All images: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

The smartphone made the standalone alarm clock worthless. Sure you probably know some alarm clock holdouts (a parent or grandmother perhaps), but you probably just use your phone, which is already resting on the nightstand and has a decent enough alarm. The $130 Amazon Echo Spot, a new, tiny, Alexa device with a camera, display, and shockingly powerful speaker, is so good that you won’t mind turning off the phone to let the Spot get to the business of waking you up every morning.

The Spot is, of course, not just an alarm clock. It’s an Alexa device, so it can do everything an Echo, Dot, or Show can do. That means the weather, news, and controlling your smartphone you expect from an Alexa device, plus the trailers for movies or clips from the local news you’d also expect from the Show.

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A mute button is handily sandwiched between two volume buttons. Useful if you’re at the office and the people around you won’t stop saying “hey Alexa.”

Because it has a camera built in, it’s also decent for video calls to anyone with a Show, Spot, or smartphone, and if you want you can Drop In and check on whatever is happening in front of its camera. While this is a nightmare if you value your privacy, it’s useful if you want to use it as a nanny cam.

There’s nothing really new about the Spot beyond the form itself, but that form is so nice—especially compared to the $150 Amazon Echo Show. It’s hard not to be a little charmed by this much smaller guy.

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I mean look at it! The Spot is adorable.

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The design reflects an understanding that we want the display for a quick glance—not to consume content as apparently you’re supposed to on the Show’s 7-inch display. With its single 2.5-inch display and tiny 1.4-inch speaker, the Spot focuses on dispensing quick bites of visual information, perfect for when I’m waking up and struggling to get out of bed, or snuggling in at night. It’s even nice at the office, perched beside my computer and reminding me that it’s only twenty degrees outside. There’s no reaching for my phone. It’s a half step between my old alarm clock and my newer iPhone X.

It’s also reminiscent of the similarly pint-sized Echo Dot. Both are small enough to be easy additions to a night stand. Both also have speakers that leave a lot to be desired. The Spot is definitely loud, filling up a 10 x 20-foot room with enough sound to overcome even the noisiest radiator. (Don’t worry, the microphone can hear your voice over the din.) But there’s zero bass. David Guetta’s “Titanium” sounded about as good as it would on a smartphone speaker, and the central beat of Run the Jewels’ “Legend Has It” is almost entirely lost.

But that powerful shrill is what makes the Spot the perfect alarm clock! This thing will get you up in the morning, and because the microphone is so responsive, you can immediately slip into NPR mode, catching the news while you brush your teeth. It’s also so tinny, it might actually make you nostalgic for the days when your parents blared talk radio on their crummy alarm clocks as they got ready in the morning.

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In hindsight this device is so good it makes me question the existence of the Show. At $130 and, now, $150, they’re separated by just twenty bucks, and the Spot is so much better at doing what I want—giving me info while staying out of my way—that I can’t help but scowl a little at the Show. The show’s biggest differentiating features are its larger display, which is still way too small for anything substantial, and its speakers, which are fine, but nothing compared to the wide array of dedicated speakers you can connect to the Spot via Bluetooth or its line-in port (the Show is Bluetooth only). It reminds me a bit of how lame the clunky original Echo felt in comparison to the thrifty Dot.

Audio out means it’s easier to connect to a speaker that isn’t shrill.

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These smaller devices are, I think, the best representation of what a smart home assistant should be. They stay out of the way, give me the flexibility of better audio, and they look nice. They’re also cheaper too! The Dot is just $30, which puts it firmly in impulse buy territory, and the Amazon Echo Spot is $130. If you really want an alarm clock, and are okay with that crazy $100 premium for a nice little display, the Spot does the trick. It just makes me question why half of the rest of the Amazon Echo lineup exists right now.

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  • It’s cute.
  • The speaker is loud.
  • The speaker is shrill.
  • It woke me up this morning.

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