2019 Review of Amazon Echo Smart Speakers

Echo
 
$99.99
Con Bullet Basic Echo
Pro Bullet Good-quality audio
Echo Plus (2nd Gen)
 
$149.99
Pro Bullet Built-in Zigbee hub
Pro Bullet Higher-quality audio
Echo Dot
 
$129.99
Pro Bullet Small
Con Bullet Lower-quality audio
Echo Spot
 
$129.99
Pro Bullet Small screen
Pro Bullet Good-quality audio
Echo Show
 
$229.99
Pro Bullet Large screen
Con Bullet Lower-quality audio

Alexa, the voice assistant that lives inside Amazon Echo, has become iconic. And as smart homes grow more common, more curious consumers will want Alexa devices of their own.

If you’re one of those consumers, you’re in luck. We’re about to explain how much an Echo costs, what you can do with each one, and which model’s right for you.


Compare Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, and Echo Show

Let’s quickly run through the noticeable differences between these products.

Echo (3rd Gen)

The Echo is the original Alexa offering. It towers over Echo Dots and Spots with its statuesque form. With the Echo, users can ask Alexa simple questions or give her commands.

Echo
 
$99.99
Technical specs:*
  • Size: 5.8 x 3.9 x. 3.9"
  • Weight: 27.5 oz.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity: Dual band Wi-Fi. Supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.**
  • Audio: 3.0" woofer and 0.8" tweeter
*Pulled from manufacturer
**Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.

Echo Plus (2nd Gen)

The Echo Plus (2nd Gen) has a sleeker look than the original Echo tower, with rounded edges and a slightly shorter stature. Its built-in ZigBee smart home hub lets you control any Zigbee compatible smart devices with the sound of your voice. Welcome to the future!

Echo Plus (2nd Gen)
 
$149.99
Technical specs:*
  • Size: 5.8x3.9x3.9"
  • Weight: 27.5 oz.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity: Dual-band Wi-Fi. Supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks).
  • ZibBee connectivity: Built-in ZigBee smart home hub supports Zigbee light bulbs, locks, sensors, plugs, and in-wall switches.
  • Bluetooth connectivity: Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) support for audio streaming from your mobile device to Echo or from Echo to your bluetooth speaker.
  • Audio: 3.0" neodymium woofer and 0.8" tweeter
*Pulled from manufacturer

Echo Dot

Like the Warner sister, an Echo Dot’s primary feature is its cuteness. It’s a fraction of the size of the Amazon Echo but has the same functions. The only downside is that the sound quality isn’t as good on this one because of its tiny size.

Echo Dot
 
$149.99
Technical specs:*
  • Size: 3.9x3.9x1.7"
  • Weight: 10.6 oz.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) netowrks.
  • Audio: Built-in speaker for voice feedback when not connected to external speakers. 0.14" stereo audio output for use with external speakers (audio cable not included).
*Pulled from manufacturer
**Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.

Echo Spot

The Echo Spot is a little larger than the Echo Dot and has a round screen. In addition to accessing regular Echo functionality, users can watch videos and see music lyrics. Since the Spot, too, is small, its speakers are also worse than the regular Echo’s.
 
$129.99
Technical specs:*
  • Size: 4.1x3.8x3.6"
  • Weight: 14.8 oz.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity: Dual-band Wi-Fi support 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • Audio: Built-in speaker. 0.14" stereo audio output for use with external speakers (audio cable not included).
  • Display: 2.5" touchscreen
  • Camera: 3 MP
*Pulled from manufacturer
**Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.

Echo Show

Finally, the Echo Show is like a mounted tablet. Its screen is rectangular and much bigger than the Echo Spot’s. It has similar features as the Echo Spot and can also bring up some websites.
 
$229.99
  • Size: 9.7x6.9x4.2"
  • Weight: 62.2 oz.
  • Wi-Fi connectivity: Dual-band, dual-antenna Wi-Fi (MIMO) for faster streaming and fewer dropped connections. Supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi networks. Also includes an 802.15.4 radio for support of smart home devices.
  • Audio: Dual 2" neodymium drivers and passive bass radiator
  • Display: 10.1" touchscreen
  • Camera: 5MP
*Pulled from manufacturer
**Does not support connecting to ad-hoc (or peer-to-peer) Wi-Fi networks.
Echo Show 5
Our Choice

Right as we finalized this review, Amazon released the Echo Show 5, a new-and-improved version of the Echo Show. We’ll add the Echo Show 5 to this review in the future.

