Launches Sep 24,2020
“ALEXA, SET A REMINDER”
It’s been a particularly busy September for tech launches, even without an iPhone 12 and there’s plenty still to come: Amazon has revealed that it’s holding a hardware launch event this coming Thursday, September 24.
For now, we won’t know too much about what will be revealed, but the invite sent to the media mentions “Devices and Services” so it looks as though we might hear some Alexa news as well as being treated to some new gadgets.
It doesn’t look as though the event will be live-streamed to the general public, but it’s about to start at 10 am PT / 1 pm ET / 6 pm BST (that’s 3 am, September 25 if you’re in Australia), so mark your calendars accordingly.
- Your next smart TV
- Google’s next Chromecast has leaked out
- What to expect from Amazon Prime Day
Is there an Echo in here?
We haven’t come across too many leaks or rumors about what to expect from Amazon this year, but then that’s not unusual – new Echo devices tend to appear without much warning, in contrast to most flashship smartphones these days.
Amazon makes so much stuff that you might have forgotten about some of it: smart speakers, smart displays, security cameras, tablets, readers, WIRELESS HEADPHONES, and plenty more besides. All of these product categories could get updates next week.
Then there are the services – not just the huge online retail operation, but also the PRIME PORTABLE SERVICE cloud portals for music and photos, and the Audible audio book service among other apps and websites.
Best Amazon Alexa Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)
The original Amazon Echo that debuted in late 2014 gave us our first introduction to Alexa, and we’ve been hooked ever since. What started out as a stark, black tube has evolved over three generations to a softer, gentler looking Alexa vessel, and has spawned an entire line of other Echo devices.
This third-generation “regular” Echo is the best of the series yet. It boasts an improved sound architecture over the first two generations, one that it borrowed from the more expensive Echo Expensive 2nd Gen. As with several other Echo devices, you can connect two of these to create a stereo pairing, or you can connect it with your Fire TV for enhanced audio to go with your visual content.
The Amazon Echo (3rd Gen) is the Alexa smart speaker to get if you want great sound, but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on. (If you don’t care as much about the sound and want to save a few bucks, you could get one of the Echo Dot varieties, or if you really care about sound, go for an Echo Studio.) The Echo does not have a camera or screen, which is great for those concerned with privacy, but it does diminish its overall utility just a bit. Even still, this is our pick for the everyday Echo for most.
- Improved sound architecture
- Softer new design
- Can pair with another Echo or Fire TV for stereo sound
- Gorgeous new color options
- No screen or video calling
- Expensive compared to siblings
Best Amazon Alexa Tablet: Amazon Fire HD 8
We can’t say enough good things about the latest Amazon Fire HD tablet. Now on its 10th version, this media consumption device continues to hit that sweet spot of affordability, durability, and family friendly-ness. At a great price, you get a hands-free digital voice assistant (Alexa), an HD screen, front and rear-facing cameras, expandable storage, and an easy onramp to all of the great content in the Amazon ecosystem.
We think the most underrated features on this device are its battery life and flexible storage options. This tablet will last you 12 hours on a single charge, which is amazing for long flights or drives. You can also feel confident purchasing the base model with only 32GB of storage because then you can pick up additional microSD cards on the cheap and expand storage up to 1TB.
While it is true that this device doesn’t run Google Apps straight out of the box, even the least savvy can follow the relatively simple instructions to add these after purchase. While the Fire HD 8 remains our top pick for most buyers, those who want to be on the bleeding edge of technology may want to opt for the Fire HD Plus along with its wireless charing dock, which will get you wireless charging and more RAM for faster performance.
- Sweet spot of screen size and portability
- Full HD screen
- Best-in-class family controls
- Great battery life
- Multi-user support
- Expandable storage up to 1TB
- Doesn’t ship with Google apps
- Doesn’t have all the features of HD 8 Plus
Best Amazon Alexa Car Device: Roav Viva by Anker
Apple has CarPlay, and Google has Android Auto, but Amazon hasn’t had a successful strategy to get Alexa into your car yet. Yes, it has Alexa Auto partnerships with some car manufacturers like Audi and Ford, but that hasn’t seen as much adoption compared to its competition. So how can you get Alexa in your car? Amazon’s answer was slow in coming and resulted in the Echo Auto, which received a lukewarm reception when it finally rolled out a year after being announced. Thankfully, other third-parties like Garmin and Anker/Roav have stepped in to fill the gap.
