Amazon may have missed the mark with their Fire phone back in 2014, but that may have been a good thing for the company. They used ideas from that failed project to make arguably one of the best personal assistant devices in the Echo. If you haven’t heard of the Echo before, it’s nothing but a standard Bluetooth speaker that gets plugged into the wall. But it’s main selling point isn’t that it’s a Bluetooth speaker (and a bad one at that), what sets it apart is the built-in personal assistant named ‘Alexa’ that gets increasing functionality with every update.
Connecting the speaker to your home Wifi gives it Siri-like abilities and it can do everything from stream your music to control the lights in your living room. As cool as it was it still had some drawbacks, but the giant company figured out that it stumbled upon something great and has now put Alexa’s software into two new devices: the Echo Dot and the Amazon Tap.
The Echo Dot is a small round device that’s more of a speaker accessory than a speaker. That’s not to say that you can’t play music from it, but the built-in speaker would be more useful as an alarm clock than for playing music. The Dot’s intended purpose is to be attached to another, preferably larger speaker via hardwire or Bluetooth. This gives you the ability to ask Alexa questions in the same way that you would with the original Echo.
Instead of being forced to listen to music come from a sub-par speaker, you can use any speaker you want.
Picture your Bluetooth speaker on the other side of the room, but the Echo Dot sitting right on your desk. You can control the music, make to-do lists, and ask questions using nothing but your voice. You can even call an Uber from it if you have to be somewhere. The Echo Dot is available now for purchase but in a weird twist, you can only order it by saying, “Alexa, order an Echo Dot”. So if you don’t already own a product with Alexa built-in, you’re out of luck. Amazon says they will eventually open up orders to everyone so you’ll be able to purchase this $89 device when they do. It’s not terribly expensive, but it might only be worth it if you already have a good Bluetooth speaker to hook it up to. If you don’t then the company’s second product, the Tap, might be more up your alley.
The Tap is a smaller, more portable version of the Echo (so yes, it’s a Bluetooth speaker). Right from the start, it looks pretty similar to speakers like the JBL Flip 3 and UE Boom. It has a cylindrical body with fabric all around and some playback controls up top. You can pause/play music, raise or lower the volume, and skip tracks as well, but there’s a third button on the front of the speaker that’s the real star of the show. It has a small microphone symbol on it and pressing it activates the personal assistant Alexa. Sure it may not have the “wow” factor of the always listening Echo or Echo Dot, but in order to be truly portable they had to cut back on power consumption and pressing a button to activate it seems to be a decent compromise.
Pressing the button for Alexa might not be as cool, but it saves battery life.
The Tap provides 360 degree audio and when connected to Wifi or a portable hotspot has all of the same functionality as the other two Echo’s. Amazon claims a battery life of about 9 hours and there are also different colored carrying cases you can get to take it with you wherever you go. If the sound quality is good enough to compete with the other speakers in its price range the Tap could be a steal at only $129, but only time will tell. The Tap is currently available for pre-order only and should be available on March 31st.