Internet of Things

Amazon Echo: Cheat sheet

Amazon's smart speaker dominance may be facing a challenge from Google, but the Echo line is still on top. Find out all you need to know about Amazon Echo IoT devices.

Amazon's Echo smart speaker was a game changer when it launched in 2015. Since then it's continued to lead the Internet of Things (IoT) hub market in spite of increased competition from Google. The entire family of Echo products can be found in homes, offices, businesses, and anywhere else internet connectivity allows Alexa, its onboard digital assistant, to reach the web.

The Echo may seem like it's designed for the smart home, but there's no reason it can't be used in a smart office as well. If you've been seeking a hub for an IoT-connected office, it's well worth your time to investigate one of the many Echo products available to see if one is a good fit, and TechRepublic has all the information you need right here. This Amazon Echo cheat sheet will be updated periodically as new software is released and new hardware is developed.

SEE: Internet of Things policy (Tech Pro Research)

Executive summary

  • What is Amazon Echo? Amazon Echo is an internet-connected smart speaker that comes with Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant. It is able to serve as an IoT hub, a music player, an internet search engine, and anything else that a Skill enables it to do.
  • Why does Amazon Echo matter? Echo is, so far, the leading smart speaker on the market. Google Home is a close second, but Amazon's two-year head start has made Echo and Alexa the platform to beat. Anyone interested in smart home technology will likely be making a choice between one of those platforms.
  • Who does Amazon Echo affect? Echo affects anyone who wishes to turn their home or business into a smart IoT-connected one. Echo can serve as a hub for a variety of IoT devices; newer Echo units with screens also make simple video calling a reality for businesses and consumers.
  • How has the Amazon Echo line changed since launch? The Amazon Echo was released to the public in June 2015, with the Dot and Tap being released in September and March 2016, respectively. Amazon revamped the Echo line with a new version of the Echo in September 2017, along with these new products: The smart home-centered Echo Plus, the tiny Echo Spot, and the Echo Connect, which allows you to connect Alexa to a telephone landline. In September 2018 Amazon made major changes to the Echo line again, releasing multiple new products with new functions and form factors.
  • How do I start using Amazon Echo? All of the various Echo products are available on Amazon.com and at major electronics retailers. Using an Echo is as simple as installing the smartphone app and following the onscreen instructions.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

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Image: Ry Crist/CNET

What is Amazon Echo?

It's hard to be on the internet nowadays and not have heard of the Echo. Amazon's smart speaker and IoT hub has sold over five million units since its launch in 2015, making it the easy leader in the smart speaker market.

The Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Spot, and Echo Show are all internet-connected speakers that come with Amazon's Alexa digital assistant. Alexa can control IoT devices, purchase goods from Amazon, play music, and perform a variety of app-like tasks called Skills, which can be installed from inside the Alexa app or Amazon's Alexa Skills page.

Newer Echo products can even turn a regular "dumb" speaker into an Alexa-powered device, bring Alexa to your car, or let you voice-control a microwave.

All of the various Echo devices can be woken with a voice command, which is set to "Alexa" by default. The devices feature limited control buttons for volume, mute, and wake, but the products truly shine when their far-field microphones and speech recognition are used to make requests from the next room.

Additional resources

Tech specs for Amazon Echo devices

Amazon Echo (new Sept. 2017 model)

  • Size: 5.9" x 3.5" x 3.5"
  • Screen size: n/a
  • Sound: 2.5" woofer and 0.6" tweeter
  • Camera: n/a
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Amazon Echo Plus

  • Size: 9.3" x 3.3" x 3.3"
  • Screen size: n/a
  • Sound: 2.5" woofer and 0.8" tweeter
  • Camera: n/a
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Amazon Echo Dot

  • Size: 1.3" x 3.3" x 3.3"
  • Screen size: n/a
  • Sound: Single 0.6" speaker, 3.5 mm stereo jack for connection to external speaker.
  • Camera: n/a
  • Wi-Fi: 802.11a/b/g/n support, no ad-hoc/p2p network support
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Amazon Echo Spot

  • Size: 4.1" x 3.8" x 3.6"
  • Screen size: 2.5"
  • Sound: 2.5" speaker
  • Camera: Front-facing for video calls
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Amazon Echo Show

  • Size: 7.4" x 7.4" x 3.5"
  • Screen size: 7"
  • Sound: dual 2" speakers
  • Camera: Front-facing 5MP camera for video calls
  • Wi-Fi: Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
  • Bluetooth: Full support for streaming audio from a device to the Echo and for voice control of mobile devices.
  • Power: Requires standard wall outlet
  • Battery life: n/a
  • Setup requirements: Needs Wi-Fi connection and compatible control device (Fire OS, Android, iOS, or web portal)

Why does Amazon Echo matter?

The smart speaker/IoT hub marketplace is currently caught in a dual platform war, as is often the case in technology. This time it's Amazon vs. Google, and the latter has a lot of catching up to do.

If Amazon's digital assistant supremacy—and by extension the Echo's market lead—continues, it's likely anyone getting into IoT will have to make a choice between two platforms: Amazon's and Google's.

Amazon's two years of additional sales time has given it a huge edge on the number of available Skills and smart home partnerships: It greatly outpaces Google in both of those areas.

Additional resources

Who does Amazon Echo affect?

