.
The best Echo overall
Why you’ll love it: The second generation Echo is smaller, more functional, and better-looking than the original.
The new Echo replaces the original Echo, which was larger, more expensive, and had fewer features. It also has all the same well-loved Alexa skills and smart home controls as the original. As such, the new Echo is a real triple threat.
Although it’s not the entry-level Echo, Amazon dropped its price to $99.99, a full $80 less than the original Echo it replaces. Focusing on the big criticisms it received over the past couple of years, Amazon improved the Echo’s audio quality, while also making it available in a series of more aesthetically-pleasing shells.
Speaking of audio, unlike the original Echo this second generation has an audio-out port so you can easily connect it to your favorite speakers or home entertainment center. For most people, this is going to be the go-to Echo option. It has better speakers than the Echo Dot, but it’s not huge, ugly, or techy looking anymore. The new Echo can be the center of your smart home without being obtrusive.
Pros: An audio-out port, a nicer design, better sound quality, affordable, smart home controls
The best Echo for smart home lovers
Why you’ll love it: The Echo Plus can communicate directly with certain smart home accessories without having to go through a third-party hub.
If you’ve packed your place to the limit with smart home accessories, you might want to consider the Echo Plus.
It looks like the first generation Echo, but has an improved speaker system, and more importantly, a Zigbee antenna built in. Zigbee is one of the standards smart home accessories use to communicate with one another. Traditionally, an Echo would have to talk to a third-party smart home hub to access and adjust accessories like light bulbs. The Echo Plus lets you ditch that hub and creates a direct link between itself and some of your favorite smart home tech.
You can find a full list of Zigbee-compatible smart-home accessories here, but I’m happy to see that Philips’ Hue bulbs are on the list. As someone who uses those bulbs every single day, it’ll be nice to save myself an outlet and some additional space.
Because of its antenna, the Echo Plus still looks like a big piece of tech, but if you’re the type (like me) who has smart home accessories around your home, you probably don’t care. The Plus also received the auxiliary out port so you can connect it to speakers if you’d like.
As a bonus, if you buy the Echo Plus before it launches on October 31, Amazon will throw is a free Philips Hue bulb to get you started
Pros: Improved audio quality over the original Echo, direct communication with smart-home accessories, decent price
Cons: Still big like the first generation Echo
The best Echo for subtle techies
Why you’ll love it: The Echo Dot may be the entry-level option on this list, but it’s still just as smart as its siblings, plus, its small size is its biggest asset.
It’s ok if you want to keep your love of technology out of eye shot. Subtlety is an art, but if you have an Echo Dot, it’s not that hard.
Though it didn’t receive a hardware update, the Dot is still the best entry-level smart-home hub on the market. For $50 you get a hockey puck-sized gadget that can help you control your lights with your voice, answer questions about the universe, and connect to external speakers through a Bluetooth signal or a cable.
The Echo Dot’s best feature is definitely its small size. You can stick it just about anywhere, and because it has the same microphone array as its bigger siblings, it won’t have a problem hearing your requests. Whether you’re going for subtlety, or want the best way to dip your toe into the smart-home ocean, this is your best choice.
Pros: Small, smart, affordable, works just as well as all the others
Cons: Audio quality isn’t as great
The best Echo for people on the go
Why you’ll love it: The Echo Tap is the only member of its family designed to be both a portable Bluetooth speaker and a smart speaker at home.
While every Echo can be used as a Bluetooth speaker, the Echo Tap is the only one that’s designed to go with you no matter where you roam.
Its charging base stays at home while you take it on the road, to the beach, or anywhere else you’re going. The Tap’s eight-hour battery life should be enough to get you through a day of listening on the beach, and if you connect it to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot, you can use it to answer questions or play songs using your voice.
At home, the Tap can live on its charging base and work like any other Echo. The one feature this model lacks that the others have received is an audio out port. Still, if you’re looking for an Echo you can take on the go, this is the best option.
Pros: Portability, just as smart, long battery as a speaker
Cons: No audio out port
The best Echo with a screen
Why you’ll love it: The Echo Show can display information that its screenless siblings can only read to you, making it extra useful for timers and calendar events.
The Show is one of the newer members of the Echo family and the first one to have a display. To put it simply, this is an Echo with a screen. It can do anything a standard Echo can, but it shows the information visually, in addition, to audibly.
For instance, if you set a timer you’ll be able to watch it countdown, you’ll be able to see your calendar when you ask Alexa about your upcoming events, and until recently you could even watch YouTube videos. Google put a stop to that, sadly.
How useful the Echo Show will be to you ultimately depends on how you use your Echo. If it’d help to see a measurement conversion instead of just hearing it said out loud (there are 16 tablespoons in a cup, by the way), the Echo Show is a really good option.
Its speakers are also better than the ones found in the original Echo, although it’s still to be seen whether or not they compare well to newer models. Still, if you love the idea of seeing Alexa’s responses to your questions and requests, the Echo Show is your best option.
Pros: A 7-inch screen, the ability to see Alexa’s responses to you
Cons: No audio out, a higher price than the screenless options