Earlier this year, Amazon expanded their stable of Echo products to include the Echo Dot, the tiny sibling of the bigger Echo speaker. And now, before the year is even over, the company has shipped a newer, cheaper version of the Echo Dot. Let’s take a look at the similarities, differences, and when and where you would want to use each product.

What Is the Amazon Echo Dot?

There’s a bit of confusion over what exactly the Echo Dot is. Is it an extension of the Echo? Is it a totally independent product? What do you need to get full use out of it? Even after reading the product documentation, we had a bunch of questions just like everyone else.

The main difference between the echo and Echo Dot is the speaker: The Echo Dot is essentially the top portion of the regular Amazon Echo, without the beefy speaker underneath it. Instead, The Echo Dot is designed to be hooked up to a set of external speakers.

RELATED: How to Fine Tune Weather, Traffic, and Sports Updates on Your Amazon Echo

Just because the beefy speaker is gone doesn’t mean it’s watered down, though. The trade-off, we’ll think you’ll quickly see, is more than worth it as it drops the price of the Echo platform from $180 for the full-size Echo to just $50 for the Echo Dot. The price is almost 75% less, but the functionality is nearly 100% the same.

Furthermore, all of the features and commands that work with the Amazon Echo work with the Echo Dot: you can ask it questions like, “What’s the news today?” (and even fine tune the weather, traffic, and sports updates to your liking), you can ask it to play you music (even through Spotify), and even bombard it with questions about measurement conversions and history trivia.

How Do I Set Up the Echo Dot?

RELATED: How to Set Up and Configure Your Amazon Echo

The setup process is identical to the original Echo. In fact, you can follow along step-for-step with our guide to Echo setup and configuration here–just substitute every instance of “Amazon Echo” with “Amazon Echo Dot”.

The indicator ring still flashes orange when you plug it in for the first time, you still need to connect to the Dot to program it with your Wi-Fi credentials, and Alexa is still ridiculously cheerful during the whole process.

Do I Need An Amazon Echo To Use The Dot?

The Echo Dot is a totally independent product in the Echo product line. You do not need any other Echo or Amazon product (like the Amazon Fire TV) to use the Echo Dot.

If you do have existing Alexa-enabled devices like the original Echo, an Echo Tap (Amazon’s battery-powered Bluetooth Echo), or 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV, the Echo Dot simply acts as another Alexa unit within your home so you get better coverage (both for commands and for features like music playback).

RELATED: How to Make the Echo Dot Battery Powered (and Put It Anywhere You Want)

Do I Need Bluetooth Speakers?

Behind inquiries about whether or not your need a full-size Echo to go with the Dot, the biggest question is: what about the speaker? The removal of the big speaker is the immediately obvious change, but it’s less obvious that you can use the Dot without an external speaker.

The Echo Dot’s speaker isn’t fantastic, but it’s comparable to the quality of a laptop speaker–which is to say it’s a bit tinny and you really won’t want to use it as your primary music speaker. That said, the speaker is perfectly serviceable for things like getting feedback from Alexa, hearing the news, waking you up in the morning with an alarm, and so on.

Fortunately, there are two ways to enhance the sound of the Echo Dot, neither of which is available to owners of the full-size Echo: Bluetooth pairing and direct cable link to your stereo.

Unlike the Echo, you can pair the Echo Dot to Bluetooth speakers. The full-size Echo allows you to pair Bluetooth-enabled devices to it but not it to other speakers, as Amazon presumes the Echo is more than enough speaker for the task. (And, in fairness to Amazon, they’re right. The Echo is a great little speaker with a lot of rich sound.)

On the other hand, you can easily pair any Bluetooth speaker to the Echo Dot. Pairing it with a quality speaker like the Nyne Bass means instant wireless and rich sound, but why limit yourself? The Echo Dot doesn’t distinguish between Bluetooth audio outputs, so you can link a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones to it just as easily as speakers.

Even better than Bluetooth pairing, in our opinion, is the inclusion of a standard 3.5mm stereo jack on the back of the Echo Dot (a feature we really wish they would have included on the Echo).

You might not have a premium Bluetooth speaker laying around, but there’s a good chance you’ve got a stereo system of some sort. Now, using the included stereo cable, you can plug your Echo Dot right into any speaker or home stereo system.

There is one downside to this, however: If your stereo is set to a different input–like your TV instead of your Echo Dot–you won’t hear any audio from the Echo Dot. Not even Alexa saying “Okay” or reading you the weather–it’ll all go to your stereo, which doesn’t really make sense given how the Dot is supposed to be used. We wish Alexa’s voice would go through the Dot’s built-in speakers when hooked up to a stereo, but it doesn’t, so you’ll have to figure out the best way to hook it up in your home.

Does the Echo Dot Work with the Echo Remote?

RELATED: How to Extend the Reach of Your Amazon Echo with a Voice Remote

Like the Echo, the Echo Dot is extensible with the Echo Remote–and it’s just as useful on the Dot as it is on the Echo. If your Echo Dot is plugged into your stereo in the living room, you can trigger commands via the remote in the kitchen or upstairs (instead of yelling into the other room).

Really though, the true benefit of the remote is the “Simon says” function. The remote has more than paid for itself in the sheer entertainment value of trolling the kids in our house by talking to them through the Alexa in the kitchen.

Can You Control Smarthome Products With The Echo Dot?

RELATED: How to Control Your Smarthome Products with the Amazon Echo

Absolutely. Any smartphome product you can control via the Echo can be controlled just as seamlessly by the Echo Dot. Your Philips Hue smart bulbs? Not a problem. Smart thermostats? Those are easy too.

You can review the growing list of smarthome products supported by the Alexa ecosystem on this Amazon support page to see if your products are currently compatible.

If I Have The Echo, Should I Get The Echo Dot?

We’re pretty impressed with the Echo Dot. So impressed, actually, that we’re pretty confident in suggesting that not only is the Echo Dot the best Echo product choice for everyone (even over the Echo itself) thanks to its works-with-any-speakers functionality, but that it’s a great addition for people who already own the Echo.

RELATED: What You Can (and Can’t) Do with Multiple Amazon Echos

If you live in a studio apartment where every square inch of your living space is accessible to the Echo, then no, you probably don’t need an Echo Dot on top of your current Echo. If you’re living in roomier accommodations, however, it makes perfect sense to pick up an Echo Dot to extend the reach of Alexa in your home.

We’ll use our own home as an example. When we first got the Echo, we put it in the kitchen. It’s centrally located, it’s where most people are during the day, but in a way it felt kind of silly because both the living room and the den, right off the kitchen, have great speakers in them. Now, however, we can hook the Echo Dot up to the speakers downstairs and move the Echo upstairs where we actually need a high quality speaker. Your setup might be inverted from ours, but you get the idea: the Echo Dot is a fantastic way to extend the Alexa system in a way that is both way cheaper than buying an additional Echo and more versatile as you can pipe the audio output of the Echo Dot into any speaker system (wireless or otherwise) you want.

The Echo was already a fantastic and popular product. We predict the addition of the Echo Dot will further endear the Echo line and Alexa to customers, and with little doubt as to why: it’s inexpensive, just as functional, and offers even better audio playback options than the original Echo.

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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