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Explainer Smart Speakers & Displays

Which Amazon Echo speaker should you buy?

If you're looking for an Alexa device you can control with your voice, you have a lot of options.

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There are seven main Alexa speakers to choose from. Which one is right for you?

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Whether you want a voice assistant to deliver local traffic and weather reports, play music and podcasts, control your connected devices -- or all of the above -- Amazon has a smart speaker for you. We're focusing here on the Echo devices with built-in Alexa voice capabilities. Here's the current lineup:

  • Amazon Echo -- The $100 Echo is the second-gen version of the first-ever Alexa smart speaker.
  • Amazon Echo Dot -- The $50 Echo Dot is a great entry-point into voice-enabled smart home control.
  • Amazon Echo Look -- The $100 Echo Look analyzes your outfits and helps you decide what to wear. 
  • Amazon Echo Plus -- The $150 Echo Plus has a built-in Zigbee radio so you can connect even more devices.
  • Amazon Echo Show -- The $230 Echo Show comes with a 10-inch screen so you can see security camera footage.
  • Amazon Echo Show 5 -- The $90 Echo Show 5 has a 5.5-inch screen and a camera with a built-in privacy cover.
  • Amazon Echo Spot -- The $130 Echo Spot may have a smaller screen, but it works just like the Echo Show and the Echo Show 5.

Keep scrolling to see your options and to figure out which one makes the most sense for you. 

Read moreWhat is Alexa? 

Echo catch-up

Let's start with the basics. All of the Amazon Echo devices we're going to discuss below come with a built-in digital assistant named Alexa. Since the first-gen Echo speaker was introduced back in 2014, Amazon and Alexa have gained competition, primarily from Google Home ( $69 at Walmart) and Google Assistant. For this article, we'll focus on picking between Amazon-brand Alexa devices, so you should check out this Google Home speaker comparison post if you're looking for alternatives to Alexa. 

Since all of Amazon's Echo devices have the Alexa voice assistant built in, they essentially share the same core 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 your 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.

The Echo Show and Echo Spot devices also have integrated screens so you can see live security camera feeds and generally do a bit more than a standard Echo speaker. 

And, 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.

Disclosure: CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Pick the Echo if…

  • You're willing to pay more for better sound quality. 

The Amazon Echo is twice the price of the Echo Dot, but it might be worth it if you plan to play music and podcasts regularly. The Echo Dot has solid audio, but there's a clear difference between the Echo's dual Dolby speakers and the Echo Dot's 1.6-inch speaker.  

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Pick the Echo Dot if...

  • You want an affordable Echo speaker.

The Echo Dot is a great way to get started with voice control. At just $50, it isn't a massive investment and it's easy to set up and use. And, like the Echo Spot, the Echo Dot is a solid option if you want a smart speaker, but don't want it to take up much space in your house. 

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Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Pick the Echo Look if…

  • 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.

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Chris Monroe/CNET

Pick the Echo Plus if…

  • You want to start automating your home. 

The Zigbee radio built into the Echo Plus allows you to find smart lightbulbs, locks and sensors to buy, without needing to worry about buying a separate hub from SmartThings or Wink. 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.

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Pick the Echo Show if...

  • You want a smart speaker with a decent-size screen.

The second-gen Amazon Echo Show has a 10-inch screen so you can pull up live feeds of compatible home security cameras -- and much more. It makes the most sense in a central location in your home -- either the kitchen or the living room, as it has all of the same Alexa functionality, combined with the integrated screen for video calls, watching videos and more. 

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Amazon

Pick the Echo Show 5 if...

  • You want a smart display with a built-in privacy cover.

The new Amazon Echo Show 5 has a 5.5-inch screen, positioning it as a direct competitor to the 7-inch Nest Hub display. But while the Nest Hub was designed sans camera, the Echo Show 5 has one, along with a built-in camera privacy cover. That won't allay everyone's privacy concerns, but it does show an effort on Amazon's part to address them in their smart home devices.

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Taylor Martin/CNET

Pick the Echo Spot if...

  • You want a smart speaker with a screen, but don't have tons of space.

The Spot has a smaller screen than the Echo Show, but don't discount it right away. This cute Alexa speaker takes up less real estate, so it would work well on a nightstand -- or any other room where you want a built-in screen but can't accommodate the larger Echo Show. 

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.