Amazon Dot: First Impressions

When the Echo was first announced, I didn't think there would be enough use cases to convince me to buy one of the expensive IoT (Internet of Things) devices.

At the time, I was right. The original $200 price point was steep, the use cases limited, and the ecosystem too limited as well (little to no 3rd party support, no way to connect it to external speakers, etc.)

By the time Amazon announced the Dot, a little under a year and a half had passed since the Echo was released and the ecosystem around it had matured. I quickly realized that the Dot represented a huge improvement in the Echo line of products.

The major changes surround the Dot's size. It sacrifices the large speakers for a much smaller frame. It adds Bluetooth support and an auxiliary output, making it an ideal extension to the living room entertainment center. It still has a speaker, which is great for setup and voice commands, but is too tinny to listen to music on.

My Amazon Dot arrived in the mail yesterday. Here are my initial thoughts after playing with the device for a few hours:

What I Love About the Dot

  • The price point is incredible. (Amazon currently lists the device at $90.) The amount of tech that Amazon managed to compress into this hockey-puck sized device is incredible.

  • The Dot includes the same 7 microphones that are present in the Echo, giving it the same ability to hear commands from across the room (assuming you don't have loud music playing).

  • It can connect to external speakers via Bluetooth or an auxiliary cable, greatly increasing its uses around the house (it is currently making great use of my surround sound speakers!)

  • Quick and intelligent access to a ton of 3rd party services and podcasts makes it easy to listen to the latest episode of Planet Money or NPR News.

  • The integration for Audible and Kindle (yes, Alexa can read any Kindle book for you if you wish) is pretty great. Combined with a good selection of podcasts through TuneIn, most of the content I want is just a command away.

  • Amazon released the Alexa Dev SDK several months back. While I haven't personally created a "Skill" to use on my Echo yet, it is on my to-do list!

What I Found Lacking

  • The way you connect voice requests to 3rd party services or "Skills" is not quite flexible enough. If I say "Play Marble Machine on Spotify" it won't work because I didn't say "from Spotify".

  • The fancy 7-microphone-system doesn't perform as well as my Xbox One when the room is loud (like when I'm playing music through the Dot.) This is a little frustrating, since this should be the one thing that Echo does best. I believe a big part is the placement of the Dot itself.

  • The app and website, while very useful, has a user experience that leaves much to be desired.

Granted, most of these can be further improved by voice training or software updates. These minor issues are far outweighed by the convenience that Dot brings, especially to someone like me.

If you like listening to podcasts, news, audiobooks or music and want a decently simple and hands-free way to play them, this may be the right product for you!


Note: Amazon also released the Tap, a mobile battery-powered bluetooth speaker with Alexa built-in. However, while the product has a nice form-factor, it ultimately didn't do what I want. Instead of waking on a command word, the Tap has a button you press to conserve battery.