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

The Echo Input offers easy wireless connections with Bluetooth speakers. You can even switch between multiple audio sources in the Alexa app.

Screenshot by Ry Crist/CNET

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.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The verdict

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.