This fall is busy for Amazon. The same week its Echo Dot with Clock was released, it dropped the all-new $100 (£90, AU$149) Echo, reviewed here. The Echo Studio, Amazon’s answer to Google’s $300 Home Max, is out soon, too, along with a slew of other Alexa-enabled gadgets.
But that core speaker lineup — the Dot, Echo and Studio — seems to be finding its form, and the new Echo occupies a unique spot within that family tree. Yes, it’s the most direct descendent of the original Echo, which started the smart speaker craze a few short years ago. But it’s also, now, a middle child, with neither the accessibility of its cheaper sibling nor the technical prowess of its more expensive one.
The new Echo’s sound is improving, and it still has a great voice assistant. It’s nice, but in the words of Drake, “Nice for what?”
What makes Echo devices stand out isn’t usually their speaker quality, but rather the voice assistant they house: Alexa. And yes, the new Echo brings all of Alexa’s tried-and-true smarts to bear. That means you can check headlines and weather, control a wide array of smart home gadgets, get delivery and calendar updates, ask Alexa to listen for break-ins while you’re out of town and even get help putting your kids to bed.
Alexa’s skills are constantly growing and improving, and Amazon has promised everything from fluency in more languages to celebrity voice implementation. It’s a little hard to give a voice assistant that is changing so rapidly (and competing so aggressively with Google Assistant) a static evaluation, but basically, the Alexa assistant can be genuinely helpful and is as good as it’s ever been.
Amazon state of mind
If the new Echo looks familiar, it should. The fabric mesh-covered face and rounded edges make it look like a stretched-out Echo Dot, more aesthetically unified with Echo’s new generation of speakers. But the design isn’t brand-new. It’s copped from last year’s $150 Echo Plus. In fact, the new Echo shares its specs almost exactly with that device: a 0.8-inch tweeter and 3-inch woofer, along with a 3.5mm audio in/out port. The only difference is that the Echo Plus includes a Zigbee radio transmitter, allowing for more smart home control.
That puts the new Echo in a unique position. It’s a solid midrange speaker for music — a device that doesn’t shake much up, but settles comfortably into its place as the middle child of Echo devices. It’s a higher quality speaker for streaming music than the third-gen Echo Dot, but it’s not meant to compete with the soon-to-be-released Echo Studio or competitors like the excellent Sonos One, both priced at $200.
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