Alexa seems to be everywhere. In early 2019, Alexa's 100 million units around the world (and counting), it has over 15,000 "skills" and is perhaps the first name you think of when a digital assistant comes in mind (which is some really bad news for Siri).
If you haven't tried Alexa yet, you may be interested in downloading one of Amazon's many Echo devices, or the growing number of Alexa-ready speakers manufactured by other companies. At this time, there are many options that everyone does a little different things and gives Alexa a little different skills. Here are the differences between them and why you might want to choose one over the other.
If you want a speaker
If the most important thing you want from an Alexa device is a loud, clear speaker to play music and podcasts, you have many alternative. For most homes, the Amazon Echo (the petition, the image above) is the way to go. Echo is based on being a smart speaker, and before Alexa became well-known in doing all sorts of things, was a firm speaker to listen to music was what the echo excelled.
Now in its second iteration Echo is still not the best speaker you can buy (but at $ 100 it is now far cheaper than its $ 180 predecessor). It is difficult to do much better at this price point, but spending a little more is wise if pure sound quality is all you are looking for. It may not be an echo, but Sonos One has Alexa voice recognition, and it sounds great for $ 199.
For something smaller and cheaper, but not less smart, Amazon Echo Dot (third gene, picture above). The latest version has an improved design, it can be combined for a surprisingly immersive experience, and best of all, it's really cheap. It is sold for $ 49, but it is usually found for less. Amazon and other dealers often run a "buy two for $ 50" promotion for this model.
If you already have speakers that you like, Amazon's Echo Input can make them smarter without much extra costs. For a maximum of $ 35 (it is usually discounted), it is connected via Bluetooth or with its 3.5mm cable, and the built-in microphone provides the same capabilities as an Amazon Echo.
Whatever you buy, a speaker with Alexa always listens to his cue to take commands, answer questions, and drive thousands of skills so you can read the weather or the news or have it rent you a cab. It can also use Alexa's call and messaging system, which lets you send voice messages to some of the other Echo devices.
If you want a screen
Sometimes you actually want to read the news, watch a video or see the ingredients in a recipe. This is what the Echo Show is for.
Echo Show takes the common echo voice-first approach to Alexa and tries to give it all a simple interface so you can look at the information presented as well. This is great in cases where there is a lot to look at, such as your calendar, detailed weather information or instructions.
There are new things that the screen can be used for. It can play YouTube (though it is a ham-slice experience, thanks to a splash between Amazon and Google) and Amazon Prime videos. If you know someone else with an Echo Show or any other device running the Alexa app, you can video chat with them. Like the traditional echo, Alexa always listens to commands here.
As you may have expected, the $ 229 Echo Show is more expensive than any other Echo, but it's not your only option if you're looking for an echo with a monitor. Amazon's Echo Spot is a spherical smart screen that is smaller, shaped like a bedside alarm clock and filled with almost all Show features – the camera and everything. It's also cheaper, at $ 129. There are compromises here, but no one is unexpected. Compared to the larger show, Spot's smaller screen and sound performance match the lower price.
If you want something a little different
Fortunately, Amazon lets other companies build Alexa on their products. So if you are interested in Echo devices but don't think they are perfect for you, there are many other places to look at. Here are some of them:
- Lenovo Smart Tabs, Android tablets that are effectively converted into an eco competition when docked
- Amazon Echo Auto, an in-car echo designed to use remote field microphones to make the experience better than your phone can give
- Big Mouth Billy Bass, an animatronic fish that comes to life when you call Alexa through an Amazon Echo and angles while playing music through Amazon Music
Updated 4:51 ET, Thursday, January 24: The Alexa ecosystem for hardware has changed quite a bit, so we have updated our buying advice based on what is currently available.