Alexa, what are you? Find out what the Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot and Echo Show actually do
You’ve heard people talking about them. You may have even one seen of them. But you’re too embarrassed to ask: “What does the Amazon Echo do?”
No judgement here. Well, maybe a little given our review explains it pretty clearly and you should go read that, but if you just want the facts without the critique, you’ve come to the right place.
Before we begin, it’s worth mentioning that Amazon has expanded its Echo range of devices since the original’s launch, and we’ve seen a big overhaul this last year alone. For starters, a new pair of Alexa-powered speakers have entered the fray: there’s the Echo Show with a display plonked on the front, and the Echo Plus, a more smart home-focused variant of the original. The old Echo has also seen a bit of a design update too, but not much else.
That said, here’s what each of Amazon’s Echo devices does, including the Echo Show, Echo Dot and Echo Plus.
What does the Amazon Echo do anyway?
The Amazon Echo is a cylindrical speaker that looks like a typical part of the sound system. But while normal speakers just, uh, speak, the Amazon Echo listens too.
It’s listening specifically for voice commands, powered by its wake word “Alexa”. In its simplest form, this means you don’t have to manually pick out any song or album you want to listen to – you can just say “Alexa, play music by The Cure” and Robert Smith will be filling your living room with music in no time.
But there’s a bit more to it than that. Amazon Echo can be set up to know where you are, and have access to your calendar, making it a bit more useful. That way you can ask it specific things about your life: “Alexa, what does my day look like?” for example, or “Alexa, how is my commute looking?” In this way, you can get updates on the weather, your favourite sports team and a personalised flash news briefing.
Crucially, Echo works with a number of third-party developers to improve its abilities. You can set up different skills for it to work with over time, from the frivolous (“Alexa, tell me a cat fact”) to the potentially life-saving. It also works with a number of smart home devices, allowing you to check in with your Nest, or turn down the lights on your Philips Hue.
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But of course, it wouldn’t be an Amazon product if it wasn’t tied to the company’s own ecosystem. Yes, you can use it to buy products on the site – but you can also disable this, or PIN-protect it, to stop your children accidentally ordering stuff. And yes, this does happen.
What does the Echo Plus do?
Now you might be thinking, what’s the difference between the original Echo and its fresh-faced Plus counterpart? Well, the Echo Plus is much the same as before. Again, it’s controlled by your voice, can play music and cast video to your Fire TV Stick, control your smart-home devices and act as your own personal digital assistant.
It’s a larger device than the dinkier Echo 2, with a handful of new features including improved speaker drivers, a better microphone and a smattering of new smart-home capabilities. The latter of which is its biggest, and most crucial, difference.
Effectively, this extra smart home connectivity allows you to connect to and manage all of your ZigBee-compatible lightbulbs, thermostats, security cameras and so on, without the need for an extra smart home hub. The Echo Plus discovers all of these devices automatically, without the need to add discrete Alexa Skills.
With the Plus’ greater focus on music, Alexa can also now play music across different devices in various rooms – similar to what Google has been doing with Home – so long as they’re all connected to the same network.
What does the Echo Dot do?
Pretty much the same thing, only it doesn’t have a very good speaker built into it. It’s fine for voice commands, and podcasts at a stretch, but it’s designed to connect to your existing home system – either via cable or Bluetooth.
The big advantage it has over its bigger brother is price. While the Amazon Echo sells for £150, the Echo Dot is just £50.
What does the Echo Show do?
Lastly is the Echo Show, and while it might look different, there’s nothing too complicated to get your head around. The Amazon Echo Show is every bit an Echo speaker but with a 7in, 1,024 x 600 touchscreen slapped on the front. It isn’t cylindrical in shape – that wouldn’t make much sense, after all – but it’s as multi-talented as any of Amazon’s smart speakers and it works just as well.
With the screen, and the 5-megapixel camera above it, the Echo Show transforms into a hands-free calling device, able to talk to other Alexa-enabled smartphones and devices. The screen can also display feeds from your home security cameras, and give you some video feedback on whatever’s currently playing. It also has its own dedicated Alexa Skills, such as Jeopardy!
If you’re not sold on Amazon Echo, you can try Google Home – which does the same, only with more Googly goodness.