Amazon isn’t just an online retailer. The company also makes a huge range of products, from voice assistants and media tablets to security cameras, ereaders and more, that can streamline your daily tasks and make you more productive, both at home and at work.
Each Amazon product comes with a number of different versions, and knowing which one you want (or even what it does) can sometimes be a little confusing. So we've put together this special guide to Amazon's own products to help you out.
From Echo smart speakers to Kindle readers, Fire tablets to Deals Buttons, we'll help you decide which device is right for your needs – and show you the best deals on each, at Amazon and beyond.
Amazon Echo voice assistants
Remember that future you were promised by sci-fi TV shows, in which you could chat to a disembodied computer voice and they would do everything for you? Well, it's here, sort of. While Amazon's voice assistant Alexa is not exactly Knight Rider's KITT, it does let you play music, search the web, create to-do lists, order online shopping, get the latest weather reports, and control popular smart-home products, all just by talking to one of Amazon's Echo speakers.
There are many reasons why you might want one of these smart wireless speakers in your home. Most obviously, the more you can make your home life easier and more streamlined, the more time you have to get your work done and relax afterwards. It's also kind of fun to do things like turning on lights just by talking.
Furthermore, if you work in web design, it's vital to start getting your head around these kinds of interfaces, because designing for voice is likely to be a big part of your work in the near-future, if it's not already.
In this first section of our Amazon device guide, we run through the different versions of Amazon's Echo smart speakers, so you can decide which is the best for your needs.
Not sure about whether this whole Alexa thing will work for you? Then the Echo Dot is the cheapest way to try it out. A nice-looking little device, that’s small enough to fit into your pocket, this comes in a much lower price than the Amazon Echo. But it retains almost all its voice recognition features, so it’s a great way to try out this tech and see what it can do for you. The sound is the weakest in the range though, so you almost certainly will want to connect it up to another speaker if you want to listen to music.
The standard way to get started with the Amazon Echo ecosystem, the Echo is a very capable and good value smart speaker. If you’re looking for a voice-activated device that will perform a range of tasks, from adding things to your calendar to ordering a takeaway, then this is a very capable and reliable device. The sound is basic, but decent enough for such tasks, although if you want to play a lot of music, you might prefer to connect it to a better quality speaker via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm jack. You can even use it to control smart home devices, from lights to thermostats, although like all the products on this list except for the Echo plus, that will need to happen via each device’s own smart home hub.
Frustrated by the idea of only using voice to communicate with your smart speaker? The Amazon Echo Show comes with a 10-inch touchscreen and a 5 megapixel camera, which means you have many more ways to interact with Alexa. You can also use it to make video calls to friends and family with Echo devices. The sound is better than that of the standard Amazon Echo, although there’s still room for improvement when compared with Bluetooth speakers designed mainly for playing music. But brilliantly, when you play tracks through its Prime Music service, the lyrics to many (if not all) of the songs appear on your screen.
This child-friendly version of the Echo Dot is essentially the same device, but with the features simplified for the younger audience. It comes in a colourful rubber case and is accompanied by a colourful comic-book guide. Plus the Echo Dot Kids version of Alexa behaves more like a parent, praising the child, for example, for saying 'please' and 'thank you', and shielding them from inappropriate content. Not yet released in the UK at time of writing, the device comes with a year's free subscription to the FreeTime Unlimited kid-focused service in the US, which includes curated content from partners like Nickelodeon, National Geographic and Disney, including things like family friendly radio stations and tailored alarms from well-known characters.
The Amazon Echo Spot is a mini-version of the Show, but comes with a 2.5-inch circular screen instead of a 7-inch rectangular one. It's not really the right size or shape for watching video, then, but it’s fine for reading messages and clockfaces, or for making video calls. The smaller speaker means that sound isn’t quite as good either. But it functions well at what it does, and its size might be considered an advantage in terms of portability, meaning you can use it around the home, from kitchen to bedroom with the minimum of fuss.
The Amazon Echo Plus looks pretty similar to the standard Amazon Echo, but unlike all the other Echo device on this list, it has the ZigBee wireless protocol built in, so can connect up to your smart home network directly. Note that ZigBee is one of many smart home standards, although it is supported by many of the best known smart devices, including Philips Hue lights, IKEA's smart lights, Samsung SmartThings, Osram Lightify and Honeywell's thermostat. The sound of the Plus is also by far the best in the range, although it’s still not quite up to the quality of a high-end audio speaker.
