by Eric Ravenscraft on
If you rent your home, you could feel left out of the current smart home renaissance. Fear not, though. There are still quite a few gadgets you can get to smarten up your rental.
The Echo Dot is Amazon’s best-selling Echo for a pretty obvious reason: it’s cheap. Of course that means Amazon makes some sacrifices to get the price down that low. If you like your Echo, but wish it had better speakers, or even want to take it with you, then the Vaux cordless speaker can beef up your Echo Dot—for a price.
The Vaux speaker is a squat little gadget that retails for $50, is about two-thirds as tall as the original Echo, but is quite a bit wider. It’s got a heft to it, owing to the battery packed inside on top of the speaker array. On the top, there’s a short, circular indention almost the exact size and shape of an Echo Dot. It doesn’t take an engineer to see how these two fit together. Drop the Dot in the top, fold out a small rubber flap in the back and plug in the small micro USB and 3.5mm headphone cables.
Once installed, the Echo Dot sits just ever so slightly above the top edge of the Vaux speaker. Yet this millimeter-off design is intentional. With just the very top of the Dot sticking over the edge, the light ring remains visible from all angles. It would’ve been incredibly easy for Vaux to overlook this tiny detail, but I’m glad they didn’t.
After the Dot is plugged in and the rubber flap is folded shut, you’d be hard-pressed to tell that they’re two separate gadgets. In fact, it doesn’t look that much different than the 2nd generation full-size Echo. A little wider, perhaps, but entirely self-contained. On the back of the Vaux, there’s a 3.5mm headphone jack that you can use to play audio from external sources, and a micro USB port to charge the Vaux and keep your Dot powered.
It also features a power button which you can use cut power to the Dot. Since the Dot keeps listening even when you’re not using it, this can drain the batteries even when you don’t realize the Dot is still on. If you want to conserve power while you travel or just when you don’t need your Dot, you may want to switch the Vaux off. When the device is on and plugged in, you can unplug it and carry it to another room and it will stay on the whole time. Asking the Dot you’re holding in your hand to turn on the lights of the room you’re walking into is a pretty neat experience.
The Echo Dot doesn’t exactly come with a great speaker (but, in fairness, that’s not the Dot’s selling point). It’s designed to be the cheapest Echo you can get (normally, the Dot is $50, but you can frequently get it for even cheaper than that). The Vaux speaker, by comparison, is world’s better. It can pump out significantly more sound—where the Dot has trouble filling a room with anything but tinny toy-speaker sound, the Vaux delivers the sound you’d expect from a much bigger speaker. If you need to play music for a party or gathering, it won’t struggle to compete with the ambient noise.
That being said, even when compared to the 1st generation full-size Echo, the Vaux speaker comes up wanting. It doesn’t have quite as rich of a bass line compared to the Echo, and it can start to sound crackly and distorted at very high volumes. If you’re not invested in having the most pitch-perfect audio system, the Vaux will probably be good enough to serve your needs—and it’s certainly better than the Dot—but audiophiles should probably just hook their Dot up to their own sound system.
In my testing, the battery lasted around six hours while continuously listening to music with it. Depending on how loud you turn up the volume, it may drain faster. It can last even longer if you’re not playing music (but remember the Dot was designed to be plugged into the wall and always on, so it’ll put slow but steady hurt on the battery even when sitting idle). With even moderate usage, you’ll need to charge the speaker at least once a day.
Not everyone needs what the Vaux offers. There are plenty of speakers at the $50 price point the Vaux clocks in at. Amazon also sells the Amazon Tap for $130, which is also a battery-powered, Alexa-enabled speaker, if you prefer an all-in-one solution for bringing Alexa with you when you travel.
The niche the Vaux serves is doing all of it for a lower price. Normally, both the Echo Dot and Vaux speaker are $50 each (for a total of $100), which is already $30 cheaper than the Amazon Tap. However, combined with the frequent sales on the Echo Dot, plus the fact that many households already have a Dot in at least one room, and suddenly the Vaux looks like an attractive option for anyone interested in supercharging their Echo.
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