More and more people are purchasing smart speakers to upgrade their home experience. A smart speaker is a wireless speaker and voice command system that is combined with a virtual assistant. They are voice-activated to respond to requests to play music, answer questions, make calls, report weather, and activate connected smart home devices (such as turning on your lights upon request). They are very convenient to have and use, whether because you don't feel like getting up or your hands are full.
One thing some people report concern about when using smart speakers is privacy and security. While these devices have microphones that are always on and "listening," they only start recording once the trigger word is uttered to wake the speaker up, at which point the recording is then sent to the server for a response. There is a mute button to turn off the mic if you want additional privacy. Amazon uses encryption for extra security on its recordings. You can also turn on the "voice code" option so that you'll have to speak a 4-digit code any time you ask Alexa to make a purchase.
Amazon's smart speaker products are typically considered the best out there, so we wanted to take the time to break down the options and help you decide which purchase is right for you. We took into consideration a number of factors included price, speaker sound quality, and functions. Read on to learn more.
Best Overall for Price: Amazon Echo
The Amazon Echo 2nd Generation connects to the Alexa Voice Service. It measures 5.8 inches by 3.4 inches by 3.4 inches, and weighs 29 ounces – that's less than two pounds. The sound quality is better than the 1st Generation Echo but still not perfect. It has seven microphones so it can hear you, and reacts even when music is playing. You can use it to order items on Amazon, ask questions, provide information, and play music. You can use it to stream music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and more. It is not compatible with YouTube Red or with Google Play. You can use it to connect to other smart home devices such as lights, thermostats, door locks, cameras, televisions, and more, and you can easily shop compatible products on Amazon. Supported calendars include iCloud, Google, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Outlook.com. You can call almost anyone, and you can send voice or text messages to anyone using a supported Echo device or the Alexa app. The Drop-In feature lets you call between different rooms in your home, so no need to yell when dinner is ready. One thing to note in terms of privacy, however, is that you don't need to "answer" when someone drops in, though users will hear a chime when a drop-in call begins. You are able to limit the drop-in feature so you do have some control over this. You can also use it to listen to a Kindle or Audible book. New skills are constantly being added so there is always more to get out of your Amazon Echo. These skills range from games to guided meditations to giving you a rundown on the latest local or national news.
Easiest for Connecting Smart Home Devices: Amazon Echo Plus
The Amazon Echo Plus has improved sound compared to the Echo and Dot, though it is still not as good as a high-quality audio system. You can use it to listen to your favorite music, audiobooks, news briefs, podcasts, and more. It measures 9.2 inches by 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches, and weighs 33.6 ounces (so a bit over two pounds). The big benefit with the Echo Plus as compared to other Echoes is that it has a built-in hub for simple setup of compatible ZigBee smart home devices. With other Echoes, the connection is achieved with the smart home product's own smart home hub. You bypass the need for a standalone hub unit when you use the Echo Plus. As with other Echoes, you can use the Echo Plus to call people and personalize the settings to recognize your voice. For example, if you ask Alexa to "call Mom," it will recognize your voice and call your mother, even with multiple users at home. In the end, the Plus costs about $70 more than the Echo and doesn't offer many more features.
Best Budget Option with a Screen: Amazon Echo Spot
The Amazon Echo Spot is a compact, stylish smart speaker that connects to Alexa. It measures 4.1 inches by 3.8 inches by 3.6 inches, and weighs under a pound at just 14.8 ounces. It comes in a cute, spherical design that would look nice anywhere in your home. It does everything that the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Plus do, plus has video capability so you can see a video news flash briefing, watch the latest movie trailers, make video calls, and more. It has four microphones for voice detection. It has a 2.5 inch in diameter touch screen. When not specifically in use to watch a video, you can change the screen to a clock face. Video Drop-Ins are available, which could be good if you want to check on an ageing relative or see what your kids are up to. The mute for the microphone also disables the camera function for privacy. It comes with a 1 year warranty, with no option to extend.
Best for Video Capability: Amazon Echo Show
The Amazon Echo Show offers the same capabilities as the Amazon Echo Spot, however with a bigger screen and in a square-shaped design. It measures 7.4 inches by 7.4 inches by 3.5 inches and weighs 41 ounces (2.5 pounds). It is available in black or white. It features eight microphones – more than any of the other Echo devices. The Amazon Echo Show is the most expensive of the Amazon Echo devices with a $230 price tag. The touchscreen measures 7 inches, bigger than that of the Amazon Echo Spot, so it's easier to read recipes on the screen, make video calls, or watch news briefs. It has a 5-megapixel video camera. It comes with a 1 year limited warranty, as well as the option to add an extended warranty.
Buget Choice: Amazon Echo Dot
At just $39.99, the Amazon Echo Dot (2nd Generation) is a good budget choice for those looking to upgrade to a smart home. This small device measures 1.3 inches by 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches, and weighs just 5.7 ounces. It has seven microphones to detect your voice. Like the Amazon Echo, the Amazon Echo Dot connects to Alexa. The speaker is of course much smaller in the Dot, so if you're looking for an Alexa device with better sound quality then choose the Amazon Echo. If you do want to use the Dot to listen to music, we recommend that you connect it to a Bluetooth speaker. It is compatible with other smart home devices, so you can use it to turn on or off lights, switch on a fan, adjust thermostats, etc. Like the Amazon Echo, you know it is actively listening for your command when it lights up blue.