Amazon's quest to become a part of... well, everything has extended well beyond their focus on online shopping and infrastructure. They now want to become a part of your home. Their Echo range of products puts the Alexa assistant in your home, giving you access to their services as well as connecting you to a bunch of smart home and media services. If you're looking to dabble in that world, the Echo Dot is an inexpensive way to dip your toe in.
The Echo Dot, like all the other Echo devices, requires the Alexa app to your smartphone. Once that's installed and launched, you can add the Echo Dot to the app easily. That whole process took less than 10 minutes including linking the device to my home WiFi. As I'd already set up an Amazon Echo, the Dot was ready to operate the various Alexa-friendly devices in my home.
How is it different to the Echo?
Unlike the Echo, which is really a smart speaker, the Echo Dot is a minimalist device. It's designed to connect to a speaker either via Bluetooth or by using a 3.5mm audio cable. So, when you ask the Dot to play some music from Spotify, or Amazons new machine learning music service DeepMusic, it's pumped out via the better speaker and not the Dot's small in-built speaker.
Other than that, it looks and works much like its big brother.
Why bother with the Dot?
If you're looking for a full featured smart speaker, then the Dot is not for you. You'll be better off with the Echo, Google Home or maybe even the far more expensive Apple HomePod.
But I suspect there are lots of people out there with great Bluetooth speakers (I have a Bose Mini Soundlink that I love) and don't want to add yet another speaker to their home. For them, the Echo Dot makes good sense. It gives you the benefits of Alexa for answering simple questions (I ask Alexa the next day's weather most nights, or the weather at my destination when I'm travelling) as well as providing a voice-activated gateway to your home automation gear.
Price, availability and recommendation
The Amazon Echo Dot retails for $59 from Amazon as well as other retailers although prices seem to vary.
If you're looking for a way to access services like Alexa at home but don't want to spend a fortune, then the Echo Dot is a great place to start. Amazon continues to develop Alexa's capability so the Dot you buy today will do more in future. It works with many home automation devices, making it a very handy device.