Amazon Echo Dot devices (third and fourth generation.)
Panthere Noire/

Amazon’s Echo Dot is a smart speaker that uses Alexa, a voice assistant that performs tasks like controlling smart home hardware, setting timers, and answering questions. The Echo Dot has a different design from other Echo speakers and is the least expensive Echo speaker in Amazon’s lineup, but it omits a few features.

What Is an Echo Dot?

Amazon’s Echo Dot is one product of many in the Amazon Echo family. It’s a popular smart speaker that uses a virtual assistant named Alexa that’s developed from AI. There are many generations of the Echo Dot, including the original 1st Generation, 2nd Generation, 3rd Generation, and 4th Generation ones.

Starting at $50, the Echo Dot is the least expensive Echo speaker. For example, the Echo Studio costs $200.

You can access Alexa through your Echo Dot by saying the wake word near the device. The wake word is the name to which the device will listen to know when you’re calling it. By default, the wake word is Alexa, but you can change it to “Echo,” “Amazon,” or “Computer.”

Once you say the wake word, you can follow up with any of Alexa’s voice commands. Of course, you need to be close enough to your Echo Dot that it can pick up your voice—it works best when you’re within 10 meters. Your Echo also needs to be connected to Wi-Fi to function.

With your Echo Dot’s Alexa, you can learn and use new skills that can add safety, convenience, and joy to your life. You can view all of your Alexa skills and browse for new ones in the Alexa app. Once Alexa learns a skill, it can be accessed through voice commands.

Here are some of Alexa’s best skills:

  • Controlling other smart devices. If you own other smart devices that support Alexa, you can set up and control them through your Echo Dot. This is perfect for smart TVs, lights, plugs, locks, thermostats, and cameras.
  • Playing music. Alexa can play music from Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, and many other music services. You can even ask Alexa to play a musical style or genre.
  • Offering Alexa Guard. The skill configures your Echo to listen for signs of trouble. It will act as a security device that listens for glass breaking, alarms, and other potentially dangerous sounds. You’ll be notified on your phone and can follow up with emergency services.
  • Weather reporting. You can ask Alexa for a weather report as you’re getting ready in the morning so that you’ll know what to wear. You can also ask for future weather reports.
  • Answering questions. Alexa will scrape the web and gather reliable information to answer any questions that you might have. The virtual assistant is more capable than you might think, so don’t be afraid to ask complex or difficult questions.
  • Improving your productivity. You can set reminders, create to-do lists, read and reply to emails, make phone calls, and much more to increase your productivity.

There are a huge number of voice commands and features that you can use with your Echo Dot, and you can read all about them on Amazon’s website. As Amazon’s machine-learning models continue to improve, you’ll be able to do even more with your Echo Dot.

List of Alexa features

How the Echo Dot Differs from Other Echos

If you’ve ever shopped around for an Amazon Echo product, then you’ve probably noticed that there are several Echo devices besides the Echo Dot.

It’s important to note that there’s only one Alexa. Any Amazon Echo or third-party device with built-in Alexa will share all of the same features and capabilities as the AI. However, a device that “Supports Alexa” or “Works with Alexa” won’t share the same features and capabilities. It just means that they can be controlled using Alexa’s voice service.

Take, for example, a smart plug that supports Alexa. Yes, you can control the smart plug with Alexa, but you won’t be able to talk to the plug to use any of Alexa’s features or skills. The most that you can do is turn the plug on or off, track energy consumption, and create a schedule for it to operate using Alexa.

Amazon Echo products don’t differ in terms of Alexa’s capabilities, since they all have built-in Alexa.

The main differences are from the design of the devices, which make certain Echos better than others for specific activities.

A great example is the Amazon Echo Show. It has a 5.5” smart display, which makes it the perfect Echo to use if you’re trying to follow a video recipe with Alexa, call family and friends with video, or display a beautiful slideshow of photos.

The compact screen makes the Echo Show ideal for these activities. You can still talk and access all of Alexa’s features and skills, just like with the Echo Dot.

An Amazon Echo Show 8 in a living room.
Juan Ci/

The Echo Dot doesn’t have a display, so it can’t show a video recipe or display photos. For recipes, Alexa will verbally list the steps to follow a recipe or ask to send the recipe to your phone—so you can watch or read it there. Alexa doesn’t support photos on the Echo Dot, so you’ll have to look for another Echo device that does.

And of course, larger Echo devices have room for more capable speaker hardware, boosting audio quality.

Other Echo devices besides the Echo Dot and Echo Show include:

  • Echo Auto: designed for your car.
  • Echo Studio: designed for professional quality and optimal sound.
  • Echo Spot: designed as a mini-display.
  • Echo Plus: designed as a speaker like the Echo Dot, but better in terms of quality sound. It also supports Zigbee products.
  • Echo Flex: designed as a mini-speaker, with USB ports that can plug into wall outlets.
  • Echo Input: designed to add Alexa to an external speaker by plugging it in.
  • Echo Link: designed as an upgraded Echo Input, with a volume knob and additional output ports.
  • Echo Sub: designed as a subwoofer that connects to other Echo speakers for dynamic music and sound.
  • Echo Wall Clock: designed as an LED wall clock.
  • Echo Frames: designed as smart glasses.

Should You Get the Echo Dot?

If you’ve never tried Alexa before, the Echo Dot is a fantastic and affordable smart device to try. With the features and skills that we mentioned earlier, you’ll see how valuable and fun Alexa can be.

For starters, to keep it simple, use your Echo Dot as an alarm clock, to play music, to set reminders, and to create to-do lists. You can also treat the device like Google by asking Alexa any questions that you have. This is a great way to break into the smart device world.

From there, you can play around with other Alexa features and browse the skill list. With over 100,000 Alexa skills (and growing), you can personalize your Echo Dot’s Alexa to the fullest.

If you’re interested in Alexa and Amazon’s Echo line of products, the Echo Dot is the least expensive hardware that you can buy. We highly recommend it, although the larger Echos offer better sound quality, if that’s what you’re looking for.

A Great Smart Speaker

Echo Dot (4th Gen)

Amazon's Echo Dot is an inexpensive way to add a smart speaker with Alexa to any room in your home.

Profile Photo for Andy Nguyen Andy Nguyen
Andy Nguyen has been a professional freelance writer for over three years and has written hundreds of articles. He has loved computers and technology ever since he started gaming as a kid back in the 1990s. He's the person everyone he knows turns to for help with tech, too. Andy also runs a blog where he provides information and guides for students on becoming more productive.
Read Full Bio »