by Michael Crider on
If you want high-speed network access throughout your home and Wi-Fi isn’t cutting it, you’ve probably considered running Ethernet cables. But why not take advantage of the power lines you already have going everywhere?
Amazon has grown its family of Echo products from a single smart speaker to a wide array of Alexa-enabled devices for every room in your home. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the choices, or you want to pick the right gift for the holidays, we’re breaking down what your options are and who each Echo is for.
If the first time you heard of the Amazon Echo was when someone asked for one for the holidays, here’s the lowdown: the Echo system is a family of smart speakers that most people use to play music and set reminders, but it can do a whole lot more. Every Echo uses Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa to listen for voice commands and respond. Each device has its own special features and unique advantages.
The original Amazon Echo was a tall, stylish tube that packed some excellent speakers and seven microphones so it could not only hear you anywhere, but it could tell where you were in relation to the device, and distinguish your voice from the ambient noise in the room. The recently updated second generation of the Echo improves the speakers with Dolby processing for even better sound quality. The new Echo is also smaller, with several new shell choices including fabric, wood, and silver-painted plastic.
Who It’s For: This is the standard Echo that will appeal to just about anyone. It’s not the cheapest Echo out there, but it’s pretty close. If you care about having great speakers to play music on, then go with this one.
One of the best uses for an Echo outside of playing music is building your smart home. The Echo Plus takes this to heart and includes a ZigBee hub inside. That means if you buy Philips Hue lights, or any of a bunch of other compatible smart home products, then you can use them directly with the Echo Plus without needing a separate hub. However, the Echo Plus isn’t compatible with every single smart home device on the planet. You also miss out on some features that dedicated hubs have.
Who It’s For: Anyone who wants to turn their lights on and off with their voice or play around with smart home gadgets without too much fuss should check out this version. It’s slightly more expensive than the regular Echo, but if you don’t need the advance features and would rather have one device instead of several, it can save you money on some smart gadgets in the long run.
If you want the cheapest Echo you can get, this is it. The Echo Dot takes all the voice command power of the Echo and strips away the high-quality speakers. It can still play music, it just won’t sound very good. If you don’t care about music, or want to plug it into an external speaker system, then you can start using Alexa for the price of an average family movie outing.
Who It’s For: The Echo is perfect for anyone who wants to get an Echo without spending a fortune. It’s also a great second or third Echo if you want to reach Alexa throughout the house.
The Echo is designed to be controlled with voice only, but some tasks just work better if you can see them. The Echo Show is designed to do this. When you ask for your to-do list, it will display it on the screen, instead of reading it off one item at a time. You can watch news clips or YouTube videos, and if you have smart home security cameras, you can ask Alexa to show you what they see. The Echo Show is particularly good for the kitchen, where you may want to see recipes or watch things while you cook or get ready for work. Unfortunately, it’s the most expensive Echo around, but it can do a whole lot more the others can’t.
Who It’s For: The Echo Show is ideal for anyone likes to watch videos, wants to check on their security cameras, or who just likes having a screen on their smart gadgets. It excels in the kitchen were you can glance at information or watch videos without having to touch a screen.
The Amazon Tap doesn’t officially have the Echo name because in the past, you had to tap a button to use Alexa. Fortunately, an update lets it listen for commands from across the room just like any other Echo. It’s also portable, so you can take it with you when you travel or carry it around as a Bluetooth speaker. Its high-quality speakers provide a great sound for a portable package.
Who It’s For: If you travel a lot or you need a Bluetooth speaker, the Tap might be for you. You can use it as a regular Echo when you’re home and then use it as a portable speaker when you’re away. Even if you can’t connect it to the internet when you travel, it’s still a handy dual-purpose device.
The Echo Spot hasn’t actually been released as of this writing (it officially launches December 19th, 2017), but it already looks like it fills an interesting niche. It features a small, circular video screen and can play videos, make video calls, and display information not unlike the Echo Show. You can also choose from a variety of clock faces. In other words, it’s designed to be a high-tech, Alexa-enabled alarm clock. That’s pretty cool. It also comes with a front-facing camera for video calls, but as a fixture for your bedroom, you might not want that.
Who It’s For: Since it’s not officially out yet, it’s hard to recommend this for anyone. However, if you’re interested in having Alexa wake you up in the morning or would like to be able to set alarms with your voice, it looks pretty interesting. Anyone who gets this should also either be comfortable with a camera in their bedroom, or at least have some electrical tape handy.
Perhaps the strangest device in the Echo family, the Echo Look comes with a built-in camera designed to take pictures of your outfit. You can save collections of your different clothes, create a lookbook, and even get feedback about which outfits look better with Amazon’s Style Check service. It’s not a bad set up, but you do have to trust Amazon with a camera in the room where you get dressed. That may be a hard sell for some people. Speaking of hard sells, you can only buy the Echo Look with an invitation to purchase.
Who It’s For: Anyone who has a large and complex enough wardrobe that they could use a digital assistant to help organize it may be interested. So long as they trust Amazon. And have an invitation to buy it.
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