The success of Amazon’s Echo smart home and music playing device, even though the company hasn’t given out sales figures, has driven the company to release new cheaper models, to expand its smart home play.
The new Echo Dot and Amazon Tap make the Alexa voice control experience more portable and reduce the startup cost. While Apple and Microsoft fudge about with weak devices like Apple TV or nebulous Alljoyn support, Amazon has a product that is helping regular consumers get into smart homes as they discover the ever growing features that the Echo family offers.
Still only on sale in the United States, these new devices debuted with a Super Bowl advert to help drive interest and should be hot sellers as families start to smarten up their homes. It is currently only available to Prime subscribers. That’s as Amazon does another low-quantity soft launch to test any bugs and get early feedback before a wider launch.
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Key Features of the Echo Dot
Retailing for around $90 (check here for the latest pricing), the new Echo Dot is a smaller, slightly feature-reduced version of the original Echo.
- Hands-Free Voice Control: It offers the same hands-free, voice controlled interaction with a clever array of microphones for far-field voice recognition.
- Small Speakers: Unlike its big brother, it uses only a small speaker, so most users will need to connect the Echo Dot to speakers using an audio cable or a Bluetooth connection, and add voice-control to your home stereo system. The smaller speakers means it can be used as an alarm clock or similar device.
- Requires Mains Power: While the Echo Dot is pretty small at 1.5 inches tall and 3.3 inches wide, it still requires mains power to run.
- Intuitive Controls: The top half of the puck acts as a volume ring and there is a microphone off button on the top to shush the device. Inside is a microphone array to pick up user voices, the glowing light ring indicates when Dot is working.
Pros of the Amazon Echo Dot
- Functionally Extends Range of Echo: Amazon is promoting the Echo Dot as a useful assistant for any room in the home. In the kitchen it can be used to help order essentials, pizza or other takeaway food. In the living room it can be your media buddy, helping provide services like Pandora, Spotify and so on.
- Gradually Educates User: Promoting voice interaction, the Echo Dot is helping consumers get used to the idea that they can talk to technology and that the Alexa service can provide meaningful, smart responses and help with practical benefits to your life.
- Can Detect Voice Over Music: Borrowing some of the features of the larger Echo, it can detect a voice even if there’s music playing and will use Amazon’s cloud service to process what you say and provide a response.
- Relatively Proven Technology: Since the Alexa technology is proven, it works very well and plugging it into your home stereo gives your music a boost over what the original Echo could provide, borrowing a move from Google’s latest Chromecast dongle.
- App Compatibility: Alongside the Echo Dot, you can make use the Alexa iOS or Android app to initially connect services. Since it is not easy to interact with Echo Dot to find out about updates and new skills, the app is pretty essential to finding out about improved features.
- Plays Well with Others: It can also help link the likes of WeMo, Philips Hue, SmartThings, Insteon, ecobee, and other smart home services.
Cons of the Amazon Echo Dot
- Only Available for Amazon Prime Users: Currently, Echo Dot can only be ordered by Amazon customers with an Echo device using the voice ordering service. That limits who can buy it to a tiny fraction of Amazon customers. While that may be an annoyance for now, expect a wider rollout later in the year and a major drive to attract new customers.
- No Battery Option: Given its size you’d expect a battery option for the Dot, that’s where its new sister product the Amazon Tap comes in (see comparison of the two here), acting as a portable speaker. For those on a budget, this gives users an odd choice, but the overall goal seems to be for users to have these devices all over the place. The Tap will work outside, but still needs WiFi to function, so these are still very much around the home devices.
- Relies on Internet: Of course, if your Internet goes down, then you are reduced to owning a pretty but ineffective puck, and Amazon’s rivals are working on more powerful devices that don’t require access to the cloud.
- Overkill? Functionally, Amazon Echo Dot is a clever and useful variant on the original Echo, but users might start wondering just how many devices Amazon expects users to own. And, of course, there’s the added cost of your Amazon Prime subscription and the all-too-easy risk of going on a voice activated shopping spree, as these things are made ever easier.
Final Take – Does the Echo Dot Offer Enough?
The power of Alexa is a genuinely positive driving force for smart home technology and personalized digital assistants. Now available in new forms, it will help drive consumer awareness of smart home technology generally.
It is easy to see the scenario: Someone buys an Echo Dot to play music through their stereo, then learns about smart lighting that can adapt to the mood of the music, then they learn about other smart home systems, all helping grow the market from this tiny device.
While those already running smart homes might not care or require an Echo Dot, it is still a powerful force for change that can help change how homes work and move how we interact with them from touchscreen to voice control.
For those reasons alone, and at the new lower cost of entry, there is a compelling argument for getting an Echo Dot (see special pricing here). Adding it into your smart home to see just how that future will look makes a lot of sense.
From there on out, Alexa should improve how smart homes function and the drive for things to “just work” will remove a lot of the issues that many of us have with layers of technology that are confusing and annoying for many.
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!