These voice-activated Alexa devices aren’t made by Amazon


Alexa is everywhere these days, and I’m not just talking about Amazon’s own Echo devices, of which there are now several. Shop around, and you’ll find a growing variety of gadgets that put Amazon’s voice-activated virtual assistant front and center — and the majority of them aren’t made by Amazon.

Mind you, Amazon doesn’t mind the competition. Opening up developer access to Alexa obviously means more Alexa devices — and that means more people bringing Alexa into their homes. It also means that we’re seeing a lot of creativity and experimentation with how to best put Alexa to use — everything from TVs and thermostats to dashboard navigators and walking, talking helper robots.

And hey, if Alexa can make a Bluetooth speaker into a runaway smash hit, who’s to say she can’t do the same in other categories, too? No wonder her bandwagon is getting so crowded.

That abundance of options can get overwhelming, but that’s where we come in. Scroll on down for a look at some of the more notable devices we’ve covered, complete with quick takeaways and links to full coverage:

Ecobee


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Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat

Let’s start with an Alexa-enabled thermostat called the Ecobee4. For $250, it offers the same sort of automation bliss as the popular Nest Learning Thermostat, with the added smarts of Alexa. And, in a recent update, it became one of the only third-party Alexa gadgets to include Amazon’s ESP feature, which makes it so that only the Alexa device nearest to you responds to your command. That’s a very good get.

In addition to Alexa, the Ecobee4 works with remote temperature and proximity sensors that you can scatter throughout your home to help the thermostat heat and cool to the correct temperature for the room you’re actually in. That’s a particularly clever trick that Nest can’t match.

Read CNET’s review of the Ecobee4 Smart Thermostat.

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Element EL4KAMZ17


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Element EL4KAMZ17 (Amazon Fire TV Edition)  

Alexa started showing up in TV sets this year, too — namely, the “Amazon Fire TV Edition” Element EL4KAMZ17. Like the name suggests, the 4K, HDR-compatible TV has Amazon’s Fire TV streaming service built right in. Press and hold a little microphone button on the remote, and you can launch into those streaming apps and shows using an Alexa voice command.

You don’t need this TV in order to sync Alexa up with Fire TV — you can enjoy the same voice controls using your existing TV, an external Fire TV streamer and an Alexa device like the Echo or the Echo Dot. But bundling the TV, the streamer, and the voice control into one package makes setup quick and easy, and it offers the extra advantage of letting you ask Alexa to switch the HDMI input. You can also connect a digital antenna to the TV, then pipe your local channels right into the Fire TV interface and switch between them using voice commands. Prices start at $450 for a 43-inch model and go up to $900 for a 65-inch model, though I’d be shocked not to see at least one or two available at a deep discount on Black Friday.

Read CNET’s review of the Element EL4KAMZ17 (Amazon Fire TV Edition).

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Eufy


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Eufy Genie

Anker is best known for its phone chargers, but it also sells relatively inexpensive smart home gadgets under the “Eufy” brand name. Central among them is the Eufy Genie, which, at $40, is basically a store-brand Echo Dot for ten bucks less than the real thing.

Like the Dot, the Eufy Genie is a pint-sized, voice-activated smart speaker starring Alexa as your ever-capable assistant. It can’t make calls or send messages to other Alexa devices and it doesn’t currently include Amazon’s ESP feature, but aside from that, the Genie can do just about everything the Dot does, from playing music and answering questions to reading off the traffic and weather and turning smart home gadgets on and off. And, to my ear, it sounds at least as good as the Dot does — which is to say that it’s a pretty puny little speaker. But still, it’s a relatively cheap way to expand Alexa’s footprint in your home — good for a back room or a guest bedroom, perhaps.

Read CNET’s take on the Eufy Genie.

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Fabriq


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Fabriq Chorus

Eufy isn’t alone here — Fabriq was actually first to market with off-brand Alexa speakers, including the Chorus, seen here in a variety of nice-looking designs. Like the Echo, Fabriq’s Chorus is voice-activated and fully capable of doing just about anything Alexa can do. It’s battery-powered, too, so you can take it around the house with you just like an Amazon Tap. When you’re done, just pop it back in the cradle for a recharge.

The other nice thing about the Chorus is that Fabriq makes it really easy to string multiple speakers together over Bluetooth for synchronized playback. Amazon lets you group Echo speakers together now, too, but Fabriq got there first. Plus, at $99, it’s still $30 cheaper than the Tap. If you can live without calling and messaging, and without ESP, then that’s a pretty good deal.

Read CNET’s take on the Fabriq Chorus.

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Fabriq


Chris Monroe/CNET

Fabriq Riff

Before the Chorus came out, Fabriq released a smaller, touch-activated Alexa speaker now known as the Riff. Like the Chorus, it comes in a variety of attractive designs, but you can’t activate it just with your voice — you need to push a button, instead. It also doesn’t have a charging cradle like the Chorus does, though you can still unplug it and take it around the house with you thanks to a built-in battery.

At $50 — the same price as the Echo Dot — the Riff really only makes sense if you’re especially keen on the design, and like the idea of that battery-powered portability.

Read CNET’s take on the Fabriq Riff.

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Garmin Speak


Garmin

Garmin Speak

It’s not just your home — Alexa has her sights set on your car, too. Enter Garmin Speak, a tiny Echo Dot-like gadget that suctions onto your windshield to put Alexa front and center whenever you’re behind the wheel.

