Alexa Devices: Amazon Echo vs. Echo Plus vs. Dot vs. Spot vs. Show
Amazon is using a completely different product strategy than Apple.
Apple comes out with one new product per year while updating previous iterations of their products. Apple doesn’t release a product unless they know it’s going to be the best device on the market in its category.
Amazon releases multiple new products every year without knowing if they’re going to succeed or strike out. They try every new idea and see what sticks.
Amazon delivers these fresh products to as many Amazon Prime members as possible and lets the market dictate what items are a hit.
That’s great for consumers because we get more options. The caveat is it can be overwhelming.
Right now, there are five Alexa smart speakers. All Alexa devices do similar things, and there isn’t much differentiation between them.
I bought all five and compared them side by side (Echo vs. Echo Plus vs. Dot vs. Spot vs. Show) to help you make an informed decision.
First, I’ll tell you about the things I love and hate about all Alexa devices in general.
Sidenote for reference: Before doing this post, I owned JBL Charge 3, UE Boom 2, UE Megaboom, JBL Xtreme, all the Sonos speakers, first generation Echo, and Echo Dot. I’m not an audiophile, but it’s good to know which speakers I’ve worked with recently.
Prices range from $50 to $230.
All Alexa Devices
- Alexa is compatible with any smart home device. We’re talking about lights, thermostats, vacuums, switches, plugs, and TVs.
- Aside from operating smart devices, there are more than 15,000 skills you can add to your Alexa device.
- The voice recognition feature is fantastic. In my experience, it can hear you from a couple of rooms away. It’s much better than Apple’s Siri.
- There aren’t many things that get better as you use them, but all Echos get smarter and more skills are added to the Alexa database as time goes on.
- With “Routines,” Alexa can do multiple tasks with one command. They were added in November, and now it’s one of my favorite features.
- The “Drop-in” feature lets you instantly connect with another Alexa device by saying “Alexa, drop in on Cam’s Echo.” If you have a call between two video-enabled Alexa’s, it’ll be a video call. Otherwise, it’ll only be audio. You can drop in with the Alexa phone app too. (You can turn the Drop-in feature off).
- Amazon.com integration is perfect. Tracking and ordering packages is a breeze.
- You can program Alexa to understand different people’s voices and use your preferences (i.e., YOUR music, YOUR calendar, YOUR contacts, etc.). For instance, when you say “Alexa, call mom.” It’ll know who’s mom to call. The individual voice recognition and setup doesn’t work as well as Google Home’s, but it’s still useful.
- You can use them as external Bluetooth speakers.
- Alexa devices don’t play well with Apple. You can’t write in Apple Calendar, Notes, or Reminders. And Alexa can’t play Apple Music. (Although, you can play Apple Music with Bluetooth).
- These devices can’t use reasoning or process language on a human level. For instance, you have to remember the exact name of each skill for it to perform the tasks, and it’s hard to remember what to say to control each device. You can’t naturally tell it to turn the temperature down. You say things like, “Alexa, set the temperature to 68 on the living room Nest thermostat.”
- They don’t understand pronouns or remember what was previously discussed.
- Amazon doesn’t prioritize sound on any of their devices. Echo, Echo Plus and Echo Show sound decent, but they’re not as sharp as some of the premium speakers from Bose or Sonos.
Alexa brains with bad speaker.
Echo Dot ($50)
- Dot must be connected to WiFi to work.
- You can buy one for as little as $30 during the holidays and other special events.
- You can connect external speakers through Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack. That’s a significant advantage unique to Dot. You can add Alexa smarts to any “dumb speaker.”
- Sound quality: The speakers on Dot are dreadful and shouldn’t be used for anything other than Alexa’s voice (even Alexa’s voice doesn’t sound great). A comparable device, like Google Home Mini, sounds much better.
Best for most people.
Echo Gen 2 ($100)
- This is Amazon’s second-generation Echo.
- It’s $80 cheaper than the original Echo and is smaller (it’s 6″ tall compared to 9″ with the first generation and Echo Plus). In my opinion, 6″ is the perfect height for these speakers. It’s large enough to deliver robust sound, but not tall enough to be an eyesore.
- It’s better-looking than the original Echo and comes in six different colors.
- You can use it as a Bluetooth speaker without WiFi, as long as you originally paired it while connected to WiFi.
- Sound quality: It has a 2.5″ woofer, 0.6″ tweeter and Dolby-powered sound. It sounds better than the first generation Echo and better than the original Google Home. The sweet spot for volume is around 70%. When it’s any louder than that, the sound gets distorted. There’s not much bass, and you can find better speakers for this price. But this is much more than a simple speaker. For reference, it sounds similar to UE Boom 2.
Stupid “hub” feature.
Echo Plus ($150)
- It looks like the first-generation Echo but with a silver color. (The same ugly speaker grills are included too).
- Echo Plus’ primary differentiation from Echo: it comes with a Zigbee radio so you can use it as a smart home hub. Six points on this:
- What is a smart hub? It plugs into your home’s router and lets you control smart devices like lights, locks, and outlets (like Wink or SmartThings).
- Echo Plus is only useful if you’re just starting to add smarts to your house because if you have smart devices, you already have a hub.
- If you have Philips Hue lights, you already have a hub plugged into your router via ethernet.
