Amazon Echo Dot: Your £50 Ticket to an Internet of Things That Actually Works

By James O Malley on at

When I reviewed the Amazon Echo a few weeks ago, I suggested that it might have been life changing. And now looking back, I'm not sure how I ever lived without it. If you're thinking of having kids - don't. Get an Echo instead. I now spend my days barking commands at Alexa, the virtual assistant - and generally speaking, she answers back without giving me any shit.

What makes your Echo even better though, is when you buy it a friend.

The Echo Dot is a much smaller and cheaper companion to the main Echo. It does away with the fancy speaker and is essentially all of the clever microphone tech packed into a hockey-puck sized package. And because Alexa works in the cloud, it can do everything the full-size Echo can do anyway.

This means that you can fire questions and commands at the device and it'll respond at will. And like Echo, it can answer all sorts of questions, such as the weather, and what's on your calendar and so on. You can also use it to set timer and alarms, and do maths, just using your voice.

Of course, this means that it also has the same limitations in that there are only certain types of questions it can answer - and sometimes they have be phrased in a particular way. The good news is that because of the cloud, Amazon will presumably build on this over time - and there is an ever increasing selection of "skills" that can be installed (think something like apps) which add more functionality to your device. For example, I've installed one that enables me to ask Alexa about whether the London Underground is functioning or not.

You can even ask the Dot to play music from either Spotify or Amazon Prime Music, just like with the full-size Echo. Don't expect anything amazing though, due to its weedier speaker - its more akin to using your phone's speaker to listen to music. Though what you can do with the Dot is connect to a decent speaker via Bluetooth or 3.5mm jack cable - making it the perfect device to add a layer of intelligence to any existing top-tier home audio setup. (I'm particularly looking forward to support for Sonos speaker systems, which is expected early next year.)

Where the Dot really comes into its own is in making it relatively affordable and unobtrusive to have multiple Echo devices in your home (no wonder Amazon is selling the Dot in packs of six). This means that there's no need to shout into the other room if you want Alexa to answer a question - as it'll be an extra mic, it means you can talk at normal volume. Much more civilised.

Cleverly too, Alexa will detect which Echo you're closest too - and will respond from that one, rather than have your entire house burst out in a chorus of trivia. This meant that I was able to find the point in my house where I could stand almost exactly equidistance between the Echo and the Echo Dot, and have one respond if I faced in one direction, and the other if I did a 180 turn.

And why is this useful? The main reason to pick up an Echo Dot is the same as the Echo: If you have a house stuffed with Internet of Things-enabled devices. Having auto-detected my lamps and my Tado thermostat, I can simply command Alexa from anywhere in my flat to control them, with no need to run the specific apps. With the Dot increasing coverage, wherever I am, whether the bedroom, living room or kitchen, I can be sure that Alexa has picked up my instructions.

Ultimately, as I discovered with the full-sized Echo, Alexa is perhaps the first IOT user interface that actually just works. It makes the future frictionless - and at only £50, the Echo Dot is a steal as a way to supercharge your existing smart home devices.