Best Alexa devices for every room: Our 2021 guide
We got our first Amazon Echo in late 2015. By that time, we’d already been buying smart devices and blogging about them for a few years, but everything we used was controlled by an app, or through our smart home hub with automations we configured.
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There were times when the app was slower or less efficient than flipping the switch or hitting the garage door button, but that didn’t matter. Our home was smart!
When we got the email invitation to buy an Echo, we were intrigued. We weren’t sure what to do with it, but we had been wanting to have music in the bedroom, so we figured since it had a big speaker, we could put it there.
Most everything we did with our smart home before was complicated, but it turned out that our smart home hub already worked with the Echo, so all we had to do was say: “Alexa, discover devices” and she found nearly everything in our house that was connected. Within a few minutes we could ask her to turn on and off most of the lights in our house, set the thermostat, and open and close the garage door. We were hooked.
Fast forward six years later and we have most every version of the Amazon Echo in our house, in almost every room. We have a few devices made by other companies that have Alexa built-in, but most of the time we use the Amazon-branded Echos.
Whether you are just getting started or want to expand Alexa around your house, here are our favorite Echo devices for every room.
Echo Show 10 – our primary Kitchen Alexa Device
We waited a while before we got our first Echo Show. We were fine with Alexa devices all over the house that could be listening to us, but something about adding a camera made us pause.
It wasn’t until we visited our sister-in-law and saw her Echo Show that we decided to get our own. We’ve loved having the large display, the ability to do video conferencing and having it as a cooking helper, showing recipes and multiple timers.
We recently upgraded to the Echo Show 10, the latest generation, that includes a nicer display, a better speaker, and a swivel feature that follows us as we move about the kitchen. We haven’t gotten the placement exactly right yet, sometimes the Echo bumps into our toaster oven or gets stuck the wrong way, but we suspect we’ll figure that out soon enough.
Added smart home features
We also love being able to see what’s going on with our smart cameras with the Echo Show display. We can ask Alexa to show us what’s going on in the backyard, in the garage or at the front door. Plenty of indoor and outdoor cameras and video doorbells work with Alexa today.
Also, the Echo Show 10 includes Zigbee, making it compatible with even more smart home products. Zigbee is a low-power, mesh network protocol that’s been around since the early aughts, and has been built into millions of smart home products since.
While all Alexas work with Wi-Fi devices, Zigbee devices generally have longer battery life and work together more efficiently without clogging your home Wi-Fi network. Before Amazon started building it in, you would generally have to use a separate hub to connect Zigbee devices in your home.
With the Echo Show 10 (and other Zigbee compatible Echos, like the full-size 4th Gen Echo or the Echo Studio High-Fidelity Speaker), you can connect lots more, even battery-powered, smart devices and create Alexa routines, such as window/door sensors, smart locks and thermostats.
Echo Show 5 – our favorite nightstand Echo
When we got our first original Echo, we put it in the bedroom, primarily so we could play music with the Bluetooth speaker. Soon we discovered that it made a great alarm clock – you can just ask Alexa to wake you up whenever you like. You can even ask her to snooze, set multiple alarms, or whisper to her if you don’t want to wake up your partner.
While the Echo speaker made a great alarm, it didn’t have an actual clock. So a couple of years ago we got an Echo Show 5 that includes a small display and a camera. In our case, the camera is almost always off (there’s a little privacy switch that covers the camera manually), and when you’re not using the display for Alexa, it shows the time.
A side benefit of using Alexa as an alarm clock – since it’s connected to the Internet, it always has the right time and you never have to adjust it for Daylight Savings Time. You won’t be able to trick yourself by setting it 10 minutes ahead though.
We actually have two Alexa devices in our bedroom. Our Sandman Doppler has Alexa built-in but does not have a camera or display, just a nice big clock. We had to change the wake word on the Echo Show to Amazon instead of Alexa so they don’t talk over each other.
The Doppler or an Echo Dot with clock are nice alternatives if you don’t want a camera in your bedroom but you still want to see the time.
Echo Dot – an Alexa for every room or a small space
After we got our first Amazon Echo and started controlling our house with it, we quickly bought a second one so we could use it in the kitchen. We have an open kitchen/family room situation so that was good enough to let us ask Alexa to turn things on and off from both our bedroom and the main living area.
