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Smart Home

Echo Dot brings Alexa's voice controls to whatever speakers you want

Amazon's teeny-tiny Echo follow-up ditches the speaker and cuts the cost of Alexa in half.

The Amazon Echo Dot.

James Martin/CNET

Chop off the top inch and a half of the Amazon Echo smart speaker, and you'd be looking at the new Amazon Echo Dot, announced this morning. At $90, the Echo Dot is half the price of the original Amazon Echo, but just as smart.

Like with the original Echo, you'll control things by talking to Alexa, Amazon's always-on, always-listening virtual assistant. Like the original Echo, Dot connects to the cloud to stream music, read the day's headlines, or control your connected home.

The difference with Dot is that Echo's full-size speaker is gone. Instead, you'll hook it up to your own audio setup, either via Dot's line out jack or Bluetooth.

That means that you'll be able to use Alexa with whatever speakers you want -- a great solution if you've already invested in an audio setup. Plug in Dot, and you'll be able to ask Alexa to stream music from Amazon Prime Music, Pandora or Spotify. You'll also have access to internet radio and podcasts through iHeartRadio and TuneIn, as well as audiobook support from Audible and the Kindle Store.

Dot also features tiny built-in speakers that put out about as much audio as your phone does. That's obviously not enough to fill a room with sound the way that Echo can, but it would work as an additional control point for smart homes anchored by Alexa.

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Those smart home controls are a growing part of Alexa, and thus Echo and Echo Dot's, feature set. Along with existing support for Philips Hue and Lifx smart bulbs, Belkin WeMo's smart switches, and connected home platforms like SmartThings, Wink and Insteon, Amazon is set to roll-out a newly announced set of third-party developer tools that'll help Alexa work with smart thermostats. That includes the Nest Learning Thermostat, which hasn't worked directly with Alexa before now.

Open up the Alexa app and you'll also find a growing number of "Skills," which are basically the apps of Amazon's voice platform. These include additional smart home device controls, voice-activated games, branded integrations from third-parties ranging from Uber to Domino's, and numerous other Alexa tricks and gimmicks. If it works with Echo, it works with Dot, too.

You can connect Echo Dot with your existing audio setup via Bluetooth, or using the Dot's line out jack.

James Martin/CNET

Like the Echo, you'll need to keep the Echo Dot plugged in. For a wireless, more portable take on the Alexa-powered smart speaker, there's Amazon Tap, the other Echo offshoot unveiled by the online mega-retailer this morning.

For now, Amazon Echo Dot is an Amazon Prime exclusive, and, in a bit of an odd move, you'll only be able to pre-order one by asking Alexa. You'll only find Amazon's virtual assistant with the Echo smart speaker and with the Amazon Fire TV -- if you don't own either one, your dreams of Dot will have to wait.

Amazon wouldn't say how long the Alexa-only pre-order period will last, but said that the Echo Dot is expected to start shipping at the end of March.

Like the Echo, the Echo Dot will only be available in the US, though an Amazon representative tells us that expanding internationally is "super important," adding, "we expect over time to go everywhere Amazon is." For what it's worth, that $90 price comes out to about £65, or roughly AU$125.

At any rate, we'll look forward to testing the Echo Dot out in the CNET Smart Home, where the Amazon Echo already plays a central role.

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