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Amazon’s Echo has been a marketing success for the company, even though it doesn’t give out sales figures. More importantly the smart home speaker is introducing many buyers who initially picked it up as a music gadget to the world of interactive and smart technology thanks to its Alexa smart agent.
Along with the diminutive Amazon Echo Dot (see review), the company is expanding the range with the new portable Tap. Immediately, this solves some of the concerns or problems users had with the very static original Echo model.
However, when we look closer, what are the additional benefits and what’s missing from the slightly cheaper model, retailing for $50(For the latest prices and discounts, check here) less than its big sister?
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Amazon Tap is the ruggedized and portable version of the Echo, it makes a couple of compromises along the way, but instantly becomes a lot more useful than all the dumb portable speakers out there.
Packing in Dolby speakers, it should provide a better listening experience to most of them and it can add access to a world of information at the touch of the Tap button. Think of it like an oversize radio mike for your phone and you get the idea.
On the front is the microphone button, at the back is a power button and connector, plus a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi sync button. On top are the audio and track controls for music services.
As with Echo, the Tap will be an evolving device with new services added regularly, currently it mentions it can open your garage, but we’re sure plenty of other instructions will be available.
Being sold as a party/lifestyle gadget, you can take it out on the road and link it via your smartphone’s cellular connection to maintain access to your favorite music services.
The Tap also provides access to your local weather, news and other services. Available in black it comes with a range of colored carry cases to make it highly portable and protect it, offering white, black, blue, green, magenta and tangerine options.
The music services might sound pretty good on its own, but tap the Alexa button and you can still order a pizza, and find out other information. With up to nine hours active battery life, it can survive a weekend out in the wilds and even if there’s no mobile signal still provides the soundtrack to your exploring.
Amazon’s Echo was a brave move by the company to expand its range from being a popular online store to being a popular online information service that can also sell you things. It managed to perfectly capture the growing popularity of smart home technology with the change from owning to streaming audio.
The Echo got a full launch last year, and sticks in the headlines every month with new updates that add more smart home and information access features, plus further intelligence for every firmware update.
The original Echo consists of two speakers, a tweeter and woofer designed to provide 360 degree sound. It is not HiFi quality, but will do for most. You can play music from your smartphone or other device through it from pretty much any online music service.
With its home design, the Echo has a more advanced communication system with seven microphones in an array listen out for your questions or instructions.
Via your WiFi connection and Amazon’s cloud services, you can access Alexa, to take your request and access information services, and manage your smart home devices, with new features regularly added via the If This, Then That syntax.
Pros and Cons
The Tap instantly moves the Echo concept away from its lofty perch on your shelf or home and turns it into the go-anywhere equivalent. What it loses in audio fidelity with the smaller speakers and lack of a woofer, it makes up for in ruggedness and flexibility.
Remember to add $20 for one of the protective cases. Even then it is not being marketed as waterproof or water resistant, so you might want to keep the expensive gadget away from pool parties or leave it at home on those wet hikes, presumably there will soon be waterproof bags for it to slip into.
Of course, you’ll need to remember to drop it in the provided charger when you get back home. While it is there you still need to press the button to talk to Alexa, so it loses out on that super-smart-home feel you get with the original Echo Model.
That aside, perhaps the biggest limitation is that Tap can only be ordered by Amazon Prime Subscribers for now, with a full launch likely later in the year.
Echo’s life as a smart home controller seems to have been a secondary consideration to its main role as a music player. However, this seems to be a key feature of its evolution through those regular updates.
It does a fine job at playing music, but so do many other devices, Echo really comes into its own helping manage your smart home.
A recent feature allows you to set up contacts, so you can tell it to “ask a buddy, it” and it will get in touch with people you need to make requests of.
This is one of the Echo’s most praised feat; it can let people with mobility issues control smart home gear and get in touch with people to help out, which has to be seen as a great positive.
On the negative side, if you’re out of range of the microphones, or in another room, you will need the optional extra remote control to talk to Alexa. Also if loud music is playing, it will be hard for the Echo to hear your pleas to turn it down.
|Specs||Amazon Echo||Amazon Tap|
|Dimensions||3.27” x 3.27” x 9.25”, 1.68lb|
|6.2″ x 2.6″ x 2.6″ ”, 1.1lb|
|Color options||Black||Black with colored cases|
|OS support||Fire OS, iOS, Android|
|Fire OS, iOS, Android|
|Speakers||1 x 2.5-inch woofer|
1 x 2-inch tweeter
|2 x 1.5-inch drivers with 2 x passive radiators for bass|
|Price||$179 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)||$129 (For the latest prices and discounts, check here)|
|WiFi||Bluetooth, dual-band, dual-antenna (MIMO) 802.11a/b/g/n WiFi|
| Bluetooth, WiFi|
My Final Recommendation
There’s a clear demarcation here, Tap is for on-the-go types who want their music and some services, Echo is for stay-at-home types. If you’re increasingly enamored with Amazon’s way of doing things, then you can have both, and perhaps one of the Dots for other rooms around the house.
If you’re the full on outdoors sort then there are still cheaper, waterproof speakers that you can take anywhere, but as we get used to smartness in these devices, then the Tap is highly tempting.
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!