Pros / It is compatible with almost every smart device on the market.
Cons / Alexa’s search results are more shopping-centric than Google’s.
Verdict / The Amazon Echo was the first entrant in the smart speaker race, and it's still the best available.
The two primary reasons to go with an Echo are smart home compatibility and voice-controlled household shopping. The Amazon Echo has more than 25,000 skills and is compatible with pretty much every smart product on the market. If you are looking for a smart speaker to control smart home devices, this is the best. It sounds better than the Google Home and has a wide selection of attractive exterior color options. The Echo is also the perfect shopping companion, especially if you have an Amazon Prime account. Some search results are more shopping-centric because of Alexa’s close relationship with the online megastore Amazon. There are many iterations of Echo devices, but we think the original is still the best smart speaker because the audio quality is great and you can often find it on sale for less than $90.
To test compatibility, we made a list of the 25 most popular and highest-rated smart home devices, and the Echo was compatible with all of them. It was difficult to find a product or service that wasn’t compatible. The addition of routines to Alexa’s repertoire of voice-controlled functions makes it easy to set up multiple tasks controlled with one phrase. When you’re ready for bed, you can say, “Alexa, good night,” and your smart speaker can adjust your thermostat, turn off the lights and lock the door. Alexa’s routines can’t control audio functions, like stopping the music when you’re ready for bed, but you can set up multiple smart home devices and add news, weather and traffic updates to a routine.
Amazon added some useful and customizable design features to the newest Echo. It’s a bit more compact than the original Echo – about 6 inches tall and a little wider than a soda can. There are three fabric colors and two faux-wood finishes to customize the look of your smart speaker and match your current home décor. If you grow tired of the finish option, or happen to splatter alfredo sauce on it while Alexa is dictating a recipe, you can remove the cover and replace it for around $20. We think the Echo is the perfect size and has the best color options of all the smart speakers we tested.
To test audio quality, we set up all 12 smart speakers side by side and played a variety of musical genres while quickly switching back and forth. The Echo can’t compete with the best-sounding speakers we tested, like the Sonos One and Harman Kardon Allure, but it did sound better than its main competition, the Google Home. It has a 0.6-inch tweeter and a 2.5-inch woofer that offered a more balanced sound stage and consistently natural tone compared to similarly priced speakers. It’s not quite loud enough to take outside by the pool, or fill up a large family room, but it had no problem filling our 400-square-foot AV room with danceable volumes.
If you aren’t pleased with the volume capabilities or sound quality, you can use the 1/8-inch aux output to plug the Echo into your home entertainment system or sound bar. The Echo isn’t compatible with as many streaming services as the Google Home, but as a workaround, you can stream from services that aren’t supported, like Apple Music, Google Play Music or the free version of Spotify with a connected Bluetooth-enabled phone or tablet.
The Amazon Echo 2nd generation is the most capable controller for smart home devices, and Alexa’s list of skills is impressive and growing quickly. We think this is the best overall smart speaker because the price is right and the audio quality is good enough for most home layouts. The Google assistant is better at finding the right search result for most situations, but the Echo is superior in every other important feature category.