Data effective 07/23/2019. Offers and availability subject to change.

Amazon initially marketed Echos as smart speakers. While they technically are speakers, their sound isn’t the selling point. The appeal is in the Alexa experience.
Does Alexa speak Spanish?
Protip
She’s smart, but she’s not that smart. US Echos are due for a Spanish feature soon though— hopefully later this year.

Amazon Echo pros and cons

Let’s run through some advantages and drawbacks to using an Amazon voice-controlled smart speaker over another brand.

Pros
  • Pro BulletWraparound speakers
  • Pro BulletStandard industry pricing
  • Pro BulletMultiroom speakers function
  • Pro BulletConnectivity with non-Echo speakers
  • Pro BulletDrop-in function
  • Pro BulletEasy-to-use app
  • Pro BulletEasy setup
Cons
  • Con BulletAmazon account required to use
  • Con BulletLimited language capabilities for US voice assistant
  • Con BulletIndividually downloaded skills
  • Con BulletSeparate app and monthly fee for music

How much is Amazon Echo?

Amazon Echo devices are on par with the smart speaker industry in terms of cost. They’re not the cheapest option, but they’re also not the most expensive option.

Amazon Echo and Google smart home speaker prices are neck-and-neck until you compare the devices with screens. The Google Nest Hub is just a dollar less than the Echo Spot ($129.00) but is more comparable to the Amazon Show ($229.99). The Google Nest Hub is smaller than the Amazon Show, though, and the hub’s speaker is behind the screen, which doesn’t make for the best listening experience.

To play music on an Echo device, you can’t pull from your preexisting phone downloads. You have to download a separate app (Amazon Music Unlimited) and link it to your Amazon account. After a free 30-day trial, you’ll pay $9.99 a month to listen to your slappin’ jams. Or, if you have Amazon Prime, $7.99 a month.

You can also link Spotify or Pandora to your Alexa app.


Equipment and features

Equipment

We like the way Echo devices look. Do they look like different versions of the same products? Not at all. As a matched set, they fail. But as a collection of speakers designed to be in separate rooms and do different things, they work just fine.

Amazon Product Suite

Photo source: ASecureLife team

Setup
 

The Echos were all easy to set up. You have to have an Amazon account to use the app, so keep that in mind if you’re not much of an online shopper.

Once you download and set up the app, you can add Echo devices one by one. The Spot and Show are a little more challenging to add than the Echo and the Dot. The setup process for those devices starts on their screens instead of on the app. You’ll link your Wi-Fi network and log into your Amazon account on the device screens.

Plugs

The biggest barrier between Echo users and a fully Echo-automated smart home is plugs. Every Echo device must be plugged in to work. That limits where you can place them and how many you can have.

This need for plugs isn’t unique in the smart speaker space; Google Home also requires a plug for each speaker. It’s annoying, though, and we’d like to see brands develop wireless speakers.

Wraparound speakers

Each Echo has a wraparound speaker, aka a speaker/microphone on more than one side. That means that you should be able to hear sounds from your product no matter what direction it’s facing—and it should be able to hear you! We noticed that even if you have multiple Echos, only the Echo nearest to you will respond when you ask Alexa a question.
Even if you have multiple Echos, only the Echo nearest to you will respond when you ask Alexa a question.

Distance

The Echo nearest to you can be 20+ feet away and still work. The Echos we tested could hear our voices from other rooms and down long hallways, and they still understood our commands from those distances.

Features

Answering questions

Alexa’s main job is to fetch information when you ask her a question. She’s pretty good at this, for the most part. She gave accurate information when asked about the weather or nearby Chinese restaurants.

How does Alexa work?
How To

When your Echo’s on, just say the wake word, “Alexa.” Then follow up with your question or command. For example: “Alexa, set an alarm for 6:30 a.m.” or “Alexa, what time does the Davis County Library close?” To get a response to certain commands, you may have to download new skills in the app. It’s inconvenient, but luckily, Alexa often tells you when she needs a new skill to fulfill your request.

