Amazon Echo Input review: Make any speaker an Alexa speaker for $35

The Good The Echo Input will connect to just about any speaker or audio setup, adding in full Alexa voice controls. In our tests, the microphones heard us just as well as the mics in other Echo devices, even at a distance.

The Bad It's hard to recommend the Input over the often-on-sale Echo Dot, which does everything the Input does and features a speaker of its own, too.

The Bottom Line This is a sensible addition to the Alexa lineup, but it's not as good a value as the Echo Dot.

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7.5 Overall
  • Features 9
  • Usability 8
  • Design 5
  • Performance 8

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.

Ry Crist/CNET

Alexa's ear

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.

The Input is small, skinny and unassuming.

Ry Crist/CNET

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.