Amazon was the first company to launch a smart speaker, introducing its Alexa virtual assistant back in 2016. Being first, and also a retail behemoth has meant that the Echo range is the most popular choice, with around 40% market share.
In the past six years, Amazon has expanded the range greatly from that original Echo. Now, there’s a huge choice of speakers – and smart displays – to choose between.
accounts for over a quarter of smart speakers and smart displays sold around the world, according to the latest figures from Statista.
It isn’t too surprising: Amazon was the first company to launch a Bluetooth speaker with a built-in digital assistant – Alexa – back in 2016.
Since then, it has expanded the range greatly, with many models to choose between and a choice of a smart speaker (Echo) or a display with speakers (Echo Show).
With so many different devices costing from very little to quite a lot, it can be hard to know which one to buy. If you don’t want a screen, then look at the Echo smart speakers.
But there are advantages to having a smart display. Buy an Echo Show and you’ll be able to see your photos, watch videos from Amazon Prime, Netflix and others, watch news headlines and get graphical weather forecasts. The display is also great for playing a number of games.
All Echos run on mains power (they’re not battery powered or portable) and they’re all hands-free. That means they respond when you ask a question, but they all rely on Wi-Fi and an internet connection.
You can do a lot with Alexa. You can ask for specific music and have that music play in sync across all your Echo devices. You can also “drop in” on another Echo in a different room to have a quick conversation with a family member. You can also call friends and relatives who have Echos – or the Alexa app – and this can be a video call if you and they have an Echo Show.
Of course, there are more prosaic uses, such as saying “Alexa, what’s the time?” and “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes”. But if you have compatible smart lights, or a smart plug, you can also say “Alexa, turn on the lights in the kitchen” or “Alexa, turn off the iron”.
This is the great thing about Echos. You can use them very simply, or really take advantage of the cleverer stuff that Alexa can do.
Alexa is built into devices made by other manufacturers too, such as Sonos. You’ll also find Alexa built into some TVs (which run Amazon’s Fire TV software), sound bars – even dash cams and cars – but we’re focusing on Amazon-made devices here.
Read on to see how they differ, but also check out these great accessories for the various Echo devices including the Wall Clock and Echo Connect. There’s also the Echo Sub which can be paired with one or a pair of Echos to provide better bass (but only when streaming music from the internet).
If you want tips on the things you can do with an Echo, here’s how to use Alexa.
It’s difficult to pick the ‘best’ Echo for this roundup. Best can mean different things: best value; best sound; best features. However, whatever your priority, you’ll find what you’re looking for below.
1. Amazon Echo Dot with clock (5th-gen) – Best Value
- Good value
- Useful clock display in 'with clock' version
- Can extend home Wi-Fi
- Sound distorts at high volumes
The Echo Dot has always been an affordable way to get Alexa in your home. The latest model has better bass, a temperature sensor and you can tap it to dismiss alarms, timers and to pause and resume music.
We think it’s well worth spending the extra £10/$10 to get the clock version as it’s so convenient to see the time, how long is left on a timer, the weather and more. The display is improved over the now-discontinued 4th-generation Echo Dot, too. In fact, we’re not quite sure why Amazon doesn’t have the option of a built-in clock on the larger fourth-gen Echo. Maybe this will happen in the future.
Right now, though, the Echo Dot 5 is the best-value option in Amazon’s range. No, the sound isn’t the best, but it’s good enough for most people, and you can pair two Dots for stereo sound!
Alternatively, the Echo Dot 5 can be used singly as a Wi-Fi extender as part of an Eero mesh Wi-Fi system, which is another bonus.
2. Amazon Echo Studio – Best sound quality
- Very good sound quality
- Supports spatial audio
- Relatively expensive
The Echo Studio is the one to buy if you care about sound quality. The Studio sounds good on its own, but even better when paired with the Echo Sub, but do be warned that the sub only works with streamed music, not via Bluetooth from your phone.
Part of the reason the Studio sounds good is because it supports so-called ‘hi-res audio’ which is better quality than the normal quality of streamed music. However, to get hi-res audio you need to subscribe to a music streaming service that offers ‘HD’ music and, not coincidentally, Amazon’s own is the current one to go for.
The Studio also supports ‘3D audio’, which is essentially virtual surround sound. Currently it can play Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio, which can be both music and video soundtracks.
Best of all, the Studio is way cheaper than rivals from Apple and Google.
3. Amazon Echo (4th-gen)
- Built-in Zigbee hub
- Good sound
- No clock display
The Amazon Echo 4 is bigger than the Echo Dot, and its sound quality is better, with extra bass and volume.
As you’d expect, it can’t compete with the Echo Studio in that respect but then again, it’s half the price.
The fourth-gen Echo also has a built-in smart hub, allowing it to connect to and control Zigbee devices such as Philips Hue lights and mean you don’t need a separate ‘bridge’ or hub for those devices.
The light ring, as with the one of the Echo Dot, can be blocked from view because it’s right at the base, but it really depends upon where you put it in your room and where you’re sitting or standing.
If you want more volume and stereo sound, you can pair two Echo 4s together.
4. Amazon Echo Show 15 – Best smart display
- Large screen great for photo slideshows
- Will soon get Fire TV update
- Middling sound quality
- No third-party widgets
- No Zigbee hub
The Show 15 has biggest screen on any Echo at 15.6 inches. You can buy an optional desk stand, shown here, but it’s designed to be hung on the wall.
