Amazon has already begun releasing its early Black Friday deals and its popular Echos are a big part of the offering. With smart home technology gaining traction, the Echos are an easy entry point because they’re easy to use and offered across a wide price range.
Amazon’s Echo was the company’s first foray into the connected home, released in 2014. Amazon now offers 16 variations of what is essentially a speaker with its Alexa voice assistant built into it that connects to your home Wi-Fi. Size, extra hardware like video and extra features for specific uses, and, of course, price distinguish one from the other.
There are a few things you should know about these products. While Amazon never shows a cord connected to its devices, all except the car product must be plugged into an outlet, which will affect placement in a room. Further, each requires an app run from your smartphone to set up the devices. Finally, understand that Echos are not magic. To control smart home devices like wall plugs, light bulbs and thermostats, you must separately purchase these items that can then be synced to your smartphone and/or the Echo itself.
At the lower end of the price spectrum is the Echo Dot at $50. This third-generation unit was introduced in September and is 70 percent louder than the previous Dot so it can hear you from across a room and has a fabric cover instead of plastic. Dots can be synced so you can play music wherever you place one, which is a whole lot cheaper than a built-in sound system. While Amazon is not currently offering a discount on a single Dot, you will save when buying two or more.
New to the Dot line is a model designed for children with a more rugged case. In fact, Amazon will replace the Dot Kids for free if it breaks in the first two years of use. It comes with a one-year free subscription to FreeTime Unlimited, including ad-free radio stations and playlists (explicit songs are automatically blocked), games and 1,000 Audible books for children. After one year, the subscription renews at $3 per month, but you can cancel it at any time. Parental controls are also part of the package, allowing parents to set time limits, review activity and pause Alexa. The price has been discounted $10 to $60.
Moving up the line are the Echo (second-generation at $80, a $20 savings) and Echo Plus (new this year at $150, a $15 savings). Both are a larger version of the Dot with dual speakers for better sound. The Plus comes with a smart light bulb and a built-in temperature sensor, setting the stage for the transition to a smart home.
Now we’ll move to the video screen products. Echo Spot is the entry-level device at $130 (a temporary savings of $30). Similar to a Dot, the Spot has a 2.5-inch screen that lets you video-chat, watch videos and see other types of content like the feed from a connected baby monitor. Stepping up a level is the new second-generation Echo Show with a 10.1-inch screen designed for viewing from a greater distance than the Spot and at a higher resolution. This could be a great gift for a cook who likes to watch instructional videos while whipping up a new recipe. While it’s fairly pricey at $230 (no Black Friday discount yet), it’s a less expensive alternative to most tablets.
There is one new specialty Alexa product in addition to those mentioned above, as well as six add-on audio products that either enhance an Echo speaker or add Alexa capability to a regular speaker. The latter devices range from $35 to $300. New to the line-up is the Echo Auto for an affordable $25, but only if you receive an invitation from Amazon. Once Auto becomes publicly available, it will sell for $50. Echo Auto is a small portable device that mounts to your dashboard and plugs into your car’s auxiliary port. If you are an Alexa devotee, this will be useful, otherwise you might as well use Siri on your iPhone or Google’s voice assistant if you have an Android phone.
You may want to wait for actual Black Friday in the hope that deeper discounts will appear. In the meantime, review your options and prepare your holiday list!