Amazon's second-generation Echo Dot\u00a0voice-controlled home assistant\u00a0is now available. At $50, it's an inexpensive way to get acquainted with Alexa, the company's virtual assistant that surprised and delighted many people upon its debut in late 2014. The updated device also lets you easily add voice controls to a stereo system.\n(Disclosure: The author currently consults for a company that has Amazon as a client.)\nEcho Dot is basically an\u00a0Amazon Echo\u00a0assistant ($180), minus the high-quality, stereo speaker. As with Echo, you say "Alexa," the default wake word, followed by a request, to ask it to play music, tell you the weather, bring you up to date on the latest news, or hail an Uber ride.\nThe beauty of Echo Dot is its compact, hockey-puck size. It's just 1.3 inches by 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches, and it weighs 5.7 ounces, compared to Echo's 9.3 inches by 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches and weight of 2.34 pounds. (Echo Dot is available in white and black, as well; Echo only comes in black.)\nDespite its relatively small footprint, Echo Dot isn't designed to be portable, because it, like Echo, lacks a battery. If you want an Alexa-enabled speaker to travel with,\u00a0Amazon Tap\u00a0($130) is a better option.\nIs Echo Dot right for you?\nWho exactly is the target user of Echo Dot, considering it's not truly portable,\u00a0\u00e0 la\u00a0Tap, and doesn't have a rich stereo speaker, like Echo? Here are four reasons why you might want one.\n1. Make dumb speakers smart\nYou can connect Echo Dot to a stereo system via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio input jack. (Echo Dot doesn't come with a 3.5mm cable, but Amazon sells them\u00a0for about $5.) For $50, you could tell your otherwise "dumb" stereo system to play specific songs, albums, playlists or artists, from Spotify, Amazon's music service, or another streaming source.\nI connected Echo Dot to a UE Megaboom\u00a0speaker ($240 on Amazon), using a 3.5mm cable and then Bluetooth, and had no problems. I also played music on Echo Dot's built-in speaker. It's not meant to be a party animal, but Echo Dot's audio quality is a bit better than I expected.\n2. Echo Dot as an alarm clock\nEcho Dot can also be used as an alarm clock, and it could be particularly useful for people with sleep issues. Some sleep experts say looking at a clock at night can stress you out and make it harder to fall asleep. Echo Dot has no screen, so that wouldn't be an issue.\n3. Echo Dot as a kitchen helper\nYou could use Echo Dot in the kitchen, as well, to get recipes or answers to questions as you cook.\n4. Echo Dot as a smart home hub\nEcho Dot also works well with some smart home devices.\nDo you really need another virtual assistant?\nWill Siri, Google Assistant, or Cortana, which you may already have on your smartphone, tablet or computer, handle the questions or requests you might ask Alexa or Echo Dot?\u00a0\nSome overlap definitely exists between what Amazon's assistant and its competitors can do. However, Alexa already has thousands of different "skills," and it gets new ones every week, most of which integrate with other services. For example, I like to ask Alexa for "flash news" briefings, in which the virtual assistant reads me the latest news updates from my chosen media sources. Alexa is the only virtual assitant I've used that excels in that regard.\nAlexa's about to get some competition from Google\nThe virtual assistant space is quickly growing more competitive. Google Home ($130), an Echo-esque virtual assistant (below), is expected to ship soon. It remains to be seen how viable Alexa will be after a Google brain housed in a stereo speaker hits the market.\n Google\nIf you're curious about Alexa but don't want to invest a lot of money, or if you simply want to add voice control to your stereo, Echo Dot is worth a try. If Siri, Google Assistant or Cortana already serve your needs, skip it.