With its new generation of Echo, Amazon has said goodbye to the cylindrical look. Instead, the fourth generation Echo and Echo Dot are now spherical. But the manufacturer also promises some upgrades inside. In the test, we checked whether the new echoes were convincing.
Amazon recently started offering a total of three new members of the Echo family – the Echo, Echo Dot with clock and Echo Dot. All models are available in the three colors anthracite, blue-gray and white. The latter is more reminiscent of a light stone gray. Most noticeable is the new design of the smart speakers. While the third generation Amazon Echo is still shaped like a cylinder and the Dot like a hockey puck, the new Echos 2020 are now shaped like a ball. This not only comes with a completely new look, but also in terms of music playback and operation, as the test of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dots shows.
Amazon Echo and Echo Dot (4th Gen) in the test: Design divides
The round echoes from Amazon polarize. Some find the design unappealing, others praise the new look. In the TECHNOLOGY BUTTON editorial team, the new look was generally well received. Like their predecessors, the round echoes are made of plastic and the upper third is covered with fabric. Amazon uses the materials that we know from older generations. While unpacking, we had a little surprise – the echo is much smaller than we expected. This is probably due to the product images from Amazon, which show the smart speaker zoomed in very closely. But in reality the echo is just 13 to 14 centimeters high and wide. The Echo Dot and Echo Dot, on the other hand, are far superior to their predecessors. Both have the same width at around 8 centimeters, but the round echo is almost twice as high due to its new shape. This results in advantages, but also limitations, which we will explain in more detail below in the test of the new Amazon Echo and Echo Dots.
The workmanship of all three models is excellent – we could already see that in an (accidental) drop test. The Echo Dot with clock fell from waist height directly onto a hard tile floor and literally rolled away. The shock was great, but fortunately the device remained completely intact. This is not a free ticket for throwing the Echo or Echo Dot on the floor, but if they fall down once, they are at least very robust. A plus point.
It is better not to put a round Echo Dot in a holder
The round shape of the new echoes has an impact on the type of use – especially with the dots. Due to the front-facing speakers, they are intended for stand-alone operation. The dots can therefore no longer be attached to a wall bracket as easily as their puck-shaped predecessors. Even if they would fit in a bracket, the internal speakers will still radiate the sound downwards, which will affect the sound. In addition, with this mounting in a bracket, the LED light is covered, which is located at the bottom of the device in the new fourth generation Echoes.
Let’s stay with the LED. The glowing ring that shows the status of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dots has moved from top to bottom. It is therefore located directly in the base. This means that the LED ring radiates further to the sides than before – it almost shows a halo.
The new positioning of the LED ring is successful and looks great. However, it was also confusing at the beginning. Users who have been using one of the older Echoes for a long time are used to looking at the device from above. Now, however, you have to consciously look down to read the status of the echo. In principle, that’s not bad, but we noticed in the test.
The buttons on the Amazon Echo, Echo Dot and Echo Dot with clock are still attached to the top of the devices. There are two buttons for adjusting the volume, a microphone off button (if it is activated, the LED ring lights up red), and an action button. The latter can be used, for example, to put the echo in coupling mode.
Setup and special features
To set up the Amazon Echo or Echo Dots, users need the Alexa app from Amazon. They are available free of charge for Android and iOS. Once installed, Echo owners can now call up “Devices” in the lower bar. New devices can now be integrated into the home network using the plus symbol in the upper right corner. The Echo or Echo Dot must be in setup mode, so the LED should light up orange. The devices usually enter the mode automatically when they are first activated, but it can also be activated by holding down the action button.
Once the Alexa app has found the new Echo device, users need to select the WiFi network that the devices should use to connect to the Internet. If this happens, the setup is actually already complete. Finally, users can determine the location of their echo and make further settings in the app. Different Amazon devices can be combined into a group or – if compatible – switched as a stereo pair.
New technology = better sound and faster reactions?
