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Amazon Echo and Echo Dot smart speaker review
A great-sounding, affordable smart speaker for everyone.
Taking into account features, price, audio quality and design, the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are the two best budget smart speakers currently on the market. They sound fantastic, look good, are packed with useful skills and won’t hurt your bank account. Even in a world of Google Assistants and Siri-powered smart speakers, the Echo really stands out.
- Great audio quality
- Affordably priced
- Packed with features
- Interesting design
- No music hand-off
According to a 2019 Nielsen report, around 17 per cent of Australian households have at least one smart speaker, and behind Google Home products (which account for 79 per cent of the market share), Amazon Alexa is the next most popular voice assistant of choice down under. In fact, this month, Amazon is celebrating the third anniversary of Alexa’s arrival in Australia, so we thought it was the perfect time to check in with their latest generation of Echo and Echo dot smart speakers, put them to the test and find out if they’re worth your hard-earned dosh.
Amazon Echo price
At $149, The RRP for the Amazon Echo is bang-on that of its main competitors, the Google Nest Audio and the smaller (but surprisingly loud) Apple HomePod Mini. In terms of what you get for your money, they’re all pretty solid value propositions. If sound quality is your biggest concern, however, the Echo is a great choice. We’ll go more into audio quality next, but as the largest of these three speakers, the Echo is also the loudest and sounds the best.
One thing to note is that the Amazon Echo and the smaller, $79 Echo Dot (along with most other Amazon products, including previous-gen Alexa speakers) go on sale pretty frequently. Basically, if there’s a sale on Amazon, these guys will be invited to the party. Even though the Echo and Echo Dot are worth their full asking price, if you’re keen on getting a bargain, add it to your Amazon wishlist and wait for a sale.
Amazon Echo sound quality
I’ve tried previous generations of Echo speakers before, and I can’t say I was ever blown away with the sound quality. They did the job, but nowadays, there are so many other good options that Amazon had to do something special or risk falling behind. Lucky for them, the Echo is a really pleasant surprise when it comes to audio quality.
Bass lovers will be happy to know this thing can produce such thumping bass, it’s borderline overpowering. If you do find it overpowering, it can be adjusted further (along with mids and trebles) using the equaliser in the Alexa app.
While music sounded awesome, I did find Alexa to be slightly muffled. Clear enough to hear, of course, but not quite as crisp as I expected given how well the speaker delivered on the tune front.
Amazon Echo design
With its fourth-generation smart speakers, Amazon went back to the drawing board to completely overhaul the Echo and Echo Dot’s appearance. On that drawing board was obviously just a single circle, because they’ve taken the shape and run with it.
The design is a lot more cohesive with this Echo lineup, as both the Echo and Echo Dot share exactly the same orb-like look with Alexa’s trademark light-up ring at the base. Both models are available in three different colours: Charcoal (which I tested), Glacier White and Twilight Blue. It’s a neat design that fits in reasonably well wherever it’s placed.
Unlike the Google Nest Audio and Nest Mini (which have touch-sensitive controls), the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot have physical volume and voice assistant trigger buttons. I actually prefer this to Google’s approach, which often saw me tapping all over the speaker just to find the touchpoints. Amazon also opted to put their mute button in the same place as the other controls, so everything is centrally located, unlike the Nest Audio and Nest Mini, which place their mute button around the back, out of sight.
Amazon Echo smart assistant and features
In the battle of Google Assistant vs Alexa, Alexa definitely takes it out in the app department. The Alexa app is user friendly, packed with features, and overall more useful than the Google Home app. From the Alexa app, you can browse what skills your AI pal is capable of, from playing Spotify to talking like Pikachu (no, really). You can also adjust the speaker’s equaliser, link additional Echo speakers, create a studio pairing,
If you’re thinking of getting an Echo (or Echo Dot), we’d recommend getting another Echo speaker to go with it, because they play really well together. Like the HomePod and HomePod Mini, Amazon’s speakers have the ability to broadcast a message to all speakers in the home. You can also ‘drop in’, which allows for two-way conversation with someone in another room.
The only real downside to the Echo and Echo Dot is that, unlike Google’s Nest lineup and Apple HomePod, you can’t hand-off whatever you’re listening to another speaker by saying ‘Alexa, move this music to the kitchen’. There is, however, a way around it - simply ask one speaker to pause, and the other to play.
Amazon Echo vs Echo Dot
When I tested the Google Nest Audio and Audio Mini, I felt like the latter was a slight compromise. Yes, it did all the same things as its big brother, but its sound quality was a bit of a letdown. Fortunately, that’s not the case with the Echo and Echo Dot. Obviously, the larger model sounds better and can reach far higher volumes, but considering the Echo Dot’s size, it’s a seriously capable little smart speaker for its meagre $79 asking price.
In the end, the only difference between the two is size, so for that reason, I’d recommend the Echo for larger, more central rooms in your household and opting for the Echo Dot as an addition (or even just one-off) for bedrooms, bathrooms and home offices.
Is it worth it?
Choosing between the Amazon Echo lineup and the Google Nest lineup isn’t an easy task, and complicated further by the fact that both are great at what they do and represent genuinely good value. What it comes down to is which AI you prefer: Alexa or Google Assistant. If you choose Alexa, the Echo and Echo Dot show Amazon’s voice assistant at her best. Sure, Alexa can also be found on third-party speakers, but when Amazon has done such a fantastic job with their own, it’s hard to pass up that price, and personally, the Echo is my favourite smart speaker to date.