Honest question: Is the Amazon Echo still worth buying?
The Echo Dot is a much better bargain, the now-always-listening Amazon Tap adds portability for $50 less, and new options may be coming soon. So... is the original Echo smart speaker obsolete?
Ry CristSenior Editor / Reviews - Labs
Originally hailing from Troy, Ohio, Ry Crist is a writer, a text-based adventure connoisseur, a lover of terrible movies and an enthusiastic yet mediocre cook. A CNET editor since 2013, Ry's beats include smart home tech, lighting, appliances, broadband and home networking.
ExpertiseSmart home technology and wireless connectivityCredentials
10 years product testing experience with the CNET Home team
I've been bullish on Alexa since Amazon first introduced the voice-activated virtual assistant back in 2014. She hasn't disappointed me. Sales of the Amazon Echo smart speaker that houses her have been strong and steady, and she now has well over 10,000 third-party voice skills at her disposal, as well as an ever-growing list of compatible smart home gadgets. Make no mistake, the Echo is a certified smash hit, and it isn't showing any signs of slowing down.
That said, there's never been a worse time to buy one.
Hear me out. Since the Echo's debut, Amazon has introduced two offshoot products: the pint-size Echo Dot and the battery-powered Amazon Tap (currently available in the US only). Both offer the same full slate of Alexa functionality, and both cost less than the Echo's $180 asking price (£150 in the UK).
With the battery-powered Tap, you can pick it up and take it wherever you like -- and after a recent update, you can activate it with your voice just like you can with the Echo and the Echo Dot. That essentially makes it the same product as the Echo, but with an extra portability selling point and a price tag that's fifty bucks cheaper.
The simple truth is that the Echo is starting to get a bit long in the tooth. Aside from the steady roll-out of skills and the addition of an "ESP" feature that keeps multiple units from answering you all at once, the Echo hasn't seen any major updates since its release (unless you count the fact that it's available in white now). Compare that with the Echo Dot -- it arrived almost six months after the Echo did, yet it's already well into its second generation.
On top of that, there are strong signs that we'll see new Alexa hardware from Amazon this year, including the possibility of an Alexa camera and new Alexa devices that'll add in phone call and intercom capabilities. It isn't hard to think of other features that a second-gen Echo could bring to the table, either. Unprompted Alexa notifications have already been bandied about, and many are holding out hope for a way to sync multiple devices up for whole-home audio playback.
To be clear, Alexa is still a dominant market mover, and that isn't likely to change any time soon. But if you haven't picked up an Echo yet and you're tempted to do so now, consider waiting, or settling instead on a Tap or an Echo Dot. For now, both feel like much better choices.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Updated at 12:07 PM EST on 3/13/17 to reflect that the Echo can now connect with external speakers via Bluetooth.