This morning the internet’s abuzz over Amazon’s release of two new Alexa-enabled devices, the Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap. These two devices are positioned to address consumer demand for certain features the original Echo doesn’t have: portability and audio out capability.
The Echo Dot
The Echo Dot (currently priced for pre-order at $89.99) is for everyone who loves the Echo, but wants to connect it to speakers or a home theater system of their own.
**UPDATE 3/7/16: Amazon’s made a change on their site so the direct links in this post are now redirected to the main Echo Dot product page. Sorry – it was nice while it lasted, but as of this writing you’ll have to order a Dot via voice commands to Alexa.
And yes, the Echo Dot links in this post are live – you CAN pre-order one off the Amazon site (see pre-order button at the far right on linked page), you’re not limited to ordering via your Echo (as Amazon apparently prefers for some reason).
Where the existing Echo has no audio line out port or cable, meaning it can’t be directly connected to other speakers or audio devices, the Echo Dot does.
And where the original Echo can only accept incoming Bluetooth connections, the Echo Dot can make outbound Bluetooth connections. For example, you can connect your smartphone to your existing Echo via Bluetooth to pipe audio from your phone through the Echo’s speaker. But you can connect the Echo Dot to any existing Bluetooth-enabled audio devices you already own to pipe audio you’ve requested from Alexa through your existing speakers. The Dot allows you to reverse the direction of the Bluetooth audio.
The Amazon Tap
The Amazon Tap (currently priced for pre-order at $129.99) addresses consumer demand for a portable Echo, because that’s essentially exactly what it is. It’s smaller and has a rechargeable battery built in, and it comes with a convenient dock you can just set the Tap on top of for recharging.
Like the full-sized Echo, the Amazon Tap allows you to connect your mobile devices via Bluetooth to pipe audio from those devices through the Tap’s speaker. It also has a 3.5mm audio in port you can use to connect other audio devices via your own 3.5mm audio cable. Note that unlike the Dot, the Tap does NOT have outgoing audio capabilities: you cannot connect other devices via Bluetooth or cable so that whatever’s playing on the Tap will be sent to those devices.
Another crucial difference is that unlike the Echo and Echo Dot, the Tap is not always listening for a wake word. Rather than speak a wake word, you press the button on the front of the Tap to activate Alexa.
Finally, regarding portability…you will only have access to Alexa voice services when the Tap is connected to WiFi or a mobile hotspot, so the promo images of people using them at the beach or on a hike are kind of misleading. Those people could use the Tap as a Bluetooth speaker by pairing it with their phone or tablet, but they can’t use any Alexa functions unless their phone or tablet is also set up to function as a mobile hotspot. The product page explicitly says:
Uses the Alexa Voice Service when connected to Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot to play music, read the news, provide weather reports, and even order a pizza
I assume it will possible to connect an Amazon Tap to a public WiFi hotspot too (details on this are fuzzy on the Tap’s Amazon product page, I can’t be sure till I’ve actually got one and can test it myself), but I would also assume that doing so opens up all the same security issues as connecting any of your mobile devices to a public WiFi hotspot.
I can see myself carrying the Tap from room to room in my home, just to be able to bring Alexa and my music and audiobooks into the bathroom while I’m taking a bath, on to the patio when I’m doing projects or chores, or into the kitchen when I’m doing dishes and don’t want to blast everyone else in the living room (where a regular Echo is located) with my audio. I can also imagine taking it on vacation, or when visiting friends or relatives, provided there’s WiFi available at my destination.
About The Sling…
Amazon’s also made a new accessory, the Sling, (currently priced for pre-order at $19.99) available for the Amazon Tap. It provides a hanging loop and some shock absorption in case of drops, but you can’t charge your Tap on its charging cradle while the Sling is on. This is the same reason I never bought any phone or tablet cover that interfered with charging or using charging docks in any way. If the cover fits snugly enough not to slip off, it’s a hassle to keep taking it off for charging and eventually, I’d just stop putting the thing back on at all.
So I didn’t order the Sling, but you can add one to your order when getting the Tap if you want one. The default color shown in the ordering box is Blue, but you can tap or click on the color link (it says Blue by default) to select a different color. You can also order one separately if you decide you want it later, here.
Click through on the links in this post to view the detailed product pages for the Amazon Tap and Echo Dot on the Amazon site. I’ve already ordered one of each, and will report back after I’ve had a chance to use them myself.
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