Beyond the normal Alexa functions like music playback and smart home control, you can pair the device with the Garmin Speak app on your phone to use Alexa as a voice-activated navigator. Just say something like, “Alexa, ask Garmin for directions to the nearest gas station,” and Alexa will offer turn-by-turn navigation, complete with indicator lights that tell you which way to go.

Read CNET’s take on the Garmin Speak.

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Sol


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C by GE Sol Smart Lamp

Take the Amazon Echo and make it a little shorter. Now take the ring of indicator lights around the top and expand it upwards into a big, humongous halo of light. Congratulations, you’ve just designed “Sol,” a voice-activated table lamp from GE. Expect to hear from Dyson’s lawyers.

In all seriousness, this lamp might make more sense than you’d expect. After all, turning lights on and off is one of Alexa’s specialties, and with the Sol, you can ask her to change the color temperature, too. That ring of light also offers Alexa some nifty visual indicators, like countdown timers and ambient LEDs that show you what time it is. In other words, Sol is weird, but weirdly likable, too. It isn’t cheap at $200, but I’m currently seeing it marked down to $130 for the holidays, which feels sort of reasonable given that a standalone Echo without the lamp costs $100.

Read CNET’s review of the C by GE Sol Smart Lamp.

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iHome


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iHome AVS16 Alarm Clock

If that $200 table lamp seems like a bit much, then might I interest you in a $150 alarm clock? It’s called the iAVS16 from iHome, and it’s pitched as the perfect bedside gadget thanks to the built-in Alexa controls. Just ask her to set an alarm for 7:00 AM on weekdays, ask her to turn the lights off and the heat up as you’re buttoning up your pajamas, or ask her for the day’s traffic and weather when you wake up.

As someone who already keeps an Echo Dot on his nightstand for those exact use cases, I can see the appeal. Add in the programmable smart buttons, the color-changing LEDs that can dance in rhythm with your music and the fact that the iAVS16 can wake you up by playing a song from Spotify — something that Amazon’s own Echo devices still can’t do — and this clock might look downright tempting. But $150 is obviously an awful lot for an alarm clock, even one as smart as this. Wake me up when it’s on sale, I say.

Read CNET’s review of the iHome iAVS16 Alarm Clock.

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LG Smart Instaview Refrigerator


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LG Smart Instaview Refrigerator

Lest Samsung’s Family Hub have all of the fun, LG decided to release a four-door smart fridge of its own, complete with an enormous touchscreen that turns translucent when you knock on it to let you see inside without opening the door. And, while Samsung’s smart fridge boasts Bixby voice controls, LG went ahead and used Alexa instead.

We haven’t seen much from this fridge since first laying eyes on it at last year’s IFA tech showcase in Berlin, and then again at CES 2017. But if the Family Hub is any indication, we expect that you’ll be able to ask Alexa for cooking assistance, and also to help with your grocery shopping. It’s also a safe bet that this fridge will debut with a hefty price tag — stay tuned.

Read CNET’s take on the LG Smart Instaview Refrigerator.

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LG Hub Robot


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LG Hub Robot

It ain’t just fridges — LG has plans to pack Alexa into a Wall-E-esque helper robot, too. It’s one of a couple of eyebrow-raising household robots currently in development, including Jibo. Like that little guy, the LG Hub Robot has expressive eyes and a built-in camera for tracking faces and making connections, and it can even dance along with your music.

There’s no word on when we should actually expect to see this thing, if ever (and no word on what it would cost, either). For all we know, it’s just a cute prototype that LG trotted out to amuse the masses at CES. But if household robots like these actually start to catch on, LG should be ready to jump right in, and Alexa seems like a smart choice to play a starring role.

Read CNET’s take on the LG Hub Robot.

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Qihan Sanbot Nano


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Qihan Sanbot Nano

The Sanbot Nano, spotted here at this year’s IFA tech showcase in Berlin, is yet another helper bot with Alexa built right in. Qihan didn’t stop at eyes, either — this thing has a fully expressive animated face to help bring the idea of a virtual assistant to life.

What’s interesting here is that, in addition to the voice-activated assistance, you can use your phone to steer the Sanbot around your home and see whatever its camera sees. It’s packed with sensors and designed to detect unexpected activity — if it does, it can sound an alarm or send you a notification. The cost? A cool $2,800.

Read CNET’s take on the Qihan Sanbot Nano.

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Sonos


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Sonos One

If you’re an audiophile and want something with better sound quality than then Echo, then consider the Sonos One. At $200, it’s an Alexa speaker that boasts high fidelity audio — enough to leave our ever-picky audio experts thoroughly impressed (an 8.7 out of 10 is nothing to sneeze at, folks).

What’s also interesting is that Sonos is trying to stay platform agnostic. Along with Alexa, the Sonos One will soon feature the Google Assistant, as well, letting you pick your assistant of choice. Later on, you’ll also be able to control it using Siri commands. That means it isn’t just the best-sounding smart speaker we’ve tested to date — it’s also the most versatile.

Read CNET’s review of the Sonos One.

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Ubtech Lynx


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Ubtech Lynx

Oh — one more robot to close things out. It’s called the Lynx from Ubtech, and it’s an Alexa-enabled automaton designed to show you yoga poses. For real.

Aside from the workout assistance, Lynx can dance to your music, read your emails to you and even follow you around a little bit (though it wasn’t quite as good at walking as we’d have hoped.) Ubtech told us that Lynx would be out by the end of this year and cost anywhere from $800 to $1,000, but as of right now, there’s no sign of it on the Ubtech website. Hmmm.

Read CNET’s take on the Ubtech Lynx.


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