Amazon and Google’s approach to smart speakers couldn’t be more different. While Google restricts itself to a limited number of models, Amazon has flooded the market with Echo speakers to cater to all possible use cases and screen sizes. Predictably, this can make it hard to decide which smart speaker or display to buy. Which one is the best for your use case, requirements and more importantly, budget?
We take a look at all the options available to help you decide, or you can jump straight to the conclusion to find out which is the best Echo speaker or display for you!
The runt of the litter, the Echo Dot is one of the most popular smart speaker choices and for good reason. It is inexpensive, good enough to use in places where sound quality isn’t the most important factor and still packs most of the smart assistant features offered by the larger options.
As a speaker, the 1.6-inch woofer on the Echo Dot isn’t going to blow you away, but cranked up it can fill up a small room. It is particularly effective if you prefer listening to podcasts or ambient music. If hard-hitting dubstep is your jam, steer clear of this one. The selling point here is the size. This is a smart speaker that has a tiny footprint and can occupy a small corner of your work desk or kitchen shelf.
For a small mark-up, you can upgrade to the Echo Dot with clock. It adds a small LED clock to the front of the Echo Dot making it a lot more useful on a desk or bedside table. Me? I’ve got my Echo Dot hanging in the bathroom so that I can listen to the latest tunes in the shower. Technology!
Echo (3rd Generation)
Amazon updated the Echo in late 2019 and gave it some great quality of life improvements while maintaining the approachable price point. Compared to the Echo Dot, the Echo is significantly bigger and this is definitely not the speaker to get if you are short on space. However, it can sit very comfortably at an end table, or perhaps on a bookshelf.
The Echo (2019) strikes a great balance between price and audio quality.
For its larger size, you get significantly upgraded audio components. The speaker, for one, goes up from a 1.6-inch woofer to a combination of a 0.8-inch tweeter and 3-inch woofer. In return, you get a speaker that can go much louder, produce room-filling sound without sounding tinny. In fact, the dedicated tweeter ensures that the treble response remains great without getting too shrill or tinny. Bass is a bit more controlled, and though the Echo won’t really shake-up the room, the audio response is perfectly suited for listening to pop music or internet radio all day long.
Of course, the speaker is more than capable of performing all manner of smart-home functionality and packs the full-featured Alexa smart assistant on-board.
Echo Plus (2nd Generation)
The Echo Plus occupies an interesting place in Amazon’s lineup. Before the 3rd gen Echo update, this was the Echo to get if you wanted the best audio quality without dropping a large chunk of change. However, the Echo gets you most of the way there as far as audio quality is concerned. In fact, the internals are exactly the same between the two and any difference is down to differences in audio tuning.
The Echo Plus makes sense if you want a central place to control all your smart-home peripherals.
What sets the Echo Plus apart is its integrated Zigbee controller and temperature sensor. The integrated hub lets you control all manner of smart peripherals like lights, thermostats and more without requiring an external hub. This is all the more useful if you have invested in the Philips Hue ecosystem.
If you are just starting off with building a connected home, it is worth noting that most new products connect over WiFi and don’t necessarily need a Zigbee controller, making the Echo Plus redundant.
The Echo Studio dwarfs the Echo Plus and regular Echo, both in size and the quality of audio it can output. Functionally, it is nearly identical to the Echo Plus. It has the built-in Zigbee controller as well for smart home control. Where the Echo Studio really excels is in audio quality.
The Echo Studio employs 5 speakers to output high-quality music, but the enormous size makes it best for a large room.
Five speakers come together to create a seriously loud speaker that delivers the goods across the spectrum and has a few exclusive tricks up its sleeve. The Echo Studio combines three mid-range speakers with a 1-inch tweeter and 5.25-inch woofer to offer 360-degree audio support. In fact, the Studio is the only smart-speaker around to support the new-fangled Dolby Atmos for music audio format.
The Echo Studio is best served in a large living room, perhaps in a stereo configuration to deliver high-quality streaming audio. If you have a Fire Stick on hand, it is possible to pair the Echo Studio with it as a Dolby Atmos capable speaker. It won’t be as good as a dedicated 5.1.2 speaker setup with dedicated Atmos channels, but it’ll serve in a pinch. However, if you are willing to spend $400 or more on a stereo Echo Studio pair, there is much better value to be had in a more conventional speaker system paired with an Echo Input.
