Amazon Echo vs. Dot vs. Tap vs. Show: Which should you buy?

It's hard to believe that the first Amazon Echo was released just four years ago, and since then, it's evolved from a standalone smart speaker into an entire ecosystem of radically different products.

You'll find an Echo on just about every website and in every store these days, but with so many different models to choose from, how do you know which one is best for you?

Well, we're experts on Amazon's Echo lineup, and below you'll find a detailed guide on buying an Alexa-powered speaker or screen for your smart home.

Comparing the different Echo products

Figuring out which Echo to buy

Best for starting out — Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen

Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen (Image credit: iMore)

Start simple. If you're just not sure about this whole Alexa thing and really don't know how much you'll get out of an Amazon Echo, it's best to not spend a lot of money. So start with an Echo Dot!

The Echo Dot costs just $49, and the 3rd Gen model that was just released earlier this year is better than ever. Its built-in speaker is louder and clearer, the new fabric design comes in three great colors (Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone), and it performs all of the same Alexa commands found on the more expensive speakers.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) Review: Bigger, better, and much louder

Another pro tip here is to keep an eye out for available bundles. Whether you're buying more than one Echo Dot at once or pairing it with something like the Amazon Smart Plug or Fire TV, you can usually find some sort of promo to save you at least $20.

Best mid-range option — Amazon Echo (2nd Gen)

Amazon completely redesigned the basic Echo last year, and it's still a great purchase. It's shorter than the original, squatter in nature, and you can get one clad in fabric for $100 (often on sale for $80). That's not a bad buy, and it's what I'd recommend for someone who wants to get something better than the Dot, but still not spend more than a hundred bucks. The sound quality is decent for that price. Can you get something better? Yeah. But not for less money.

Amazon Echo (2nd Gen) review: A great starter Echo for music

If you want to spend a little more, though, $120 will get you a new Echo with a wood veneer. I've found the fabric version to be plenty good, though.

Best for smart homes — Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Gen)

Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo (Image credit: iMore)

Want the ultimate Echo experience? That's where the Echo Plus comes in. Featuring a new fabric design for 2018 similar to the 3rd-gen Echo Dot, the Plus sounds much better than the $99 regular Echo for $50 more.

Amazon Echo Plus (2nd gen) review: The science of good sound

Also unique to the Echo Plus is its ability to serve as a smart home hub — if the devices you're looking to support use Zigbee to connect (you're forgiven if you don't know what Zigbee is — it's not something an end user should ever have to worry about). It likely won't solve all your smart home problems, but it's a nice little addition nonetheless.

Amazon Echo Sub

Unlike the other Echo devices on this list, the Echo Sub doesn't actually serve as a standalone Alexa speaker. Instead, it's designed to sync up with your other Echo devices and supplement their audio with powerful bass thanks to its 6-inch subwoofer.

You can pair the Echo Sub with an Echo or Echo Plus to drastically improve your music jamming sessions, or pair it with two Echos or Echo Pluses for a 2.1 surround sound system.

The Echo Sub costs $130, and while it's not cheap, it's a great way to enhance your Echo setup if you want to take your music to the next level.

Best for kids — Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition

Amazon has an Echo Dot that is made especially for kids, and while it doesn't have the upgraded speaker or design of the regular Dot, it's still perfect for the kiddos. It's essentially the old 2nd-gen Echo Dot that comes with a protective case (available in red, blue, and green) and one year of Amazon Freetime Unlimited.

That's the part that justifies the $70 price tag, which is $20 more than the Echo Dot at retail (although it occasionally dips down to $59). Amazon Freetime Unlimited gives you (and your kid) access to a whole bunch of kid-friendly content, including books, music, games, and more. Plus parents get access to the Amazon Parent Dashboard, which lets you set how long the kid can use any of this newfangled tech. It'll also block non-kid-friendly content, shut off the Echo Dot at bedtime, and teach your kids to remember to say please and thank-you to not-quite-sentient tech (we have a feeling that'll be more important than we realize).

Best for old speakers — Amazon Echo Input

Echo speakers are great, but what if you already have a collection of dumb speakers that you don't want to completely replace? With the Echo Input, you can add full Alexa capabilities to any speaker for just $35.

The Echo Input connects to your speakers via a 3.5mm cable or Bluetooth and has an array of microphones that are always listening for the "Alexa" command. You can ask the Input anything you'd ask a regular Echo speaker, and once it hears you, it'll kick back its response through the speakers it's connected to.

Alternatively, if you've been eyeing a new speaker that doesn't support Alexa, you can buy it and the Input together and be ready to go from day one (Amazon has a few bundles like this on its website).

Best for Alexa superfans — Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen)

All of the Echo speakers we've talked about so far are great, but there's something they've all been missing — a screen. With the Amazon Echo Show, you get all the power of Alexa in addition to a screen that can be used to view the weather, calendar appointments, make video calls, and even watch Amazon Prime Video.

The original Echo Show failed to live up to the hype Amazon created for it, but the 2nd Gen version proved to be well worth the wait. The screen is a lot bigger despite the overall body of the Echo Show being smaller, the speakers are ridiculously good, and the build quality is top notch. Also, just like the Echo Plus, the Echo Show can double as a smart home hub for compatible devices.

Amazon Echo Show (2nd Gen) review: The same, but way better

The Echo Show's definitely not cheap at $230, but if you want the best Echo money can buy, this is it.

Best for the bedroom — Amazon Echo Spot

If you take the Echo Show and shrink it down, this is what you'd get. It's a $99 Echo clock with a decent (but not overly great) speaker and a 2.5-inch display. You'll get the time, of course, along with weather information and the same semi-useful headlines as on the Echo Show. Plus it'll make phone calls and video chat with other Spots or Shows. (Yes, that means there's a camera pointed into your bedroom.)

