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).
The Echo Dot and the Tap also do things that the Echo can't do. Though the Echo now lets you pair with external speakers over Bluetooth, the Echo Dot can connect with an external speaker setup via Bluetooth or via auxiliary cable, thanks to a line in jack.
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.
All of that is to say nothing of the competition (or for that matter, of third party Alexa gadgets like Triby and Fabriq). The Google Home smart speaker is one viable alternative that's already available, and another big one might be on the way if you believe rumors of a Siri-powered Echo competitor from Apple.
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.