Just like the continuous stream of new Kindle models, there seems to be an ever-growing list of Amazon Echo devices to choose from. There’s the Echo Dot, the Echo Show — there are even Echo Buds! Some of them have numbers attached to their name, and they all have multiple generations. It’s a real whirlwind — which is why we’re here to help pull you out of that Echo chamber and find the best Amazon Echo device (or devices!) for you and your home.
What is an Amazon Echo device?
Before we try to make sense of all your different options, let’s just define what an Amazon Echo device is, was, and has become. When this line of devices first launched, the Echo was a tall cylinder that was essentially a speaker that responded to your voice commands, thanks to the artificial intelligence of Alexa. This is still the core of today’s Amazon Echo devices, with some still offering just audio and others offering both auditory and visual content. Today’s Echo devices also now come in many different shapes and sizes, and Alexa’s capabilities have greatly expanded.
Are Alexa and Echo the same thing?
Many people tend to use the terms “Echo” and “Alexa” interchangeably, but even though their functions are deeply intertwined, they’re actually quite different things. Amazon Alexa is the artificial intelligence system that responds to your questions and acts on your voice commands (and all the myriad other things that Alexa can do — but we’ll get to that in a minute). On the flip side, Echo devices are simply the conduit for bringing that service to you. That’s why Echo devices take on so many different forms, from spherical speakers to video screens to earbuds you can take on the go.
What is Alexa and how does it work?
Regardless of the Echo device you choose, its built-in access to Alexa’s artificial intelligence allows you to do all of the following — hands-free — simply by asking Alexa a question or voicing a command:
Control your smart home technology from one central hub
Access your calendars and set reminders
Get answers to any question you can think of
Make phone calls (and video calls with an Echo Show)
Get the latest weather and news
Shop on Amazon
Stream music (and video on an Echo Show)
But honestly, that just barely scratches the surface; there are more than 100,000 Alexa skills that you can utilize via an Echo device, and Amazon is always adding more.It should also be noted that Alexa and Echo devices are built with many layers of privacy protection these days. You can turn the mic off if you don’t want Alexa listening, and you can also view and delete your voice recordings. If your Echo device has a camera, the latest models also include a shutter to cover it up when not in use.
What can an Echo do?
All Echo devices are designed to utilize Amazon Alexa’s AI superpowers — it’s just a matter of which form you want your Echo to take. Depending on the device you choose, your Echo may simply play audio, whether that’s music, phone calls, calendar reminders, news alerts, etc. These devices are known simply as the Echo or Echo Dot. Amazon Echo Show devices, on the other hand, can do all of the aforementioned audio stuff, but they also boast colorful displays of varying sizes to help you visually manage your day, make video calls, and stream entertainment too.Most Echo devices are designed to act as smart hubs within your home, but some Echo devices can also be taken on the road. These types of Echo devices include Echo Buds (Amazon’s foray into the wireless earbud space) and Echo Auto, which brings hands-free Alexa functionality to the car.
What smart home devices work with Echo?
According to Amazon, there are more than 30,000 smart home devices marked with the “Works with Alexa” badge — and if something works with Alexa, it works with Echo too. There’s a whole host of smart home items you can connect to your Echo device, including light bulbs, switches, locks, thermostats, fans, and smart plugs that can turn pretty much any electronic device into a “smart home” device.Amazon’s own brands (like Blink and eero) make a ton of smart home devices that will link up seamlessly, but Echo devices — especially those with a built-in Zigbee smart home hub — should be able to connect to any brand of smart home device fairly easily with the command “Alexa, discover my devices.” (To be clear, though, Zigbee isn’t required for connectivity; it’s just a global wireless radio communication standard that makes the communication among devices a little more seamless, even if they’re made by different manufacturers.)Echo devices also work exceptionally well with each other, as you should expect. You can link as many of them together as you want, and you can even have them play the same music at the same time for a whole-home audio experience. Or, perhaps more practically, you can make announcements throughout the home by using the phrase “Alexa, announce” or “Alexa, tell everyone.” This allows all connected Echo devices to act as an intercom so you can let your kids know dinner is ready, for example, even if they’re in multiple different rooms across the house.
Is there a monthly fee for Echo devices?
Possibly one of the best perks of purchasing an Amazon Echo device is that there’s no monthly fee to use it. It’s your entry point into Alexa’s incredible AI and — aside from the purchase price of the Echo device itself — she and her ever-growing list of skills are totally free to use. The only reason you might encounter a paywall while using your Echo device is if you’re asking Alexa to access another service, such as a streaming music service. (And yes, that includes Amazon Music; you may be prompted to start a Music Unlimited subscription if you try to access a song that’s not free. Can’t win ’em all, I guess.)
When is the best time to buy an Echo device?
Echo devices are some of Amazon’s keystone products, so you can expect to see their prices drop accordingly during Amazon Prime Day events, as well as other big shopping holidays like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. You may also see Echo devices go on sale throughout the year, especially around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and Back-to-School season.
Does only Amazon sell Echo devices?
You can find Amazon Echo devices and accessories for sale at retailers other than Amazon, such as Best Buy, Target, Staples, and even The Home Depot. However, you may not have access to as wide of a selection of styles and colors as you would if you shopped directly through Amazon. You’re also not likely to score the best price when shopping from a store other than Amazon, mostly because of the aforementioned sale periods when prices drop dramatically.