Curious about the Internet of Things? Then the Echo affects you. Smart homes and smart offices need a main device that operates the thermostat, turns on the lights, streams video to the TV, controls the washing machine ... the possibilities are too numerous to name and keep growing all the time.

SEE: Special report: Harnessing IoT in the enterprise (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The Echo isn't just a smart home hub—it's also a digital assistant designed to do a lot of the same stuff as Siri, Google Assistant, Cortana, and similar technology. It can set timers, add items to a shopping list, get movie reviews, book restaurant reservations, and do a lot of the stuff you used to have to find your smartphone for.

Whether you want an Echo to set the thermostat, lock the doors, shut the blinds, or just keep a shopping list, the device can do it.

Echo units are hardware products, but they're inseparable from Alexa, Amazon's digital assistant. When you start using an Echo in the office or home, you're getting Alexa along with it, and Amazon knows it. Amazon launched in 2017 Alexa for Business, which gives myriad tools to businesses that want to integrate Alexa, and Echo products, into the office.

Additional resources

How has the Amazon Echo line changed since it launched?

The original Amazon Echo was released to the public in June 2015. The Dot joined it in March 2016, and the Tap came to market in September 2016.

New Skills and IoT partnerships are released fairly regularly, and large announcements can be expected at most major trade shows like CES, which Amazon Alexa dominated in 2017.

SEE: Alexa builds a growing army to invade the digital home (ZDNet)

Amazon revamped the Echo line with a new version of the Echo in September 2017, along with these new products: The smart home-centered Echo Plus, the tiny Echo Spot, and the Echo Connect, which allows you to connect Alexa to a telephone landline." Echo Buttons were also released, which function like gameshow buzzers for playing Echo games.

In September 2018 Amazon made another round of changes to the Echo product line, introducing new versions of products including the Echo Dot and Echo Show, as well as releasing a number of new Alexa-powered items.

Along with updated versions of the Echo smart speakers covered in the tech specs section of this cheat sheet, Amazon released the following new Echo products.

  • Echo Input: The Echo Input is roughly the same diameter as an Echo Dot, but it lacks a speaker. Instead, it's designed to be connected to any standard speaker to turn it into an Alexa-powered smart speaker.
  • Echo Sub: While not a standalone Echo unit, the Sub pairs with one or two Echoes to create a better sound system. It's a six-inch down-firing subwoofer that sounds like it will pack a punch, and vastly improve listening quality if your Echo serves as a home stereo system.
  • Echo Link Amp: The Echo Link Amp is an amplifier. It has a coaxial, line, and optical in/out, support for a subwoofer, and other standard amp features.
  • Amazon Smart Plug: The Amazon Smart Plug is a tiny IoT-powered plug that sits between a wall outlet and an appliance. Echo units automatically detect them when they're on the same Wi-Fi network, and lets you specify what the Smart Plug is powering. You can then turn that old-fashioned electronic into a smart product that responds to Alexa commands.
  • AmazonBasics Microwave: This Alexa-connected microwave will respond to voice commands when it's on the same Wi-Fi network as an Echo. Toss popcorn in it, say "Alexa, microwave some popcorn," and it will get it done without you having to push a single button.
  • Echo Wall Clock: The analog Echo Wall Clock connects to Echo units and really only does one thing, aside from telling the time: It uses a ring of LED lights to visually display timers you've set with Alexa. If your kitchen is across the house, or office, from your desk it can be a great way to be reminded of a timer you set, and it's only $29 to boot.
  • Echo Auto: Ever wanted to ask Alexa something in the car only to realize it wasn't there with you? The Echo Auto aims to eliminate that problem. The small dash-mounted device connects to a smartphone and piggybacks off its data connection to provide full Echo-like capabilities while on the road.

Additional resources

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Image: Ry Crist/CNET

Who are Amazon Echo's competitors?

There are a number of third-party smart speakers that aren't manufactured by Amazon but partner with them so that they can use Alexa. I'm not including them here since they aren't direct competitors.

Amazon Echo's main competitor is Google Home. The hardware specs for the Google Home are similar to the Echo, and functionality of the device is very similar as well. The newest version of the basic Echo is a bit cheaper, though: $99 vs. the Home's $129.

The Dot can be purchased for $49.99, the same price as the Google Home Mini, and the Echo Plus is slightly more expensive than the Google Home at $149.

The biggest difference between the Echo and Google Home may be both product's suitability for business use. Amazon might have an advantage when it comes to hardware integrations and market share, but Google's ecosystem is much larger, offers a wider range of products suitable for business, and has more room to grow. It's important to remember that Amazon is an online marketplace, and Echo will always serve that purpose.

Google, on the other hand, is in the information business, which may give it an edge as the battle for smart home and digital assistant supremacy continues.

Additional resources

How can I start using Amazon Echo?

All of the Echo devices are available on Amazon and at major electronics retailers.

Once you purchase an Echo, it's simple to get it going—just install the app, turn on the Echo, and follow the onscreen instructions. Connection errors are infrequent and, as long as you don't move the Echo outside of Wi-Fi range, you shouldn't need to deal with any problems.

Additional resources

About Brandon Vigliarolo

Brandon writes about apps and software for TechRepublic. He's an award-winning feature writer who previously worked as an IT professional and served as an MP in the US Army.

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