Which Alexa Device To Get?

Publication Date: 7/26/17 – Now that there are so many to choose from, each designed to meet different needs, people often ask me which Alexa device to get. The answer is: it depends on your priorities and intended use for the device. Today I’ll break it down step by step.

Note to UK readers: as of this writing, the Show, Look and Tap are not yet available in the UK. While I’m confident the Show and maybe Look will get there eventually, the Tap is more of a question mark due to differences in how wireless networks function and are regulated in the UK. If there are significant obstacles to Amazon in delivering Tap’s differentiating feature—mobility—, Amazon may ultimately elect not to offer Tap there.


Life Choices


Answer the following questions in order to arrive at the best Alexa device for you.

Are you hearing impaired, or have a need or desire for video functionality or visual Alexa feedback, or have a need for video chat / security cam monitoring capabilities?
If no, skip to the next question.

Otherwise, if any of these situations applies to you, the Echo Show is the only Alexa device that will meet your needs. It has special accessibility features for the hearing impaired, and it’s the only device in the Alexa lineup that offers everything the original Echo does PLUS video and visual feedback.

True, you could go for a Fire HD 7 with Alexa tablet (Amazon UK readers click here) to get the video and visual feedback, and at fifty bucks it’s a pretty great deal. But you don’t get all the same functionality or quite as seamless an integration on the Fire tablet as on the Show. For example, the Fire tablet doesn’t offer the always-on, always-listening feature of the Show, and video chat and smart home security camera monitoring features aren’t built in. The audio quality isn’t as good on the Fire tablet, either. Alexa on the Fire tablet still seems to run more like an app than a fully integrated part of the operating system, like on the Show.


Is it important to you that the device is designed for mobility, right out of the box?
If no, skip to the next question.

If yes, you’ll want to get the Amazon Tap. Tap is the only full-featured Alexa device to date that’s designed specifically for mobility. It sits on a recharging base, has a ruggedized case, and is more compact than the full sized Echo, yet still offers premium sound. Note that WiFi connectivity (or WiFi via a cell connection) is required for Alexa functionality, so Tap will only work for you if you’re taking it places with available WiFi or are able and willing to use your cell phone or tablet as a WiFi hotspot.


Do you have existing, premium home speakers that can connect via Bluetooth or standard audio cable you’d like to use in conjunction with the Alexa device? Would you prefer to buy premium speakers for that purpose, instead of using any of the Alexa devices’ built-in speakers?
If you answer ‘no’ to both questions, skip to the next question.

If your answer to either question is yes, you’ll want an Echo Dot (UK readers click here). The Dot offers all the same functionality as the full sized Echo, but without the large speaker. Dot’s audio quality is about on par with that of a portable radio, but if you intend to pipe its audio through your own speaker(s) anyway it’s a non-issue.

Note that once you’ve connected the Dot to external speakers all of its audio will come through the speakers: you won’t hear Alexa’s spoken responses through the Dot and music, podcasts and audiobooks through your speaker(s). This seems to matter a great deal to many people, so I figured I should mention it.


Will you be using the device to play a lot of audio, whether in the form of music, audiobooks or podcasts?
If no, skip to the next question.

If yes, the standard, original Echo (UK readers click here) is the right choice for you. Until the Show came on the scene, the Echo was my favorite among all the Alexa devices. There’s a reason why it’s still a bestseller and top rated item over two years since its release. For many users, there’s no improving on the original.


Is you main reason for getting this device to add the new Alexa Drop-In feature (available in the US only as of this writing), which lets your Alexa devices communicate with one another like an intercom system?
If no, skip to the next question.

If yes, the Echo Dot is the device to get. It won’t take up much space so it’s easy to put just about anywhere, and audio quality isn’t much of an issue when you’re mostly using it as an intercom. You’ll still get all the usual Alexa functionality however, and can always hook the Dot up to a quality external speaker in the future if you like.


Are the special shopping assistant and ‘look book’ features of the new Echo Look important to you?
If no, skip to the next question.

If yes, then the Echo Look is the only Alexa device that will meet your needs. At this point it’s available by invitation only, and only in the US. I signed up for an invitation the day the Look was announced and still haven’t received one, so if you decide to sign up, be prepared for a wait.


Do you need alarm and timer functionality?
At this point we’re down to the folks who don’t care so much about Alexa’s streaming audio features, and mainly intend to use it for smart home control, calendar, to do list, shopping list, Alexa voice and text messaging/communication, and other utility functions.

If you don’t need Alexa for alarms or timers, skip to the next question.

If alarms and timers matter, you’ll need to get the Echo Dot (UK readers click here) because the last device on this list, the Dash Wand with Alexa, doesn’t support alarms and timers (yet). Echo Dot is also the right choice for UK readers, because the Dash Wand with Alexa is not yet available in the UK.


Are you a cash-strapped, US developer looking for the bare minimum Alexa device to test your skills during development? Are you a US consumer looking for only basic/utilitarian Alexa functionality, but for whom mobility of the Alexa device is important?
If you answer ‘yes’ to either question, than the Dash Wand with Alexa is probably all you need. There’s no support for timers or alarms as of this writing, the tiny speaker delivers mediocre sound quality, there are no volume adjustment controls, and obviously there’s no video screen. But if all you need it for is skill testing—for skills that aren’t designed to leverage the Show’s video screen—or Alexa utility functions like smart home control, calendar, to do list, shopping list, factual queries and so on, the Dash Wand with Alexa will meet your needs.


If you answered ‘no’ to both of the final two questions, maybe you’re not really in the market for an Alexa device at all.