Technology

Amazon Echo Dot (2020) Review: The $50 smart speaker to skip

Amazon is switching up the design for its hottest sensible speaker.


Chris Monroe/PJDM

2018’s third-gen Echo Dot has been among the best sensible audio system within the quick historical past of sensible audio system. Its mixture of a intelligent voice assistant and spectacular {hardware} packed right into a tiny gadget with a good tinier worth made it wildly and understandably widespread (in sheer number of reviews, it dwarfs each different Echo gadget on Amazon’s on-line retailer).

Now, Amazon’s new Echo Dot faces an issue. It is a strong sensible speaker and a straightforward entry level into the market, however it’s competing with 2018’s still-excellent Dot, which has seen costs in current weeks as low as $19. And on the opposite finish of the value spectrum, Amazon’s new $100 full-size Echo represents a critical improve in sound high quality and sensible residence management.

Is a brand new Echo Dot price $50? In a vacuum, undoubtedly. However pressed on each side by the superior smarts and sound of the $100 Echo and the one barely inferior Echo Dot at large reductions? The reply is not so easy.

For a lot of clients, this ball-shaped Dot most likely is not the very best choose for the value.

Like

  • Improved sound high quality
  • A contemporary design with out added bulk

Buying and selling a puck for a ball

Like the brand new, full-size Echo, the 2020 Dot boasts a putting new spheroidal aesthetic. OK, it is not likely that putting — the muted, mesh-covered speaker has merely adopted a barely more energizing geometric form (one fairly comparable in form and dimension to Apple’s upcoming HomePod Mini). And just like the Echo, it solely is available in three colours: Charcoal (black), Glacier White and Twilight Blue.

However this Dot does characterize the clearest aesthetic divergence since Amazon’s audio system exchanged hard plastic shells for soft cloth exteriors, and a bit of visible evolution is welcome. Amazon even well stored the Dot’s footprint the identical as earlier generations, so regardless of the taller body, it will not take up extra shelf house.

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Like the brand new full-size Echo, the Dot contains a spheroidal form. In contrast to its massive sibling, the Dot maintains the precise footprint of its earlier iterations.


Chris Monroe/PJDM

Together with the footprint, the area of interest the Dot seeks to fill hasn’t modified: it is an entry level to sensible audio system, the path to attempt Alexa with out breaking the financial institution. And the $50 price ticket stays intact for this fourth technology.

In reality, the Dot does virtually precisely what its earlier iteration does. And Alexa — who will reply questions, facilitate voice calls, management smart home devices, monitor your home for break-ins and many extra — performs identically on every speaker. So what is the distinction?

Dotting your ears

The brand new Echo Dot’s massive change, apart from in profile, is in sound. Its 1.6-inch speaker is extra highly effective than the third-gen’s 1.1-inch speaker, however that half-inch improve is not as significant because the half-inch between the second- and third-gen Dots. For perspective, the brand new Dot at 90% quantity is about equal to the third-gen Dot at max.

However how does it evaluate to the competitors?

Once we tested them side-by-side final yr, Google’s Nest Mini boasted barely superior sound to the third-gen Echo Dot, and this time round, the brand new Dot simply edges previous the Mini. For those who’re listening to acoustic music, reminiscent of Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks,” at 50% quantity, the speaker boasts heat tones, strong observe distinction and good steadiness.

After all, every part is relative. Taking part in a music like “This Life,” by Vampire Weekend, with distinct bass, guitar, vocal and drum tracks, rapidly falls into messy noise at any quantity above 80%. Even beneath the excessive volumes, the observe loses distinction, changing into pretty muddy behind the clear vocals.

The bass, which has by no means been robust in small audio system like Echo Dots and Nest Minis, stays significantly weak right here. For those who hearken to trap music or hip-hop, it merely will not sound very full on the brand new Echo Dot — and Lil Wayne is far much less gratifying when his greater pitched rasp is not counterbalanced by booming bass.

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Two Echo Dots — together with Dot with Clocks — could be linked on the Alexa app to make a stereo pair.


Chris Monroe/PJDM

Two Echo Dots can nonetheless be paired for stereo sound, however I am unable to think about recommending this over shopping for a greater high quality $100 speaker, just like the Nest Audio or 2020 Echo. Ditto organising encompass sound on your residence theater.

That stated, although among the novelty has worn off, it is nonetheless price standing in awe of what firms like Amazon and Google have achieved in such an inexpensive product. This isn’t a speaker that may envelop you in music, however it’s helpful for informal listening nonetheless — and no less than marginally higher than the present Nest Mini and third-gen Echo Dot.

With this continuous impressiveness, although, does come the trade-off of privateness. Amazon, like its rivals, earnings immeasurably from folks utilizing their gadgets, speaking to Alexa, educating their expertise and offering huge quantities of personal knowledge totally free. Utilizing a Dot, as with all Echo gadget, requires you to make use of an Amazon account, which implies agreeing to the corporate’s phrases and situations. I’ve written extensively concerning the problems of this structure, each for market competition and for individual privacy. That is the issue of voice expertise, and it stays principally unchanged with this new Dot.

Dot, Dot, Dot…

My disappointment within the new Echo Dot is extra basic than acute: not each new technology can revitalize a tool (because the third-gen full-size Echo demonstrated), however a bit of extra creativity could be good to see. The brand new Dot would not even embody Amazon Sidewalk help — probably the most fascinating connectivity features of the brand new Echo sensible speaker and the upcoming Echo Show 10. The place Amazon seems to be innovating now is just not in the usual Dot, however quite in its alternate options, the Dot with Clock and the Children Version Dot.

Final yr’s Dot with Clock was an amazing gadget, including a small-but-useful improve to the Dot. This yr’s Children Dot provides a enjoyable tiger- or panda-themed design and genuinely fascinating kid-facing content material that you just will not get on different Echo gadgets with no subscription (the Children Dot comes with a free yr of Amazon Children+, which usually prices $3/month). These different Dots use the very same fundamental {hardware}, however they’re extra thrilling merchandise partly as a result of they characterize one thing past easy iterative enchancment. They really feel extra delicate to buyer wants.

After all, the Dot with Clock and Children Version Dot each value $10 greater than the usual Dot.

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Except for its LED clock, the Dot with Clock shares its {hardware} with the usual Dot. Which means music sounds the identical on it, for higher or worse.


Chris Monroe/PJDM

Ready for Go(Dot)

The 2020 Echo Dot is a strong gadget. It improves the sound of 2018’s Echo Dot, and the brand new design is contemporary, if not revelatory. However Amazon appears to have saved its true improvements for different gadgets this technology — including higher sensible residence management to the full-size Echo and extra fascinating options to the Children Version. 

Consequently, the 2020 Dot feels non-essential. It stays an amazing entry level to voice help and the sensible residence, however I might most likely suggest a sale-priced, third-edition Dot earlier than shelling out rather more for the latest technology. And if you happen to’re after sound high quality or hoping to actually jump-start your sensible residence, the $100 Echo shall be a significantly better funding than a Dot.

Briefly, as the standard knowledge appears to recommend about Echo Dots, anticipate it to go on sale. In any other case, there are higher merchandise to meet your wants.

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Author

David Priest