Audiophiles who already have a pretty respectable home stereo system can make it even better with the $49 Amazon Echo Dot. Folks who just want access to Amazon's smart assistant, Alexa, but don't want to spend $179 on the Echo, may also enjoy this little hockey-puck-looking device. The Echo Dot is an impressively versatile gadget, and now that Amazon no longer makes you jump through hoops to buy one, it's one of the best affordable smart home devices you can buy.
The Amazon Echo Dot looks like someone chopped off the head of the regular $179 Echo. It looks like a black hockey puck (3.3 x 3.3 x 1.5 inches) with a movable ring of lights around the top edge that serve as a status bar and volume control.
The light surrounds two rows of perforated dots that indicate the speaker. A power button and an off button for the microphone sit on top. The bottom is coated to feel a bit tacky, which should keep the Dot from slipping off your counter. We reviewed the slick black model, though the 2nd-generation Dot also comes in white — perfect for matching your ceramic tiles.
Credit: AmazonThe Dot is surprisingly lightweight at just 8.8 ounces, but since it must be plugged in at all times, it's not exactly portable. The original Echo (9.25 x 3.27 x 3.27 inches, 26.9 ounces) wasn't portable either, though — you'll need a $129 Amazon Tap if you want to take Alexa on the go.
Fortunately, the 2nd-generation Echo Dot ditches the original version's most frustrating limitation: you could only buy it via Alexa. That meant that you needed an Amazon Echo, Tap or Fire TV in order to order one with your voice, as well as an Amazon Prime account. Fortunately, now anyone can buy the new $49 Dot via Amazon.com, and you can even buy them in packs of 6 or 12 that help you save a few bucks per Dot.
The Amazon Echo Dot looks like someone chopped off the head of the regular $179 Echo.
The Dot has its own built-in speaker, but neither Amazon nor I would recommend that you use it. Instead, you'll want to connect this smart home device to a high-quality speaker. You can do this over Bluetooth or with the included 3.5-mm cable.
Credit: AmazonThe Echo Dot will not work with a Bluetooth speaker that requires a PIN to pair. Amazon offers a list of speakers it recommends, which includes the Bose SoundLink Color, Jawbone Mini Jambox and the UE Boom. We tested ours with the Bose SoundLink Color.
To connect the two, Amazon recommends you keep the speaker at least 3 feet from the Echo Dot. You'll want to turn the volume on the stereo up, because Alexa will then be able to control the volume through voice commands. The Echo Dot can connect to only one Bluetooth device at a time, which you do through the Alexa app. I easily unpaired and repaired the Dot to the Bose by just saying "connect" or "disconnect."
The Amazon Echo Dot does all the same things as the Amazon Echo. The Alexa smart assistant inside both can play music, read audiobooks, report the news and weather, tell you sports scores, set alarms, find movie showtimes, control your lights and thermostat, check the traffic, buy products, create to-do lists — and so many more things — right out of the box. But only the Echo Dot can stream to a Bluetooth speaker.
Credit: AmazonWith simple voice commands, the Echo Dot let me change the temperature on my Nest thermostat. Alexa told me it was going to rain, and that the Mets had lost. I quickly set an alarm for 5 seconds in the future, which went off right on time. I also listened to Alexa read my Audible book, "The Magicians."
I found that the Echo Dot took a half-second longer than the Echo to process my requests before it was ready for the next command. This caused me to repeat myself several times, which was frustrating. But generally speaking, Alexa leapt into action instantly when I asked it to perform any task.
Definitely don't plan to use the Echo Dot as a stand-alone speaker to listen to music.
You can also use Amazon Skills to make Alexa smarter and more helpful. This lets third-party developers connect to Alexa, allowing you to turn the Echo Dot into a fortuneteller, gaming device, therapist and pizza delivery service. Or you can connect an Echo Dot to the service IFTTT, to set up recipes for automating things such as smart home lighting settings, based on your physical location.
The Echo Dot was designed with home stereo systems in mind, so audio playback is its most important feature. Thanks to integration with Amazon Prime Music, Spotify Premium, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and Audible, you can stream music through your home's speakers. By plugging this little device in, you can instantly modernize your setup.
Credit: AmazonThe audio I played through the Bose SoundLink Color started right away and sounded fantastic. "Let's Get It On" by Marvin Gaye sounded full, deep and fully nuanced. I could even pick up the sound of the drumsticks just as they hit the top hat, before I heard the snap of the chime. The bass and purposeful fuzz in "Intergalactic" by the Beastie Boys came through loud and clear. When I listened to the same songs on the $179 Echo, both seemed muffled and less detailed. And when I turned up the volume all the way, the top end sounded distorted.
By plugging this little device in, you can instantly modernize your home audio setup
Definitely don't plan to use the Echo Dot as a stand-alone speaker to listen to music. In that mode, "Intergalactic" and "Let's Get It On" lacked all lower notes, and the music sounded like someone had tried to suffocate the speaker in its sleep. However, the speaker that is built into the Echo Dot works for alarms, weather reports and basic news briefings.
Credit: AmazonIf your only purpose in getting the Echo Dot is to add streaming music to your stereo, you may be better off with a $35 Chromecast Audio. Your decision may hinge on what services you rely on. The Chromecast Audio doesn't support Amazon Prime Music, but it does work with Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, Google Play Music and many other services that are not natively supported by Alexa right now. The Chromecast Audio doesn't run over Bluetooth, requiring a more restrictive physical plug instead.
If your stereo system sounds great but is woefully out of date, the Amazon Echo Dot is a perfect way to modernize it. Simply plug it in or connect via Bluetooth, and you've added streaming music from most major sources and a smart personal assistant to your hi-fi. You could also do this with the cheaper Chromecast Audio, but you wouldn't get all the added help of Alexa. The Dot does an excellent job of making old speakers smart, and at just $49, is an excellent buy for anyone who wants access to a virtual assistant that makes life just a bit easier.