PRICE WHEN REVIEWED
Alexa is a voice-activated assistant that's built into Amazon's Echo speakers and - more recently - its Fire tablets.
In fact, Amazon has made the digital assistant available to developers to use in their own devices. CES 2017 was crammed with Amazon Alexa gadgets, but among the cheapest is still Amazon’s own Echo Dot.
AMAZON ECHO DOT: PRICE
You can buy an Echo Dot for £49.99 from Amazon and it comes in black or white.
There are leather and fabric covers (£16.99 and £9.99 respectively) which give you a bigger range of colours. You can add these when ordering your Dot.
Technically this is the second-generation Echo Dot, but as this is the first available in the UK, the only reason you need to know there are two generations is to make sure any case you order fits properly.
The Dot is just over half the price of the latest Echo, which costs £89.99, and in many respects offers exactly the same set of features, and actually a couple more.
Amazon's family of Echo devices still holds 75% of the UK smart speaker market, according to an April 2018 survey published by YouGov.
AMAZON ECHO DOT: FEATURES AND DESIGN
The major difference, of course, is that the Dot does not have the large speaker of the Echo. It still has a built-in speaker, but of course doesn’t offer the same volume or quality of the big Echo.
The other difference is that the Dot doesn’t have a rotating ring on top. Instead, it has two volume buttons on top along with the microphone mute and multi-purpose button which are also present on the big Echo.
The Dot does have the same seven microphones and can hear you across the room, just like its big brother. It can also act as a Bluetooth speaker: pair it with your phone or tablet and you can play music wirelessly.
This Bluetooth capability also works the other way as you can use the Echo Dot as the source of audio and connect it to your own (louder) Bluetooth speaker. That’s one way to get higher quality sound from your Echo Dot, but it also has a standard 3.5mm minijack output for hooking up just about any powered speaker or hi-fi.
The big Echo has neither of these features.
The Dot’s built-in speaker is absolutely fine for Alexa as her voice is clear and loud enough. It’s also good for the Flash Briefing, which is a customisable news, podcast and weather update.
It falls down, of course, when you start playing music, but it’s no worse than many portable radios, so if you want to pop it on your bedside table or even in the kitchen it might be all you need.
And thanks to accessories such as the Ninety7 Vaux, you can upgrade the Dot's sound quality and make it battery powered at the same time.
AMAZON ECHO DOT: ALEXA
This is why the Dot is such good value: it can do everything the Echo can do as far as Alexa is concerned.
Alexa isn’t a match for the Google Assistant in the Google Home when it comes to answering general questions, but once you understand her strengths and weaknesses, you quickly know before you ask whether she’ll be any help.
For example, you can ask for definitions of words, distances between places, heights of mountains, even who is the oldest person alive. Alexa can also read out Wikipedia articles.
It’s the practical stuff at which Alexa is the best, such as setting timers, alarms, manging items on your to-do and shopping lists, playing music, checking if the train is late and turning on the lights. She can even handle reminders now.
Many of Alexa’s skills have to be enabled before they work, but this is a simple as browsing the ‘skills store’ and finding what you like.
New skills are added every week, and so Alexa grows more useful all the time. It’s frustrating if your smart thermostat or lights aren’t supported, but most of the popular brands have already added Alexa support.
This means you can say, “Alexa set the heating to 21 degrees” while you’re sat on your sofa without having to turn on your phone, launch an app and then make the adjustment. Put simply, it’s a lot faster to use your voice, and you can check your commute while your hands are busy brushing the kids’ teeth.
In August 2017, Amazon added the ability to play music across multiple Echos, so it's effectively now a multi-room system.
AMAZON ECHO DOT REVIEW: PRIME
Is the Echo Dot any use without an Amazon Prime subscription, though? The answer depends on whether you want to use your Echo Dot for music streaming. But don't forget you can use Spotify, TuneIn and other services through Alexa.
The standard Amazon Prime subscription includes Prime Music, but the selection is quite limited. You can upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited by paying £3.99 per month per Echo to get a similar size library to Spotify.
Having a Prime subscription will also enable you to order certain things via Alexa and even track their delivery, but frankly this isn’t a must-have feature. And because Alexa doesn’t care who’s speaking, it can be a bit dangerous when your kids work out they can ask Alexa to buy things – including digital music. Fortunately, you can disable this or set a four-digit PIN that must be spoken to authorise purchases.
The bottom line is that you don’t need a Prime subscription to use Alexa and it’s only the Amazon Music part that you’ll use via Alexa.
- Dimensions: 32 x 83.5 x 83.5 mm
- Weight: 163g
- Wireless: 802.11n dual-band with MIMO, Bluetooth A2DP and AVRCP
- Audio: built-in speaker designed for voice
- Warranty: 1 year