Many of the new speakers that include Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant but are not made by Amazon offer alternatives to the Echo Dot — small, portable units that focus on overcoming the limits of Amazon's cheapest speaker. Omaker's Wow speaker aims bigger, taking on the Tap and Echo. It features the portability of the Tap, adds auxiliary input and costs about $20 less. If you're willing to put up with a few rough edges, such as really loud voice prompts and limited instructions, the Wow could be the right Alexa speaker for you.
Looking like a stouter, shorter Echo, the 7 x 4 x 4-inch Wow is solidly built and weighs 2.6 pounds. Since it includes a battery, Omaker attached a strap to the back to make it easy to carry. It's quite a bit bigger than the 6.3 x 2.6-inch Tap; you'll be less likely to want to carry the Wow around than you would a Tap, even with the strap.
The controls on the top include volume, power, play/pause and a button to engage Alexa. But you don't need to touch the button to talk to Alexa — unlike most other non-Amazon models, the Wow is always listening for your voice command. You can mute the microphones with a short press of the power button.
The Wow offers several ways to connect. You can go wireless with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. The unit features a TF card slot — not SD — if you want to play files locally. You can also connect an auxiliary source to the 3.5-millimeter input — something the Echo and Tap don't have.
The speaker uses an LED ring at the bottom to show its status: For example, it glows white when connected to Wi-Fi, and it turns blue when Alexa is engaged. (Oddly, it also uses blue to indicate it's in Bluetooth mode.)
The Wow delivers good overall sound, with decent bass and clear vocals, but lacks crisp treble. It can't match the Echo's overall performance, and it has better bass than the Tap — though the Tap offers a brighter and fuller sound.
Bruno Mars' vocals on "That's What I Like" were clear and well-balanced with the bass, though the Echo delivered more low end. Similarly, Ed Sheeran's singing on "Shape Of You" stood out, but the unit's flabby treble made the instrumentation less prominent. This failing was most evident on acoustic songs like Big Star's "Thirteen": I couldn't hear the defined guitars that better-quality speakers deliver.
The Wow can get slightly louder than the Echo and the Tap. I measured the Wow at 92 decibels max volume, while the Echo and Tap were closer to 90 decibels. But at full volume, the Wow sounded more distorted than the Echo. The Wow also has a more limited sound field than the Echo, meaning that it pushes sound in one direction, while the Echo spreads it wider.
Alexa was as responsive on the Wow as when I used an Echo. The Wow has two microphones on top of the unit to help it hear your commands. It turned on my lights, told me the weather and played music from Amazon Music. However, like other non-Amazon Alexa models, you can't use voice commands to play music on Spotify or Pandora. You can use the Omaker app, Spotify Connect or Bluetooth to play music from those services through your phone.
Wireless and Setup
The Wow isn't as easy to use as an Amazon speaker. It comes with a brief manual that walks you through connecting the unit to your wireless network and explains the functions, but I found it difficult to decipher.
For example, I had some trouble putting the speaker into Bluetooth pairing mode using the controls on the speaker; it was smoother using the Omaker app. Once connected, the Bluetooth range was strong, even at 50 feet indoors. However, I found that the speaker would frequently lose connection to my phone when I was connected via Wi-Fi.
To get started with setup, download the free Omaker app for iOS or Android. The app helps you connect the speaker to your router. After connecting to Wi-Fi, you sign in to your Amazon account.
The app can play music from Spotify (or you can use the Spotify app), as well as other music services that you can't access through Alexa, such as Pandora. You can also use the app to pair two Wows for a bigger sound. The app doesn't include any way to adjust bass or treble levels, however. You also can't adjust the volume of the voice prompts, which tell you the connection status, and they are annoyingly loud.
Omaker says you can get 6 hours of playback through Wi-Fi and 12 hours through Bluetooth. In my testing, I used the speaker for 9 hours, mixing Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, before it ran out of power. For comparison, the Echo Tap lasted about 9 hours.
The Omaker Wow is a promising Alexa speaker that costs less than Amazon's Tap and Echo. It includes a battery, auxiliary input and hands-free Alexa control; it also sounds pretty good for most pop music. The Wow would benefit from improved ease of use (or even better documentation) and some overall refinement. If you're looking for an Alexa speaker that's simpler to use, stick with an Echo or Tap. But for many people, the Wow will be good mix of price and features.