CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Explainer Smart Home

Which Amazon Echo device should you buy?

If you're looking for a speaker you can control with your voice, you now have lots of options. Which Alexa-enabled smart speaker is right for you?

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Editors' Note: This piece was originally published on March 16, 2017. It's been entirely updated to reflect the overhauled lineup of Echo devices.

At this point, maybe you've seen enough commercials that you're ready to give Amazon's Alexa a try for yourself. Or, with the holidays coming up, you want to give the gift of a voice-activated digital speaker to a family member or friend. Whatever the case, you're ready to buy an Amazon Echo ($80 at Amazon.com). (Here's everything you need to know about the Amazon Echo and Alexa.)

When the Echo first launched in 2014 you only had one option. Now, Amazon offers more than half a dozen smart speakers with its digital assistant Alexa built-in. That's a lot to pick from, and it doesn't even take into account the growing variety of third-party devices that also offer Alexa as an assistant.

How are you supposed to choose between the Amazon Echo, the Amazon Echo Dot, the second-gen Echo Dot, the Amazon Tap ($100 at Amazon.com), the second-gen Echo and the Echo Show ($230 at Amazon.com)? What are the differences between the devices? Well, we're here to help you sort through your options and pick the perfect Echo device for yourself, or choose the right one to get as a gift for your tech loving family member.

Catch up on the Echo

Let's start with the basics. All of the Amazon Echo devices have a digital assistant named Alexa built in. All fit into a relatively new category of device called the smart speaker that the original Amazon Echo popularized back in 2014. Since then, Amazon and Alexa have gained competition, primarily from Google Home ($129 at Dell Home) and Google Assistant. For this article, we'll focus on picking between Alexa devices, but check out our Google Home review if you're looking for an alternative.

Since all of Amazon's Echo devices have Alexa built in, they have essentially the same core of features. You also use them all in essentially the same way: You talk to them. Say the wake word (which is "Alexa" by default,) and you can ask you smart speaker to play music, control your smart home, search the internet, set a reminder or even make a call. Alexa's a very capable assistant, and Amazon regularly adds new Alexa features.

If you have more than one Echo device, you can set them all up from the same app -- the Amazon Alexa app. You also don't have to worry about multiple devices hearing your command; with Amazon's own products, only the closest speaker will respond. For more, check out our favorite Alexa skills, the list of smart home products that work with Alexa and everything Alexa can do.

Narrow your options

Echo devices

Amazon's Echo lineup.

CNET

Since you'd probably have trouble finding an original Amazon Echo or an original Amazon Echo Dot, go ahead and cross those off of your list. Don't worry -- the second-gen Echo and second-gen Dot are better and less expensive than the originals, so you're not missing anything. That said, if you're reading this and have an older Echo or Dot, don't feel obliged to ditch it for the newer model. Alexa still works the same on all of Amazon's speakers.

Next, we weren't big fans of the Echo Show. It's big, bulky and expensive at $230. It's essentially an Amazon Echo with a screen, but it doesn't make great use of that screen. If you really want to make video calls with Alexa, it's worth considering. It's not bad, but it's not as good as the rest of the lineup.

For the time being, I'm leaving the Echo Spot ($130 at Amazon.com) out too, as the little Echo device with a screen isn't out yet, so we haven't reviewed it. Head here for more details on the Spot.

Your options

With the older generations out, the Echo Spot in waiting and the Echo Show on the bench, the list of possibilities is somewhat more manageable:

  • Amazon Echo (Second Generation) -- The refreshed flagship smart speaker, the new look Echo is only $100 versus the $180 original. It's smaller, comes in different colors and connects to your existing sound system through Bluetooth or a 3.5mm cable.
  • Amazon Echo Dot (Second Generation) -- Like an Echo with the speaker chopped off, the Echo Dot offers all of the same smarts in a much more compact body. Only $50, the Dot also plugs into your own speakers or connects with them through Bluetooth.
  • Amazon Echo Plus ($150 at Amazon.com) -- The current-gen speaker that looks the most like the original Echo. The $150 Plus doubles as a smart home hub with a Zigbee radio that allows it to talk to your connected gadgets directly.
  • Amazon Tap -- An Echo device with a battery, the $130 Tap fits Alexa into a portable Bluetooth speaker.
  • Amazon Echo Look ($200 at Amazon.com) -- If you want your smart speaker to give you fashion advice, the $200 Amazon Echo Look fits the bill. Combining Alexa and a camera, the Look takes full body selfies at your command. Dress up for it and take a pic, and it will combine info from real stylists with its artificial intelligence to help you choose between two outfits.

