Technology

Amazon Echo Dot (2020) Review: Wait for a sale

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


Chris Monroe/PJDM

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

Now, Amazon’s new Echo Dot faces an issue. It is a strong good speaker and a simple entry level into the market, nevertheless it’s competing with 2018’s still-excellent Dot, which has seen costs in latest weeks as low as $19. And on the opposite finish of the worth spectrum, Amazon’s new $100 full-size Echo represents a severe improve in sound high quality and good dwelling management.

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

For a lot of clients, this ball-shaped Dot most likely is not the perfect decide for the worth.

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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 brisker geometric form (one fairly related in form and measurement 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 symbolize the clearest aesthetic divergence since Amazon’s audio system exchanged hard plastic shells for soft cloth exteriors, and just a little visible evolution is welcome. Amazon even well saved the Dot’s footprint the identical as earlier generations, so regardless of the taller body, it will not take up extra shelf house.

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

The truth is, the Dot does nearly 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 lots extra — performs identically on every speaker. So what is the distinction?

Dotting your ears

The brand new Echo Dot’s huge change, aside 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 examine to the competitors?

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Like the brand new full-size Echo, the Dot incorporates a spheroidal form. Not like its huge sibling, the Dot maintains the precise footprint of its earlier iterations.


Chris Monroe/PJDM

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. When you’re listening to acoustic music, similar to Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks,” at 50% quantity, the speaker boasts heat tones, strong observe distinction and good steadiness.

After all, every thing is relative. Enjoying a tune like “This Life,” by Vampire Weekend, with distinct bass, guitar, vocal and drum tracks, shortly falls into messy noise at any quantity above 80%. Even under the excessive volumes, the observe loses distinction, turning into pretty muddy behind the clear vocals.

The bass, which has by no means been sturdy in small audio system like Echo Dots and Nest Minis, stays notably weak right here. When you take heed to trap music or hip-hop, it merely will not sound very full on the brand new Echo Dot — and Lil Wayne is way much less satisfying when his greater pitched rasp is not counterbalanced by booming bass.

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Two Echo Dots — together with Dot with Clocks — may 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 can not 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 in your dwelling theater.

That mentioned, although among the novelty has worn off, it is nonetheless value standing in awe of what firms like Amazon and Google have completed in such an reasonably priced product. This isn’t a speaker that can envelop you in music, nevertheless it’s helpful for informal listening nonetheless — and at the least 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, instructing their expertise and offering huge quantities of personal information free of charge. Utilizing a Dot, as with all Echo machine, requires you to make use of an Amazon account, which implies agreeing to the corporate’s phrases and circumstances. 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 just a little extra creativity could be good to see. The brand new Dot would not even embrace Amazon Sidewalk help — one of the crucial attention-grabbing connectivity features of the brand new Echo good speaker and the upcoming Echo Show 10. The place Amazon seems to be innovating now isn’t in the usual Dot, however somewhat in its alternate options, the Dot with Clock and the Children Version Dot.

Final yr’s Dot with Clock was an incredible machine, including a small-but-useful improve to the Dot. This yr’s Children Dot provides a enjoyable tiger- or panda-themed design and genuinely attention-grabbing kid-facing content material that you just will not get on different Echo gadgets with out a 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 partially as a result of they symbolize 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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Other than its LED clock, the Dot with Clock shares its {hardware} with the usual Dot. Meaning music sounds the identical on it, for higher or worse.


Chris Monroe/PJDM

Ready for Go(Dot)

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

In consequence, the 2020 Dot feels non-essential. It stays an incredible entry level to voice help and the good dwelling, however I would most likely suggest a sale-priced, third-edition Dot earlier than shelling out way more for the latest technology. And when you’re after sound high quality or hoping to actually jump-start your good dwelling, the $100 Echo shall be a significantly better funding than a Dot.

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

First revealed Oct. 24.

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Author

David Priest