FAQ Part 12: Comparing Alexa Devices

Post Updated: 8/4/18 – The Alexa FAQ series continues with a post comparing Alexa devices: if you’re trying to decide whether to get the Echo, Echo Plus, Dot, Show or Spot, this post should help.

Follow the links at the bottom of this post to view all other posts in the series.

Note that the information provided here is accurate as of this writing, on 2/16/18, but is subject to change in the future as the Alexa service and devices evolve.

Rather than doing a kind of general rundown of each device’s features—full specs are available for every one of them on Amazon’s site, after all—I’ll take the approach of which device is best based on specific consumer priorities. I’ll start by reminding readers that all of the Alexa devices in this post support native Alexa functions like connectivity to smart home devices, access to voice-only Alexa skills and smart assistant features like reminders, calendar integration, answering factual queries, solving math problems, offering local business information and so on. The differences come down to audio quality, device size / form factor, and touchscreen or smart home hub availability.

I want to try Alexa and maybe some smart home stuff too, but I’m on a tight budget.

You’ll want to go with the entry-level Alexa device: the Echo Dot 3rd Generation (UK site visitors, click here). The Dot is essentially an Echo without the large, internal speaker.

For about fifty bucks you get access to the full suite of Alexa features, including the ability to control smart home devices. The Dot’s sound quality definitely has its limitations, but the Dot also supports both incoming and outgoing Bluetooth connections so piping your tunes or audiobooks to an external Bluetooth speaker is easy. The Dot is compact too, so it’s one of the easier Alexa devices to fit into your home.

I want to use an Alexa device as a clock radio, as a video calling device or as an in-home video monitoring system, but I still want all the same functionality as a regular Echo, and either don’t have the space or don’t want to spend the money on an Echo Show.

The Echo Spot (UK site visitors, click here) should suit your needs. Like the Dot, Spot’s speaker can’t really hold a candle to the full-size Echo or Echo Show, but like the Dot the Spot supports both incoming and outgoing Bluetooth connections.

In addition to full Alexa feature support, the Spot offers a small touchscreen that can be set to display an analog or digital clock face by default. On top of smart home support, video calling support (between Alexa devices with screens, meaning both you and the other person must have a Spot or Show), and support for voice-only Alexa skills the Spot can play video snippets, run Alexa skills that include video or image content, and will display song lyrics (where available) when you play music. Finally, the Spot can connect to other Spots or Echo Show devices in your home to serve as an in-home video monitor/intercom system (with the Drop-In feature enabled). It’s definitely a big step up from the Dot, but it’s also considerably less costly than the Show.

I mostly intend to use my Alexa device for listening to music and audiobooks, but I want full support for all the other Alexa voice functions too, and I don’t think it’s worth spending extra for a screen on the device.

For you, the Echo 2nd Generation (UK readers click here) is the way to go. It builds on what you get with a Dot by adding a larger speaker to provide 360° omnidirectional audio with Dolby processing. There’s no need to rely on Bluetooth connectivity to an external speaker.

I want high quality sound and I am going all in on smart home. I want the maximum available support for smart home devices without having to buy hubs or enable a bunch of custom skills.

The Echo Plus 2nd Generation (UK readers, click here) should fit the bill for you because it comes with a cross-platform smart home hub built in. In terms of size, it’s the same as the original, first generation Echo: slightly taller than the Echo 2nd generation, and slightly heavier too. Like the 2nd generation standard Echo, the Plus includes a high quality internal speaker with digital Dolby processing.

The built-in hub means that when you want to use smart home devices that up until now required purchase of a separate hub, like Philips HUE smart lighting, there’s no longer any need to buy the hub: it’s built right into the Echo Plus. The product page specifically lists Zigbee, Philips HUE, Kwikset, Yale, GE “and more” as supported smart home brands. You can get the Plus on its own, or bundled with a Philips HUE smart bulb (that will save you a bit versus buying the bulb separately).

I want high quality sound, video calling capability, and all the benefits of a large screen on my Alexa device, and I’m willing to pay a little more to get those things.

The Echo Show 2nd Generation (UK readers, click here) is the Alexa device for you. I own every Alexa device there is because I have to be able to test and write about them, and the Show is far and away my favorite Alexa device. The sound quality is excellent, the display is crisp, and I definitely feel that the added visual content when doing things like getting the weather report or checking my calendar is helpful. My middle-aged eyes appreciate the larger screen size when viewing song lyrics, video or images too, compared to the Spot.

Both the Spot and the Show can display lists of your Audible audiobooks, movies that are playing locally and so on, and those lists include relevant images like book cover or movie poster art. But the display on the Spot is cropped to fit the round screen and list navigation on Spot is a little less intuitive and functional than it is on the Show. It’s not always clear to the user when it’s possible to swipe left and right to navigate lists on the Spot, and when viewing lists you can only see one list item image at a time because they’re zoomed in for the sake of legibility. When I ask Alexa to “show me my Audible library”, on the Spot I can only see one book cover at a time but the Show displays three per screen load. Since my Audible library has over 500 books in it, browsing that list on the Spot would take a LOT longer than on Show.

Also, the Show’s screen is large enough that it can double as a video player. The experience is comparable to watching videos on a 7″ tablet, making the Show a welcome bedroom or kitchen companion in homes where there’s no TV in those rooms. YouTube support was recently pulled (it remains to be seen if it will ever return), but support for Vimeo and Amazon Digital Video is still there.

Like the Spot, Show can connect to other Echo Show or Spot devices in your home to serve as an in-home video monitor/intercom system (with the Drop-In feature enabled).

If you want a kind of video player – Echo hybrid, this is the one to get.

Enjoy your Alexa devices, and be sure to come back here to follow the rest of this Alexa FAQ series.
I’ll be finishing up the series with a catch-all mailbag FAQ that will include resource links for Alexa-oriented consumer groups online.

Click here to subscribe, so you’ll be notified when each new post is published. You’ll also want to bookmark any posts in the series you might need to refer to frequently in the future, and use the handy social media links at the bottom of this post to share with others who’ve received (or you know will be receiving!) Alexa devices.

Click here to read part 1, Alexa Basics For Those Giving or Getting An Alexa Device.

Click here to read part 2, Six Things To Try With Alexa.

Click here to read part 3, Alexa With WiFi & Bluetooth.

Click here to read part 4, Alexa Privacy and Security.

Click here to read part 5, Alexa Music Commands and Services.

Click here to read part 6, Alexa Calling and Messaging.

Click here to read part 7, An Alexa Intercom System with Alexa Drop-In.

Click here to read part 8, Alexa Alarms, Reminders and Timers.

Click here to read part 9, Using Alexa To Control Your TV.

Click here to read part 10, Alexa Flash Briefing

Click here to read part 11, Alexa Calendar Integration

Click here to read part 13, Alexa FAQ Conclusion: Mailbag, Alexa Communities.