(Pocket-lint) - Amazon has a new generation of Echo and for the first time in a long time, a completely new design. Gone is the cylinder as the Echo goes spherical.
But that's not the only change for this new Echo device, as it expands in other areas too. Read on and we'll explore the differences between new 2020 Amazon Echo and the older 2019 Amazon Echo. The best prices are usually available sales events like Prime Day or Black Friday, but there are frequent discounts through the year too.
- Echo 4-gen: 144 x 144 x 133mm, 970g
- Echo 3-gen: 148 x 99 x 99mm, 780g
The most obvious shift is in design, moving from that cylinder we've been used to for the past couple of years to a sphere instead. That means it's actually a little bigger than the previous Echo, as it's now almost the same height, but obviously wider.
The new Echo is a little heavier too, and that's to be expected from the larger size and additional speakers.
The overall look is similar, however, with a fabric coating, so gone is the plastic top with buttons. Now you have buttons integrated into the fabric on the top of the device. The light ring also moves from the top of the old speaker to the bottom of the new, and this is something that divides opinion - some think it looks better, some think the light ring is harder to see.
The colours are similar - charcoal and blue for both, with the new Echo coming in white which is similar to the sandstone of the previous version. Both have a 3.5mm connection.
Overall, quite the change in design.
Speakers and sound quality
- Echo 4-gen: 3.0in woofer, 2x 0.8in tweeter
- Echo 3-gen: 3.0in woofer, 0.8in tweeter
One of the main points about the previous Echo models was the 360-degree audio. The arrangement of the drivers was designed to fire out the sound all around the device, meaning it didn't necessarily matter where you place the device and how. Let's face it, the sound quality from the 3-gen Echo was also very good, considering the price.
The new Echo 2020 has a 3.0-inch woofer (as did the previous model) to provide rich depth to music, but this is now towards the top of the device. It sits over the two 0.8-inch tweeters which provide the higher range detail. The previous Echos only had one tweeter.
By adding in two tweeters, the new Echo is more directional - there's a front and a back to this speaker, rather than it offering that 360-degree sound.
The advantage, however, is that it offers stereo separation in its own right, with Amazon saying that will adapt the music to suit the acoustics of the room you put it in. Both are powered by Dolby, but the addition of stereo in to the Echo fourth-gen means that it sounds more dynamic.
Connectivity and smart home skills
- Echo 4-gen: Alexa, Zigbee, Sidewalk, BLE Mesh
- Echo 3-gen: Alexa
There's big shift in the internal connectivity skills too. While both offer Alexa - and Alexa has all the same Skills across devices - the new Echo now gets the hardware to support functions that previously only the Echo Plus had.
The addition of a Zigbee controller and Amazon Sidewalk mean that the new Echo can be a hub for a lot more things. You'll now be able to connect and setup devices directly from this Echo and control them using the Zigbee controller.
Amazon Sidewalk is now integrated into the new Echo and this provides longer range, low bandwidth connectivity for devices. It's designed to extend the range, providing connectivity if your Wi-Fi goes down or to make connections right to the end of the garden for motion sensors. It will also work with Tile, to aid detection of devices, including for those outside your house. The new Echo also supports Bluetooth meshing, again providing a hub for greater home connectivity.
While Alexa is the same on these devices, the new Echo has been positioned to do a lot more around the home - perhaps not now, but certainly in the future.
What's perhaps surprising is that the 2020 Echo lands at the same price as the 2019 Echo, but packs in a lot more technology. When it comes to choosing a model, it would be hard to opt for the older, unless you really want a matching pair.
With added speakers and a refreshed design, what the new Echo really presents is a step forward in smart home connectivity. With those additional controls, it has the potential to be the foundation for a lot more smart home devices in the future, while also sounding a little better too.