The Echo Dot is the smallest voice control device from online retailer Amazon. It uses Amazon's Alexa service to do specialized tasks, called skills, which work with music services, smart home equipment and other web services. The Echo Dot is also inexpensive, making it one of the best Christmas gifts.

Voice control makes the Echo Dot one of this year's most popular Christmas gifts. To use it, you simply say the trigger word, "Alexa," and ask your question. The Echo Dot responds with a fairly natural voice. The strong voice recognition is due to an array of seven microphones in the top of the device.

Alexa voice recognition lets you set kitchen timers, search Wikipedia articles, or play music from services such as Spotify and Pandora. You can also add skills from companies such as Uber and Domino's Pizza using the Alexa app. For example, if you connect the Echo Dot to a compatible smart home device such as Nest or Wink, you can ask it to turn down the thermostat or turn on the lights.

At first glance, the Amazon Echo Dot looks like a shorter version of the original Amazon Echo. The main reason for this is that the Echo Dot's speaker isn't as powerful. It makes up for this with a 3.5 mm audio output that connects to larger speaker systems, which is something the original version lacks. You can also connect the Echo Dot to Bluetooth speakers.

As an Amazon device, the Echo Dot connects to most of the company's online services. For example, you can order products from Amazon, listen to Audible audiobooks or Kindle eBooks, and play music from Amazon Prime. The Echo Dot comes in two colors, black and white, though you can also buy fabric or leather cases that slip over the outside of the device and help it blend into your home's decor.

You can install the Echo Dot in about five minutes. After you plug the unit in, you connect it to the Wi-Fi in your home using the Alexa app. Once the Echo Dot has an internet connection, it's ready to use. In some cases, however, the device might require a firmware update before you can use it. Amazon covers the Echo Dot with a 90-day warranty, though you have the option to purchase an extended warranty up to three years long.

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