Sometimes, though, the info she pulls isn’t accurate. When we asked, “Alexa, when does the next Marvel movie come out?” she said that Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. Three comes out in June 2021. Guardians isn’t the next MCU movie, and it doesn’t have an official release date yet.

In another instance, we asked her what characters are in the Harry Potter series. We expected her to start with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Instead, she listed Ron, then Hermione, then side characters such as Snape, and then Harry.

These snafus made us wonder if Alexa’s getting her information from the most trustworthy websites.

Playing music

Alexa was skilled at finding the music we wanted, even obscure pieces. Amazon Music Unlimited seems to have a large selection. We noticed, though, that sometimes Alexa favors covers over original recordings, even when the original is available. To keep this from happening, it might be helpful to specify both the song and the artist.

Multiroom speakers function

Playing music is fun, but playing music in every room in the house simultaneously is funner. We tried the multiroom speakers using all four Echos at once. “Hey Jude” played as we walked from room to room with no lags or gaps in the music. Very cool listening experience! We imagine it’s great for parties or for a houseful of introverts who want to stay in their rooms but all like the same music.

We didn’t get a chance to test the multiroom speakers with an Amazon Echo Plus, but knowing that it has the best speakers of all the Echos, we bet it would be a music lover’s dream.

Drop-in function

With the Echo speakers, you can “drop in” on a device in another room to talk to the occupants. So if you run out of toilet paper, you no longer have to yell and hope that someone hears you.

The speakers with screens have an extra drop-in function: video drop-in. You can do a video call of sorts between Echo Spots or Echo Shows.

Announcements

You can use your devices as an intercom for announcements. The experience is similar to a drop-in, but it sends a recorded message of your voice to every device in the house. This lets you broadcast to everyone simultaneously rather than dropping in on rooms one at a time.

Phone calls

Want to make a call without picking up your phone? Phone a friend, family member, or business contact through Echo voice control. (For an Echo Spot or Show, video calls are the default.)

You can also send hands-free texts, although if you don’t have an Android phone, you’ll need a third-party skill.

Recipes

If you’re stuck on what to make for dinner, Alexa’s got you covered with recipe suggestions. For an Echo with voice-activation only, she’ll list each recipe and ask if you want to learn more or hear the list of ingredients. For an Echo with a screen, she’ll bring up a scrollable list with pictures and citations. We thought that overall, this function works best with a screen. That way, you can see which dish looks the most appealing.

Cooking with Alexa
Our Experience
Asking Alexa for a recipe doesn’t always make sense. Try it when you’re about to make a trip to the grocery store or for a meal for another day. If you’re looking for a recipe to make immediately, you may not have the right ingredients on hand. Of course, you can always look at what you do have and say, “Alexa, what can I cook with a head of spinach, dried rigatoni noodles, and fresh beets?”

Personality

A voice assistant is basically someone who lives in your home, so you have to like each other. In our experience, Alexa’s a pleasure to have around. She’s calm and friendly and wants to help you out.

Alexa also has quite the sense of humor. During testing, we gave her an offhand command to make us a sandwich. Her response? “Poof! You’re a sandwich.” You can also ask her to tell you jokes or try other lines that might get surprising responses.


Echo compatibility

Home automation is a big benefit of using a smart speaker. To get maximum use with an Amazon Echo, we recommend connecting to other smart home devices like light bulbs, plugs, switches, and alarm systems. Tons of manufacturers are cranking out Alexa-compatible devices, so it shouldn’t be hard to find something that will work with your Echo.

Philips LIFX is an example of an Alexa-compatible brand. We tested all four Echos with the LIFX A19 smart bulb. We directed each Echo with these commands:

  • “Alexa, turn the light on.”
  • “Alexa, turn the light off.”
  • “Alexa, turn the light purple.”

Every Echo followed these directions perfectly. The Spot and Show also allowed us to turn the bulb on and off directly from their screens.

Color-changing lights
Protip
If you have specific taste in colors, you can use Alexa to get the perfect hue from a LIFX bulb. Alexa turned the LIFX A19 magenta, lavender, teal, and coral upon request.

