Which Amazon Echo Smart Speaker Should You Buy?
From the Echo Dot to the Echo Show 15, here's how to choose the model with the right sound and features for your home
With the addition of the flat-screen Echo Show 15 in 2021, Amazon now has a wide selection of smart speakers with a broad range of features and prices. Whether you’re looking to upgrade or you’re in the market for your first-ever Amazon smart speaker, the options can be confusing.
The first thing to know is that despite the varied looks and prices, one model won’t perform much differently from another when it comes to smart speaker functionality. Ask Alexa to set a timer, turn off the lights, or order a pizza, and any of the devices can do the job.
That’s because most of the artificial intelligence grunt work is outsourced to the company’s servers, not carried out in the speaker sitting on your kitchen counter.
(For privacy reasons, the company’s new higher-end speakers, including the Echo Show 10, Echo Show 15, and latest-generation Echo, will now be able to process voice recordings—though not the commands generated by them—on the device itself.)
What’s new: The Studio remains Amazon’s best-performing—and most expensive—audio-only smart speaker.
What’s to like: It’s all about the sound. Though previous Amazon speakers have delivered less than great sonics, the Echo Studio delivers deep and powerful bass, a clean midrange, and smooth trebles. That makes it a viable competitor to the best-sounding smart speakers, like the Sonos One. Our testers report that when playing Dolby Atmos and 3D audio content, the Echo Studio provides a spacious sound that can fill a room.
What’s not to like: The speaker defaults to a Stereo Spacial Enhancement setting, which makes the sound worse, our testers found, adding a bit of an echo. This questionable feature can be turned off, and if you buy an Echo Studio, you’ll want to do just that. If you’re thinking about buying two studios to use as a pair, note that our testers experienced glitchy performance with stereo pairing. They reported problems when changing the volume and some minor sync problems between the left and right speakers.
Who should buy it: Anyone who’s not on a supertight budget and is planning to listen to music frequently on a new smart speaker.
Echo (4th Gen.) With Echo Subwoofer
What’s new: Not much. The subwoofer was introduced a while back, originally designed to pair with the third-generation Echo, and the spherical fourth-generation Echo has been around for a while with no substantive changes.
What’s to like: Adding a subwoofer to a pair of small speakers is an old audiophile trick for getting bigger sound while keeping most of the gear out of sight. Adding the $130 Echo Sub, which can be hidden at floor level, does improve the sound of a pair of Echos. When compared with a single fourth-generation Echo, our testers found that the combo provides a clean midrange with deeper bass and a more convincing illusion that a singer or instrumentalist is in the room with you.
What’s not to like: The Echo/subwoofer package doesn’t always work seamlessly. Our testers say the sound is often glitchy and sluggish when the volume is changed, and worse, the two Echos occasionally get out of sync with each other. And the subwoofer sometimes lags behind or plays just a bit ahead, contributing to an annoying echo in the sound. Our testers tried the subwoofer with third-generation Echos and experienced similar sync problems. More to the point, if you’re starting from scratch, you’re likely to get better sound and easier setup from a $200 Echo Studio than from Amazon’s $250 subwoofer system.
Who should buy it: If you have a couple of Echos around the house, the subwoofer may provide an inexpensive upgrade, transforming them into a better-sounding compact stereo system for $130. But keep the box and your receipt because the sync issues might prompt you to return it.
Echo Show 10
What’s new: The premium-priced Echo Show 10 has a motorized 10-inch touch screen that pivots to follow you around a room.
What’s to like: The voice-enabled touch screen is a handy way to view recipes or make video calls without having to touch a laptop, tablet, or smartphone with your messy fingers. While the Echo Show 10 falls short of the previous-generation Show in terms of audio quality—a slight distortion in the midrange is the most significant flaw—it still sounds quite good. Our testers also report that the Echo Show 10 is a breeze to set up; you just follow the directions on the touch screen.
What’s not to like: The Echo Show 10’s moving screen could pose a problem in some kitchens. To set it up safely, Amazon advises you to dedicate an area 15 inches in diameter (roughly the size of a beach ball) on your countertop and keep it clear. If items like a metal travel mug or bottle of cooking oil are placed too close to the Echo Show 10’s screen, the powerful electric motor can knock them over, which could pose a safety hazard. As for the motorized screen that follows you as you move about the room, some users like the feature, while others find it unnerving.
Who should buy it: Anyone with a large, neat kitchen and well-behaved kids and pets. The Echo Show 10 sounds good, and the large moving touch screen enhances its versatility, but it also demands a decent amount of clear counter space.
Echo (4th Generation)
What’s new: The Echo was revamped in late 2020, with the spherical look replacing the classic cylindrical shape. The latest Echo features new and improved speaker drivers and a Zigbee smart home hub that allows it to link directly to many Zigbee-compatible devices—think Philips Hue smart bulbs, some Yale smart locks, and certain Honeywell thermostats—without requiring an app.