Our favorite

new-echo-dot-product-photos-1.jpg

The second-gen Dot is the best of the bunch. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

If you don't care about extras and just want to have an Alexa device of your very own, go with the Amazon Echo Dot. It's roughly half the price or less of the other Echo devices and offers all of the same Alexa goodness.

Pick the Echo Dot if...

  • You want to save money. You still get Alexa, and you save $50 or more over every other Echo device.
  • You don't care about music. If you just want Alexa, the better speakers on the other Echo devices don't matter. The Dot's speakers are serviceable enough so you can clearly hear Alexa respond to your commands.
  • You really care about music. None of the Amazon devices have great built-in sound quality. The Dot lets you connect to your existing sound system with a cable or with Bluetooth. You'll still have the full range of Alexa controls and customized sound fit for an audiophile.

The Echo Dot won our Editors' Choice for a reason. It took everything we loved about the Echo and made it more versatile and affordable. That said, the rest of the lineup has merits too, especially if you're looking for something specific.

Pick the Amazon Tap if…

  • You want a versatile Bluetooth speaker. It's not the best Bluetooth speaker for the price in terms of sound quality. But because of Alexa, the Tap's functionality is in a different league than the competition. Note that without an internet connection, Alexa doesn't work. But the Tap will connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot.
  • You spend lots of time on your patio or in your garage. With the Tap, you can bring Alexa with you while you work without needing to find a plug.
  • You have a big house. You might decide you want multiple Echo devices for complete coverage, but to get started with Alexa, you can bring the Tap with you as you move from room to room.
amazon-tap-product-photo-4.jpg

The Amazon Tap.

Chris Monroe/CNET

If portability is important to you, the Tap now offers all of the hands-free convenience of the Echo in a battery powered form. You used to need to hit a button to give it a command, but now you can turn on an always-listening microphone, just like with the rest of the Echo devices. Leave it on the charging stand when you're not on the go, and you'll get the always-listening Echo experience without having to worry about battery life.

Pick the Echo Plus if…

  • You want to start automating your home. The Zigbee antenna built into the Echo Plus will allow you to find smart lightbulbs, locks and sensors to buy, without needing to worry about getting a separate hub. Most small connected devices won't talk directly to your router. They tend to be battery powered, and Wi-Fi takes up a lot of battery, so they use a low frequency signal such as Zigbee. Normally, you then need a hub such as the one from SmartThings or Wink to translate that Zigbee signal for your router. With the Echo Plus, you can forego the extra piece of equipment. Hubs tend to cost $50 or more.
  • You already have a smart home setup, but no longer want the hassle of a separate hub.

The hub functionality is the biggest reason to consider the hub over the others. If that doesn't interest you, feel free to cross the Echo Plus off of your list.

Pick the Echo Look if…

amazon-echo-look-product-photos-6

The Echo Look.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET
  • You want fashion advice. Like the Echo Plus, this one's pretty specialized, so you can easily skip it if its main feature doesn't interest you. The Look is worth considering if you do want to take full-body selfies when picking your outfits and you want reliable, automated help choosing what to wear. 

Pick the Amazon Echo if…

  • You're willing to pay more for better sound quality. The 2017 Amazon Echo sounds much better than the Dot, which has sound quality comparable to your cell phone's speakers. The Amazon Echo is the device for you if you want an Alexa speaker that sounds good on its own and can also plug into your speakers. It might not be the best Echo device in terms of value, but the 2017 version of the speaker is the most versatile device in the lineup.
Now Playing: Watch this: The new, cheaper Amazon Echo is more tempting than ever
2:16

Believe it or not, the actual Amazon Echo does deserve to be this low on a list of Echo devices. It's not specialized like the Tap, Look or Plus. It's not as affordable as the Dot, and it offers all of the same features. That said, the new Echo looks great and it now connects to your own speaker system as well -- either through a cable or Bluetooth, just like the Dot.

Final thoughts

If you're still overwhelmed, take a deep breath. Alexa is an awesome smart assistant, and you'll get to take advantage of the digital assistant's ever growing lineup of abilities regardless of which Echo device you pick. This is one of those fun choices for which there isn't really a wrong answer.