Of all the voice-controlled, virtual assistants I have access to across the various devices I own and use, I converse with Amazon’s Alexa the most. Alexa wakes me up in the mornings, turns my lights on and off, lets me know when my pasta is cooked, keeps tabs on my grocery list, and tells me what tomorrow’s weather is going to be like when I’m planning my outfit. It’s not that Siri, Google Assistant, or Cortana can’t do the same things — they certainly can — it’s that Alexa is the most accessible of the voice assistants. And, in my home, that makes it the most used.
Alexa is so accessible thanks to the diminutive Echo Dot. The least expensive of Amazon’s Echo devices, the Dot is cheap enough and small enough that I can place it in virtually every room of my home, giving me access to Alexa wherever I might be. I have them everywhere: there’s one on the nightstand next to my bed, there’s one in my office, there’s one in the playroom, there's even one built into the thermostat mounted on the wall. Basically, I can utter the universal “Alexa” command in any room of my home and have one of the Echo devices snap to life.
Amazon says that playing music is the most common use for its Echo devices, and you can certainly do that with the Echo Dot. Its built-in speaker is crummy for blasting tunes, but plugging it into a larger speaker or pairing it over Bluetooth to a wireless speaker fixes that problem.
But to me, using the Echo Dot just to listen to music misses the larger picture, even if it is fun to voice control your house party. The Echo Dot makes it possible to turn your entire home into the 24th century Starship Enterprise (you can even change the wake up command to “Computer” for the full Star Trek experience) in the early 21st century, all for less than the cost of last year’s smartphone.
At its regular price of $49.99, the Echo Dot is an impulse purchase — at least by tech standards. If you’re savvy, you can get it even cheaper; Amazon frequently discounts it by 10 or 15 dollars. And if you want a bunch of them, Amazon will often give you a discount if you buy three at a time. That low price is what makes it so accessible, and what eventually makes it possible to have one in every room in your house.
The Echo Dot is great on its own for timers, alarms, facts, weather reports, and more, but it really comes alive when it’s used to control the various smart home gadgets I have throughout my home. I use the Dot to control the Philips Hue lights in my bedroom, to close the garage door from my bed when I forget, or to adjust the temperature of my HVAC system. My wife and I manage our shared grocery list in the kitchen by asking Alexa to add things to it with our voices. Both of us can then access this list through the Alexa app on our smartphones when we’re at the store.
I’ll soon be able to use it to control my TV, thanks to the new integration with Amazon’s Fire TV. The Dot has become the access point to the central nervous system of my smart home.
The Echo Dot is an overachiever in almost every sense. It’s perhaps the least expensive modern gadget in my home, but it’s one of my most used. For that reason, it has earned The Verge Editor’s Choice award.
Photography by Dan Seifert / The Verge
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