So you’ve decided to bring Alexa into your life. Good idea. Now comes the hard part: Which Amazon Echo is right for you? We’ll go over all the models, including the brand-new second-generation Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Spot that Amazon just announced.

Amazon pioneered the concept of a smart speaker, an audio device with a voice-activated digital assistant that can do everything from play music (from Amazon Music or Spotify, Pandora, and certain other services if you’re a subscriber), to recite the day’s news, deliver weather and traffic updates, and—perhaps most importantly—control virtually every element of your smart home.

More recently, Amazon made it possible to make outgoing calls from an Echo to any phone number in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. All you need to do is ask Alexa to call the name of your contact. You can also use Echos as an in-home intercom and make video calls (provided the person on the other end of the line has the Alexa app on their phone or a video-enabled Echo in their house).

Google Home might be slightly more sophisticated in terms of the commands it can respond to, and Apple’s HomePod might be the one to beat it terms of audio quality (we’ll see). But the Echo series has far more skills and third-party integrations than either of those competitors.

What’s more, Amazon has been busily signing up third-party manufacturers to integrate Alexa into their own products, with the C by GE Sol smart lamp being the most recent example.

Let’s start with the newest models, although our opinions on that score are based almost entirely on the information Amazon has provided. We won’t have an opportunity to review Amazon’s new products until they ship (some at the end of the month, others in December).

Echo (second generation)

  • Who’s it for? Anyone who wants a smart speaker that can tie into most any smart home system.
  • What sets it apart? The new design is shorter, so it should be more stable on a table top. Amazon also says audio quality is better relative to the first-generation Echo. It’s available in a variety of finishes, and it’s $60 to $80 cheaper than the original. Buy a three-pack and you’ll save $50.
  • Does it have a display? No, it depends on the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet.
  • What finishes does it come in? Your choice of three cloth covers, two wood finishes, or a silver finish.
  • What drawbacks does it have? We haven’t reviewed one yet, but we haven’t been impressed with the speakers in any of the Echos to date.
  • How much does it cost? The cloth-covered models cost $99.99 each. The wood and silver finishes are priced at $119.95 each.
  • When will it be available? You can preorder now, with shipping promised by October 31.

The thing about the Echo is, once you have one in your home, you’ll want them all over your home, especially if you link Alexa to your smart home system as I’ve done. I predicted that would be the case with the very first Echo, but unfortunately, that device was too expensive for lots of people to buy in multiples. That should be less of an issue with the newly announced second-generation Echo, which Amazon is pricing at $99.99 or $119.99, depending on the finish you choose, with a $50 discount if you buy three at once.

The new Echo is much shorter than the original (the older model fostered a cottage industry of accessories to prevent it from tipping over—or to protect it from an impact if it did). The second-generation model arguably is more attractive, wrapped in your choice of three tweed-like fabrics (the $100 models) or three smooth finishes (the $120 models). Amazon says the new Echo is outfitted with better speakers plus Dolby processing. The second-generation Echo will ship on October 31.

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