With its large Echo, Amazon has made more innovations overall than with the round Echo Dots. Although the round Echo has the same 76 mm woofer as its predecessor, it is now at the top of the device. There is also an additional 20 mm tweeter, with one radiating towards the front and the other towards the rear. Amazon has also integrated a Zigbee hub for connecting compatible smart home devices, which the Echo 3rd Gen lacks. This allows users to integrate smart home devices such as Philips Hue lamps into the network without an additional hub.
For the first time, Amazon is using the AZ1 neural edge processor in its smart speakers, which was specially developed to accelerate machine learning applications. The echo should process voice commands even faster and ensure quick reactions. In Germany, however, Amazon has not yet activated all the advantages of the processor. Why is not clear. And so it is not surprising that we hardly noticed any differences in response time in the test of the round echo compared to earlier Amazon speakers. It didn’t seem slower or faster when answering and processing commands.
On the other hand, the optimizations in the sound reproduction are more noticeable. At least compared to the third generation Echo. This is due to the new speaker design but also to Dolby Audio. The Amazon Echo 4th Gen convinced in the test with a fine-tuned bass and clear highs. It is one of the smart speakers that we would definitely recommend in terms of sound. However, the round Echo in the test does not come close to the Prime from Amazon – the Echo Studio. But the studio simply delivers a little more oomph and power with Dolby Atmos.
By the way: If you don’t want to play your music via streaming services like Amazon Music, Deezer or Spotify, you can also connect a separate audio device to the Echo via a 3.5 millimeter jack.
Amazon Echo Dot in the test: the sound
Amazon Echo D The same applies to the round Echo Dot with and without a watch. The jack socket is also found here. Compared to the puck-shaped dots, Amazon has incorporated fewer innovations in the fourth generation than in the generation change of the big echo. Although the dots also have the new AZ1 neural edge processor, as long as the manufacturer in Germany does not activate all functions, this offers hardly any advantages over its predecessors.
As far as the speaker design is concerned, (almost) everything has stayed the same. The round Echo has the same 41 mm speakers as its predecessor, but it now radiates towards the front, which in our opinion makes for a slightly fuller sound. Even Alexa itself didn’t sound as cozy in the test as it did with the third generation. This is reinforced by the new voice that the Echoes from Amazon recently received.ot in the test: The sound
New snooze feature on the Echo Dot with clock
The Echo Dot with clock is an extension of the normal dot. It has an LED display and can therefore be used as an alarm clock. The round Echo Dot has a suitable feature called “Tap to Snooze” or “Snooze mode”. Some of you may already know it from the Echo Show 5. This is simply a function that can be used to mute the alarm clock. If an alarm is set, the dot with clock indicates this with a dot next to the LED clock display. If it starts, users can simply stop it with a tap on the ball. However, users must first activate this setting in the Alexa app. It can be found in all models of the fourth generation of the Echo, but it goes best with the Echo Dot with clock.
As an alarm clock on the bedside table, however, I found the Amazon Echo Dot with clock unsuitable in the test. The reason: The LED display was still too bright for my condition, even with adaptive brightness, which is strongly reduced in the dark. However, this may be because I personally like to sleep in very dark rooms. I find light sources, even small ones, annoying. Therefore, the Dot with the clock moved from the bedroom to the living room during the test.
Is it worth switching to the round echo from Amazon?
Overall, the round Amazon Echo and Echo Dot with and without a watch make a very good impression in the test. We like the design very much and the speakers are also convincing in terms of sound. The lower power consumption is also pleasing, as all new models have an automatic power-saving mode. If you want to get an Echo or Echo Dot, you should use the fourth generation due to the better sound and the newer processor, whose potential could soon be fully exploited. The round Echo 4th Gen is just as expensive as its predecessor at 97.47 euros, but it also has the Zigbee hub integrated. For the Echo Dot and Echo Dot with clock, buyers currently pay around 10 euros more than for the previous generation, which is worthwhile due to their clearer sound.
If, on the other hand, you already have a third generation Echo or Dot, switching is not really worth it. To replace the old devices, they are simply too good and too close to their successors.