Echo Input Portable
And now for something completely different. The Echo Input Portable is nothing like the rest of the speakers on this list. The Echo Input Portable is meant to be used on the go. With a battery capable of 10 hours of playback on a single charge, you can expect a full day of use from it, with a caveat. Since the Portable still needs WiFi to perform any function, you can’t use this to replace a Bluetooth speaker when out and about. This drastically reduces its functionality, and you so should essentially consider it as an Echo Dot that can be moved from one room to another without much fuss. In fact, the speaker here is a smidgen smaller than the one on the Dot, and it lacks the option for wired line-in or line-out.
The Echo Input Portable is more of a transportable speaker than something you can use when out and about.
The Echo Input Portable serves a very niche use case and unless you imagine yourself moving a speaker around the house fairly consistently, the Echo Dot or Plus might be a better option for you. The Echo Input Portable is only available in India at the moment and is priced at Rs. 4,999 (~$67).
Amazon Echo Smart Displays
There are many reasons to upgrade to a smart display over a smart speaker. From viewing recipes, to watching YouTube content. Perhaps you want to switch off the lights at night without having to invoke a voice command, most smart displays can also double up as a convenient photo frame. To this end, Amazon has a portfolio of devices that are a great fit for multiple use cases.
Echo Show 5
The smallest of the bunch, the Echo Show 5 makes for a convenient desk accessory. Being able to quickly glance at calendar events, reminders or make Skype calls using the built-in camera is underrated, and the Echo Show 5 excels at the task.
The Echo Show 5 is the perfectly sized desk accessory to glance at calendar appointments, control your smartphone and even take Skype calls.
The 5.5-inch display is the perfect compromise between visibility and physical footprint. The speaker here isn’t going to blow you away, but it does the job as long as you don’t crank up the volume too high or expect hard-hitting bass. The Echo Show 5 is priced at $89 and is an excellent entryway into the world of smart displays.
Echo Show 8
The latest addition to Amazon’s smart display line-up is also its best. Like the 3rd generation Echo, the Echo Show 8 takes the audio capabilities of its larger sibling, smacks it into a slightly smaller, more versatile shell and drops the price to make it even more affordable. Win-win all around.
The 8-inch display on the Echo Show is reasonably sharp and perfectly functional for Skype calls using the integrated 1MP camera. The dual 2-inch speakers output 10 watts which is more than enough to fill up a modestly sized room and of course, you get all the smart functionality you could want.
If you want something a bit larger to read recipes on, or to watch YouTube videos in the kitchen, the Echo Show 8 is as good as it gets. The Echo Show 8, priced at $129, is a bit more expensive than the equivalent Nest Hub, but the integrated camera, larger display and better speakers make up for it in my opinion.
The 2nd generation Echo Show is a direct successor of the device that started Amazon’s smart display journey. It last got an update in 2018 and the design is starting to look a bit dated. The uneven bar at the top wasn’t pretty at launch, and it hasn’t aged well. More so keeping in mind the much more aesthetically pleasing Echo Show 8. The audio system consists of two 2.2-inch drivers that can output 10 watts of sound. Very similar to the Echo Show 8.
The largest Echo Show only makes sense if you absolutely must have an integrated Zigbee controller, or plan to make a lot of video calls.
That said, if you plan to make a lot of video calls using the Echo Show, there is merit in upgrading to the top-end model. The larger 10.1-inch display looks good, though it has to be said that the Echo Show 8 still looks sharper because it packs the same resolution into a smaller panel.
Elsewhere, the 5MP camera is a significant step-up over what you get on the other models. Finally, like the Echo Plus and Studio, the Echo Show integrates a Zigbee controller for complete smart-home automation. Understandably, the Echo Show is significantly more expensive at $199 and most people would be well served by the Echo Show 8.
Which is the best Echo device for me?
Amazon has a product for everyone, and yet differences between them are not quite drastic. If you are on a budget, the Echo Dot is an almost perfect device to get into the world of home automation and connected peripherals. In fact, it serves very well as an accessory to add an assistant in places where audio quality isn’t paramount. Think garage, basement or even your bathroom.
However, if you are willing to fork out a bit more for better audio, the 3rd generation Echo is where it is at. The speaker strikes the perfect balance between audio quality, functionality and more importantly, price and unless you must absolutely have Zigbee support, or the best sounding Echo, there is no reason to upgrade to a higher-end model.
The same advice stands true for Amazon’s smart displays as well. While the Echo Show 5 is fine as a desk accessory, the screen is definitely on the smaller size. The Echo Show 8, on the other hand, is compact and aesthetic enough to not be an eye-sore and manages to sound very good for the price. At $129, it is an easy to recommend option.