It works well in a kitchen where it doesn’t take up any space on your worktops and can show recipes which you can navigate with your voice using Alexa.
Soon – Amazon has said before the end of the year – an update will bring the Fire TV interface from Amazon’s Firestick to the Show 15. This is a game-changer and means you can easily access YouTube, live news and other video which is either awkward or impossible to watch currently.
The update will also bring support for the latest Alexa Voice Remote, which is preferable to trying to navigate using your voice. This is a touchscreen, though, so it’s simple to use if you’re sitting close enough to reach the screen.
Even without the Fire TV update, the Echo Show 15 has one feature not found on Amazon’s other smart screens: widgets. These can display useful information such as your calendar, favourite smart home device controls and a weather forecast. It’s only a shame that there are still no third-party widgets and the selection is tiny.
Thanks to ‘Visual ID’ Alexa can recognise who’s in front of the screen and display personalised information in those widgets.
It’s great as a digital photo frame, but as with other Echo Shows, images can only be pulled from Amazon Photos or Facebook, which is quite limiting.
And, because of the thin picture-frame design, sound quality isn’t the Echo Show 15’s strong suit: you’ll want to choose the Echo Show 10 if you plan to listen to a lot of music.
You can use the Show 15 for video calls, but it’s a shame that the camera doesn’t keep you in the frame like the Echo Show 8 and 10. Also note that there is no built-in Zigbee hub here.
5. Amazon Echo Show 10
- Rotating display faces you
- Great sound
- Built-in Zigbee hub
The Echo Show 10 costs the same as the Echo Show 15. Both are considerably more expensive than the 5- and 8-inch Echo Show smart displays, but the Echo Show 10 offers good quality sound and has a screen that can follow you around the room. (You may disagree that this is a benefit, though. Some people just find it creepy.)
Admittedly, it does sound a bit gimmicky but does come into its own if you want a smart display for a kitchen island where you’d otherwise have to turn the screen manually to see it as you move around.
The rotation is also a benefit for keeping an eye on your room when you’re away, because you can swipe on the screen of your phone while using the Alexa app to turn the camera and see – and hear – what’s happening.
Other than that, the overall experience is much like other Echo Shows.
6. Amazon Echo Show 8 (2021)
- Can operate like a security camera
- Camera keeps you in the frame in video calls
- No Zigbee hub
It may not have the Zigbee hub that’s included in the more expensive – and larger – Echo Show 10, but this model offers the best compromise of features, screen size and audio quality.
And at this price, those aren’t compromises you’ll ever regret making: Alexa is just as capable here as she is on the Echo Show 10, able to show the video feed from compatible cameras; lyrics for many songs from Amazon Music and much more besides.
Plus, this second-generation model has a 13Mp camera which has plenty of resolution for digital zoom. This is used in video calls to keep you in the middle of the frame even if you move around the room – just like the Facebook Portal and latest iPad Pro’s Centre Stage feature. It’s not as versatile as the 360° Echo Show 10, but it’s a great addition nonetheless.
Thanks to the fact you can watch Netflix on all Echo Show models, they’re a good choice for entertainment. Just note that unlike on Amazon’s Fire TV devices and Google’s own Nest Hub smart displays, YouTube isn’t easily available on any Echo Show.
7. Amazon Echo Dot (3rd-gen)
- No longer offered with clock display
The third-generation Echo Dot is still being sold alongside the 5th-gen model, at a lower price. We’re not really sure why it’s still part of the range, but it sounds pretty good for its size – especially when listening to the radio.
It lacks many of the new features you get in the fifth-generation Dot, and there’s no ‘with clock’ model available any more. Only the non-clock version is sold.
Really, we’ve kept the Echo Dot in here because Amazon regularly offers big discounts Echos and we’ve seen the Dot sell for much less than the usual $39.99 / £39.99 price. If you see the fifth-gen Dot on sale, then it’s worth spending the extra on the newer model.
8. Amazon Echo Show 5 (2021)
- Good size for bedrooms
- Can be used like a security camera
- Mediocre sound
- Screen is a little small
The Echo Show 5 costs less than the Echo 4, yet has a 5.5in screen and camera for video calls. It’s a little small for watching videos from Amazon Prime (or Netflix), but it’s a great size for popping next to your bed as an alarm clock/photo frame.
Sound quality isn’t as good as the Echo 4 or the Echo Show 8, which is the main drawback. This second-gen model has a higher-resolution camera than the first-gen (but not as good as the 8’s) and can also be used a kind of security camera as you can view the camera feed remotely.
Essentially, it’s a good choice if you have a tight budget but want an Echo with a screen and don’t need music to sound amazing.
9. Amazon Echo Flex
- Good for garages / large hallways
- Not suitable for music
The Flex is a different type of smart speaker: it’s a utility device, not one for listening to music or the radio, and is designed to plug directly into a wall socket in your hallway, garage or other area where you just need basic audio.
It’s brilliant for asking Alexa for information, and controlling your lights, switches and plugs. You can plug in a motion sensor (or night light) to make it even more useful.
You can listen to music on it, but it sounds terrible.
10. Amazon Echo Auto
- Alexa in your car!
- Hard to hide cables
- About to be replaced by new, smaller version in US
The Auto is an unusual Echo because it is the only option – from Amazon’s range – for putting Alexa in your car. This means you can’t really compare it to other Echo models.
Amazon realised that the design wasn’t very elegant and is about to launch an updated second-gen model in the US which is much smaller and more discreet.