- If you have Apple products, you can’t use HomeKit with your Hue lights if Echo Plus is your hub.
- Echo Plus only sends out Zigbee signals, not Z-Wave.
- Even if you’re a beginner, you’re better off using a separate device as your hub.
- You can use this as Bluetooth speaker without WiFi, as long as you originally paired it while on WiFi.
- Sound quality: It’s almost identical to the second-generation Echo. The tweeter is 0.2” bigger, but it hardly improves the sound quality. In a blind test, I couldn’t tell the difference when alternating between Echo and Echo Plus on the same song.
Classier version of Dot.
Echo Spot ($130)
- Echo Spot was released in December as Amazon’s second Echo with a touchscreen and camera.
- Amazon is marketing Spot as an alarm clock. Three points on this:
- Do you want a camera facing you at all times? You can turn off the camera by saying “Alexa, turn off the camera,” but this might freak some people out.
- Don’t people charge their phones on their nightstand? Spot doesn’t do anything (as an alarm) better than a phone.
- Alexa thinks it hears its name (from the TV) and makes a noise. This can be said about any Alexa device, but if I’m in my bedroom resting, I want to be away from technology. Make sure you set a scheduled “Do Not Disturb” to avoid these issues.
- I wanted to use Spot in the kitchen, but the screen is too small to be useful for recipes or videos.
- Its default face is an analog clock, but you can make it a photo too.
- The screen is 2.5″ inches. Because the screen is curved, only half of it is utilized when playing a video. People complain about iPhone X’s notch being a waste of screen, what do you call this?
- The screen was only useful when listening to music because you can see the album art and song name and skip songs. It’s too small to watch videos.
- If you want to watch videos, Amazon Prime Video is your only real option. There’s no YouTube.
- The screen automatically dims depending on how much light it senses with Adaptive Lighting. This is helpful when you’re trying to sleep. (You can turn off the display completely too).
- You can receive video calls from other Echo devices with a camera or the Alexa app.
- The camera is set at a fixed angle. This means you have to adjust your face position when in a video call rather than repositioning the device.
- This is Amazon’s nicest design aesthetically. It feels sturdy and well-built too.
- Setup was great and by far the best of all Alexa devices.
- Sound quality: Spot is the second-worst sounding Echo device.
- It’s barely good enough to listen to music on.
- However, it sounds far better than Dot.
- It sounds similar to a smartphone speaker because there’s no bass, although the volume can go much louder.
- The sound quality is slightly superior to the Google Home Mini.
- Unfortunately, you have to treat this device similar to Dot and use external speakers (3.5mm jack or through Bluetooth).
Forgets it has a screen.
Echo Show ($230)
- Echo Show has a 7″ touchscreen a 5-megapixel camera.
- Amazon is marketing it as a device for the kitchen, which sounded great to me because I like following video recipes (from Facebook or YouTube) rather than reading them. The problem is that it’s hard to watch the videos you want because you can only bring up videos with your voice, and there isn’t much content available.
- To make things worse, Google and Amazon have beef, and YouTube is no longer allowed on Echo Show. For cooking, you’re stuck with Amazon’s content or AllRecipes, which is hard to navigate.
- The screen was only useful when listening to music because you can see the album art and song name and skip songs. The lyrics come up on some songs as they play if you use Amazon Music Unlimited.
- Echo Show forgets that it has a touchscreen and the functionality is limited. I thought it’d work more like a tablet, but it can’t access apps, add skills or do anything else a tablet can. There are things I’d like to do with my hand rather than voice. You end up with a 7” display that you can’t use.
- There’s a visual timer, but it’s no different than those on phones and microwaves.
- It’s ugly, bulky and oddly-angled. It’s not aesthetically pleasing.
- You can receive video calls from other Echo devices with a camera or the Alexa app.
- The camera is set at a fixed angle. This means you have to adjust your face position when in a video call rather than repositioning the device. If you have it set on the counter, for example, you either have to stand an unnatural distance away from the device or bend down to get your face in the frame.
- Sound quality: This is the best-sounding Alexa speaker, but not by much. It sounds similar to Echo and Echo Plus, but with extra bass.
Which one is for you?
My favorite Alexa device is Sonos One. (Read more here).
My second-favorite is Dot. It’s small and unobtrusive with the same Alexa capabilities as the expensive Echos and it hooks up to any speaker setup.
If you’re looking for an Alexa device that’s made by Amazon, Echo (2nd Generation) is the best value. It’s a solid speaker (it’s loud and crisp enough), and it’s the one most people should get it.
Echo Plus is a good idea in theory but it would’ve been better if it was released three years ago. But right now? I don’t get it. Most people already have a smart hub to work their gadgets. Don’t bother with Echo Plus.
Spot and Show could evolve as Amazon releases new software, but they have more gimmicks than substance at this point.
Echo Show is a subpar product because you can’t do enough with the screen. If you’re looking for an Alexa device for the kitchen, to watch recipes or cooking videos, buy Fire HD 10 Tablet with a stand. The HD 10 tablet has hands-free Alexa, powers of a tablet, portability, and it’s only $150.
Echo Spot is better than the Show. It’s a classier, better-designed, better-sounding version of Echo Dot. It’s overpriced at $130, but if the price drops to the $80 range it’ll be worth every cent.