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Alexa is the world’s most popular smart assistant and the driving force behind Amazon’s beloved Echo smart speaker lineup. These voice-controlled, Alexa-enabled smart speakers can be used to manage your smart home, give you the forecasts for the day ahead, and much more.

If you’re thinking about inviting Alexa into your home via one of Amazon’s Echo speakers, you may be wondering which one to buy. We took a look at two of Amazon’s most popular smart speakers, the Echo (third-generation) and the Echo Dot (third-generation) to help you decide which of these handy smart speakers is best for you.

Echo Dot vs. Echo: What’s the difference?

Design and size

Winsford Guardian: The Echo Dot (third-generation) is one of the smallest Amazon Echo smart speakers. Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser The Echo Dot (third-generation) is one of the smallest Amazon Echo smart speakers. Credit: Reviewed / Betsey Goldwasser

The most obvious visual difference between the Echo Dot and the Echo is the size. The Echo is the larger of the two speakers, featuring a cylinder design that stands 148 millimetres tall with a diameter of 99 millimetres. For comparison, the Echo Dot is shorter, measuring 43 millimetres high and 99 millimetres across.

The Echo Dot comes in four colours: Charcoal, Heather Gray, Plum, and Sandstone, whereas the Echo only comes in Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone. Unlike the Echo, there’s an additional variation of the Echo Dot (third-generation): the Echo Dot with clock.

Another design cue of note is that the Echo weighs just over 780 grams and the Dot clocks in at roughly 300 grams. It might not seem like much of a difference on paper (and you likely won’t be toting it around much anyway), but the heft of the Echo is more noticeable over time than you might think.

Sound quality

Winsford Guardian: An internal look into Echo's premium sound system. Credit: Amazon An internal look into Echo's premium sound system. Credit: Amazon

Given the smaller size of the Echo Dot’s 1.6-inch speaker, it’s no surprise that the larger Echo is much better at filling the room with sound. Built with Dolby audio support, a 3-inch woofer, and a 0.8-inch tweeter, Amazon’s Echo speaker is a delight to listen to, putting out noticeably louder and clearer sound than its smaller counterpart. That’s not to say the Echo Dot doesn’t deliver on sound quality, but its size constraints mean that it doesn’t offer the smooth sound of the regular Echo.

There’s no denying that the third-generation Echo Dot's sound is an improvement over the second-generation. As you’ve probably gathered by now, one Echo Dot likely won't be enough if you're in the mood to rock out. When turned all the way up, the Dot is comparable to a compact Bluetooth speaker you might bring to the beach or camping, though it's not portable like those speakers.

Usability and functionality

No matter which Echo speaker you're using, the access to music and other entertainment services is the same. Echo speakers can stream songs from Apple Music, Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, and other platforms. And, you can access all of the same Alexa features on the Echo Dot as you can the Echo.

The third-generation Amazon Echo speakers are designed with the same four controls on the top of the device: volume up, volume down, mic off, and action button. There’s also a ring light around the top portion of the speaker that flashes different colours like yellow (for messages and notifications), red (when the mic has been muted), and more.

Both speakers are equally responsive, offer Bluetooth connectivity, and work with iOS, Android, and Fire OS via the Amazon Alexa app. Along with wireless connection, both speakers also offer a 3.5 mm audio jack for plugging in headphones, while the regular Echo also allows you to plug in a phone or other sound source to playback through the speaker.

Amazon Echo speakers and privacy concerns

Winsford Guardian: A red light ring means the Echo's microphones are turned off, and Alexa can't hear your conversations. Credit: Amazon A red light ring means the Echo's microphones are turned off, and Alexa can't hear your conversations. Credit: Amazon

It’s safe to assume that any time you invite a smart or connected device into your home, you’re sacrificing a portion of your privacy. There are, however, steps you can take to protect your privacy from Alexa.

Amazon has addressed previous privacy concerns over using audio recordings as part of their respective voice-assistant quality evaluation processes. Each time you say "Alexa" (or another wake word of choice), there’s a chance someone may review the audio clip unless you adjust your privacy settings. However, the wake word and the command or question that follows are the only parts being recorded according to Amazon. Amazon says reviewing interactions with Alexa helps to improve the overall user experience.

What does this mean for you? Your conversations won’t automatically be stored away for review unless you give your Echo permission to do so. During the setup of your Echo speaker, make sure to poke around the settings and adjust the privacy controls to your liking.

There’s a mute button for the mic on the top of the speaker to prevent Alexa from listening when you don't want her to. You can also delete Alexa recordings that have already been stored.

Amazon Echo vs. Echo Dot: Which one is right for you?

For most smart home beginners, we recommend starting with the Echo Dot (third-generation). It’s more affordable than the Echo and comes with all of the same features. Plus, it’s the perfect size for storing on your desk or on a shelf in the kitchen. The only thing you’re really sacrificing is sound quality.

If you plan to mostly use Alexa for streaming music regularly, however, we recommend the Echo (third-generation). It sounds a lot better and offers all the features to control your smart home as the Echo Dot.

It's also worth noting that there are tons of other great smart speakers out there, including many that sound better than either Echo speaker, though any speakers from a third-party (i.e. not from Amazon) will be missing few features, such as in-home conferencing.

Get the Echo Dot (third-generation) on Amazon for £49.99

Get the Echo (third-generation) on Amazon for £89.99

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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.