With the rise of AI and ChatGPT, nothing seems too unthinkable and futuristic in the world of tech anymore. Moreover, products that once seemed advanced (read: the Amazon Echo when it was first released in 2015) don’t seem to be all that advanced anymore. This means companies have to constantly innovate to continue attracting buyers, which is what Amazon did in 2022 when it released its 5th Generation Echo Dot. Since then, the corporate giant has unveiled even newer products (in the Echo Show and Echo Pop families).

This is great and all, but when the time comes to actually invest in a new Echo device for your home — thus upgrading it to “smart home” status — it can be hard to decide which one to get. Do you want to be able to video call your family with Echo Show 10’s sleek swivel screen? Maximize affordability with the Echo Pop? Or upgrade your kids’ rooms with an Echo device just for kids?

With this technology boom though, it can be hard to transition your home from “basic” to “smart-home” status. Establishing a tech-friendly home isn’t always easy, but there is hope. Smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo family of products are a great starting point because they’re affordable, require minimal effort to operate, and help you easily complete small tasks around the house. They take voice-recognition technology to the next level by playing music, finding binge-watch-worthy flicks, reading news, and adjusting room settings. They’ll do the work for you, so you can relax and take care of stuff that actually matters sans interruptions.

SEE ALSO:

These are the best Echo devices to gain hands-free control of your smart home, and more

A common dilemma many specifically face is “to Echo or to Echo Dot?” Among its robust lineup of smart speakers, the Echo (Fourth Generation) and Echo Dot (Fifth Generation) are eerily similar, despite the former being almost twice as big as the latter. Also, given that the latest Dot was released in 2022 and the 4th Gen Echo came out two years before that, there are obvious technical upgrades in the Dot that don’t exist in its bulkier predecessor. At least on paper.

Bad at making uninformed choices? Same here. To help you out, here’s everything you need to know if you’re deciding between the Echo and the Echo Dot.

The Echo Dot and Echo smart speaker packages stacked on top of each other.

Good things come in colorful packages.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

The basics

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

The Echo weighs 34.2 ounces and its dimensions are 5.7 x 5.7 x 5.2 inches. On its round exterior, you’ll find an action button, volume buttons, a mic-off button, a light-up ring, a power port, and a 3.5-millimeter audio output. With three distinct color options currently available at Amazon, this under-$100 device is sure to fit your home decor seamlessly.

Setting up the Echo is also seamless and you can use it within minutes. Indeed, the only things inside the package are the device itself, a power adapter, and two guides. The setup guide is highly visual, which is always a perk. To begin, you have to download the Alexa app and sign in. No, you don’t need to have a Prime account to use an Amazon smart device (though its range of possibilities surely increases for those of us who are Prime members). Plug in the included power adapter into the Echo and then plug the Echo into a wall outlet. The light ring on the Echo will turn blue when it’s on and then orange when Alexa greets you. Next, connect the Echo to your home WiFi network. The Alexa app will then walk you through the rest of the setup process, including customizing your “wake word,” mastering the pronunciation of your name, allowing access to phone contacts, and more.

Once all that is ready, you’re good to go. Give your newest smart home companion a warm welcome: After all, it will be your go-to from now on for blasting music, waking you up in the morning, providing news and weather reports, calling loved ones, and so much more.

Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen)

Smart speakers can go beyond the basics, and the Echo Dot takes smart living to a new level. Though this device is two years newer than the aforementioned Echo (4th Gen), it’s actually $50 cheaper if you don’t get it with an LED clock display. Use that info as you will.

The Echo Dot weighs 10.7 ounces (much lighter than the Echo, clearly) and its dimensions are 3.9 x 3.9 x 3.5 inches. This baby can thus easily fit on countertops, shelves, or nightstands. Similar to the Echo, it boasts an action button, a microphone-off button, volume controls, a light ring, and a power port. It pretty much comes with the same color options as the bigger Echo, except for its deep sea blue shade being slightly darker than the Echo’s twilight blue shade. Potayto, potahto.

Setup is also a breeze with the Echo Dot. First, plug it into a wall outlet and open the Alexa app to start setup. (You’ll need to download the Alexa app on your smartphone beforehand.) Once you open the app, select “devices” and then select the “+” icon. Follow the on-screen instructions from that point on and personalize the device to your liking.

The Amazon Echo Dot resting on a table alongside its cord and two instruction manuals for use

What you get when you order an Amazon Echo Dot.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Smarter, easier living features

Echo

The Amazon Echo can function as your personal butler and best friend. Since it’s a smart speaker that connects to the Alexa Voice Service, you can use it to do everything from playing the latest hits to purchasing some kitchen staples to killing your boredom with a round of Jeopardy! Advanced sound technology helps the Echo immediately respond to you and recognize your voice. In fact, during the setup process on the Alexa app, Echo learns your voice’s cadences and pitch by making you repeat some sample prompts. Impressive.

A screenshot of the Alexa app's grocery list feature with images of grocery staples.