But as we got more accustomed to using Alexa to control our smart home we realized we needed more. Thankfully Amazon introduced the Echo Dot, a smaller version of the original Echo at a much better price point. Pretty quickly we added Echo Dots in our offices and in our upstairs bonus room.
Calling other Alexa devices
In 2017 Amazon introduced another feature we can’t live without, calling between Echo devices like an intercom. We can just say, Alexa, Drop In: “Mark” or “Valerie” and call each other in our offices, or call the kitchen or bedroom. It works with both voice and video so if we call an Echo Show we can see each other too.
We can also make announcements that go to all of the Echoes in the house, such as “Dinner’s ready” – and Alexa is smart enough to add a dinner bell if you’re talking about a meal.
Since then, Amazon has introduced plenty of other messaging features – you can Drop in on Echos in other households, you can send text messages or call regular phone numbers in the US, UK, Canada and Mexico. While this is handy, we don’t really use it that much. We still use our regular mobile phones to call, occasionally asking Siri to help.
Echo Flex – a simple plug-in Alexa
Since we rely so much on Alexa to control our house, we would like to have an Alexa available in every room, but sometimes it’s not practical to plug in even something as small as an Echo Dot.
That’s where the Echo Flex is handy. It is a self-contained Amazon Echo that plugs right into a wall outlet, with a simple speaker/microphone that’s plenty good enough for commands (but not really a great speaker for music or other entertainment).
Extra smart home control capabilities
One thing we really like about the Echo Flex are the expansion modules you can buy. We have both the night light, a nice bright night light that plugs into the bottom and can be set to a color, and the motion sensor.
With the motion sensor plugged into the Echo Flex, you can make Alexa routines that trigger lights and other devices based on motion, something that used to require a much more sophisticated smart home hub like Samsung SmartThings.
Speaking of routines, Alexa has really expanded this capability. Now you can use all sorts of devices, even ones attached to a Z-wave hub like SmartThings. You can even define a special phrase to trigger the routine, or use many compatible sensors to trigger the events.
With these types of sensors and the Zigbee capabilities we discussed before added into the higher end Amazon Echos, Alexa is fast becoming a more complete smart home solution.
Room for improvement
Of course, with so many Amazon Echos around our house, especially with a mix of older and newer models, we also can’t help noticing the flaws as well as the benefits. We know we have too many Alexas when the wrong one tries to answer or complete a task.
This gets really annoying when an Echo in the wrong room sets a timer and you have to shout upstairs to get it to turn off – more annoying when that doesn’t work and you have to run upstairs so it can hear you. Amazon must be working on this because the Echo Show in the kitchen often asks us if the right device is responding.
We’ve also noticed that the devices with Alexa built-in are not quite as responsive as the ones made by Amazon. They always seem to be at least one step behind when it comes to features and sometimes don’t work at all. We have had devices from at least four different manufacturers with Alexa built-in and none of them run Alexa as well as their Amazon-built counterparts. We’ll keep trying them though, since they do more than just voice commands.
One of the most annoying things about Alexa in our house is having different accounts. We have two adults in our household and we have our different preferences, for instance, in music and news, plus our own contacts in our phone book. So in this case it is useful to be able to switch accounts, say if I want to listen to my own Pandora music, I can ask Alexa to switch to my account.
Unfortunately, it is not useful when controlling our house. Mark generally sets up a lot of the routines in Alexa, but they don’t always translate to both Alexa accounts. For some reason, Mark can say, “Alexa turn off the lights,” and it is smart enough to figure out which lights are in that room and turn them all off, but that doesn’t work in my account. I have to ask Alexa to turn on the specific light or group of lights by name.
There are plenty of times when I ask Alexa to do something and she says that the device is not responding, but if I switch to Mark’s account it works right away. In these cases I spend a lot of time swearing at Alexa, and she only responds with her plainative “bonk.” She’s passive-aggressive sometimes.
It’s not exaggerating to say that Alexa has changed our lives, at least when it comes to controlling our home. Beyond just turning lights on and off and calling each other around the house, we also tend to listen to more music, and stay more well informed about the news and weather. We ask her for plenty of facts and figures we would probably never bother looking up on a computer or a phone. She’s even handy to do math, like converting measures for cooking. She’s become part of the family, and we miss her when we travel. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked Alexa to turn off the lights in a hotel or at a friend’s house.
So while she’s not perfect, we do love having Alexa around the house and we expect she’ll be here for some time to come.