We're currently testing Amazon's latest Alexa-enabled hardware. You can expect to see a significant update to this guide in the near future. In the meantime, we still stand by all of our recommendations.
If you’re in the market for a smart speaker with a built-in virtual assistant, there are a lot of options out there whether you’re an Amazon fan, a Google lover, or an Apple fanatic. When it comes to product variety, though, Amazon really has the most to offer among what I’ve started affectionately calling “the Big Three” (yes, I watch This Is Us and could easily compare these brands to Kate, Randall, and Kevin).
With six different smart speakers in the Amazon Echo family, deciding which one is right for you and your household can be tricky. At Reviewed, we’re obsessed with testing everything we use, to find out which really is the best of the bunch. But when it comes to Echo speakers, which are all based on the same software and are built with the same (or similar) parts, we asked, “Is there really one Echo that’s better than the rest?”
The short answer is, “Not really.” The long answer is that the “best” Echo smart speaker is entirely subjective and dependant on what each person needs it for. So instead of ranking the Echo lineup from best to worst, we looked at each speaker’s unique characteristics to determine the ideal buyer for every model. In doing so, two really rose above the ranks: the 2nd-gen. Echo(available at Amazon for $129.99) and the Echo Spot (available at Amazon). Both of these speakers have the most universal appeal and would be perfect in any room of the house.
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The Amazon Echo is far and away the best option for anyone looking to bring an Alexa-enabled smart speaker into their homes. It's got great sound quality thanks to Dolby audio, a 2.5-inch woofer, and a 0.6-inch tweeter. And it has an auxiliary input and Bluetooth if you want to connect it to a larger speaker. The Echo also uses far-field voice recognition so Alexa can hear you even if you're in the next room.
Every Echo device has access to the same Alexa skills and features, but we found the second-generation Echo offers the best blend of quality performance and value. It costs twice as much as the Echo Dot, but it sounds 10 times better. It doesn't act as a hub for devices that require their own bridge like the Echo Plus, but it costs $50 less. And it may not have a screen like the Spot or the Show, but you really don't need a display or a camera to fully enjoy Alexa.
Our favorite feature: The interchangeable “shells” that let you switch up the look of your device. With five options, it's easy to find one that will work best with any decor. We’re also really hoping there will be more third-party shell options available to really customize the style.
The biggest downside: There really aren’t any downsides to the Echo. It’s got great sound, it’s fast, it looks nice, and Amazon managed to cut the price nearly in half from $180 cost of the original Echo.
The Echo Spot is my personal favorite among the Echo lineup. The combination of the small but super useful screen with a sleek, modern design makes this little smart speaker look just as at home on a bedside table as it does on a home office desk, a living room shelf, or a kitchen counter. The screen displays a customizable clock, but also cycles through useful information to give you insights at a glance.
Considering the Spot has a modest 1.4-inch speaker, the sound quality is not half bad for such a small device. It also gives you the ability to make video calls, which are surprisingly perfect with a round screen. You can also check in on video feeds from smart cameras, video baby monitors, and video doorbells. And it can stream TV and movie content, though it's not really designed as a media streaming device.
Our favorite feature: The round screen design makes the Spot look like a super fancy desktop clock, but it also flashes trending news, weather updates, and notifications while not actively being used.
The biggest downside: It has a built-in camera, so if you’ve got privacy concerns this may be a red flag for you. However, you can disable Drop-In calling through the app and also say “Alexa, turn the camera off” to ensure no one is spying on you.
Who should buy it: Anyone who wants an Alexa speaker with a screen.
The Echo Dot is the perfect entry-level smart speaker. It gives you access to all the standard Alexa features at half the cost of the Echo. But with the price break, you do have to sacrifice sound quality. The speaker is a meager 0.6 inches, less than half as powerful as the Spot's and well below the quality of the larger Echoes. However, there's an AUX input on the back and Bluetooth connectivity, so you can easily connect it to any existing speaker for a boost in sound quality.
Our favorite feature: The price is the key reason to buy an Echo Dot, especially as it goes on sale fairly often, typically for $10 off but on rare occasions (like Prime Day and Black Friday) has been marked down to as low as $29.99.