The Roav Viva came out in early 2018 and is an ingenious little accessory that plugs right into the power port/cigarette lighter in most cars. It sports two USB-A charging ports so you can keep your phones or other devices charged while driving, and it provides a means for you to interact with Alexa hands-free. You have to download the Roav app and connect it to your Amazon account before you use it, and then it operates with its built-in microphones and outputs sound via Bluetooth through your car’s speakers.
This device is cheaper than Amazon’s own Echo Auto product and is arguably better looking and easier to mount in your car. The main downsides to the device are that it may not fit well in every vehicle, and because it’s a third-party device that has its own app, it takes up to 90 seconds after starting your car for Alexa to be ready to roll. Despite those drawbacks, the Roav Viva is our choice over the Echo Auto for an Alexa road trip.
- Half the price of Echo Auto
- Plugs right into power port so no need for loose cord/clip
- Two USB-A chargers built-in
- Bluetooth connection can be finicky
- May not fit well in all vehicles
- Requires separate app
Best Smart Light with Amazon Alexa: LIFX Color Bulb
One of the first products most people get when setting up a smart home is a smart light. These are often affordable, easy to assemble (simply screw in a bulb), and have an immediate and obvious impact. There are tons of options available when considering a smart lighting solution, but one of our favorites is the Color Bulb series from LIFX.
These LIFX bulbs have an interesting design (something that sounds funny to say about a light bulb), with a flattened out exposed portion that showcases the 16 million color options available to you. The bulbs connect directly to Wi-Fi without requiring a hub and thus are extremely easy to pair with Alexa.
We recommend picking up several of these for different rooms and creating lighting groups and smart lighting routines in the Alexa app. You can even connect them to the Alexa Guard routine to have your lights turn on or off automatically when you tell Alexa that you are leaving the house.
Keep in mind that these bulbs may be a little heavy for smaller lamps, and they tend to get a bit warmer than normal lightbulbs. We’ve also found that the setup process in the LIFX app can be a bit tedious. However, once you have these bulbs set up and in place in your home, we now you’re going to enjoy using them!
- No hub required
- Supports 16 million colors
- More affordable than Philips Hue
- A bit heavy for lamps
- Can get warm for an LED bulb
- Setup process in LIFX app can be finicky
- Expensive compared to other bulbs
Best Amazon Alexa Smart Screen: Amazon Echo Show 8
On its 8-inch screen, this Show boasts the same 800p resolution as the larger Echo Show (2nd Gen), but it also features the privacy-focused controls that debuted on the Echo Show 5, including a physical camera shutter and mute switch. The Echo Show devices are all still only available in Charcoal or Sandstone and not in the fun Twilight Blue or Plum colors seeen with the current “regular” Echo and Dot speakers, but we think the design still looks nice. Plus, if you get an optional stand, you can change the angle/position of your Echo Show 8 as you wish.
While the Echo Show 8 is a great device for managing your smart home devices, watching videos, or even Amazon Prime content, it isn’t the best speaker Amazon makes. There is no Dolby processing built-in, and the speaker sort of fires backward. While it’s a nice device for video chatting, the camera only clocks in at a very low 1-megapixel. All-in-all though, we love this device for managing our smart home life with Alexa!
- Great size for screen
- Same screen resolution as larger Echo Show (2nd Gen)
- Sleek design
- Privacy-focused camera shutter and mute switch
- Weak speaker without Dolby processing
- Weaker camera than larger Echo Show
- Only two color options
Best Amazon Alexa Wireless Earbuds: Amazon Echo Buds
It seems like every technology company has its own version of wireless earbuds these days. However, if you want a pair of buds that give you hands-free access to Alexa, there is really only one option — the Amazon Echo Buds.
