This year, our favorite gadget pick was a no-brainer. The currently $39.99 Echo Dot took an already revolutionary Echo speaker, released in 2014 for $199 and made it so much better and accessible for everyone, in every room.
The original Echo was pretty cool but had its quirks. Alexa, the speech recognition behind it was still learning. The ecosystem was non-existent and frankly the speaker wasn’t – and still isn’t – fantastic, especially for its $199 price tag (currently $139 but ships after Christmas).
But Amazon kept plugging away at its Alexa speech recognition/responses and with its retail might and influence was able to sign up partners from all over the smart home ecosystem and internet services. Example of how hardcore they’ve been: Even Alphabet’s Nest works well with the Echo Speaker and my Google domains calendar works with Echo but not with Google’s own $129 challenger the Google Home(!!).
In, fact, Google’s Home attempt and its mediocre debut, still in its early stages, proved to me how well Amazon had done over the past 2 years with feedback and differentiation, while Apple and Google let the smart speaker business pass it by. Next year might be different with Google Home learning a lot more tricks and Apple releasing a ‘Siri Home’ type of product, but it is clear, 2016 is Amazon’s Echo Dot’s year.
Incidentally, I think Google and Apple thought that having a smartphone on you at all times would obviate the need for a smart speaker – and initially I thought this as well – and that’s why they are late to the game. But truly being hands free has changed my thinking entirely.
Let’s drill down the hardware and software and see why this is our best product for 2016: