(Pocket-lint) - At this point in time, Amazon makes so many Echo devices and Alexa-enabled gadgets that it's dizzying. But there's one we just had to give a try: Echo Flex.
We had a specific use-case in mind for this tiny speaker, and honestly, if you're thinking about getting one of them, you should have an idea of why, where you'd put it, and what for, because each Echo device serves a different purpose, and this one is no different.
What is the Amazon Echo Flex?
- 72 x 67 x 42mm; 150g
- Plugs into wall outlet
The $25/£25 Echo Flex is an all-white Echo device that plugs into your standard wall outlet. On the front, you'll find an LED light, two buttons (action and mic off), alongside two little speakers. On the back is the outlet prong, while on the bottom there's a single USB-A port. One 3.5mm stereo audio port also sits on the side of the speaker.
You can use the 3.5mm audio output for use with external speakers, while the USB-A port is meant to work with accessories, such as Third Reality's recently announced Smart Clock for $15/£15 - which is the same price as itsmotion detector and night light attachments (sold separately).
Let's be real, the Echo Flex isn't exactly a looker. It reminds us of an old light timer you'd get way back in the day before smart home gadgets were a thing. It's so nondescript; it almost blends right in no matter where you put it, which can't be said for some of the larger Echo devices. Heck, even the Echo Dot needs a counter or table to sit on. But the Flex can be hung on a wall and put out of sight if you wanted.
- Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz)
- Bluetooth connectivity
- 0.6-inch mini speaker
The Echo Flex supports dual-band Wi-Fi, has Bluetooth connectivity, and features a small built-in speaker for voice feedback when not connected to external speakers. The sound from this mini speaker won't exactly bowl you over - it's akin to what you'd get out of your smartphone if you put it on speaker, or maybe a touch louder.
Like other Echo devices, the Echo Flex also has always-listening microphones, which let you bark voice commands at Alexa. There are two microphones inside. For comparison, the Echo Dot has seven. In our testing, you should be within 10 feet of the Flex for it to hear your voice. There also has to be minimal environmental noise around for it to hear you best too.
What can the Amazon Echo Flex do?
The Echo Flex is probably most similar to the Echo Dot, but yet it's a totally different beast. When you first get it, plug it in and open the Alexa app to quickly set it up on your home network and connect it to your Amazon account. Once that's done, you can immediately start asking Alexa to add things to your shopping cart, check the weather, make hands-free calls, control your smart home devices, and more.
You can even enable Amazon's Alexa Guard service to get alerts if your Echo device should it detect the sound of smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, or glass breaking. We did just that. After purchasing several Echo Flex devices, we placed a couple by sliding glass doors and alarms.
You can use the action button to invoke Alexa without the wake word, or you can hit the mic mute button if you want to stop Alexa from listening. These are standard for an Echo, but it goes to show, with the Flex you can get the full Echo experience at a fraction of the cost.
What can't the Amazon Echo Flex do?
Now, we said you can get the full Echo experience with Echo Flex, but that doesn't mean you'll get the best experience. The speaker on this thing is very tinny and should only be used when there isn't a lot of background noise. Don't expect to plug the Flex into your bathroom outlet and hear it while you're in the shower. We tried that; no bueno. So, we swapped it out for an Echo Dot and that was the way to go.
For reference, the Echo Dot has 1.6-inch speaker compared to the 0.6-inch on the Flex. Echo Flex also does not support Dobly technology. If you want that, get the Echo or Echo Plus, both of which support Dolby Audio. There's also the Echo Studio, which supports Dolby Atmos.
You should also know that the Echo Flex doesn't support Zigbee, which means it doesn't have a built-in smart home hub to let you control light bulbs, door locks, in-wall switches, sensors, and plugs, etcetera, without the need for separate hubs or a smart home Skill. Amazon does offer other Echo devices with Zigbee support, however, such as the Echo Plus and the Echo Show. But those cost quite a bit more than Flex.
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Why would you buy an Amazon Echo Flex?
So, the speaker and microphones on the Echo Flex aren't exactly amazing. So why would you buy one?
You can use it to create an intercom system in your home! Get a bunch of them and put one in your garage, kitchen, bedroom, living room, back porch, front porch, anywhere with a wall outlet. Amazon recommends that you use the Flex to talk to people in any room in the house.
Flex supports Alexa's Drop In and Announcements features, so you can use it to let everyone know dinner is ready, or remind your kid to do their homework. You can also make hands-free calls to almost any number in the US, Canada, Mexico, and the UK, if you setup Alexa Calling.
As the Flex is so often reduced - often going for as little as $15/£15 - we bought five of them earlier in the year. Remember, its clock, motion detector, and night light attachments typically cost that much as well. With those, you can do even more with the Flex. The clock will show you the time and timers, the motion detector tells you when someone walks by, and the night light is, well, a night light.
While we haven't had a chance to test those accessories, we can testify the Flex works nicely as an intercom. We have one in our home office upstairs and use it to talk to friends and family who are downstairs. We also have one in our bedroom for that same purpose. It's so handy.
This speaker is called the Echo Flex for a reason: it's packed with flexibility.
While it's not the best loudspeaker in the Amazon Echo range, it can go absolutely anywhere inside the home where there's a wall outlet and doesn't take up much space. And, because it has built-in Alexa and supports key Alexa features - such as Drop In, Announcements, Alexa Calling, and smart home control (but no Zigbee) - it's super functional to boot.
If we had to recommend a reason to get the Echo Flex, we'd tell you to buy several and set up an intercom system in your home. That's what we've done. And not a day goes by that we don't use our Flex system. We've even like to use them for calling people.
The Flex is relatively cheap, unobtrusive, and has loads of potential. Honestly, if it wasn't so plain to look at, supported ZigBee, had a larger speaker, and maybe offered a couple more mics, it'd beat most of Amazon's Echo range - especially at this price point.
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Increasingly smart, better sounding audio and a stronger design than before: the Echo Dot is the easy access point for Alexa's skills and voice control, whether as a first Echo device, or an expansion in a growing system.
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
The Echo Dot with Clock is a no-brainer in many senses. It's an ideal addition to a bedroom, less distracting than larger devices with a display, but still performs that essential job of showing you the time in the middle of the night. Equally, thanks to things like a countdown timer display, it's a useful companion in the kitchen too.