In addition to easy Alexa access (which works well, by the way), the Echo Buds just sound good. They feature active noise reduction (ANR) and a customizable Passthrough mode that allows you to let in noises from the outside world instead of taking the buds out of your ears. Both features are great, and changing the state is as easy as double-tapping the buds. You can also adjust the way it sounds in the app. Amazon also built in a way for you to easily invoke Google Assistant or Siri with just a tap, so you have the best of both worlds when it comes to smart assistants on the go.
The Echo Buds have about 4-5 hours of battery life on a charge, plus 20 with the case. That case charges only via micro-USB cable and does not feature the ability to charge wirelessly. It’s also a little cheap feeling for a case. But none of that matters when you’re getting great-sounding earbuds with Alexa for less than competitors are charging for their versions.
- Affordable truly wireless earbuds
- Great hands-free Alexa support
- ANR and Passthrough modes
- Can map Google Assistant or Siri to touch controls
- Charges via outdated Micro-USB
- Battery on buds could be better
- No wireless charging for case
- Case feels cheap
Best Phone with Amazon Alexa Built-in: Motorola One Action
You know that all iPhones come with Siri, and Android phones have various levels of access to the Google Assistant, but did you know that Amazon sells a number of Android models with Alexa access built-in? Not only do you get ready access to Alexa, but you can also pick these up more cheaply than through other avenues, and unlocked.
Out of all the Alexa Built in phone currently available, our favorite is the Motorola One Action. It sports a grand 21: 9 aspect ratio, which is awesome for watching movies or as a viewfinder for its impressive triple camera system. This is the phone to get if you want to take and edit video on the go, as it sports an ultra-wide action video camera (think GoPro but on your phone). It also has a nice and small selfie-cam cutout on the front, so you can maximize that gorgeous 6.3-inch display.
While we like the display, it is a bit of an unusual form factor if you’re coming from a traditional 16: 9 screen. It also ships with Android 9 Pie, so you won’t be getting the latest and greatest from Google right out of the box. However, taken altogether it’s still a compelling phone with Alexa available at the push of a button.
- Easy Alexa access with a double-tap of the power button
- Unique and powerful camera
- NFC for mobile payments
- Works on all U.S. carriers
- 21:9 aspect ratio form factor may be awkward
- Comes with Android 9 Pie
Best Amazon Alexa Video Doorbell: Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus
The original Ring Video Doorbell was a sensation in smart home protection and convenience, and the popular security device is now on its third generation with the Ring video Doorbell and Doorbell plus. The Ring Video Doorbell 3 Plus maintains its HD quality video recording but adds in impressive new features like Pre-roll, which allows it to record up to four seconds of video before an actual event is detected. This advanced motion detection works great during the day, but its resolution is capped lower than HD, and it doesn’t work with night vision so nighttime results can be mixed.
Like the Ring Stick Up Cam, you can ask Alexa to “show me who’s at the door,” which is perfect for when you’re not at home. You can also carry on a conversation with your guests through Alexa, no matter where you are.
Also similar to the Ring Stick Up Cam, you will need to subscribe to Ring’s subscription service if you want to keep or access old video footage, so keep that extra expense in mind when considering this doorbell. What you get with this device is added security, peace of mind, and a way to monitor your home with Alexa’s assistance.
- Records pre-roll video
- Advanced Motion Detection
- Can power with a battery or wired connection
- Uses infrared night vision
- Interchangeable faceplates
- Works on 2.4 GHz and 5.0Ghz Wi-Fi
- Wired version may require professional installation
- Subscription required to access recordings
- Pre-roll only works reliably in the daytime
ALEXA GADGETS GALORE
There are dozens of devices that have Alexa built-in, and literally thousands that work with the smart voice assistant. We’ve done our best to comb through all the options to share our favorites with you so that you can make the best purchase decisions when it comes to setting up your smart home with Alexa.
Now you know what our favorite Alexa devices are, so hop online now and pick some of these gadgets up for your household.