The original Amazon Echo is a voice-activated smart speaker with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. Since 2014 is has been joined by a surprising number of devices in the Echo family, all of which have the Alexa voice assistant at their core.
Who is Alexa?
Alexa is the wake word for Amazon Echo. It is a digital voice assistant who will happily fulfil any of your spoken commands, from setting an alarm to searching the web to answer your burning questions and playing music.
Echo is constantly learning, too, adapting to your speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences. Amazon is constantly updating the way Alexa listens and responds and will eventually provide an interface with natural-sounding responses.
What is Amazon Echo?
Amazon Echo is a cylindrical home audio speaker that integrates a personal voice assistant named Alexa, very much like Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant. Echo is always-on and always connected to Wi-Fi, allowing it to sit on your home network and access cloud services, with Bluetooth letting you stream music from mobile devices.
Alexa can handle things like multiple timers and alarms, IFTTT support, integration with Google Calendar, and lets you listen to Audible audiobooks and re-order Prime-eligible items from Amazon. It can even order your favourite takeaway from Just Eat.
Some of those capabilities are built in, while for others the relevant 'Skills' have to first be enabled in the Alexa app. Skills are like apps created by developers, and can help you to control smart home products such as those from Philips Hue, LIFX and WEMO.
The standard Echo is now in its third-generation, which replaces the older version at a the same price of £89.99.
The Echo 3 is virtually the same as the Echo 2 but has the speakers from the Echo Plus inside it, and it comes in a new Twilight Blue colour.
What is the Echo Dot?
Now on its third generation, the Dot has a more powerful speaker (up to 70% louder than the second generation) and the same attractive mesh fabric design seen throughout the Echo family. It's available in four colours, including the new Plum version.
It still costs just £49.99, with the new model available to buy now.
First, and most obviously, the Echo Dot will use the Alexa Voice Service to provide users with everything from music playback to the latest news, and even control of smart home devices (if compatible). Alexa is also smart enough to work out which Echo you're closer to (if you have more than one) and respond only from that speaker, despite being heard on multiple speakers.
The Echo Dot also has Bluetooth allowing you to stream music from your phone, or connect it to a Bluetooth speaker which brings Alexa functionality to, say, the high-end Kef Muo Bluetooth speaker. It also allows you to play music from services like Spotify, Prime Music and Pandora without the need for a computer or smartphone.
In September 2019 Amazon added a new version: the Echo Dot with Clock. That is exactly what it sounds like and has a clock display hidden behind the fabric. As well as the time, this can also display a timer countdown and other things. It's £10 / $10 more than the standard Dot and currently only comes in Sandstone.
What is the Echo Show?
Echo Show is an Echo with a screen and a camera as well speakers. It's now available in three screen sizes: 5.5in, 8in and 10in.
As you'd expect, their prices increase with screen size. The smallest Show 5 is £79.99, the new Echo 8 is £129.99 and the big Echo Show has a much higher price of £219.99 but also better speakers and a built-in 'Smart hub' which lets you control smart home gadgets which work using the Zigbee wireless standard such as Philips Hue bulbs - it also removes the need to buy or use another Zigbee hub such as the Philips Hue Bridge.
The smaller two Echo Shows are the latest models and have physical shutters to cover the camera, and this also turns off the microphones.
With a screen, Alexa can show as well as tell.
An Echo Show allows you to:
- Watch video news broadcasts
- Watch YouTube videos (via a workaround - it's not a native feature)
- View song lyrics from Amazon Music
- Monitor smart security cameras, baby monitors and video doorbells, including those from Nest, Ring and Netgear Arlo
- View weather forecasts
- Read shopping and to-do lists
- Video chat with others who have an Amazon Echo device or Alexa app
What is the Echo Studio?
This is a higher-end Echo designed for those who want the best sound quality for listening to music, specifically the new Amazon Music HD service. It's designed to be a rival for the Apple HomePod and Google Home Max. It looks like a bigger version of the standard Echo with a slot near the bottom which is to enhance bass.
Like the Echo Plus below, it has a built-in Zigbee hub.
