So you’ve heard the hype about Amazon’s assistant Alexa. Maybe your friend or one of your family members got an Echo for Christmas, and they can’t stop talking about how much they love it. Maybe you’ve seen the commercials. Maybe you followed the news coming out of CES this January and saw that now, seemingly everything works with Alexa.
Now that you’ve decided to get in on the fun and get an Echo device for yourself, which one should you buy? Do you want the original Echo, the smaller Dot or the portable Amazon Tap? We like all three devices here at CNET, but each is tailored for different situations. Here’s how to pick the perfect Echo device to introduce you and your family to the growing world of Alexa.
Overview: The Echo Trio
The Amazon Echo:
Amazon’s original $180 smart speaker, the Echo introduced Alexa to the world in 2014. Since then, its capabilities have grown almost daily. Alexa now has over 10,000 third-party skills. The Echo works well as a streaming audio playback device, a smart home controller and a personal assistant. The best part — you don’t have to deal with screens or operating systems to access Alexa’s universe of capabilities — just say the word “Alexa” and give your command, no physical interaction required. Because it makes voice controls easy for the whole family (your significant other doesn’t need to access your phone to control connected devices), the Echo’s become a cornerstone of the CNET Smart Home.
The Amazon Echo Dot:
Given all of that praise for the Echo, you’d think the choice would be easy. But the Echo Dot brings all of the capabilities of Alexa into a smaller package that only costs $50 and can transmit sound to your existing sound system. The Dot does everything the Echo can do, but its built-in speakers are smaller and less robust.
The Amazon Tap:
Formerly the black sheep of the bunch, the Amazon Tap puts all of the capabilities of Alexa into a compact, battery powered form. The device used to sacrifice Alexa’s always-listening magic in exchange for the added portability. To help with battery life, you had to hit the button on the front of the Tap to talk to it. Thanks to a recent “hands-free” update, that’s not the case anymore. The $130 Tap is the portable member of the Alexa family we’d always hoped it could be.
Pick the Echo Dot if…
- You want to save money. You still get Alexa, and you save $80 over the Tap and $130 over the Echo.
- You don’t care about music. If you just want Alexa, the better speakers on the Tap and original Echo don’t matter. The Dot’s speakers are serviceable enough so you can clearly hear Alexa respond to your commands.
- You really care about music. None of the Amazon devices have great built-in sound quality. The Dot lets you connect to your existing sound system with a cable or with Bluetooth. You’ll still have the full range of Alexa controls and a customized sound fit for an audiophile.
The cheapest of the Echo trio is the easiest to recommend. It won our Editors’ Choice award by bringing all of Alexa’s tricks into a compact versatile package.
Pick the Amazon Tap if…
- You want a versatile Bluetooth speaker. It’s not the best Bluetooth speaker for the price in terms of sound quality, but because of Alexa, the Tap’s functionality is in a different league than the competition. Note that without an internet connection, Alexa doesn’t work. But the Tap will connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- You spend lots of time on your patio or in your garage. With the Tap, you can bring Alexa with you while you work without needing to find a plug.
- You have a big house. You might decide you want multiple Echo devices for complete coverage, but to get started with Alexa, you can bring the Tap with you as you move from room to room.
If portability is important to you, the Tap now offers all of the hands-free convenience of the Echo in a battery powered form. Leave it on the charging stand when you’re not on the go and you’ll get the always-listening Echo experience and you won’t have to worry about battery life.
Who’s left for the original Echo?
Because of the quality of the Tap and the Echo Dot, the original Echo has become almost obsolete. Last week, my colleague Ry Crist asked if it was still worth buying and concluded that this is, in fact, the worst time to purchase an original Echo. For almost every need, either the Tap or the Dot will fit better than the Echo.
That said, go with the Amazon Echo if…
You have a small place, and you care about music, but don’t have your own sound system. The Echo still has the best speaker of the bunch (plus, it also connects to external speakers via Bluetooth now). If you don’t need it in multiple locations, and you do want to listen to music sometimes, the Echo might be the best fit for you. You could also go with the Echo if you like the idea of having the original. After all, despite that fact that it’s now somewhat dated by its own devices, Alexa is still fantastic and the Echo is still a great device.