Amazon isn’t just a place where you can buy goods or services. Amazon is the creator of an artificially intelligent voice assistant named Alexa. When Amazon launched the original Echo in 2014 it was well received by the press and consumers. Then came the portable Amazon Tap, and the original Echo Dot. Now we have the Echo Dot 2nd Generation, and coming in at just under $50, the Echo Dot 2nd Generation is the cheapest device in the Echo family.
Now just because the price is much lower than the Echo, that doesn’t mean that Alexa’s functionality and capabilities are any worse than that of the Echo. The compromises come with the design however. The quality of the speaker inside the Dot took a hit, but that’s to be expected because of it’s significantly smaller size, but there is an aux port if you want to connect it to an external speaker. Also missing from the new Echo Dot is the fancy rotating volume ring, instead there are dedicated volume buttons on the top of the device, and sitting on top along with them are the action and the microphone off buttons, but the buttons felt too mushy for my liking. Just like the normal Echo, the Echo Dot 2 is meant to be stationary, but just out of curiosity I tried plugging it into a battery pack, and it worked, but if you really want Alexa wherever you go, then the Amazon Tap is probably the better option.
The Alexa App
Now on to the smarts inside the Echo Dot, Alexa. The possibilities are almost endless thanks to Skills section in the Alexa app. For example, you can enable the “Jeopardy! J6!” skill to play Jeopardy, or you can add other news outlets to your daily flash briefing. The Dot can also be used as a smart home hub. You can connect you Philips Hue lights, Lifx bulbs, and even your Nest thermostat. There’s much more smart home devices supported, but these are just a few. Alexa is also super useful in the kitchen where you can ask it for recipes, and hear step by step instructions. You can also find games like Hangman or quiz games in the Skills section of the app if you’re into that sort of thing.
When you launch the Alexa app you’ll greeted with a list of everything you’ve asked Alexa, but don’t worry, because you can delete queries that you don’t want lingering. You can also control any music that’s playing through the Echo Dot, but more on that later. Also in the app you can access To-do lists, smart home settings, a “Things to Try” section, as well as a settings tab to adjust your Dot’s settings to your liking.
One thing I really liked was that with just your voice you could have your favorite song playing from Spotify, or you could listen to your favorite podcast in just a couple of seconds. Unfortunately you need to have a Spotify Premium account in order to use Spotify with the Echo, however there are other services that are compatible, like Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Amazon’s own music streaming service.
While the app has plethora things you can do to adjust you Echo or Echo Dot to your liking, getting around it can be very cumbersome. The app isn’t very responsive, and it takes a good amount of time for it to load. A good, well rounded app is crucial for this sort of device, because depending on how much you use your Echo or Echo Dot, you could be in the app several times a day, and the slowness of the app doesn’t make using the Echo all that enjoyable. Another thing that I didn’t like about the app was that when you’re listening to a podcast through TuneIn on the Echo, you can’t jump to a different timecode, there simply isn’t the option to do so.
The Amazon Echo Dot 2nd Generation is a great, cheap device if you’re trying to rig up a smart home on the cheap, but even if you don’t own any other smart home devices, there still are plenty of uses for it. Setting alarms and timers just with your voice, getting your favorite songs on the fly, or getting recipes, and cooking instructions