Imagine if Apple shoehorned Siri into something resembling a hockey puck, then made her a lot smarter and more capable. That's the idea behind the Echo Dot, a smart-home gizmo operated almost entirely by voice.
In place of Siri, the Echo Dot relies on Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, which can respond to a huge (and growing) number of commands, from ordering pizzas to requesting Ubers to telling jokes (mostly corny ones, alas). In a home that already has other smart components, Alexa can turn off lights, adjust the thermostat, and much more. The Dot contains a small built-in speaker, but for better sound music lovers can pair it with a wired or Bluetooth speaker, then crank out news, music, podcasts, and even audiobooks.
The Echo Dot does all this for less than a third of the cost of Amazon's original Echo device, which makes it a lot more accessible for gift-giving. And just think: Every time your friend summons Alexa, he or she will think of you.
-- Rick Broida