The Amazon Echo started out as a simple device, but there are now over nine different Echo products in the wild and on Amazon’s virtual shelves. So what is the difference between them, and which one should you buy?
Original echo: voice control with powerful speaker
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Let’s start with the original products, for comparison. The first generation of the Echo was a wine bottle-sized speaker with far-field microphones that were constantly listening, allowing you to talk to it from across the room. It can answer questions, play music, control SmartHome devices, and act as a linking device with other Echos devices. Many of these new features have come in the form of software updates, and if you have an Amazon Echo now, it will likely still get some new features in the future. Here’s an overview of everything you can do with Echo.
Amazon has stopped selling the original Echo on their website, but you can buy it at Whole Foods while supplies last, and you can also buy the $130 restored black and white version from amazon.com. We also recommend grabbing them for less — apparently many people buy them without using them and then later try to block them on Craigslist and OfferUp.
Echo Dot: small and compact, but with low sound quality
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The Echo Dot ($50) is a tiny inexpensive version of the original Echo — it can do everything a normal Echo can do without taking up as much space (although it lacks a nice big speaker). However, to make up for the lack of a speaker, it has a line-out port that allows you to connect it to a stereo system or other large, high-quality speaker. Be aware, however, that all newer Echos now have a line-out port.
The original Echo Dot contained a volume wheel along the top, just like the original Echo. However, this was soon discontinued, and replaced by a cheaper version that contained volume buttons instead.
Amazon Tap: Battery Operated Bluetooth Speaker with Alexa
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While the Amazon Tap ($130) doesn’t follow the «Echo» naming convention, it mostly runs on Amazon Echo batteries. It’s designed as a travel Bluetooth speaker with Alexa built in, but now that it’s listening all the time, there’s almost no difference between it and a normal echo other than a small size. It was great, but the second generation Echo is even cheaper, so it’s a better buy if you don’t need battery power (more on that in a moment).
Echo Show: Echo with Video
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The Echo Show ($230) can do everything the original Echo can, but it contains a touch screen that can display information as well as speak it. You can also watch videos on it, view video from security cameras, chat with other Echo owners, and do some other things that require a screen.
Echo Generation Two: Smaller and Cheaper with Better Sound
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The original Echo was discontinued and replaced with a shorter second generation model. It’s available for $99 on Amazon. It is covered in several different finishes, some fabrics, others silver or wood for an additional $30.
The new Echo also ditches the volume wheel for the volume buttons (same as the second generation Echo Dot) and line-out port, just like the Echo Dot. It uses a newer version of the far-field microphone technology, as well as a dedicated woofer and tweeter for better sound. In my experience, the mids and highs sound pretty similar to the original Echo, but the lows much better, which makes it a worthy upgrade if you’re looking for a new Echo.
Echo Plus: second generation echo with (not so good) Smarthome Hub
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The Echo Plus ($150) uses the same wine bottle-sized form factor as the original Echo, but with newer microphones, a woofer, a tweeter, and a second-generation Echo line-out port (although the tweeter is slightly larger). It is also available in black, silver or white and contains a built-in ZigBee SmartHome hub.
If you’re not sure what that means, check out our smarthome hubs explainer — in essence, the Echo Plus will let you use generic ZigBee devices without a separate hub like Wink. Devices with their own proprietary hub, such as the Insteon, still require their original hub. The Echo Plus only seems to work with ZigBee products — Z-Wave is not mentioned anywhere. This makes the Echo Plus smart home center rather weak, as many sensors, smart locks, and other smart home devices use Z-Wave (Philips Hue is the one big exception that uses ZigBee). Of course, there are other ZigBee devices, but they are slightly less popular than their famous Z-Wave counterparts.
In terms of sound quality, it’s about the same as a regular 2nd generation Echo with maybe a little better bass, but I couldn’t tell how big of a difference it was. In other words, you don’t really need to pay the extra $50 for the Echo Plus if you really not want a built-in SmartHome hub.
The Echo Connect: Desk phone connected to Alexa
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All Echos can make calls to US phone numbers today, but it uses an IP calling service that does not connect to an existing CO line. To that end, there’s the new Echo Connect ($35), which can be pre-ordered and ships December 13th. Basically, it’s a box that connects your existing landline to 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: Echo show in the form of an alarm clock
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The Echo Spot ($130) is similar to the Echo Show, but with a round 2.5-inch screen that works like a clock when it’s not showing other information. Placed beside the bed, the clock can also show the weather, play music, make video calls, and perform other echo-show-like tasks.
Echo Buttons: Weird Trick for… a Quiz I Think?
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Although the Echo buttons are not necessarily Alexa-enabled, they must be companion devices to an existing Echo. They cost $20 for a pack of two, and according to Amazon, they’re designed to act as «beeps» for many of the quizzes available on Echo (via third-party Alexa skills). Yes, I don’t understand either. Maybe they will add more useful features to them in the future.
Other devices with Alexa
The above includes most of the Amazon Echo lineup, but those aren’t the only devices with Alexa. You may also be interested in learning about:
Echo Look ($200 shown above) : Echo Look is an invite-only Echo Look device with a camera that allows you to consult fashion by taking pictures of you in different outfits.
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It’s a fairly large lineup, but we found them to be much more useful than they sound, especially if you have other SmartHome products. We’ll be testing more of these new Echos as they’re released, so stay tuned.