To learn more about home automation for Echo devices, here’s a guide to the best home automation system.


Amazon customer service

As a company, Amazon’s customer service seems to be either really good or really bad. You can see testimonials for both extremes online.

For Echo devices specifically, Amazon has its own FAQ page. If you can’t find what you need there, Amazon suggests that you say, “Alexa, call Customer Service,” which will put you in touch with a representative. If your Alexa isn’t set up yet or isn’t working, there’s also a Contact Us link on the FAQ.

While we were setting up Echos, we tried asking the devices that were already set up for instructions. This didn’t work, surprisingly. We think it would be a no-brainer for Alexa to come equipped with setup directions for every device.

It would be a no-brainer for Alexa to come equipped with setup directions for every device.

Amazon Echo vs. Google Home

Data effective 07/23/2019. Offers and availability subject to change.

We tested three Google smart speakers to see how they stacked up against the Echos. The table above compares the standard speaker from each brand.

As you can see, price isn't a big differentiator between the Echo and the Google Home. Instead, the defining factor is the voice assistants. Sure, in terms of personality, they’re similar. They both have authoritative, soothing voices and can learn to call users by name.

But in terms of functionality, we found that Alexa was more accurate at interpreting our voice commands, especially when we were farther away. And Google was more flexible: we didn’t have to use such specific wording to get Google to do what we wanted.

Also, Google Assistant doesn’t need skill downloads. This voice assistant learns by experience.


Amazon Echo FAQs

Is Echo worth it?

We spent over four hours testing these Echos, and we fell a little bit in love with them. To us, it would be worth every bit of the $49.99+ to get any one of these in our homes—though we think the Echo Dot is the best overall deal (more details below).

How does Echo manage my privacy?

Having a smart speaker in your home can make you wonder how much, exactly, the speaker is listening to.

Alexa is programmed to listen to your voice only when you say her wake word. But sometimes she gets it wrong. When in use, regardless of whether you meant to trigger her, Alexa records your voice and sends the recording to Amazon workers for QA purposes.1

To reduce recordings you don’t want others to hear, unplug your Echo when it’s not being used. Or, if you’re worried that “Alexa” sounds too much like the name of a family member or is too common, you can change her wake word.

Do I need more than one Echo?

On the one hand, a single Echo is perfectly functional on its own. On the other hand, if your goal to create a super-smart home, we recommend having at least one audio-based Echo and one screen-based Echo.

We put a screen-based Echo in the kitchen area for quick access to recipes, tutorials, and other information while our hands were full or busy. Then we put an audio-based Echo in the bedroom so that we could listen to music, get alarms, and drop in on the kitchen without even getting out of bed. But that’s just our preferences; you can create any Echo formation you want in any rooms you want.

Which Echo is the best?

Tough question! It may seem like a copout to say this, but it depends on what you want.

If you love music over all else, go for the Echo Plus and its premium sound.

If you’re a video junkie and want an Echo with a screen, go for the Echo Show over the Echo Spot. The Echo Spot’s tiny round screen isn’t the best for watching videos.

If you want an Echo just to have an Echo, go for the Echo Dot. It’s less expensive and less obtrusive than the other Echos, but it does everything the classic Echo does, just with a lower-quality speaker. And it can be hooked to external, non-Amazon Bluetooth speakers.


Our recommendation

It’s time to choose your Echo! Let’s recap the differences from this Amazon Echo review:

  • Echo: Talk to Alexa and have her play music, list new movies, buy things, set alarms, dim your smart lights, call your friends, and so on.
  • Echo Plus (2nd Gen): Enjoy basic Echo functionality with amazing speakers and a smart home hub.
  • Echo Dot: Enjoy basic Echo functionality with a tiny, cute device with a worse speaker.
  • Echo Spot: Enjoy basic Echo functionality with a small, round screen that shows pictures and video.
  • Echo Show: Enjoy basic Echo functionality with a large, rectangular screen that shows pictures, video, and some websites.

Remember, if you can’t pick, you can always get them all for a superconnected smart home. Or, if Amazon’s not your speed, you can try Google smart speakers.