Amazon Kindle ereaders
Whether you're on the train to work, traveling to a design event, or just relaxing on a beach holiday, it's difficult to pick up your smartphone without getting sucked into social media or work emails. But it's not good for your mental health or overall productivity to never switch off from all that noise. So why not instead invest in an e-reader? The Amazon Kindle range has a number of different models to suit different people’s needs. Read on to find out which is best for you.
With the Amazon Kindle range you very much get what you pay for, and the Kindle is the most basic, and consequently cheapest, e-reader of the bunch. With 4GB of storage, you can carry thousands of ebooks around with you wherever you go, and the touchscreen is perfectly usable. The latest 2019 model improves on earlier versions with the addition of a frontlight, enabling you to read comfortably indoors or outdoors, day or night, so now the only real downside to the basic Kindle is the lack of 3G functionality. If you can cope with that then you may well be willing to make for the lower price.
The Kindle Paperwhite is a clear step up from the basic Kindle. There isn’t just a blacklight, but a beautifully sharp HD display that looks striking close to the look of real paper. You’ll find it a lot easier to read ebook in bright sunlight than with the Kindle. And in fact, over several hours the sharper text, using Amazon’s custom font Bookerly, will be less of a strain of your eyes, whatever the lighting conditions.
The Kindle Voyage was originally a significant step up from the Paperwhite in terms of screen quality. But since the latter got an upgrade to 300ppi, the benefits of paying a higher price for the Voyage have lessened. That said, its Cara e-paper screen does offer a premium reading experience, it’s the lightest Kindle in the range, and it is also, in our view the most elegantly designed. There’s also a cool feature called PagePress, which lets you turn a page just by pressing a little harder on the screen.
The only all-metal Kindle (it’s made of aluminium), the Amazon Kindle Oasis is waterproof so it’s a safe choice for reading in the bath or swimming pool, or just if you get clumsy around drinks. There’s a massive amount of storage (either 8GB or 32GB), so you’re never likely to run out of space. You can listen to Audible audiobooks, although you’ll need a Bluetooth speaker or headphones, as there’s no headphone jack. And of course, the larger (7-inch screen) and excellent backlight offer a top-class reading experience, including the inclusion of physical buttons for page turning.
Amazon Fire tablets
If you want a tablet for illustration or design work then you'll probably want to spend serious money on something like a Wacom or iPad Pro. But if you just want something for doing a bit of light surfing, or to watch a movie on in bed? Then you can save some serious money by opting for one of Amazon’s low cost Fire tablets instead. Read on to find out which ones best for you.
The Fire 7 is the cheapest of Amazon’s Fire tablets, but there are reasons for that. Most notably, it doesn’t have an HD screen, and the camera is pretty low quality. Beyond that, though, it does what you need it to do, the battery life is good and the low price makes it very tempting buy for a basic entry-level media and entertainment tablet.
If there’s one eternal truth in life, it’s that children break things. A lot. And so the Amazon Fire Kids version comes in a durable case that should protect it being dropped, and if that doesn’t work, you’re protected by a no-questions-asked two-year warranty. The Fire Kids also comes with a year’s free subscription to Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited service, which provides access to 15,000 kid-friendly books, videos, educational apps and games. Plus the software is specially designed to prevent your little ones from accessing inappropriate content, and you can even set screen-time limits.
If you want a tablet that’s significantly cheaper than an iPad but still offers HD quality, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is a great choice. It also comes with Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa. Okay, so it’s cheap and plastic looking, and the camera isn’t much good, but otherwise it’s fine for browsing the internet, watching streaming videos and other well, and you’re unlikely to find a better bargain anywhere else.
If you’re looking for the top of the range Fire tablet, then the Amazon Fire HD 10 is the one for you. This tablet boasts a bigger screen (10.1in) and better quality picture (Full HD 1080p) than the HD 8, not to mention more RAM (2GB), which enables it to run faster. A shame, then, that it still looks cheap and has a poor quality camera. But with a price that’s still significantly lower than an iPad, that may not put you off buying what is essentially a very media tablet.
For most smaller children, the Fire Kids tablet (above) is all you need. Yet what about when your kids get to an age when they’re demanding hi-def video and gaming content, but you still want the rugged build, two-year warranty, and year’s supply of Amazon’s FreeTime Unlimited service? Then there’s the Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids Edition, which comes with a larger screen (8 inches), more storage (32GB) and a bigger battery life (10 hours) to keep up with all that HD content. All of which, in our eyes, justifies the higher price nicely.
