Amazon’s popular Echo speaker system (and the personal assistant Alexa that comes with it) seem completely enmeshed with Amazon ecosystem, but does that mean you need a Prime account to take advantage of the Echo?
You can absolutely use a all of the Echo products, including but not limited to, the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show without purchasing a Prime membership. The vast majority of features are accessible regardless of whether or not you have a Prime account including a wide range of the features we’ve written about here at How-To Geek.
Sans Prime membership you can use the communication features of the Echo to call and message your friends as well as use your Echo devices as an intercom system in your home. Likewise, you don’t need Prime to ask general inquiries of Alexa, check the weather, traffic, or sports scores, set alarms and timers, or add things to your shopping list. You can even listen to the news as well as enjoy podcasts.
Even some of the features that seem like they should be premium features are free for use, including the ability to expand the Echo with third-party skills that allow you to do all sorts of neat things like control your media center with your voice or trigger smarthome products like your lights.
That’s the good news! You get access to almost everything for the price of the Echo unit itself. Now let’s take a look at what you miss out on (and how to fill in the biggest hole life without Prime creates).
There are three things you miss out on if you’re using the Echo without a Prime account. The first two missing pieces may or may not matter to you: voice-activated shopping and exclusive deals for Primer owners with Echo units.
While not everyone finds the act of asking Alexa to buy something particularly appealing—I know I like comparison shopping on the web instead, looking at reviews, and manually ordering the item—it is pretty neat to easily reorder something from your kitchen right when you realize you ran out of it by simply telling Alexa to do so. Without Prime, you lose that the-future-is-now super power.
In addition, Amazon has heavily promoted the use of the Echo system by offering Echo-only deals to Prime members wherein you must order the item through Alexa in order to get the discount or to get the item at all—a rather clever way to get people using a system they might be otherwise indifferent to trying out.
Those issues aren’t necessarily deal breakers for most people, but the big feature you’ll definitely miss out on Prime Music without a Prime account. Out of the box access to the Prime Music library, wherein you can issue simple commands to Alexa like “Alexa, play some alternative rock” or “play some Billy Joel” and get easy access the millions of songs in the Prime library, is a feature that most Echo users, myself included, love.
All is not lost, on the music front, if you don’t have Prime though. Let’s take a look at how to fill the hole left by Prime Music with other music services and content.
There are a few ways you can go about filling the hole in your Alexa experience left by the absence of the Prime Music library and how you go about doing that hinges a lot on how you want to engage with your music.
If you’re primarily interested in using the Echo for ambient background music without a focus, necessarily, on specific songs, then using Pandora with the Echo is a great choice. You can use a free Pandora account with ads, or $36 a year for premium ad-free service. Activating Pandora with your Echo is as simply as opening up the “Books and Music” menu in the Alexa app and plugging in your login credentials under the entry for Pandora.
If you crave a more focused experience where you can pick individual songs and build playlists, Spotify is $9.99 a month (the free option doesn’t work with the Echo) and can also be easily linked in the same “Books and Music” menu in the Alexa app. If you go with either Pandora or Spotify, do check out our guide to changing the default music service on the Echo. Without the change you have to specify the service name like “Alexa, play the Pearl Jam station on Pandora”, but with the default switched to that service you no longer need to call it out by name.
For services that don’t have direct Echo support (or require premium service) you can always—at the cost of losing voice integration with Alexa—simply pair your mobile device with the Echo via Bluetooth.
In addition if you want to supplement those two streaming services with music of your own, you can also upload up to 250 MP3s to your Amazon account (no Prime membership necessary) and they will be accessible through your Echo.
Finally, if you’re on the fence about picking up a dedicated streaming service, we’d recommend you read our breakdown of everything you get with your Amazon Prime account. Prime offerings might have been sparse back in the day, but if you’re considering paying $36-120 a year for just music streaming you might reconsider and pay $99 for Prime where you’ll get not only Prime Music but a huge pile of other benefits like unlimited photo storage, streaming video, free books and audio books, and more.