Taking a Second Look at the Amazon Tap

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The Amazon Tap, much maligned for its reliance on using your hands to access a hands-free operating system, makes a surprising return with a recent update. No longer is the Tap a Bluetooth speaker with a bit of personality. Instead, you get full Alexa functionality in a well-designed and portable package.
72%
Leonard-Approved "Buy"

The TL;DR

The Amazon Tap, much maligned for its reliance on using your hands to access a hands-free operating system, makes a surprising return with a recent update. No longer is the Tap a Bluetooth speaker with a bit of personality. Instead, you get full Alexa functionality in a well-designed and portable package.

  • Design & Durability 72%
  • Battery Life 70%
  • Usability 100%
  • Price 76%
  • Ability to Kill Zombies 40%

Why It’s Worth It

Homes are inherently born stupid. Sure, they are great at keeping you warm and blocking the wind, but even Jerry down at the office can do that, and he’s dumb as a brick. Don’t worry, even if you’re currently living in a home that has a below average IQ, you can smarten things up through a smart voice-enabled speaker, like the Amazon Tap.

The Amazon Tap is part of the Amazon Alexa family, siblings to the Echo and Dot devices. Considering there are very few competitors currently occupying this same space (though the Google Home is certainly worth checking out), this alone makes the Tap a pretty compelling machine. But what really sets the Tap apart from its Alexa-enabled rivals, is its mobility. While the Tap isn’t the only (nor the first)  Alexa-equipped speaker to feature a rechargeable battery, it is easily the best-sounding and longest lasting portable option available.

The Details

On March 3, 2016, Amazon released the Tap. Smaller than the original Echo but larger than the Dot, the Tap felt like the ignored middle child in an otherwise popular family. The issue wasn’t the sound quality or the battery life, it was the inherent contradiction in activating Alexa without your voice. You see, at launch, the only way to trigger the Alexa voice assistant on the Tap was to physically “tap” the button near the top of the speaker unit. In a recent update to the device, however, Amazon added the ability to manually change the Tap’s always-listening settings, essentially bringing this estranged son back into the fold. When connected to its charging base, the Tap is now just as fully-featured as the larger Amazon Echo, with the added benefit of being portable.

Design & Durability

To be honest, the Tap looks like what you’d expect from a Bluetooth speaker. Outside of its music controls, the large microphone button near the top of the device and the Amazon logo resting at the bottom, it’s just a black, mesh cylinder. That isn’t to say it’s bad, but the design isn’t what will be impressing your party guests. While the larger Amazon Echo measures 9.25 inches tall and 3.27 inches wide, the Tap comes in at a more modest 6.24 x 2.6 inches, and it weighs just over a pound. The back of the Tap features a few controls as well, including a power button, a Bluetooth pairing button, a 3.5mm auxiliary audio jack and a micro-USB charging port.

You can purchase a sling cover from Amazon and that will add a bit of color to your device, but the case regrettably covers the bottom of the Tap completely, meaning it won’t work with the included charging base (you can still plug a Micro-USB into the back of the Tap). On its own, the Tap feels sturdy and well-built, but if you’re worried about kids or pets knocking your Tap off the table, investing in the sling cover might be a good idea as it will add an extra layer of protection.

Oh, and the Tap isn’t waterproof. So, you know, -10 points from Gryffindor or something like that.

Battery Life

The Tap’s battery life is on par with competitors as far as I can tell (except the UE Boom of course). Without the hands-free mode activated, I was able to squeeze nearly nine hours of juice from my unit before it finally kicked the bucket. Even with the always-listening mode turned on, I score about eight hours of use in between charges, which surprised me as I thought the hands-free mode would hit the battery life a lot harder. While the hands-free mode doesn’t hurt your in-use battery, however, it does drastically attack your standby time. Without hands-free mode, I could go to sleep with 90% battery and wake up with 80% or higher. With the always-listening mode activated, I saw battery levels drop by as much as 70% over an 8-hour period of inactivity. In other words, if you plan on using the hands-free mode, you may want to turn your Tap completely off when it isn’t in use (or, you know, just charge it).

When it comes to Alexa-enabled speakers with a battery, the Tap has the longest lasting life, period. While I haven’t tested all possible options (seriously, Alexa-equipped speakers are popping up with unprecedented frequency), the Tap either beats or matches every other Alexa-enabled rival I’ve seen. Simply purchasing a battery base for the Amazon Echo or Dot will lend some portability to those devices, but they will still pale in comparison to the Tap.

Usability

As I’ve mentioned already, the Tap has never been easier to use thanks to the new hands-free mode. If you aren’t familiar with Amazon’s Alexa service, you can utilize it to play your favorite music, get weather updates, set alarms or timers and control a whole host of smart appliances and devices throughout your home. I won’t cover everything that Alexa can do for you, but just know that the Tap is a snappy performer when it comes to carrying out all of your Alexa commands.

When it comes to sound quality, you may be surprised to hear that the Tap is actually quite good. While it may not eclipse top contenders like the UE Boom, the JBL Charge or the Bose SoundLink in terms of raw power and clarity, it handles sound exceptionally well. Better than its older sibling, the Amazon Echo, in fact. The thing is, for most common-use cases, you won’t notice any difference between your Amazon Tap or your other top-tier Bluetooth speaker options.That is, until you tell your run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speaker to shut up and nothing happens.

The one feature that is completely lacking from the Tap, is the ability to answer a phone call. Many other similar speaker units allow you to answer, reject and maintain an entire phone conversation, assuming your smartphone is connected to the speaker. The Tap? For reasons that I don’t care to know and would rather assume has something to do with the Universe hating me, has no such functionality. Another 10 points from Gryffindor.

Price

The Amazon Tap sells for about $130. As Bluetooth speakers are a dime a dozen, this falls squarely in the upper-mid range of price. Other top speakers (with slightly better sound quality mind you) cost about the same or slightly more, but a giant slew of cheaper devices are available if you just want to hook your phone up to something. But keep in mind, we aren’t talking about just a speaker with the Tap. Considering the many other things the Alexa is capable of, the per-dollar value you are getting from the Tap is Del Boca Vista.

Ability to Kill Zombies

Since the Tap only weighs one pound and is a rather small device, using it against an onslaught of Zombies isn’t a good idea. Not only would you have to get unnecessarily close to the monsters, but you’d be hard-pressed to do much other than annoy them.

The Last Word

If you can’t tell, I’m a fan of the Amazon Tap and I think you should be too. While it was a tough sell at the time of its launch, the Tap has matured into a device that I can heartily recommend. Sure, Alexa still has room to grow and the Tap isn’t perfect, but it is your best bet for getting a portable speaker that sounds great and gives your dumb house a pretty smart upgrade. If you want the best sound and coolest design, look somewhere else. If you want the cheapest option and the best battery life, try again. But if you want the complete package, Alexa included, the Tap is finally ready to meet your demands.

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