The Amazon Echo started off as a simple device, but now there are more than nine different Echo products out in the wild and on Amazon’s virtual shelves. So what’s the difference between them all, and which one should you buy?
The Original Echo: Voice Control with a Beefy Speaker
Let’s start with the original products, for comparison’s sake. The first-gen Echo was a wine-bottle-sized speaker, with far-field always-listening microphones that allowed you to talk to it from across the room. It can answer questions, play music, control smarthome devices, and act as an intercom of sorts with other Echos. Many of these new features came as software updates, and if you have an Amazon Echo now, it’ll probably still get some new features in the future. Here’s a roundup of everything you can do with the Echo.
Amazon has stopped selling the original Echo on its website, but you can still get it at Whole Foods while supplies last, as well as grab both the black and white versions refurbished for $130 on amazon.com. We also recommend grabbing them used for cheap—apparently a lot of people are buying them, not using them, and then trying to fence them on Craigslist and OfferUp later on.
The Echo Dot: Small, Compact, and Works with Your Stereo
The Echo Dot ($50) is a tiny, inexpensive version of the original Echo—it can do everything the original Echo could, without taking up as much space (although it’s missing the nice, big speaker). However, to make up for the lack of speaker, it contains a line out port that lets you hook it up to your stereo or other big, high-quality speakers. (The original Echo did not have this, but all the new Echos do.)
The original Echo Dot contained a volume wheel along the top, just like the regular Echo. However, that was shortly discontinued, and replaced with a cheaper version that contained volume buttons instead.
The Amazon Tap: A Battery-Powered Bluetooth Speaker with Alexa
While not officially part of the “Echo” line, the Amazon Tap ($130) is basically a battery-powered Amazon Echo. It’s designed to be more of a travel Bluetooth speaker with Alexa built in, but now that it has always-on listening, there are almost no other differences between it and the original Echo beyond its slightly smaller size. It was a great deal, but the second generation Echo is even cheaper, so it’s a better buy if you don’t need the battery power (more on that in a moment).
The Echo Show: Echo with Video
The Echo Show ($230), released earlier this year, can do everything the original Echo can—but it contains a touch screen that can show the information as well as say it. You can also watch videos on it, see a feed from your security cameras, video chat with other Echo owners, and do a few other things that require a screen.
The Echo, Generation Two: Smaller and Cheaper
The original Echo has been discontinued, and is now replaced by a slightly shorter second generation. It’s currently available for $99 on Amazon. It comes covered in a few different finishes, some fabric, others silver or wood for an extra $30. Amazon is also selling three-packs, available for $50 off the total order (in an effort to compete with Apple’s HomePod and the Sonos for affordable multi-room audio).
The new Echo also appears to eschew the volume wheel for volume buttons, much like the Echo Dot, and a line out port, also like the Echo Dot. It uses a newer version of Amazon’s far-field microphone technology, as well as a dedicated woofer and tweeter for better sound.
The Echo Plus: The Original Echo + a (Not Very Good) Smarthome Hub
The Echo Plus ($150) uses the same wine-bottle-sized form factor as the original Echo, but with the newer microphones, woofer, tweeter, and line out port of the second-generation Echo (though the tweeter is slightly larger). It’s also available in black, silver, or white, and contains a built-in ZigBee smarthome hub.
If you aren’t sure what that means, check out our explainer on smarthome hubs—essentially, the Echo Plus will allow you to use generic ZigBee devices without a separate hub like the Wink. Devices with their own proprietary hub, like Insteon, will still require their original hub. The Echo Plus appears to only work with ZigBee products—there is no mention of Z-Wave anywhere. This makes the Echo Plus’ smarthome hub pretty weak, since many sensors, smart locks, and other smarthome devices use Z-Wave (Philips Hue being the one big exception that uses ZigBee). There are other ZigBee devices out there, of course, but they are slightly less popular than their big name Z-Wave counterparts.
The Echo Connect: Your Phone Landline, Connected to Alexa
All Echos can make calls to US phone numbers today, but it uses an IP calling service that doesn’t hook up to your existing landline. For that, there’s the new Echo Connect ($35), available for pre-order and shipping on December 13. It’s essentially a box that connects your existing landline to your other Echo devices, allowing you to make voice calls that actually come from your phone number. It also means you can call 911 and call international numbers, which is nice.
The Echo Spot: The Echo Show in Alarm Clock Form
The Echo Spot ($130), available for pre-order and shipping on December 19, is similar to the Echo Show, but with a circular 2.5″ screen that acts as a clock when not showing you other information. Designed to be set by a bedside, the “clock” can also show you the weather, play music, make video calls, and perform other similar tasks.
Echo Buttons: A Weird Gimmick for…Trivia Games, I Guess?
The weirdest announcement so far, Amazon also announced Echo Buttons. While you can’t buy them just yet (you can only sign up to be notified), they’ll cost $20 for a two-pack, and according to Amazon, are designed to act as “buzzers” for the many trivia games available on the Echo. Yeah, I don’t really get it either. Maybe they’ll add more useful functionality to them in the future.
Other Devices with Alexa
The above comprises most of Amazon’s Echo lineup, but they aren’t the only devices with Alexa. You might also be interested to learn about:
- The Fire TV ($70): Amazon’s Fire TV is a set-top box similar to the Roku or Apple TV, but focused a bit more on Amazon services—including Alexa, which is built into the remote. (Amazon also announced a new generation of Fire TVs today with 4K and HDR support.)
- Fire Tablets ($50 and up): Amazon’s inexpensive Fire Tablets also contain Alexa built-in. The Fire Tablets are okay on their own, but pretty great if you install the Google Play Store on them, allowing you access to lots of other apps.
- The Amazon Dash Wand ($20): The Dash Wand is a small barcode scanner that lets you order any product from your pantry on Amazon, just by scanning its label. It also contains Alexa, and while it isn’t “always listening” like an Echo, you can press the button to ask it questions or make kitchen conversions.
- The Echo Look ($200, shown above): Still invitation-only, the Echo Look is an Echo device with a camera, designed to give you fashion advice by taking pictures of you in different outfits.
- Third-Party Alexa Devices: Amazon allows other companies to add Alexa to their products. This can range from standalone devices like the Anker Eufy Genie ($35) to BMW cars, which Amazon announced will include Alexa in the near future.
That’s a pretty big lineup, but we’ve found them to be a lot more useful than they seem, especially if you have other smarthome products. We’ll be testing out more of these new Echos as they’re released, so stay tuned.