Which Amazon Echo should you buy?

One Alexa, loads of very different gadgets – we can help
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When Amazon's personal assistant first launched a couple years back, Alexa only came in a tube. But now there are multiple tubes to choose from – and other shapes too.

Now Alexa is found all over the place, from the familiar home speakers to smartphones, the Fire TV, and even smartwatches. And the core Echo family itself has grown to encompass some rather unexpected creations, including a couple with a screen and another with a camera that judges your fashion sense (yes, really).

Still haven't brought a spoken assistant into your home? Here's a look at the six current Amazon Echo devices and why each might be the best fit for your needs.

Best for: Cheap and effective

Amazon Echo Dot (£50)

At just £50, the Echo Dot is the most obvious pickup for anyone just dipping a toe into the virtual assistant pool. And it's still our pick of the Echos. 

It's impressively cheap for what it is, and is just as capable at answering queries and assisting you as the fuller-bodied models are.

The Echo Dot trims the original cylinder design down to just a hockey puck full of tech. You'll plug it in, set it up with your smartphone, and then Alexa will be there to answer your random queries, tell you the weather, play music, or tell a joke. She's an entertainer, that Alexa, but she can also help manage your various smart home devices with spoken commands.

The big downside, expectedly, is that there isn't much room for a very effective speaker: the 0.6in speaker has little bass and sounds like listening to the radio two decades ago. Luckily, you can pair Bluetooth speakers or use the 3.5mm output to wire some in.

If you already have speakers to use, great. If not, and you want to use Alexa as your personal DJ, then you might consider a larger Echo instead. But this one's still excellent on its own if you don't put a premium on music playback.

Read our full Amazon Echo Dot review

Best for: All-around performance

Amazon Echo (£90)

The brand new second-generation Echo ditches the taller, sterile-looking design in favour of something smaller, fuzzier, and quite a bit cheaper to boot. At £89, you get a more stylish version of the original device at a nice drop down from the earlier £150 price tag.

By and large, the new Echo acts the same as the old one in practice. Alexa is in full form here and always listening, with seven improved microphones that can hear your commands from a fair distance, even over music or clatter from your kids or pets.

The sound quality is still solid: it can fill a room pretty well but it's still just coming from a small tube, so the result can be a bit cluttered-sounding and weak. And you can still hook in speakers if you please.

But the sound quality is definitely better than the Echo Dot, if you're looking for an all-in-one device that doesn't break the bank. And with both wood and fabric shells, you can fit it with something a bit closer to your own style, rather than being stuck with one look.

Read our full Amazon Echo 2nd gen review

Best for: Surprisingly full sound

Amazon Echo Plus (£140)

What looks like the first-gen Echo and sounds like a dream? It's the new Amazon Echo Plus, and "dream" might be pushing it, but this is certainly the best-sounding Echo in the bunch.

Amazon has effectively repurposed the old design for a more advanced Echo that brings in better sound and added smarts. Solid bass is the biggest enhancement over the lesser Echo, and it does a fine job of filling your space. That said, the Alexa-equipped Sonos One is significantly better if you're willing to add another £60 to the price tag.

The Echo Plus has another intriguing perk: the ability to act as a smart home hub for your connected gadgets. Yes, the other Echo devices can be told to turn on/off lights or adjust the temperature of your smart thermostat, but the Echo Plus can be the actual hub that some devices connect to. For example, you won't need to buy the special £50 hub for the Philips Hue bulbs; you can just pair them with the Echo Plus.

That's great in theory, but the hub only works with the ZigBee standard and not others, like Z-Wave. That limits its capabilities, not to mention which devices you can use without a special hub for each. It feels like a job half-done, and it's a slightly muddled perk here.

Read our full Amazon Echo Plus review

Best for: Seeing what you're hearing

Amazon Echo Show (£200)

Recently released in the UK after a summer debut in the States, Amazon's Echo Show brings a very unique twist to the Echo line: Alexa is no longer just a spoken assistant here, but also a visual one.

It's sort of like a tablet, albeit one you're not supposed to pick up and wield. This home hub is meant to sit on a bookshelf or kitchen countertop, and you'll still primarily interact with Alexa by asking for things – but the 7in touch display also means that you can see information that she brings for you, such as the weather or movie times.

You can also watch Amazon Video fare and news briefings, although YouTube support has been killed since the U.S. release (ouch). It can also show lyrics to songs while you're listening, take photos like a camera booth, and show recipes while you're cooking. And it's useful for video calls, but not with Skype or other services: you have to use Amazon's Echo smartphone app, or connect to someone else with an Echo Show.

It has perks, but this first marriage of a spoken assistant and a touch device feels largely inessential, plus the sound-quality from the front-facing stereo speakers underwhelmed compared to the room-filling first-gen Echo when we reviewed the U.S. version.

Amazon might eventually be on to something with the screen, but they're not there yet. We would recommend any of the above devices before this one, based on our experience so far.

Read our full Amazon Echo Show review

Best for: When you can't dress yourself

Amazon Echo Look (US$200)

Of all the forms the Echo has taken, this is the least expected. The Echo Look is essentially a style consultant, built to dress you down when you get dressed up for the day. Really? Yes, really.

It's a hands-free, tripod-mounted camera flanked by four LED lights, and you can ask Alexa to snap your photo at any time to see your outfit. You can spin around and see the result in real time on your smartphone, save images to a look book, and even get blurred backdrops in the photos so that your look really stands out.

And if you need a second opinion, you can ask Alexa: a combination of machine learning and input from style experts have concocted an algorithm that'll decide which of two outfits looks best. You trust the cloud, right? Good.

Otherwise, it's an Echo, albeit likely not the best-sounding one for music. The Echo Look is only available in the States right now through an invitation-only program, although you can request an invite. It seems super-niche, and unless you are style-obsessed, you're probably better off with one of the cheaper Echo models. You'll do just fine with a mirror.