A few weeks ago Amazon excited the tech press by announcing two new devices that are a cross between Apple’s Siri voice-controlled assistant and an Internet-connected speaker. Both will join the Amazon Echo in working with its Alexa Voice Service, the “brains” behind Amazon’s speech recognition.
The Dot is a smaller version of the Echo, that plugs in and is always-listening, while the Tap is smaller, and battery powered. That makes it portable, but it also means that a user has to press the Tap to make it listen to voice commands.
The Amazon Dot arrived at my home today, and after running it through the basics, I can say that Amazon has delivered all of the Echo functionality at half the price. And since the Echo is a hit, I’m betting a half-price Echo will be an even bigger win. That’s good for Amazon, but the real question is whether or not the Echo is the type of device that leads people to buy other devices in the family.
Because the Amazon Echo and Dot both act as voice controllers for a variety of Internet-connected home products like lights and ceiling fans in addition to providing all sorts of other useful features such as offering news, calendars, and answering your questions like an audio search engine. If people who buy the Echo also tend to use it for the connected home, it could be a gateway device that drives adoption for a variety of products, from light bulbs to thermostats. That means Amazon has done what Apple has not: Build a user-friendly brain for the smart home.
So let’s talk about what the Dot can do. Since much of the functionality of the Dot and the Echo are delivered from Amazon via a broadband connection, they are remarkably similar. Set up is the same for both. You plug the Dot in and press the button on top. After an orange light appears, you can connect it to your Wi-Fi network.
It was a pleasant surprise to find that all of my connected home devices and services that were available on the Echo were available on the Dot without me making any kind of an effort. A few moments after I plugged in the Dot, I used it to turn on lights and adjust my thermostat.
The Dot is a smaller version of the original Echo and contains the same seven microphones that let you tell the Dot what to do from across a room. The biggest compromise appears to be the speaker. The Dot has a smaller one that has less bass, while the Echo has one that can fill up a larger amount of space and doesn’t sound as tinny.
As tiny speakers go, the Dot doesn’t sound as good as the Mini Jambox made by Jawbone, but it is totally tolerable, especially if you don’t plan to listen to much music through the device. But if you are a big music fan, the Dot has a secret weapon the Echo doesn’t. You can plug the Dot into a speaker so any music you listen to plays over your existing sound system rather than the Dot’s tinny, little speaker.
I plugged the Dot in through my receiver to play music over my home entertainment setup downstairs, and it sounded amazing. I also plugged it into a Sonos Play 5 speaker, which sounded a bit muddy. The music hissed a bit.
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For the last 20 months my Echo has been in my kitchen, which is open to my living and dining room. My family talks to “Alexa,” which is what we say to wake up the Echo, multiple times daily to check schedules, set timers, play music, and control our lights. It is also an essential tool for settling arguments over the dinner table such as whether or not a sweet potato is a vegetable. (Alexa says no, it is not.)
Now that the Dot has arrived, my plan is to put it downstairs in the living room about 20 feet away from the Echo’s old location, where the Dot can perform those basic functions (you have to speak a little louder to set the kitchen timer, but it’s still not a scream).
The Echo will move to our bedroom, or even the master bathroom, where I hope to use it as an alarm clock or as a way to get information like my calendar or news while I shower in the morning.
I can also use it to control my bedroom lights from bed. Considering it only costs $90, I may see if my daughter wants a Dot for her room to plug into her Sonos speaker so she can control her lights and music with her voice instead of her Kindle screen.
It’s an open question still if I want to change the word to wake up the Dot. Right now the Dot and Echo are both named Alexa, and my two other choices would be Amazon or Echo, neither of which are thrilling. Amazon has not enabled users to sync music playing over multiple Echoes, Dots, or the newly-launched Tap which means I can’t use them to replicate some kind of surround sound.
And frankly, that indicates to me that for Amazon this is clearly about building a platform for bringing the connected home and web services to life using voice control, as opposed to making some kind of big consumer electronics move against a company like Sonos. The Echo was a game-changing device, and at half the cost with no big loss of functionality, the Dot seems poised to be even bigger.
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