The biggest downside: The 0.6-inch speaker delivers noticeably low-quality audio playback. If you want to use it for music, connect it to an external speaker.
Who should buy it: College students, people on a budget, people who aren't 100% sure if Alexa is right for them, and Echo enthusiasts who want to fill their home for less.
The Echo Plus is not just a smart speaker, but also acts as a smart home hub that can connect to smart devices that may otherwise require a separate hub, including Samsung SmartThings smart plugs and Philips Hue lights. While you can ask any Echo, "Alexa, find my devices," to have her scan your network for compatible smart home gadgets, only the Echo Plus can connect to certain gadgets. Other Echos will simply not “see” them without their respective hubs or bridges.
What this means is that, if you've got SmartThings devices and Hue lights and would rather not manage three separate smart home systems, the Echo Plus can tie everything together and save you a big chunk of change if you haven't yet purchased additional smart hubs. If you've already got the appropriate hubs, the Plus might not be necessary unless you're looking to streamline. It also currently comes with a free white Philips Hue bulb, which typically costs $20-$30, to sweeten the pot for anyone interested.
Our favorite feature: The Echo Plus can act as a hub for SmartThings devices and Philips Hue lights.
The biggest downside: It costs 50% more than the Echo, so if you don't really need the hub functionality (and more folks won't), it's not worth it. But if you’re looking to avoid hub-clutter, it might be worth the investment.
Who should buy it: People with lots of smart home gadgets who want to centralize control.
The $200 Amazon Echo Look is a camera-based Echo device that you can use to compare your outfits. You can ask Alexa to take your picture in multiple outfits and then use the Look app to compare them. A computer program will analyze the photos and tell you which is the best outfit within about a minute.
While it does only offer positive feedback on the winner, the implications of this device teeter on the edge of dangerous. Considering the target audience for a product like this is primarily younger fashionistas, who may not have had a chance to grow a thick skin yet, the Look's feedback could be harmful to the wrong person. Plus, it is a loosely veiled vehicle for Amazon to promote clothing and fashion products to its users.
Do yourself a favor. Get a $5 a selfie stick and a trustworthy friend to give you fashion advice instead. It’s cheaper and more effective.
Our favorite feature: The app intelligence. Not only can the AI analyze two photos to determine which "looks better" and offers constructive feedback, but can tell if you try to compare two different people.
The biggest downside: Not the best camera quality. The Look automatically blurs the edges of the photos, and the built-in flash is not great at color balance.
Who should buy it: Gadget collectors and Amazon enthusiasts (I know you're out there, somewhere)
I'm Samantha Gordon, the Managing Editor of Ecommerce for Reviewed as well as a devout smart home enthusiast. For nearly four years, I’ve been living in a home surrounded by smart devices like Hue lights, a Harmony smart remote, smart plugs, smart air conditioners, a smart CO2 detector, smart cameras, and...you get the idea. Thanks to my job, I’ve also had a chance to get my hands on other smart devices (doorbells, locks, switches, thermostats, etc.) that I can’t install in my rented apartment but dream of adding to my fictitious future home when I win the lottery.
We pre-ordered the first Amazon Echo when it debuted in late 2014, lucky enough to get the Prime-exclusive invitation. I was skeptical at first, but quickly grew to love having a hands-free assistant that could set timers, do measurement conversions, and play my favorite songs while I cooked. Now, we’ve got one of every Echo in our home (save the Look, which has been relegated to a dusty shelf in the back of a closet), and I can’t imagine having it any other way.
Like I mentioned earlier, my apartment doesn't have a single room without an Echo device in it. I've had hands-on experience with each device (yes, even the elusive Echo Look) and have gone through the various processes of setting up the devices, pairing them with smart devices, customizing them in the app, using all of their features, and testing the limits of Alexa's microphones and skills. Of this list, the only one I haven't had a chance to try yet is the Dot Kids Edition, which had yet to be released when this article was first published.
Samantha is an avid writer, editor, and consumer with an oddly deep love for finding amazing deals on amazing products, especially stuff that makes life easier. Her personal passions include smart home tech, 3D printing, crafting, cocktails, and cats.
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