What’s the Difference Between the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot?

Amazon recently expanded their stable of Echo products to include the Echo Dot, the tiny sibling of the bigger Echo speaker. Let’s take a look at the similarities, differences, and when and where you would want to use each product.

What Is the Amazon Echo Dot?

There’s a bit of confusion over what exactly the Echo Dot is. Is it an extension of the Echo? Is it a totally independent product? What do you need to get full use out of it? Even after reading the product documentation, we had a bunch of questions just like everyone else. In short, the easiest way to think about the Echo Dot is this: it’s an Amazon Echo that Amazon took a hacksaw to in the name of compactness and cost savings.

The Dot perched atop big brother Echo.

The Dot is, literally, the top of the Amazon Echo speaker cylinder millimeter-for-millimeter: it has the same control ring, the same mute button and activation button, the same LED indicator ring light, and the same really sensitive and fantastic 7 microphone array around the top. While the diameter and control design is identical, the Echo Dot is significantly shorter–a mere 1.5″ tall compared to the full-size Echo’s 9.5″ height. What get sacrificed in the height reduction? The big beefy and bass-rich speaker found on the full-size Echo.

Just because the beefy speaker is gone doesn’t mean it’s watered down. This trade-off, we’ll think you’ll quickly see, is more than worth it as it drops the price of the Echo platform from $180 for the full-size Echo to$90 for the Echo Dot. The price is 50% less, but the functionality is nearly 100% the same (and in some ways improved).

Further, all the features and commands that work with the Amazon Echo work with the Amazon Dot: you can ask the Dot questions like “What’s the news today?” (and even fine tune the weather, traffic, and sports updates to your liking), you can ask it to play you music, and even bombard it with questions about measurement conversions and history trivia.

How Do I Set The Echo Dot Up?

The setup process is identical to the original Echo. In fact, you can follow along step for step with our guide to Echo setup and configuration here–just substitute every instance of “Amazon Echo” with “Amazon Echo Dot”.

The indicator ring still flashes orange when you plug it in for the first time, you still need to connect to the Dot to program it with your Wi-Fi credentials, and Alexa is still ridiculously cheerful during the whole process.

Do I Need An Amazon Echo To Use The Dot?

The Echo Dot is a totally independent product in the Echo product line. You do not need any other Echo or Amazon product (like the Amazon Fire TV) to use the Echo Dot.

If you do have existing Alexa-enabled devices like the original Echo, an Echo Tap (Amazon’s tap-to-use Bluetooth speaker), or 2nd generation Amazon Fire TV, the Echo Dot simply acts as another Alexa unit within your home so you get better coverage (both for commands and for features like music playback).

Do I Need Bluetooth Speakers?

Behind inquiries about whether or not your need a full-size Echo to go with the Dot, the biggest question is: what about the speaker? The removal of the big speaker is the immediately obvious change, but it’s less obvious that you can use the Dot without an external speaker.

This Dot’s speaker isn’t fantastic, mind you, but it’s comparable to the quality of similar sized mini Bluetooth speakers–which is to say it’s a bit tinny and you really won’t want to use it as your primary music speaker. That said, the speaker is perfectly serviceable for things like getting feedback from Alexa, hearing the news, waking you up in the morning with an alarm, and so on.

Fortunately, there are two ways to enhance the sound of the Echo Dot, neither of which is available to owners of the Echo: Bluetooth pairing and direct cable link to your stereo.

Who needs internal speakers when you have full-size floor speakers?

Unlike the Echo, you can pair the Echo Dot to Bluetooth speakers. The full-size Echo allows you to pair Bluetooth-enabled devices to it but not it to other speakers, as Amazon presumes the Echo is more than enough speaker for the task. (And, in fairness to Amazon, they’re right–the Echo is a great little speaker with a lot of rich sound.)

On the other hand, you can easily pair any Bluetooth speaker to the Echo Dot–pairing it with a quality speaker like the Nyne Bass means instant wireless and rich sound. But why limit yourself? The Echo Dot doesn’t distinguish between Bluetooth audio outputs, so you can link a nice pair of Bluetooth headphones to it just as easily as speakers.

Back of the Echo Dot, MicroUSB power port and auxiliary audio jack visible.

Even better than Bluetooth pairing, in our opinion, is the inclusion of a standard 3.5mm stereo jack on the back of the Echo Dot (a feature we really wish they would have included on the Echo).

You might now have a premium Bluetooth speaker laying around, but there’s a good chance you’ve got a stereo system of some sort. Now, using the included stereo cable, you can plug your Echo Dot right into any speaker or home stereo system.

There is one downside to this, however: If your stereo is set to a different input–like your TV instead of your Echo Dot–you won’t hear any audio from the Echo Dot. Not even Alexa saying “Okay” or reading you the weather–it’ll all go to your stereo, which doesn’t really make sense given how the Dot is supposed to be used. We wish Alexa’s voice would go through the Dot’s built-in speakers when hooked up to a stereo, but it doesn’t, so you’ll have to figure out the best way to hook it up in your home.

Does The Echo Dot Work With The Echo Remote?

Like the Echo, the Echo Dot is extensible with the Echo Remote–and it’s just as useful on the Dot as it is on the Echo. If your Echo Dot is plugged into your stereo in the living room, you can trigger commands via the remote in the kitchen or upstairs (instead of yelling into the other room).

Really though, the true benefit of the remote is the “Simon says” function. The remote has more than paid for itself in the sheer entertainment value of trolling the kids in our house by talking to them through the Alexa in the kitchen.

Can You Control Smarthome Products With The Echo Dot?

Absolutely. Any smartphome product you can control via the Echo can be controlled just as seamlessly by the Echo Dot. Your Philips Hue smart bulbs? Not a problem. Smart thermostats? Those are easy too.

You can review the growing list of smarthome products supported by the Alexa ecosystem on this Amazon support page to see if your products are currently compatible.

If I Have The Echo, Should I Get The Dot?

We’re pretty impressed with The Dot. So impressed, actually, that we’re pretty confident in suggesting that not only is the Dot the best Echo product choice for everyone (even over the Echo itself) thanks to its works-with-any-speakers functionality, but that it’s a great addition for people who already own the Echo.

If you live in a studio apartment where every square inch of your living space is accessible to the Echo then, no, you probably don’t need a Dot. If you’re living in roomier accommodations, however, it makes perfect sense to pick up a Dot to extend the reach of the Alexa in your home.

We’ll use our own home as an example. When we first got the Echo, we put it in the kitchen. It’s centrally located, it’s where most people are during the day, but in a way it felt kind of silly because both the living room and the den, right off the kitchen, have great speakers in them. Now, however, we can hook the Dot up to the speakers downstairs and move the Echo upstairs where we actually need a high quality speaker. Your setup might be inverted from ours, but you get the idea: the Dot is a fantastic way to extend the Alexa system in a way that is both half the cost of buying an additional Echo and more versatile as you can pipe the audio output of the Echo Dot into any speaker system (wireless or otherwise) you want.

The Echo was already a fantastic and popular product. We predict the addition of the Dot will further endear the Echo line and Alexa to customers, and with little doubt as to why: it’s inexpensive, just as functional, and offers even better audio playback options than the original Echo.
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