Compact size • Comes with Alexa • Convenient wireless charging cradle

Lower than average battery life • Average sound • Sling Covers cost extra

The Amazon Tap is a bare-bones Bluetooth speaker with hands-free Alexa voice controls, but sound quality and battery life leaves a lot to be desired.

The Amazon Echo is an incredible device, mostly because it lets you use voice commands to do everything from playing music to calling up an Uber to controlling your lights and thermostat.

Shrink the Echo in half, cut the power cord and remove the hands-free voice commands and the Amazon Tap is what you get. It’s a portable Bluetooth speaker, and it still gets you access to Alexa, Amazon’s personal voice assistant whom you can boss around, but it didn’t sweep me off my feet the way the Echo did.

#BasicSpeaker

At $130, the Tap is smack in the range of average portable Bluetooth speakers. It’s not too cheap and not too pricey.

With a height of 6.2 inches and diameter of 2.6 inches, the Tap is compact enough to toss into your bag. The Logitech UE Boom 2, my favorite portable Bluetooth speaker, is both more expensive at $180 and slightly larger.

Basic playback and volume controls on the top of the Tap.

Basic playback and volume controls on the top of the Tap.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

The Tap only comes in black. To add a dash of color and a loop, you’ll need to buy a Sling Cover for $20. The cylindrical design resembles the UE Boom 2, to a degree. The exterior is a woven fabric, although it’s not water- or dust-proof like on the UE Boom 2. 

I would have liked to see a more creative design that stands out.

The Tap has a simple design, but I would have liked to see a more creative design that stands out.

On the top of the Tap are the playback and volume controls. On the front of the speaker is a microphone button and four LED light indicators that tell you when Alexa is on or performing a task. Around the back is the power and Bluetooth button, and two ports: Micro USB for charging and a 3.5mm input jack for connecting to audio sources.

The Amazon Tap comes with a wireless charging cradle.

The Amazon Tap comes with a wireless charging cradle.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Included in the box is a wireless charging dock. To charge the Tap, just place it on the dock. I, like many people, own a ton of Micro USB cables and power adapters and it’s getting annoying to plug them into my gadgets for recharging all the time. Being able to drop the Tap onto its dock, Apple Watch-style, makes it both easier to remember to recharge and grab and go. 

Average sound

I don’t expect a lot from portable Bluetooth speakers. Most these days have OK to average sound. To get really clear, loud audio, you usually gotta spend at least $180, like the UE Boom 2.

The Tap can hit some reasonably loud audio levels, but your music’s going to sound audibly distorted. Adele’s “Hello” started to sound like it was poorly Auto-Tuned when I cranked it up, and we all know her voice should never, ever sound like it’s coming from beneath the sea.

For another $20, you can buy a rubber Sling Cover for the Tap.

For another $20, you can buy a rubber Sling Cover for the Tap.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Amazon says the Tap has “dual 1.5-inch drivers and dual passive radiators for bass extension.” If they’re there, they definitely didn’t sound like they were doing much when I listened to “The Hills” by The Weeknd or Megan Trainor’s “All About That Bass” (ironic, I know). You can’t really expect much from what’s essentially a slightly better-sounding Amazon Basics portable Bluetooth speaker.

You can think of the Tap’s audio this way: It’s like a pair of Beats. Average sound, but the audio quality isn’t going to knock you off your socks.

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Power of Alexa

Press this button to summon Alexa.

Press this button to summon Alexa.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Alexa’s powers have grown tremendously since the Echo first launched in late 2014 to a select group of Amazon Prime customers. From playing music, telling you the weather, reading news headlines and rattling off some trivia, controlling your smart home (turn on the lights, adjust the thermostat, etc.), calling an Uber, ordering a pizza from Domino’s, telling you how many calories you’ve burned on your Fitbit, reading Kindle e-books, Alexa’s capable of so much now.

“Alexa/Echo is the first product to really showcase the power of voice control in the home,” wrote Sonos CEO John MacFarlane in a blog post.

The Tap has access to all of Alexa’s skills. Everything you can command Alexa to do on the Echo, you can also do on the Tap.

When it launched in 2016, it was notably inferior to the Echo for one reason: The only way to activate Alexa was to press the microphone button.

Needing to press a button was counterintuitive and went against the hands-free voice commands that made the Echo such a magical device in the first place.

Fortunately, Amazon updated the Tap in 2017 with a “hands-free” mode, which lets you call on Alexa with your voice just like on the Echo.

You can activate Alexa by pressing the microphone button or turning on the hands-free mode in the Alexa app settings.

You can activate Alexa by pressing the microphone button or turning on the hands-free mode in the Alexa app settings.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

A Bluetooth speaker isn’t something you’re supposed to constantly pick up and interact with. If I’m in the park or at the beach, it’s set down somewhere, doing what it’s designed to do: blast music. 

By default, hands-free Alexa mode isn’t turned on. You’ll need to turn it on within the Alexa app. But once you do, you’ve pretty much got yourself a portable Echo.

However, there is one big caveat: Alexa only works when it’s connected to WiFi. At the office and at home, that’s not a problem. But if you take the Tap outside, like to the beach or park, voice commands will only work if it’s connected to a public WiFi network or a hotspot. The Tap can’t summon Alexa’s cloud powers through your phone’s cellular connection.

Leaving the Tap’s hands-free mode also drains the Tap’s battery life quicker — up to 8 hours of battery life instead of 9 hours when the mode’s turned off. Nine hours of battery life isn’t very impressive, either. There are plenty of Bluetooth speakers that are cheaper that last 12+ hours.

A decent portable Alexa speaker, but not the best

The Tap just isn't worth it.

The Tap just isn’t worth it.

Image: brittany herbert/mashable

Omitting hands-free Alexa mode when the Amazon Tap first came out was enough of a deal-breaker  for me to give the Bluetooth speaker a big thumbs down.

But since it now has real voice controls — even if it means worse battery life — it’s worth considering if you’re looking for an Alexa-powered portable speaker.

Battery life and sound quality are both average compared to other Bluetooth speakers, but if you can live with these less-than-stellar features, the Amazon Tap’s a decent option. 

Personally, I’d rather save up a little more and buy the $180 Ultimate Ears Blast. It’s an extra $50, but it delivers better and louder sound, up to 12 hours of battery life, is IP67 dust- and water-resistant, and has hands-free Alexa controls.

Note: This review originally published on April 5, 2016, and was updated on June 28, 2018.

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