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Hands-on review: Amazon 4th Gen Echo and Echo Dot

01 Dec 2020

Over the years I’ve gone from being a smart speaker sceptic to finding them an essential access point to my other smart devices, my music and my audio books. I’ve three kids who use Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa, as their personal talking encyclopedia.

Amazon’s Echo smart speakers are designed as access points to our online lives. They work with Amazon’s Alexa mobile app to connect users with their audio libraries, like Spotify and Amazon Music, as well as Amazon’s Audible audiobooks. But they can do so much more. 

Whilst the devices lack the handy display of the Echo Show, you can still customise your Alexa experience via the mobile app. There are thousands of skills that can be activated via the Amazon website such as quizzes, educational games and even bedtime stories. 

You can ask Alexa for the news headlines and the weather forecast. I even asked the device to put on the UK’s BBC Radio One and it did, with no setup! How much interactivity you want the Echo devices to have with your life depends on how much time you want to spend setting the various skill up.  You can even create new skills for the device via the Amazon Blueprints website.

For 2020 the Echo and Echo Dot smart speakers have had a bit of a makeover. Ditching the Echo’s cylinder and the Dot’s puck-like appearance, this time Amazon has gone for a more aesthetically pleasing spherical look. 

Amazon’s 4th iteration of it’s Echo smart speaker opts for a softer look. The 144mm grey sphere houses a 75mm woofer and dual front-firing 20mm tweeters for Dolby audio. The sound is crisp at sensible volume levels but gets a little messy at full blast. If you want to use external speakers, there is a 3.5mm output on the back. Interestingly, the device has a threaded hole underneath for affixing to a stand or mount. 

The top of the Echo has some buttons for volume control and mic muting, as well as an action button. Most of your interactions will, of course, be spoken.

The Echo feels solid. Whilst the speaker mesh is not compatible with kid’s grubby hands, there are no holes or delicate places for inquisitive little fingers to poke. 

The Echo’s smaller sibling, the Echo Dot is a 100mm, soft-ball sized sphere with a flat base. Whilst it is 100% speaker, it also has a clock on the front, making in more of a bedside smart speaker than one for the lounge. It has a nice touch to snooze alarm feature further suggesting this is a device for the nightstand.

Don’t let the Dot’s diminutive size fool you, though. This is a fully-featured Amazon Echo device. It has a 40mm speaker that produces crisp audio, be it your Spotify music collection or an Audible audiobook. Despite being a lower spec than the Echo, the Echo Dot can still output at a loud volume. Handy if you are a heavy sleeper. 

The little device has a 3.5 mm stereo audio output for use with headphone or external speakers. Like the Echo, it also has a threaded hole underneath for mounting.

The only real differences between the Echo and the Echo Dot is the size of the speakers and the Dot’s LED display. Personally, I find the spherical design of the 4th generation Echo is a lot more aesthetically pleasing. Unlike its predecessor, it doesn’t look out-of-place in a room, the soft grey blending in with most décor.

Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant is pretty accurate, even in Australia where she is probably trained to listen out for an Aussie accent and not my dodgy expat-English one. This makes the devices perfect for controlling compatible smart devices. For instance, I’ve got some garden lights that I can turn on and off just by asking Alexa to do so.

Setting up the Echo and Echo Dot is easy, via the Amazon Alexa mobile app. Just click add device and follow the instructions. From here, Alexa can be used as your personal assistant, home entertainment manager and gateway to the internet.

Both Amazon’s 4th generation Echo and Echo Dot are well-made and nice-looking smart speakers. If you are heavily invested in Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem, purchasing one (or both) of these smart speakers is a no brainer. The versatile devices are the sort of thing that you don’t realise just how much you need them until you have them. Be it listening to music, audio books, radio or just answering questions, Echo and Alexa are here to make life easier.