Amazon Echo Buying Guide: Which Alexa Device Is Best for You?

Amazon has a plethora of devices that can respond to your voice commands: the original Echo, the Echo Dot, the Tap, the Echo Look, the Echo Show, and the Fire TV Edition. All will listen to your voice and perform a wide number of tasks, such as streaming music from Spotify, Pandora and others; controlling smart-home devices such as thermostats and lights; looking up the weather; and even ordering you food.

Amazon also announced a second-generation Echo; the Echo Plus, which has a smart home hub built in; and the Echo Spot, which is about the size of the Echo Dot, but has a 2.5-inch screen, like the Echo Show. All three are available for pre-order; the Echo and Echo Plus will ship at the end of October, and the Echo Spot will ship on December 19.

So which Amazon device is right for you?

Best Budget Echo

At $49, the Echo Dot is the most cost-effective of Amazon's voice-controlled devices; you could purchase three of them with the money for a single Amazon Echo. This also makes the Echo good not just for those on a budget, but for those who want whole-house Alexa coverage. Amazon also offers a number of deals on the Dot. If you buy five Dots ($250), the sixth one is free; if you purchase 10 Dots ($500), you get two more for free.

However, the Echo Dot has other features that make it well-suited for more than just the cost-conscious. Its 3.5mm-audio jack and Bluetooth connection make it the best device for those who already have good audio system, or a Bluetooth speaker.

Best for Keeping it Simple

The original Echo is great for those who don't want to mess around with multiple systems or devices. The Echo's large, 2.5-inch woofer and 2-inch tweeter put out enough sound — and pretty good sound at that — to make it an effective device for playing music if you don't have a home entertainment system. Just keep in mind that it's not portable; you need to keep it plugged in. However, the original Echo is being phased out, so you'll want to wait for the second generation, which is smaller, has better audio, and costs less.

Best for Outdoors

The Amazon Tap has a built-in battery that will last up to 9 hours, so if you want to stream some music while you're sitting in your backyard or on your deck, you can. While it doesn't have as good voice-recognition capabilities as the Echo or the Echo Dot, Amazon updated the firmware on the Tap so that you no longer have to press a button to activate Alexa.

Best for Video Chats

The Echo Show has a 7-inch touchscreen and a 5-megapixel camera that, among other things, enables you to make and receive video calls between other Echo Shows, as well as smartphones with the Alexa app. You can also conduct audio calls with other Echo devices, too, though its Drop-In feature is intrusive. Dual speakers below the display produce audio on a par with the Echo, so you can rock out to songs. The Echo Show's touchscreen delivers information in a visual format, such as news and weather. It's great for reading recipes, though third-party skills designed for the Show are limited at the moment.

Best For Fashionistas

The Echo Look has a camera surrounded by LED lights that will snap a picture or take a short video of you as you model your outfits. It will then suggest alternative clothes, based on an algorithm as well as data provided by stylists. The Echo Look will also suggest clothes for you to purchase, from Amazon of course. For now, you can only get the Echo Look by invitation only.

Best for Cord-Cutters

Amazon's Fire TV Edition starts at $449 for a 43-inch set, and lets you use Alexa by pressing a button on its remote. When you ask for something (such as the weather), a card will come up on the TV itself, showing you the forecast. Plus, you can use Alexa to search for programs by title, actor, as well as other criteria. It will look not just in streaming services (such as Hulu and Netflix, but also from over-the-air channels, too.

New & Notable Alexa Devices

The second-generation Echo at 5.9 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches is smaller than the original, but Amazon promises better audio, thanks to a 2.5-inch woofer and a 0.6-inch tweeter, as well as support for Dolby Audio. Plus, the new Echo will come in multiple cover styles, including cloth and wood finishes. 

The Amazon Echo Plus looks like the original, but contained inside is a smart home hub capable of talking to Zigbee devices, such as Philips Hue lights. In fact, the Plus will come bundled with a single Philips Hue White bulb. Having a built-in smart home hub could spell trouble for competing devices, such as Samsung's SmartThings and the Wink Hub 2. The Echo Plus will come in three colors: Black, white, or silver, and will ship on October 31.

Looking like the love child of the Echo Dot and the Echo Show, the Echo Spot is a small, circular device with a 2.5-inch touchscreen and a camera that let you do pretty much everything you can do on the Show: Watch movies, video chat, and check the feeds from your security cameras, among other things. The Spot is available for pre-order, but won't ship until December 19.

Third-Party Alexa-enabled devices

Amazon has also allowed other manufacturers to embed Alexa into their devices, including portable speakers and even a thermostat.

Based on the excellent Play:One speaker, the Sonos One, available October 24, delivers great audio in a small, standalone package. Six microphones will pick up your voice from across a room, and do pretty much everything you can do with other Alexa-enabled speakers. (However, streaming Spotify won't be available at launch). And, you'll be able to link it with other Sonos speakers for whole-home audio.

With a built-in battery, the Vaux turns the Echo Dot into a portable speaker, and boost its audio capabilities, too. Just pop the Dot into the Vaux, and you get about 5 hours of battery life, and its built-in speaker is a marked improvement over what you get with the Dot alone. At $50, it's a smart upgrade.

Like the Tap, the Fabriq has a built-in battery, but it lasted just 5 hours in our tests. It also lacks hands-free voice control, as with Amazon's own speakers, and its treble was on the weak side. However, we liked its bass, especially for a speaker this size. We also like its $50 price, which is less than half that of the Tap. You can get it in one of several skins, and an LED light at its base livens things up a bit.

The Ecobee4 thermostat works nearly as well as the Echo Dot in recognizing your voice from across the room, and a small LED lights up blue when Alexa is active. It has a large and intuitive display, and works with a variety of smart home devices, too. But its most important feature is its remote sensors, which lets you make sure all the rooms in your house are the right temperature.

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