Last year Amazon debuted their futuristic Echo, a speaker that could be activated with just the sound of your voice and with one command could do just about anything you might want. At first it was cheap, but exclusive. Now the Amazon Echo fetches $179 which is by no means an impulse buy. To help push the reach of the “Alexa” platform, Amazon has released two new devices, the Amazon Tap, and the Echo Dot. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been using the Echo Dot and all I can say is that it is nothing short of awesome. Well, that’s not all I can say, otherwise this would be a pretty short review. So, let’s find out if the Amazon Echo Dot is worth your time.
So right out of the gate let’s talk about the price. The Echo Dot costs just $89, literally half of the standard Amazon Echo. For that price you get a very similar design, but much smaller. To cut costs the Echo Dot removes the full size speaker and instead gives you a smaller and less powerful speaker, but in return for an audio jack which allows you to connect the Echo Dot to any set of speakers. This is exactly what I always wanted the Echo to do as it just makes total sense to me to use something completely hands-free to control my music, but more on that later.
In terms of hardware, the Echo Dot features a cylindrical ring at the top which acts as the volume control. There are also two buttons up top, one for muting the microphone, the other for manually starting an action (without saying “Alexa”). As far as manual controls go, that’s pretty much it. There’s a ring of LEDs around the top to indicate when the Dot is listening and a ring of sensitive microphones to pick up commands from anywhere in the room. On the back there’s also a microUSB port for power and a 3.5mm headphone jack for plugging in external audio.
How Does It Work?
Being a smaller version of the Amazon Echo, the Echo Dot works identically. Simply say “Alexa” to get the device’s attention and follow that with a command. Basic commands would include “Play music”, “What is ________”, and things like that. However with extra “skills” the Echo Dot can do so much more. These skills are added through the Amazon Alexa app which, when installed on your smartphone or tablet, allows you to control many aspects of the Echo Dot.
A basic example of this would be connecting your Spotify account which adds access to all your playlists with a simple command. Simple add “on Spotify” to the end of just about any music-based command, and you’re good to go. There are dozens of skills and commands, but I’ll refer you to the list created by the guys over at CNET.
Obviously for a device like this, it’s tough to judge exactly how well it’ll work for you without just trying it yourself, but in my own experience things worked very well. The first day I plugged in the Echo Dot things worked extremely well. Once hooked up to power and audio, a simple command got things going and I was instantly in a mini nerd heaven. Let’s get back on topic though, how does everything do in my setup? To preface that, I have the Echo connected in the far right corner of my bedroom/office, opposite of my desk and my bed. In this location the Dot can easily hear me anywhere in the room, even if I’m speaking softly. However what really impressed me was how far away I could be before it could no longer hear me. To put this to the test I left my door open and went as far away as I could within our house. With a normal speaking voice, nothing occurred, of course, however with a louder shout, the Echo Dot heard and reacted to my voice. Thanks to the speakers I had connected, I could still hear the music as well.
So the microphone is good, yes, but how about the speaker? While the Echo Dot does have the ability to play music externally through any set of speakers, a built-in one is still needed at times. The Echo Dot does have a built in speaker which is, fine, I guess. It’s loud and at low volumes it sounds OK, but turn the volume past 3 or 4 and it sounds pretty bad. Personally I really prefer connecting to a set of speakers as that allows me to get sound quality to where I want it. You do also have the option of connecting to a Bluetooth speaker if you want, but I found a 3.5mm jack a bit easier to set up and also more reliable.
The Perfect Companion For Music
By now you’ve probably realized that I’ve mentioned listening music several times in this review, and that’s because it was the prime use case for me. Being able to start a playlist, change the volume, and skip tracks with nothing more than my voice is nothing short of awesome, and since it can connect over a physical wire to your speakers, it really is perfect for fans of streaming music. For me just being able to do this makes the Echo worth it, but it can do so much more.
Turn Your Home Into A Smart Home
If you’re a techie like me, you’ve probably thought how awesome it would be to be able to control all the lights and devices in your home from one central location, and with the Echo Dot you can. The Echo Dot can connect to dozens of services including LIFX, Phillips Hue, and several other smart lighting systems. There’s also compatibility with the Nest Thermostat and much more. The possibilities of controlling your home with the Echo Dot are endless and while I personally couldn’t use that (yet), I do look forward to the day when I do.
You Probably Want It, But It’s Not Easy To Get
The Echo Dot is an awesome piece of tech, but it has one fatal flaw, actually buying it. The day it was announced users were frustrated that you could only order it if you already had an Echo or a Fire TV with Alexa support, as they should have been. Thankfully a workaround was discovered, but there’s still a problem, Amazon might not keep it around. As pointed out by The Verge, Amazon notes in their support website that the Echo Dot is only for sale in limited quantities. Once it’s gone, they won’t sell anymore. Currently orders are backed up to August 1st, so it seems the company may have already changed their mind on that, but it remains unclear if you’ll actually be able to buy the Dot a few months from now.
At the end of the day, the Echo Dot is easily one of the best options on the market today, not only for home automation, but also for music streaming. Quickly after getting the Echo Dot my Chromecast Audio went into a drawer, and I don’t see if coming out any time soon. The Echo Dot is absolutely worth every penny you’ll spend on it, if you can get one that is. If you are interested, links to buy are below.Amazon Echo Dot on Amazon How to order an Amazon Echo Dot (without Alexa)