For bigger kids who aren't quite ready to move on to a grown-up tablet, there's now the Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition, which is about as good as it gets for a kids' tablet. This model features a full-size 10.1-inch 1080p display, a more powerful 1.8GHz quad-core processor and 2GB of RAM; like the 8-inch model it delivers 32GB of storage and 10 hours of battery life. However it only packs a low-res VGA front-facing camera, while both smaller models boast 2MP resolution, and it's also disappointing in its choice of case colours: just blue and pink. Way to reinforce gender stereotypes, guys!
Amazon Fire TV streaming products
In 2019 there's a huge range of ways to stream TV and video to our big screens. But our sets aren't always able to keep up with ever changing technologies and services. In which case, you may find these Amazon devices provide a useful bridge between your telly and your streaming platform.
Amazon Fire TV is a video streaming device that allows you to play 4K and HDR content on your 4K TV. There’s also support for Dolby Atmos. It comes with a remote plus a tiny cable that plugs into your TV’s HDMI port. Your TV doesn’t power it, though: you also need to connect a mains adapter for that. But the main question is why you would need it at all, since most 4K and HDR TVs come with their own apps to stream content. The most likely answer is that they either crash a lot in practice, or you don’t like the way they work, both of which seem to be surprisingly common complaints.
The Amazon Fire TV Stick looks like a USB stick and plugs into your TV, enabling you to stream content to it. It’s powered by a micro USB port or, if your TV doesn’t have that functionality, a separate power adapter is provided. It has any easy to use interface, and you can even operate it using Alexa. It’s very much geared to promoting Amazon’s own video but also supports other services like Netflix and the BBC iPlayer, as well as music services like Prime Music and Spotify.
This device only goes up to 1080pHD and offers no 4K support – however, there is now also a 4K Amazon Fire TV Stick. See the best prices below.
The Amazon Fire TV Cube is a speaker and streaming device in one, essentially combining best of the Echo Dot and the Fire TV. This means you can use it to do all the tasks associated with a voice assistant, and stream 4K HDR content at 60 frames per second to your 4K TV. As our homes start groaning under the weight and complexity of all our different devices, for Amazon to bring all these features together on one device just makes things easier for anyone seeking far-field voice control for both their 4K TV and general Alexa tasks. At the time of writing it was on sale in the US but we were still waiting for a UK release date.
Want to keep an eye on your property while you're away from home, and keep video recordings of any suspicious behaviour? One of these two products, both from Amazon, might be able help...
Want a security camera that will record in 1080p HD and stream live to your mobile or tablet? Then the Amazon Cloud Cam is a good option that comes at a very affordable price. Motion sensors can be set to notify you via your smartphone, and you can always access the last 24 hours of recordings (longer periods of storage are available for a monthly payment). And as you’d expect from an Amazon device, you can access the system using Alexa via various Amazon devices. But the headline feature is the Amazon Key, which allows you to open your home to delivery people on a one-time basis. If you’ve had bad experiences with packages being left with neighbours, it’s an intriguing idea you might well want to experiment with, although it’s only available in certain US locations at the time of writing.
Amazon isn’t putting all its security eggs in one basket. As well as the Cloud Cam (above), late last year it acquired security camera company Blink to add to its portfolio, and they’ve since released the Blink XT range, which are unsurprisingly integrated with the Amazon Echo. What’s great about these cameras is they’re so easy to set up. They’re wireless and so all you have to do is pop in some batteries, choose where to place them (there’s an included mounting plate with a single screw), scan the QR code with your smartphone and you’re all set. The camera talks to a standard base unit which is powered by the mains. They’re waterproof and batteries last an impressive two years without needing replacing. That said, the main downside is that you only get two hours’ free cloud storage, with no option to extend this via a subscription.
Amazon now offers two more Blink camera systems. Take a look at the best prices below.
Amazon Dash Buttons
The Amazon Dash Button is a small physical device that you can be use to reorder household products you use regularly. For example, you might place a Dash Button near your washing machine and set it up, using your smartphone, to reorder your favourite brand of washing powder. So if that’s Tide, then you want the Tide Dash Button. Whenever you run out, you just need to press the button and it will automatically order you more via your Wi-Fi.
If you prefer to shop around and compare brands then Dash Buttons are not going to be for you. But if you just want to streamline all that and make more time for the finer things in life, you might find them quite handy.
And anyway, at present, you get a $4.99 credit every time you buy a $4.99 button, making them essentially free, so there’s no harm in giving them a try.