The dreams we had of robot assistants as kids are finally coming to the home. Well, sort of… instead of stiff moving, robotic talking humanoid creations like Robby the Robot from Lost in Space, our well-spoken helpers are housed in plastic and sit on table tops and shelves. They answer our questions, control our homes and sometimes tell us a joke.
The most hailed assistant so far has been Alexa, an Amazon-powered attendant that has made the jump from a £150 tower to the £50 Dot, The dot isn’t much bigger than a KrispyKreme doughnut. Usually a considerable drop in size means in a loss in features. In this case, you’re gonna to want to go small!
Amazon Echo Dot review (2017)
Access to 1000’s (and growing) of Alexa “Skills”
Audio-out port and Bluetooth speaker support
At £50, it’s £100 cheaper than the full-size Echo
The Alexa app needs good WiFi
Average sound quality from the built-in speaker
Echo Dot Summary
Yep, the Dot is a lot smaller yet has all the functions as the Amazon Echo. What it lacks in an internal speaker system it makes up for with an audio-out port and Bluetooth connectivity. The app allows you to ask queries of your Alexa device, if you’ve 2 within close proximity of each other you can just name one Alexa and the other Echo and they’ll be no confusion between the two.
The £50 price tag and Alexa’s usefulness make the Dot a solid option for anyone who wants to start building a smart connected home on the cheap.
The Dot Hardware
At only 3.2 cm tall, available in black or white the Echo Dot virtually blends into your home. You can place it anywhere, and it won’t look out of place in your carefully decorated room. Like the larger Echo, the 2nd gen Dot can be used to fill an Amazon cart. But that’s not the only thing people are using it for.
Instead, the Alexa platform is a fountain of random facts, an audiobook reader, a music player and more recently proving incredibly helpful if connected to your home hub.
However, it’s with music where the Echo Dot really shines, thanks to Bluetooth and the 3.5 mm stereo audio output for use with external speakers. That gives it access to nearly any audio system in your home. The full-size Echo’s built-in speakers are good, but my stereo speakers I already own sound better!
Also, you can switch between Bluetooth and wired speakers on the fly by enabling and disabling the Bluetooth connection with your voice. Unfortunately, you can’t play audio out of both a wired and a Bluetooth source at the same time. The Dot does has an internal speaker, but it’s not really equipped for high quality audio playback.
Although about 90 percent of the interactions with your digital assistant will be voice-based, there are buttons you can press on top of the device as well. The most important of those is Microphone Off, which, as you’d expect, stops the device from listening for the “Alexa or Echo” wake up word.
It’s a great feature for when you’re feeling a bit paranoid and you want to discuss sensitive topics. Actually, there’s good reason for being cautious with sensitive discussions: Sometimes the Dot and Echo think they hear “the wake up word,” even when it’s not what you said. So it may be a bit of your conversation has been recorded as a query, sent off to Amazon’s servers and also stored in the app.
There are also volume buttons that replace the full-size Echo’s twistable top. Fans of the twist top will be upset, but most of the time I use my voice to raise and lower the volume anyhoo. The top is surrounded by an LED ring that indicates when the device is listening and thinking. It’s a nice indicator that your digital assistant is listening, and it’s easy to see from across the room without being too bright or intrusive.
Using The Dot
The thousands of “Skills” which are third-party add-on features for the Alexa platform are where Amazon has an advantage over Google’s forthcoming speaker hub, called the Home. It already supports popular connected-home brands such as WeMo, Philips Hue,SmartThings, Hive, Netatmo, Nest, tado° and others.
You can use your Dot to control lights, switches, thermostats and more with compatible connected devices. Plus it works with travel and recipe apps too. You can order Just Eat takeaway, flowers and a cab with it. You can also catch up with news and sport briefings from a variety of channels.
I also found a Facebook group for Alexa Fans where peeps are regularly sharing their updates, news, offers and such… well worth joining if indeed you do get an Echo and want to know what new skills are making the rounds. But the Skills library, like all app stores, is filled with some pretty useless skills that are better left on the shelf… e.g: The ‘Guess Number skill‘, “where you have to guess the number Alexa thought of between 1 and 100!
The only issues I’ve had using the Echo or Dot are when they don’t think they’re online, and just stop working. Fortunately, the workaround for me was to get a WiFi extender to boost the WiFi signal around my house. It’s also great being able to control the app from your phone or tablet as when the music is loud the Dot rarely hears voice commands.
The Real Competition
There are rumors of an Apple device in the near future, however the only real challenge to Alexa’s dominance in this field is the forthcoming Google Home.
While the Home knows all about me because it gets its information of all the other google products I am using: Google keeps, calendar and maps. you can’t yet make changes in your calendar by giving that command to the unit but I guess this might only be a matter of time, it pales in comparison with the Echo and the Dot. Alexa supports more than 13 different manufacturers and developers.
I have been pretty impressed with our first look at home voice activation for the masses, so much so, that I have already bought a few as presents for friends. I know it’s not perfect yet but it is a whole lot of fun and I love going to sleep with Alexa reading me a book!
Even with the inability to stream to multiple devices, the Amazon Dot is an incredible value at £50 a pop. After a couple of weeks of using the Echo tower, I opted for an extra Dot as the device works just brilliantly, and is still continuing to grow with more features. Alexa may not roll around the house cleaning up mess like the home robot of our dreams, but it does make your life better by giving you many of your favourite services and information with an easy-to-use setup process.
Plus, thanks to the audio jack, I’d say the £50 Dot is much better value for money than its bigger sister!
I Moved to Northampton at the age of 4, grew up and studied Hospitality at Boothlane college. Went to London for 25years now back living in Northampton. Oh... and I love to shop! Don't be shy and have your say :o)