The 360-degree sound is designed for TV / movie soundtracks as well as music and it's designed to work with 4K Fire TVs which can stream Dolby Atmos-encoded audio to an Echo Studio (or a pair of Echo Studios) for much better sound than your TV can muster.
It's well priced at £189.99 / $199.99 - undercutting those rivals from Apple and Google.
You can buy an Echo Studio from Amazon.
What is the Echo Plus?
The Echo Plus is a bigger and better version of the standard Amazon Echo, except that now the Echo 3 exists, it no longer has the sonic advantage it did before. The main difference is the built-in Zigbee hub, which the standard Echo lacks.
it's available in three colours: Charcoal, Heather Grey, and Sandstone (basically white). There's also an integrated temperature sensor, and Alexa should be clever enough to respond to changes by triggering your (smart) heating to go on or off.
On the top of the Echo Plus are similar controls and seven far-field microphones. Combined with beam-forming technology and noise cancellation, Amazon says the Plus can hear you from any direction-even while music is playing.
What is the Echo Flex?
Flex is the latest addition to the range and is an inexpensive Echo which plugs directly into a wall socket. It's designed for hallways, garages or other areas where you still want to be able to talk to Alexa but don't need great sound quality. The built-in speaker is akin to a phone's speaker, so is fine for Alexa's voice but not music.
An LED lights up when Alexa is listening and it has a mic-mute button as well as the select button you'll find on top of the other Echo speakers.
It's the cheapest Echo at £24.99 / $24.99 and you can buy an Echo Flex from Amazon from November 2019.
What is the Echo Spot?
The Echo Spot is basically a smart alarm clock, and is quite likely to be phased out now that there are three Echo Show models.
One reason is the circular screen which isn't much cop for video (though it can show video from news briefings and security cameras) but also because it's expensive at £119.99/$129.99.
The 2.5in display that can show the time or allow you to make hands-free calls and video calls. Audio quality isn't amazing, but you can hook up an external speaker via Bluetooth or AUX.
What is the Echo Sub?
The Echo Sub is not in itself a smart speaker, but it wirelessly connects to other Echo devices to improve their bass output, with 100W from a down-firing 6in woofer. You'll need to pair it with a second-gen Echo or Echo Plus, or the new third-gen Echo. It can also work with a pair of any of those models for a 2.1 stereo sound system.
Unfortunately, it will only provide bass when streaming music to the Echo via Wi-Fi, and won't work for streaming music over Bluetooth from your phone or using the aux input.
It costs £119.99 / US$129.99.
For the best prices see Best Echo Deals.
What is the Echo Look?
A hands-free camera and style assistant, the Echo Look can ensure you are always looking at your best.
Echo Look can take full-length selfies and video at request, allowing you to show off your wardrobe to your heart's content, or for personal use quickly and easily scroll through your outfits and pick out one to wear. The depth-sensing camera has built in LED lighting and computer vision-based background blur.
A dedicated companion app lets you see yourself from every angle, while Style Check can use a combination of machine learning and advice from fashionistas to let you know which outfit looks best.
What is Amazon Tap?
Currently US only, Amazon Tap is a $129.99 portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled speaker, providing users with Alexa functionality while on-the-go, and everything that comes with it including music streaming support, smart home support and even the ability to order a pizza from Dominos (in the US, anyway!).
However, while the Tap provides Alexa functionality, the real focus is on the audio quality - it features dual stereo speakers with Dolby processing, allowing for high-quality vocals and deep bass. It was also designed to provide users with 360 degree sound projection, providing users with omni-directional audio.
It's small and lightweight making it the ideal travel companion, and the 9-hour battery life should serve most users well.
Can Amazon Echo hear me while music is playing?
Yes. Amazon Echo has seven mics hidden inside and around the edges of the speaker, which use beam-forming tech and enhanced noise cancellation, so it'll hear you no matter how loud it is and where you're sitting.
That's the theory, anyway. In practice, Alexa can't always hear you when the music is loud and you might have to turn it down a bit manually before she'll respond.