If you believe the marketing hype from Amazon, you’d be led to believe that the Tap is a significant step forward for the Echo family, pairing the voice control functionality of the original with the added convenience of being able to take it anywhere.
It is an interesting idea on paper but, in practice, the Tap falls some way short of these lofty ambitions. With a lightweight, compact design that can easily be held in your palm or carried in a bag, it’s hard to fault the form of the Tap. The glowing ring atop the original Echo has been replaced with a small row of glowing LEDs which perform much the same task, while repositioning of the ‘talk’ and ‘on/off’ buttons to the side of the device means that volume, pause and track skipping controls can be placed on the top of the cylinder. These design compromises do allow for a significantly smaller body, but it does mean that the Tap feels a little less premium compared to its larger sibling.
Similar strengths; different weaknesses
The same voice recognition software used in the Echo is employed in the Tap, with all of the associated strengths and weaknesses that come with this. It also uses the same Alexa app: this is positive for those who want to control multiple Amazon smart devices in the home, but the horribly unintuitive user interface doesn’t exactly lend itself to regular usage.
This isn’t a problem for the Echo, as the constantly-on voice recognition means that you can control it from the other side of the room. This is not the case with the Tap: rather than it listening out for an activation word, you have to physically push the microphone button before making your voice command. This is a major drawback as it means that leaving the speaker further than an arm’s length away quickly becomes impractical – negating a key reason for having a voice recognition-enabled device in the first place.
The good, the bad and the inconvenient
While the Tap’s physical structure means that it won’t deliver anywhere near the same quality that a high-end loudspeaker will achieve, the audio measures up reasonably well to the original Echo thanks to dual stereo speakers and passive radiators to extend bass coverage. The convenience of the device extends to the charging point, with an elegant cradle that you can place the device on when not in use.
Portability is the raison d’être of the Tap, yet it needs a WiFi or Bluetooth connection in order to operate. This has the potential to be problematic if you want to use your speaker beyond the confines of the house, rapidly draining your phone’s battery by requiring you to use it as a mobile hotspot.
I want to like the Amazon Tap: it feels like it could be a really useful device but is – put simply – more difficult to use than a voice-enabled speaker should be. That it loses much of its intelligence when being used outside of WiFi range simply compounds the sensation that it’s the runt of the Amazon smart home litter.