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?
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 ($50) is a tiny, inexpensive version of the original Echo—it can do everything a regular Echo can, but 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 speaker. Keep in mind, though, that all of the newer Echos have a line out port now.
The original Echo Dot contained a volume wheel along the top, just like the original Echo. However, that was shortly discontinued, and replaced with a cheaper version that contained volume buttons instead.
While it doesn’t follow along with the “Echo” naming convention, 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 a regular 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 ($230) 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 original Echo has been discontinued, and is now replaced by a slightly shorter second-generation model. It’s available for $99 on Amazon. It comes covered in a few different finishes, some fabric, others silver or wood for an extra $30.
The new Echo also eschews the volume wheel for volume buttons (much like the Echo Dot did with its second generation) 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. In my experience, the mids and highs sound fairly similar to the original Echo, but the bass is way better, making it a worthy upgrade if you’re in the market for a new Echo.
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.
As for the sound quality, it’s about on par with the regular second-generation Echo with maybe ever-so-slightly better bass, but I couldn’t tell a huge difference. In other words, you don’t really need to pay $50 extra for the Echo Plus unless you really want the built-in smarthome hub.
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 ($130) 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 as the Echo Show.
While not necessarily Alexa-equipped devices, Echo Buttons are meant to be companion devices for your existing Echo. They 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 (via third-party Alexa Skills). Yeah, I don’t really get it either. Maybe they’ll add more useful functionality to them in the future.
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:
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.