Amazon's cheapest Echo device adds Alexa smarts to any speaker with Bluetooth or an aux jack. But is it a better buy than the Dot?
If you have any interest in bringing Alexa into your home, the chances are good that you've already done so. After all, Amazon offers a broad selection of Echo speakers that are frequently on sale. In fact, right now, you can get a brand-new Echo Dot -- one of the highest-rated Echo devices to date -- for just $30. Earlier this month, you could get one for $24.
If that didn't get you to buy in, I'm not sure why the Echo Input would. Available now for $35 (£35, not yet available in Australia), the Input is a little cloud-connected coaster with the same sort of far-field microphones as the Dot -- but unlike the Dot, it lacks a speaker of its own. The idea is that you'll connect it to your own speakers via Bluetooth or the included auxiliary cable. Voila -- almost any speaker you like can be an Alexa smart speaker.
That's not a bad pitch, but it's not new, either. You can already connect Alexa to your existing audio setup in the exact same way with any other Echo speaker. That includes the Dot -- which, again, currently costs less, and features a pretty decent little speaker of its own, to boot. Even when the Dot's off sale and back at its normal price of $50, that's still just $15 more than the Input. That still seems like a better deal than the Input; at some point, you might want to move Alexa to another room that doesn't have an existing audio setup to connect with.
The true Input pitch might be to buy it bundled with a nice speaker that you've already got your eye on. Sure enough, Amazon's already going that route and offering fancy speakers from names like Marshall and Bang & Olufsen with the Input tossed in as a freebie. That's a good deal, and a decent value add for speakers like those -- but as for the Input itself, I think almost anyone interested in buying one would be better off just getting a Dot.
Take away the Echo Dot's built-in speaker and lower the cost a bit, and you've got the Echo Input. It's a small, thin little device -- essentially the same, puckish approach to design as the Dot, but more of an air hockey puck this time around.
Available in black or white, the Echo Input houses a quartet of far-field microphones designed to hear you say "Alexa" from across the room. It has just two buttons -- one to activate Alexa without saying the wake word, and another to mute the mic. If you want to adjust the volume, you'll need to do so using the controls on whatever speaker or audio setup you've got the Input hooked up to. Asking Alexa to control the volume won't do much if the speaker itself is turned all the way down.
On the side, you'll find a Micro-USB jack to keep the thing powered, along with the 3.5mm auxiliary jack that you'll use for wired connections with your audio gear. One additional point of note: the Input comes with a 3.5mm cable included. The Dot does not.
Unlike other Echo products, the Input doesn't have a ring of indicator lights that shine whenever Alexa is listening, thinking or speaking. Instead, you get a single, tiny point of light in the middle of the Input's top face.
That light isn't as easy to see as the light ring on the full-size Echo or Echo Dot, but Amazon helps account for this with an audio chime that plays whenever the Input hears you say the wake word. It's an optional feature across the Echo lineup, but with the Input, it comes turned on by default.
Couple that with the low profile and the all-black or all-white plastic design, and you're looking at Amazon's least conspicuous Echo device yet. Folks looking for something that'll blend right in on their AV shelf might appreciate that approach, but I'd have liked it if it was a little easier to see that activation light from across the room.
Speaking of across the room, the Input heard me just fine at a distance. I haven't cracked one open, but the mic array seems very similar to what you get with the Echo Dot, and it performed accordingly.
In a quiet space, the Input was able to hear me say the wake word at a normal speaking voice from over 30 feet away. With music playing in the background, I'd often need to raise my voice a little, especially at a distance. Keeping the Input several feet away from your speakers or TV will obviously help mitigate this to an extent.
Aside from the mics, there really wasn't much to test here. You'll pair it with your existing speakers using Bluetooth or the included 3.5mm cable, both of which worked fine. You can even switch between multiple Bluetooth connections in the Alexa app.
Once you've paired it, it offers the exact same Alexa features as other Echo speakers. You can ask it to play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio and Pandora, ask it for the weather or the day's headlines, ask it to set a cooking timer or add onions to your shopping list, ask it to control your Alexa-compatible smart home devices, ask it to run any of the tens of thousands of free Alexa skills... you get the idea.
You'll need to make sure that your speaker or audio setup is powered on. Amazon recommends following the manufacturer instructions to disable any sleep or auto shut-off functions if your speaker offers them. In addition, the Alexa app will send you a notification if the Input ever loses its connection with your audio setup, or if the speaker's volume is muted.
The Echo Input is a sensible addition to the Alexa lineup, but $35 is too much to spend on it, given that you can get an Echo Dot for $50. Along with doing everything the Input does, the Dot looks much nicer and adds in a speaker of its own, and it's easier to see the indicator lights from across the room. Put the two on a table next to each other, and the difference feels much greater than $15.
Still, it's a bit ridiculous that we've reached the point where spending $35 to bring one of the most popular and modern user interfaces into your home feels like too much. And, to Amazon's credit, the Input works as promised, bringing Alexa's full-featured intelligence to any audio setup with an auxiliary jack or a Bluetooth connection. There's not much to criticize here -- Amazon just boxed itself in by pricing the Echo Dot so low two years ago.