This is a great-looking device. It's fun. The $129 retail price is a little high, but at the frequent sale price of $99, it's definitely worth picking up.

Amazon Echo Tap

Amazon Tap

This isn't officially an "Echo" device, but whatever. It does 99 percent of the same stuff. But — and this is something of which you should be aware — it's no longer available first-party from Amazon, but you can get a refurbished model for $70.

The Tap has a charging base that allows you to just pick up the speaker and take it wherever you want. It sounds decent — not great, but good. Good enough for $129 retail, though? Eh, now Amazon is starting to ask a lot — particularly when you can get a portable battery base for the regular Echo for just $50 and get a much better speaker for your troubles.

Personally, I don't see the necessity of a portable Alexa speaker — especially since the speaker itself needs to be connected to the Internet at all times for the Alexa stuff to work. And hotspotting to your phone just isn't something I want to bother with.

Your money probably is better off with any other Echo — or just a traditional Bluetooth speaker.

Amazon Echo Look

There's a pretty good chance you shouldn't buy the Echo Look. Unless you really care about fashion — to the point that you want to take a picture of what you're wearing and send it to Amazon for cataloging and analysis — then you'll just want to ignore this. For that's what Echo Look is good at. It's got a camera and its own app for taking your picture from head to toe, and it does a nice job of highlighting you while downplaying everything else.

From there it lets you flip back through what you've worn day after day, and you can have it compare two outfits and decide which it thinks looks better on you (to varying degrees of success, I found).

You very much will get out of Echo Look what you put into it. I don't care so much about what I'm wearing, so this wasn't really $200 well spent for me. Your wardrobe mileage may vary.

Amazon's since dropped the Echo Look's price to just $99, and while it's still not an essential addition to your home, it's now at least palatable.

Best for cars — Amazon Echo Auto

Ever wish that you could bring Alexa into your car? That's exactly what Amazon wants to do with the Echo Auto.

The Echo Auto is a little piece of plastic that sits on top of your dashboard and connects to your car's speakers. Once set up, you can talk to it and use all Alexa commands for streaming music, making calls, checking the weather, etc.

All of this sounds great, but there's a catch. For the time being, the Echo Auto is only available to people that are invited to beta test it. You can apply to test drive the Echo Auto here, and if you're selected, you'll be able to purchase one for just $25. Once it's eventually released, its retail price will be $50.


Echo (2nd Gen) vs. Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Echo vs Echo Dot

Echo vs Echo Dot (Image credit: iMore)

Cheap and cheerful, or cheerfully loud? That's the choice you make when buying an Echo Dot or a regular-sized Echo. Thanks to its newly enlarged speaker, the difference in quality between the Echo Dot and regular Echo isn't what it used to be for listening to radio and podcasts — though the larger Echo still sound much better for music — so it really comes down to whether or not you want to listen to music on the Echo itself or whether you want to pair the cheaper Dot with an external speaker.

In my house, I have an Echo Dot hooked up to a powerful stereo system for music, and find myself using that much more than the regular Amazon Echo. At $50, the 3rd Gen Echo Dot is our top pick.

Echo Dot (3rd Gen) vs. Echo Dot Kids Edition

Amazon's Echo Dots are among its most popular Echo devices, and if you've narrowed down your decision between the regular Echo Dot (3rd Gen) and Echo Dot Kids Edition, you've got a pretty clear path ahead of you.

If you're buying an Echo for your kids and think you'll take advantage of the free year of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited that comes with it, the Echo Dot Kids Edition makes the most sense.

However, if you don't have kids and are buying an Echo for yourself or an older family member/friend, the Echo Dot (3rd Gen) is an all-around better product with vastly improved sound quality compared to the Echo Kids Edition and has a much homier design.

See at Amazon

Echo (2nd Gen) vs. Echo Plus (2nd Gen)

The regular Amazon Echo is a great step up from the Echo Dot (3rd Gen) thanks to its more powerful speakers and a larger selection of available colors/materials. It's a really great purchase at its regular price of $100, and at its current sale price of $80, is a downright steal.

However, what do you get when you go all the way up to the $150 Echo Plus? While even better sound quality than the Echo is nice, the real draw here is that the Echo Plus also doubles as a smart home hub for things like smart bulbs, plugs, and motion sensors.

If you're someone that's already invested in smart home tech or plans on doing so in the future, the Echo Plus is worth the extra cash. Otherwise, save a few bucks and go for the regular Echo.

See at Amazon

Echo Spot vs. Echo Show (2nd Gen)

When it comes to Echo devices with screens, your two choices right now include the Echo Spot and Echo Show (2nd Gen).

The Spot is the cheapest of the two devices and has a small, compact body that works really well on a nightstand next to your bed. It's the perfect alarm clock, has an OK speaker that works well for catching up on the day's biggest headlines, and is relatively affordable thanks to a sale price of $100.

On the flip side, if you want the ultimate Alexa experience that money can buy, stop reading this right now and just buy the Echo Show. The new 2nd Gen model has much better design than the first, seriously powerful speakers, and a large 10.1-inch display that's perfect for watching the news, following song lyrics, and more.

The Echo Show (2nd Gen) definitely isn't cheap, but it delivers an Alexa experience unlike anything else on the market.

See at Amzon

Which Echo do you prefer?

Anything we missed? Sound off in the comments below.

Updated November 2018: Updated pricing and availability, added new Echo devices to the list.

Phil Nickinson

Phil is the father of two beautiful girls and is the Dad behind Modern Dad. Before that he spent seven years at the helm of Android Central. Before that he spent a decade in a newsroom of a two-time Pulitzer Prize-finalist newspaper. Before that — well, we don't talk much about those days.