Having launched the full-sized Echo in the UK this year, it makes sense that Amazon would follow it up with its cheaper and smaller sibling, the Dot.
Where the original Echo is more of an appliance targeted at the kitchen, the Dot is clearly designed to lurk unobtrusively in other rooms. Comparisons with hockey pucks or stacks of drinks coasters are unavoidable, and various covers are available if the white or black designs are not to your taste. Controls on the top of the device allow the user to deafen Alexa, fiddle with the volume of the frankly dreadful speaker (more on that later) and perform actions (for example, setting the device into Wi-Fi discovery mode.) The Amazon ring of attentiveness lights up when Alexa is thinking (or rather sending data up to Amazon’s web services) and seems to have a few more colour indicators than on the big Echo (white to show the volume, orange during set-up and so on.)
Power is provided by USB and I was disappointed to see a black USB cable provided with the white Dot, which undermined the colour scheme somewhat (I would have preferred a white cable). Battery power is not an option for this device at present.
The speaker serves little purpose other than to let you know Alexa is working. While using it for playing music is possible and works out-of-the-box, I would not recommend it – certainly when compared to the excellent speaker found in the full-sized Echo. A standard headphone socket is present to allow direct connection to speakers, or Bluetooth may be used (which is the approach I took in my review, pairing the Dot with a Sony SRS-XB2 wireless speaker.) The Dot does retain the excellent microphone found in the Echo, recognising voices even in noisy environments and Alexa is able to work out which Dot you are talking to. Amazon’s intent here is clearly that a household will have multiple Dots scattered around, and the technology does indeed seem smart enough to prevent more than one device being triggered at the same time by the same instruction.
There is little that can be said about using the Echo Dot that has not already been said about the Echo (see my earlier review). Alexa is an impressive assistant and, if you have the appropriate skills enabled, can start to feel a little eerie in its accuracy. Since I wrote my first review of the Echo, I have seen noticeable improvements in the speech and phrase recognition and the integration of Spotify, Tune-In and Amazon’s own music service continues to feel relatively seamless, although if you are using an alternative music service, such as Groove, then you are currently out of luck (as TDL’s editor-at-large, Ian Dixon, will confirm.) [Ed: Google Play Music and Sonos as also not support]
Certainly, the Skills remain a great strength but also a bit of a weakness (as far the UK model is concerned.) There is great potential for extending the reach of the Echo, but it does appear that Amazon has fallen into the US vs. UK app store model where functions supported on one side of the Atlantic are inexplicably missing from the other. I can excuse ecommerce services where the retailer lacks a European presence, but I have encountered problems with some Smart Home devices such as the DLink Smart Plugs, which are supported in the US but not here. IFTTT (IF This Then That) is also notable by its absence in the UK, while supported in the US. This is something which will cause frustration amongst integrators and enthusiasts alike.
Amazon would like you to pepper your house with these devices and so sell it in multipacks with that in mind. However, I think with a RRP of nearly £50 it remains a little pricey for that purpose. Ultimately, it works well as a way of adding the utility of Alexa to more rooms; particularly for people like me, who have become accustomed to an Echo in the kitchen and end up speaking to empty air in other rooms, wondering why the music doesn’t come on. The price point also puts it in Christmas gift territory (with the speaker proviso, of course) making it a low risk way of trying out Alexa and her occasionally brilliant, occasionally frustrating Skills.