You can tell Alexa exactly what to put on your grocery list and manage the items on your Alexa app.
Credit: Screenshot: Amazon

Prompt response: Beamforming technology, noise-cancelation, and seven microphones will enable the Echo to hear you from your nearby location. Just speak the “wake word” and say commands like “Alexa, find an Amazon Music playlist,” or “Alexa, call Dad” for immediate assistance. Something to note: Your speaker does not by any means have to be called Alexa. Other fun options include Echo, Ziggy, or Santa. Referring to your device as that last option unlocks a whole new Ho-Ho-Ho personality for it. Another thing to note: Amazon is getting better about accessibility, in the form of Adaptive Listening. This feature, when enabled, essentially gives you more time to finish speaking — Alexa’s way of accommodating speech patterns like stuttering.

Beats master: Of course the Echo can play music, but it’s more than a basic speaker. It comes with Dolby premium sound that fills a whole room — with deep bass and clear high notes alike. If you have two Echo devices in one room, you can actually tell one of them to “play music everywhere,” which will amplify sound to even higher levels and make for an actual at-home clubbing experience. Word of caution, however — Alexa didn’t cooperate with me, strangely, when I tried to test out this feature. For those of us who are highly picky about music streaming services, Amazon lets you set default options which you can change at any time. Do you want Alexa to pick music from Apple Music but podcasts from Spotify? No problem, there’s an option for that.

Hands-free communication: If you need to message or call loved ones, the Echo has your back. You can use Alexa to communicate with people via phone or text on the Echo, so you don’t have to grab your smartphone. Plus, Alexa can also make household announcements across Amazon Echo devices at home, so your family will know if dinner is ready or guests are arriving. Use the Drop-In feature to connect to other Amazon Echo devices or the Announcement feature to record cute messages in your own voice (accompanied by a range of sound effect offerings, including dinner bell, kiss, trumpet, as well as, a bit alarmingly, toilet flush and fart).

Control smart devices: If you have other smart devices that work with Alexa, you can easily control them with Echo’s Zigbee smart home hub. Just ask Alexa to dim the lights, adjust the room temperature, or turn on a compatible smart-plug-connected appliance. The best thing about this? You don’t have to press any buttons, and you can even engineer routines for yourself ahead of time to set these processes in motion at a certain time in your home.

The 4th Gen Amazon Echo glowing with a blue color on the bottom while resting on a shelf

The Echo can double as a night light
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Echo Dot

Making the smart living/smart home switch isn’t always budget-friendly, but the Echo Dot is affordable and provides great voice control features. These features, however, aren’t all that different from what you get with the Echo. The only true upgrades are new motion sensors that let you touch-control the device, the 1.73-inch front-firing speaker (versus a woofer and tweeters), and “Eero mesh network support so the Echo Dot can serve as a node for your Eero network if you use one,” according to our sister site, PCMag. Use the Dot to receive reminders, save cookie recipes to your app for future reference, bask your room in a night light glow, communicate with friends and family, soothe yourself with some white noise, and beyond.

Listening companion: We’ve all tried the conventional speaker setup, which typically involves too many outlets and wires. Echo Dot offers the opposite experience for all your listening needs. You can use your voice to play music through streaming services, including Amazon Music, Apple Music, and Spotify. Plus, you can hear Audible and other media forms with the Echo Dot. Ask Alexa to find the perfect playlist or podcast, and you’ll have something to listen to when you cook in the kitchen, lounge on the couch, or work out in your living room. Another extra-cool feature? The Dot will start playing deep sleep music when it detects sounds of snoring, if you enable it to do so.

Task help: There are times we wish that we had a personal assistant for little things, including making lists and scheduling calendars. The Echo Dot can help make your everyday routine (and entertainment) more seamless with voice control. Try saying: “Alexa, set a timer for five minutes,” “Alexa, play the Reuters news briefing,” “Alexa, open my daily horoscope,” or “Alexa, find my phone.” The possibilities are endless. Be sure to reference the “more” tab on the Alexa app to browse through all of the Echo Dot’s offerings.

A screenshot of the Alexa Blueprints the Echo Dot is able to carry out.

Use the Dot to send messages to houseguests, remind you of tasks, and more!
Credit: Screenshot: Amazon

Converse with and check in on loved ones: Like the Echo, the Echo Dot allows you to send messages, make phone calls, and use other Echo devices as intercoms. Enjoy hands-free communication with loved ones and make announcements via Drop-In to keep everyone in touch at home. If you have elderly parents at home, you can also take advantage of Alexa Together — Amazon’s remote caregiving offering that does cost extra but allows you to connect compatible fall detection devices to the Echo Dot, see snapshots of your loved ones’ daily interactions with Alexa, get 24/7 access to trained agents who can call 911 in case of an emergency, create gentle reminders such as “take your pills,” and more.

