Amazon Echo (4th-Gen) Review: Spheres are sexy, and so is surface area

We haven’t even reached the point where smart devices are truly mass market, but we will get there. Curating smart homes has been a big talking point over here at the AU, and in general. It’s a fascinating lean forward into the IoT world, and the big companies like Google and Amazon are starting to at least look like they are addressing the many complicated privacy concerns that come with it.

But we’ve reached a point of stagnation. At least I think so. Google, Amazon and Apple are just iterating comfortably, playing with different designs and tweaking their respective voice assistants to better serve the average consumer beyond telling them the weather, setting countdowns in the kitchen, and playing podcasts.

There’s not much wrong with that, it’s just annoying for those of us who want to see something new from this ginormous companies.

But at least Amazon are edging forth with some nice design changes for their small-format Echo speaker. The affordable multi-room speaker, which is mainly used to put Alexa in every room, is now in its attractive fourth-generation, and takes on a more likeable circular look that looks much better with the average design scheme.

Design

Amazon claim that this is the distillation of the best parts of Echo and Echo Plus from previous generations. That’s true. The all-new circular design and grey fabric finish is quite sexy, especially with the bright LED light ring sitting at the base of the sphere.

Other than that, this is pretty much exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Echo. Amazon have already landed on a minimal look that feels like a seamless integration into everyday household life. That’s probably a worrying thing for those still concerned with privacy, but for those of us who have given ourselves over to the idea of having a modern smart home, it’s positive thing.

The real winner here is that the spherical design means that the speaker has a lower surface area to volume ratio, so it fits much better in smaller spaces like on a bedside table.

Performance

The 4th-gen Echo has also been tweaked under the hood. But it’s fairly iterative and not a substantial leap. The Echo now sports a 3-inch woofer, dual 0.8-inch tweeters and Dolby processing. Sound can push up slightly louder, sounds slightly better and more balanced, and it seems that the Echo is now better at adjusting itself according to the acoustics of the space its in.

It’s an improvement, but it’s not much.

There’s still support for all the necessary Alexa platforms like Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, etc. Nothing new there.

Verdict & Value

The 4th-gen Echo is $149. That’s a great price for a device that ideally should be multiplied throughout the home for those who want to curate a proper smart home. Many ecosystems are pricey commitments, so it’s good to see Amazon so gung-ho about iterative improvements without pushing up the price significantly.

FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Cleaner sound; much better design; smaller surface area; smooth Alexa experience; well-priced.
Lowlights: Not much of a change to justify an upgrade.
Manufacturer: Amazon
Price: $149
Available: Now

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.