Best gifts: Amazon Alexa-enabled holidays
Amazon Alexa in the office and home
Out of the box on an Echo device, Amazon Alexa is super useful for everyday life tasks such as making to-do lists, setting timers and alarms, shopping Amazon and more. But thanks to third-party integrations of Alexa into other hardware not made by Amazon, the voice assistant can also make your work life much easier with optimal gadgets for different situations.
Here are the best devices that support Alexa you might consider in the 2018 holiday shopping season...
New 2017 Amazon Echo
First released in 2015 in the US, this $99 always-listening speaker takes a smaller form factor in the 2017 update. The Amazon Echo features a 7-piece mic array, responds to the wake word "Alexa," and is capable of voice interaction. It can even control compatible Internet of Things devices, such as smart thermostats, and music playback from mobile devices over Bluetooth. The Alexa assistant will also help you make to-do lists, set alarms, play songs, read PDFs, provide weather forecasts, and more. It'll play trivia and games with you, too, including Jeopardy. Echo requires a Wi-Fi connection in order for Alexa to work, and it must remain plugged in for power.
Amazon continues to update Echo. In 2017, it added multi-room music, routines, and groups for smart home integration have been a focus of the company.
The Echo Dot is like a hockey puck-shaped version of Echo and Tap. It plugs into a wall outlet, is always-on, and is designed to be connected to external speakers in order to provide voice feedback. It's a 1.6-inch-tall cylinder with one tiny speaker. It supports always-on Alexa, connects to the cloud to stream tunes, controls your Internet of Things devices, and does all the same stuff as Echo.
The main difference between the $49 Dot and original Echo is that the full-size speaker is gone. The idea is you'll hook Dot up to your own speaker setup, so you can use Alexa -- which, again, requires Wi-Fi -- with your existing audio equipment. Dot is also available to buy in a six-pack or 12-pack configuration.
2017 Echo Plus
Released by Amazon in 2017, the Echo Plus serves as a smart home integration hub starting at $149. It has all the normal Echo features, plus built-in ZigBee smart home hub, which allows for simple and direct setup of compatible ZigBee lights, locks, plugs, and in-wall switches from brands like Philips Hue, GE, and Yale. Read our full review of the Echo Plus.
Released in 2016 in the US, this $129 cylindrical speaker looks a lot like its older sibling, Echo -- only it's mobile (comes with a charging cradle). Tap is 6.2-inches tall and is capable of streaming up to nine hours of audio on a full charge -- or it can last up to three weeks in standby mode. Other than that, it can do all the same tricks as Echo (but, again, you must be connected to Wi-Fi to use Alexa).
Amazon updated the Tap in 2017 with the "Alexa" activation word, like the Echo and Echo Dot.
In 2017, Amazon introduced the Echo Spot with a 2.5-inch circular screen to use on a nightstand or desk. It can act as a smart alarm clock that can also turn your lights on and off, watch a video flash briefing, show your commute time, get the weather, or show your calendar.
The new Echo Spot is $129.99 and is available for pre-order. It will begin shipping in December.
Hard to snag: Echo Look
Amazon offered a new take on smart speakers this year with the introduction of the Echo Look. It's an Alexa-enabled device equipped with a depth-sensing camera and LED lighting that will take pictures of your outfit, via voice command, and offer fashion advice through style-trained machine learning algorithms.
Philips Hue bulbs
One of the more popular Alexa-enabled devices, the Philips Hue home and office lighting lineup allows users to control the brightness in their home with only their voice. Philips Hue can come in white light, or in a variety of different colors. The four bulb white starter kit starts for $99, with the multi-color four pack starting at $200.
You can read CNET's preview for all the details.
Alexa on Fire TV
Alexa on Amazon Fire TV devices can perform specific actions and help you discover all the content available to watch or listen to on your Fire TV box or stick.
Just press and hold the Voice button on your Alexa Voice Remote or the Fire TV Remote app and then say what you want Alexa to do. You can ask for information, search for movies and TV series, play back music, get news and weather, launch apps, etc. Alexa answers directly through your Fire TV, though some features open in a separate display on your TV, allowing you to both see and hear Amazon's voice assistant in action.
Caseta by Lutron
The Caseta by Lutron smart lighting kit allows users to manage their smart home with Alexxa voice commands to change the lighting, control the shades, adjust the temperature, DJ the music and even make calls. Starter kits begin on Amazon for $79. You can check out CNET's full preview for all the details.
Sonos' speakers don't have a voice assistant (yet), but they are still plenty smart. In 2017, Sonos added Alexa support if you have any Sonos speaker, an Amazon Echo device, and the latest Sonos and Amazon Alexa apps.
Sonos speakers come in different shapes and sizes and prices -- and they all connect to your Wi-Fi network to play music from local or cloud services. They uniquely connect together through a wireless mesh network, allowing the different components to communicate with each other directly. You can listen to tunes on one individually, or you can link them all up to play simultaneously. To control them, simply use the apps for iOS, Android, PC, or Mac.
The Logitech ZeroTouch dock adds Amazon Alexa capability to your car. When a handset is snapped into the ZeroTouch, a companion app is loaded automatically with Amazon Alexa, voice functions, music control, and more. The ZeroTouch is available in the US and UK starting at $59 for the vent model and $79 for the dashboard model.
Belkin Wemo Smart Plug
Belkin's WeMo smart plugs provide a variety of options. The basic WeMo Switch is a straightforward smart plug that can be controlled via an iOS or Android app, and allows you to schedule On/Off times for your electrical equipment at home or in your office. Pair the Wemo Switch Smart Plug with Amazon Alexa o built-in devices to turn your lights, your appliances, or an entire room on or off with just the power of voice.
The plugs also provide wifi connectivity for remote control, so you can turn the lights on at different times to make it look like the building is occupied. For £49.99 ($50) you can get the WeMo Insight, which also monitors energy usage, and - in the UK only - there's a WeMo bundle that also includes a security camera for £140. However, US customers do get a number of new WeMo products, including smart LED lights and dimmer switches, that haven't yet made it to the UK.
If you're looking for a cheaper option to Alphabet's Nest thermostat, the Ecobee Plus may be your answer. The smart thermostaat allows you to use an Alexa skill to control your home's climate from anywhere. You can get the temperature by simple commands like: ""Alexa, ask ecobee what the current temperature is," and "Alexa, ask ecobee how cold it is in the Living Room." You can set the temperature with commands like "Alexa, tell ecobee to set the temperature in my Bedroom," and "Alexa, ask ecobee to set the Downstairs temperature to 72."
The Ecobee4 retails for $185. You can read CNET's full review for all the details.
Alexa: Sonos One
With a music focus, Sonos unveiled the Sonos One with an array of six built-in microphones to allow it to respond to voice commands. Available for $199, the One integrates Amazon Alexa support directly. In 2018, Sonos says support for Google Assistant and Apple's Siri (using an iOS device and AirPlay 2) are coming to its products, including the One.
Nest Learning Thermostat
The Nest 3.0 smart thermostat, which costs $249, offers Alexa compatibility (only the third-generation Nest does). The connection is simple: You can tell Alexa to turn the temperature up or down. But Alexa can also learn. So, you'll be able to say, "Alexa, tell the thermostat that I'm too hot" to get it to turn the temp down. But, for whatever reason, if you don't like Nest, you can always consider Honeywell's smart thermostats, such as the new Lyric T6R, which offers location-based services and geofencing and more fancy features.