What’s to like: The latest Echo is pretty much better than its predecessor in every way. The sound quality is improved, with strong but slightly boomy bass and enough volume to fill a midsized room. Our testers found that two Echos sound great when paired in stereo, with a significant you-are-there appeal. The new Zigbee hub is an upgrade that used to be exclusive to the Echo Plus. With these upgrades and a price of $100 that’s often significantly discounted, this Echo represents a strong value.
What’s not to like: While the sound quality is better than the earlier Echos, it still can’t compete with the best-sounding models from other companies or, for that matter, Amazon’s own Echo Studio.
Who should buy it: Anyone with $100 who wants an Alexa-powered smart speaker. The latest Echo’s sound is more than good enough for casual music listening, and the better smart home integration is a substantial improvement.
Echo Show 8
What’s new: With its horizontal footprint and 8-inch high-definition touch screen, the latest Show 8 is fundamentally similar to its predecessor. It does add an improved 13 megapixel camera, as well as the ability to “track” you (digitally, not with a moving screen, like the Echo Show 10, above), so you remain in frame and in focus if you’re moving while you’re on a video call.
What’s to like: The Show 8 delivers a lot of device for the money. It costs only a few dollars more than the audio-only Echo, and the voice-enabled touch screen can be useful in a kitchen when you want to follow a recipe while your hands are messy. The Show 8’s functional footprint is also much smaller than that of the Echo Show 10, which needs a beach-ball-sized space on the countertop to provide clearance for its rotating screen.
What’s not to like: The sound quality on the Show 8 has flaws—our testers found the treble strident and heard echoes in the all-important midrange. That puts it a step below the better-sounding Echo Show 10 in our ratings. The Show 8 also lacks the Zigbee smart home hub found on its larger sibling and on the latest-generation Echo.
Who should buy it: Fans of the old Echo Show. The nonrotating screen of the latest Echo Show 8 makes it more practical than the Echo Show 10 for many users.
Echo Show 15
What’s new: With a 15-inch touch screen, the Echo Show 15 is Amazon’s largest smart screen ever. Designed to be mounted permanently on a wall, it can serve as a digital bulletin board for a family as well as a control center for smart home devices like bulbs, security cameras, and doorbells.
What’s to like: The Echo Show 15 solves one of the major problems with smart screens by not claiming any counter space in your kitchen. Our testers also admire its versatility, intuitive controls, and well-designed smartphone app.
What’s not to like: Despite the appealing concept, we discovered a number of drawbacks in the Echo Show 15’s design. The touch screen on two separate samples was laggy and occasionally froze up, although the device still responded to voice commands. The family control center was somewhat clunky, too, restricting the number of applike Widgets you could display at any one time, and there’s no way to resize them for an efficient, customized user interface. More to the point, the sound quality of the Echo Show 15 is truly at odds with its premium price. Our testers report that sonically it’s similar to the super-cheap Echo Dot, and while that’s okay for listening to a podcast, it’s not really suited to music listening.
Who should buy it: A tech geek looking for early-adopter bragging rights while also being willing to put up with the Echo Show 15’s limitations in the hope that the next-gen version will be significantly better.
Echo Dot (4th Generation)
What’s new: The newest spherical Dot is significantly revamped from the hockey-puck shape of previous-gen Dots (which can still be bought for as little as $25). With a list price of $50, the Dot remains the cheapest way into the Amazon smart speaker world.
What’s to like: Despite its small size and low price, the Dot offers the same smart speaker functionality as its far more expensive brethren. It can also serve as an inexpensive way to introduce smart speaker functionality throughout your home in an Alexa-based multiroom system. You can even pair an Echo to a Bluetooth speaker you already own to give it smart speaker functionality.
What’s not to like: The Dot’s sound quality still isn’t great, but with somewhat stronger bass and more extended trebles, it’s a little better than the older versions, which sound like a bad telephone connection. The Dot doesn’t play loudly except in a very small room. It may be fine for listening to podcasts, but if you’re going to play music, you might consider the full-sized Echo.
Who should buy it: If you’re looking for a cheap but cool gift, the Dot fits the bill. And if you’re not sure about whether you want to invite Alexa into your home, it also provides an inexpensive way to test the smart speaker waters.
Echo Show 5
What’s new: Not a lot. The newest Echo Show 5 upgrades its camera with slightly better resolution (up to 2 megapixels from 1 megapixel), loses its auxiliary jack, and adds a blue color option.
What’s to like: The size and price. The Echo Show 5 is Amazon’s smallest smart screen, which makes it flexible in terms of where and how you can place it. And it costs slightly less than the audio-only Echo.
What’s not to like: The sound really leaves a lot to be desired. Our testers found a variety of distortions: “Grainy,” “hazy,” “smeared,” and “sizzly” were among the less-than-complimentary adjectives they used to describe the sound.
Who should buy it: Someone with a really tight living space and/or a really tight budget. The Echo Show 8 is a much better-performing device than the Echo Show 5, and the improvement in sound quality makes it well worth a look.