Monitor your smart home environment: The Echo Dot also offers the option to monitor smart devices at home. If you have light bulbs, thermostats, or streaming media players that are compatible with Alexa, you can control their activity with the Echo Dot. Just speak to Alexa in your room of choice, and you can easily monitor lighting, temperature, and more with verbal commands. Also, if you enable sound detection routines, you can program a particular sound (dog barking, oven dinging, door opening) to trigger a certain Alexa Routine. This feature has an accessibility bonus since it can be used as a way to provide visual cues to those with hearing challenges. For instance, “if Alexa detects running water for a period of time… she can trigger the living room smart lights to flash on and off, serving as a visual reminder to shut off the faucet,” as reported in USA Today.

The Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) resting on a wooden table

Don’t let the Dot’s size fool you — it’s mighty smart.
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Price and competition

Echo

At $99.99, the Echo is moderately priced, but it comes with benefits that go beyond other smart speakers. With its high-tech sound features, including Dolby audio, you’ll be able to enjoy your favorite beats at the right volume. When you’re entertaining guests, you can engage the multi-room music feature to turn your pad into a dance floor (adjusting bass settings accordingly). In addition to playing music, the Echo allows you to control smart devices and communicate with loved ones via voice control. It also comes with a skills range so extensive that it might take you months to try them all out.

The Echo comes with a one-year limited warranty that covers defects in materials and workmanship. If you would like additional protection, you can buy an extended warranty separately at Amazon.

Mashable Deals

In terms of competition, the $99.99 Apple HomePod mini can be considered a pretty close match (at least price-wise). It’s teeny compared to the Echo, though, and a larger/more advanced Apple smart speaker — the HomePod — will cost you $299 (see our full review of the Apple Homepod). While this competitor might be a better choice for Apple fans, due to its easy iOS compatibility, Siri isn’t as smart or loyal of an assistant as Alexa in our opinion.

Echo Dot

For those on a technology budget, the 5th Gen Echo Dot delivers all the smart speaker benefits at a fraction of the price. At $49.99, it’s more affordable than other Amazon Echo devices (despite being the newest Dot) and still has desirable features like advanced voice recognition, smart device control, and assistance with small tasks via Alexa. For $59.99, you can get the Echo Dot with an LED display, which allows you to display the current time in style. That’s pretty much the only added benefit the extra $10 will give you.

Unlike the Echo, the Echo Dot only comes with a 90-day limited warranty. It’s applicable to defects in materials and workmanship and you can contact Amazon’s Customer Service for assistance. This warranty, too, can be extended to a one-year, two-year, or even three-year plan for an additional fee.

If we’re talking about what’s available on the smart speaker market that can compare to the Dot, the Google-Assistant-powered Nest Mini (2nd Generation) immediately comes to mind, as it also costs $49.99. The Nest Mini is cute as a button (and weighs almost as much). It’s compatible with streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and iHeart Radio, as well as Youtube, has smart home pairing with Arlo, Nest, Ring, and other appliances, and it allows you to voice-purchase essentials from storefronts that aren’t limited to Amazon. Still, with the Dot’s new-and-improved front-firing speaker, there’s no question that it wins the contest when it comes to quality audio. Also, with its upgraded temperature and movement sensors, the Dot seems to be leading the smart home game. I mean, what other speaker will listen for the sound of broken glass and immediately alert you to a potential robbery happening when you’re MIA from home?

The Echo and Echo Dot resting next to each other for a size comparison, on a white couch

Clearly, the Echo is way bigger than the Echo Dot (reflected in their price difference).
Credit: Stacia Datskovska / Mashable

Privacy concerns

With all Amazon Echo devices comes concern about privacy. In the past, according to what reporter Jack Morse wrote for Mashable a few years back, “Alexa has been known to record people and rooms even when there’s no wake word spoken intentionally — or spoken at all.” The fact that it can be listening in on your most private conversations — or else sneakily gather info like a credit card number you say when purchasing something over the phone — is legitimately scary.

Amazon has realized that tons of people have been turning away from their Echo product line because of this very risk. That’s why now, on the Alexa app, you can review your daily voice history and delete anything you don’t vibe with, manage the access to data certain skills have, and more. On the exterior of both the 4th Gen Echo and 5th Gen Echo Dot, you can also find a mic-off button that will prevent any audio input from reaching Alexa. For more information about how Amazon handles user privacy, check out its Q&A on the matter.

So, to Echo or to Echo Dot?

If you want a large smart speaker that delivers high-quality sound, allows you to engage in hands-free control, and use your voice to communicate with loved ones, the $99.99 4th Gen Echo is a good call. Another perk of this device is that it’s customizable: You can choose a decorative shell to compliment your home decor vibe. Plus, it works with other Amazon Echo devices for the ultimate sound setup whenever you need it.

If you don’t want to fork over a lot of cash for a smart speaker, the Echo Dot is a great pick — especially considering it’s newer than the 4th Gen Echo. At only $49.99, it’s a steal compared to other Amazon-connected devices and offers the same smart speaker benefits… and then some.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *