Amazon haven’t really reinvented anything with their latest line-up, which began rolling out in Australia just a few months ago. They added a brilliant LED display to their budget-friendly Echo Dot, introduced raw power with the Echo Studio, and have simply just refined and polished the standard Echo to prepare it for a stronger Alexa experience (this includes the arrival of Samuel L Jackson as a celebrity voice for Alexa).
The Echo proper has never been a better purchase, taking everything that made the Echo Plus so well-received and rethinking the entire device.
Curvier and more attractive, the Echo has been redesigned as a short and stocky cylinder covered with beautifully soft wraparound fabric that’s now available in more colours than before. Go with the standard charcoal though, as it fits better with any modern home design.
Simple connectivity is handled by a power port and the valuable AUX which allows you to connect a more powerful speaker if you want a better audio experience. Although the one you get from this new generation of the Echo is more robust, handled by a 3-inch woofer and 0.8-inch tweeter (more on that below).
Four buttons are on Echo’s surface, with two volume controls, an “Alexa” function button, and a mute button in case you want the device to supress its smart capabilities.
Gone is the Plus’ now unnecessary built-in ZigBee radio which allowed it to act as a hub for other Alexa-enabled smart home devices. That helps Amazon keep the price down for the new Echo, which shows that the company aren’t in the business of giving people what they don’t need just to up the price.
As always, the top edge of the device lights up with an attractive blue glow when a wake word is used, or the function button is pressed, indicating that Alexa is alert and awaiting instruction.
Audio & Alexa Experience
The Echo proper has robbed the Plus of its advantage, now sporting a better sound experience that renders the oldest augmented model obsolete. Now, the device makes use of better architecture and increased back volume for solid bass response and clear mids and highs. You aren’t getting Echo Studio quality surround sound here, but you are getting a more assertive profile with great attenuation and enough clarity to handle a variety of content with ease.
Podcasts sound particularly great on this thing, with vocals carrying clearly across the room. The reverse is just as good, with Alexa able to pick up voice clearly without users having to shout over music at the louder (above 6) ranges.
If you simply want a hub to get you started in the Alexa universe than the Echo Dot with Clock is the more affordable and wiser bet. But you won’t get a very good audio experience from that. At least the refined Echo offers a fairly decent speaker to go along with it, and it fits in well with any smart home design, in any room.
The improvements to sound are significant and noticeable when comparing the Echo to previous generations. I had to link up with a friend who has a 2nd gen Echo to test it out, and the sound easily blew that older model away. You aren’t getting anything close to a Sonos One or Echo’s new Studio, but it’s perfectly fine if you all you want this for is to listen to music or podcasts in the kitchen, or have music pumping while you’re clearing your room.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Greatly improved sound across all genres; streamlined and seamless smart home experience; option for more colours; ability to connect (or augment) an existing speaker.
Lowlights: Could have used an LED display like the Echo Dot with Clock.