The $180 Amazon Echo is a friggen game changer. Put it in your kitchen or living room and after about 5 minutes of setup you have an intelligent speaker that you can ask for news, sports, audio books, and of course music. You can also ask the Echo any question you can think of and more often than not (but less often than Google) it returns a good answer. The magic is in the always-on, far field speaker which happens to be able to understand language as good as any natural language processor out there – even from way across the room. You don’t need to have your phone on and nearby – you are hands free anywhere within earshot.

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Amazon has added a ton of services that connect the Echo over the past year to just about anything in your home. Most smart thermostats, garage door openers, etc. etc now work with Alexa, Amazon’s assistant.  Additionally, Amazon has worked with other partners to do things like order delivery pizza, get rides from Uber, and of course buy stuff from Amazon.

I’ve been using the Amazon Echo Dot which went on sale today (for delivery in October with new colors and combinations now only $50) for the past 3 months and I love it for its portability and its expandability even more than the $130 more expensive original. Let me explain:

The Amazon Echo Dot has just about everything the original Echo has. It has amazing far field mics (7 of them!), the same very simple interface and most importantly the same smarts on the backend.  It’s like someone cut the brains and controls off the top of the original Echo and removed the large speaker and replaced it with a much smaller one.

Note: The gen 1 I use has a volume dial which is switched out for a cheaper buttons in the Gen 2. I almost never use it – you can just say “Volume 8” to change the volume so not even sure it needs a volume button.

What it now lacks is a huge built-in speaker. But here’s a little secret: The Echo’s speaker wasn’t great anyway. The whole Echo is the size of a UE Megaboom and about half as good sound-wise. Amazon probably realized this and is pairing it with the best sounding portable speaker I’ve tested: The Bose Soundlink Mini.

The Dot replaces that big pointless speaker with a small tinny one but more importantly it includes an audio-out aux port (touché Apple!). Because of the lower power not needed to power the large speaker and size, it charges via a common Micro-USB port. That’s actually a big deal because you can power it via car, battery or just about anywhere you can find a powered USB port.

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The audio out option is a pretty big deal is a pretty big improvement in my eyes(/ears). It means you can hook it up to your expensive home speaker system really easily. Or just the old boombox in the kids room. We have one hooked to our Philips clock radio speaker in our bedroom.  Because it is USB powered you can even take it outside connected to a cheap battery as long as you are within reach of your home’s WiFi.

But I didn’t stop there. We love this little thing so much that we took it on road trips in our car. It is easy to connect to the USB for power and the AUX port in our car to put songs into the speakers. We used our Mifi for the internet signal. With the hands-free nature of the Echo, it is an absolute dream in the car. With more and more cars coming out with WiFi, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Echos becoming a big hit in the car actually.

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Our bedroom use case is awesome!

Before I go to sleep at night, I tell it what time I’d like to wake up. It confirms and has never failed to wake me up on time. In the morning, you can dismiss the alarm audibly without even opening your eyes. Then you can ask it for things like “weather” and “news” and “calendar” and “wake up music” to get all the news, info and motivation you need before even opening your eyes or moving a muscle (except your jaw I guess).

We are totally 100% addicted.

The sound plays through our clock radio but if we didn’t use it for music it would be fine without a dedicated external speaker. For news and info and even audiobooks, the built-in Echo Dot speaker is awesome.

Amazon is also offering it in a lighter color starting today and in an amazing combo with my favorite Bluetooth speaker, the Bose Soundlink Mini for just $213.99 shipped, a $14 premium over the speaker alone which hardly ever goes on sale. You really can’t lose here.  Give it a try. Love it? Get everyone in your family one and get a freebie or 2.

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