(Pocket-lint) - The Echo Dot was the original baby of the Alexa-enabled family. For many it acts as the starting point of the Echo journey – cheap enough for an impulse buy to use as, say, a side-table voice-controlled speaker or perhaps a doorway into controlling your beefier soundsystem.
The third-gen Echo Dot makes a quantum leap in a different direction though. There's now the Echo Input, which acts as the baby of the family, while the Dot moves forward in sound quality to make it a much more accomplished standalone device.
A plumped up design
- 99 x 99 x 43mm; 300g
- Material covering
- Available in three colours
When it comes to speakers, often bigger is better. Giving the driver a little more room to breathe pays dividends. While the Echo Dot is small and compact, it's fatter than it was before and better positioned to actually be used to listen to music and other audio.
The big change in the finish of the Echo Dot sees Amazon moving on from hard plastics to a softer aesthetic. There are no more hard edges or glossy finishes. Instead, by following the lead of the new Echo (which launched in 2017), the 2018 Echo Dot has a fabric that wraps around its edges. Now the Echo Dot design matches the Echo Plus and Echo Sub, leaving the 2017 model as the odd one out, of sorts.
We suspect that Google had an indirect affect on this finish, given the success and style of the Google Home Mini. It's all part of the trend for smart devices that look softer and thus fit into your home decor better. The older, second-gen Echo Dot design looks a little cold by comparison; a little too utilitarian.
The 2018 Dot has also moved from Micro-USB to a roud power adapter, we suspect to help people avoid the temptation to attempt to power it with the wrong plug. Again, it makes the Echo Dot feel a little more grown up.
A pumped-up sound
- 1.6-inch speaker
- Stereo pairing offered, compatible with Echo Sub
- Bluetooth pairing still an option
The beauty of the Echo Dot has always been that it's equipped with a 3.5mm output, meaning easy connection to another audio device. You can connect an Echo Dot to a hi-fi system and enjoy your expensive speakers with all the smarts that Alexa voice-control and connectivity offers.
The new Echo Dot offers all that – although the Echo Input is now designed solely for that task, minus its own speaker output – and there's still Bluetooth in the Echo Dot, meaning you can connect it to an existing Bluetooth speaker to utilise a different speaker's audio prowess.
But the huge change from the 2017 edition of the Dot is the sound quality. There's a 1.6-inch driver in the 2018 Dot which propels its output into a much more useful position. We'd only recommend previous Echo Dot devices for voice, not for music, but the latest model will give music performance that's good enough for a lot of people.
If you're looking for a device to replace your kitchen radio then it might well do the job, giving respectable performance in talk radio and something to hum along to while you're engaged in domestic chores. Equally, the Echo Dot is ideal for kids' bedrooms – with the added benefit of being able to use it as an intercom to call them for dinner.
Despite its diminutive size, there's a healthy level of volume on offer, although turn it up above about 75 per cent and you'll find that it starts to distort, which is to be expected. The Dot is never going to offer the performance of the Echo Plus, which has a greater room-filling delivery.
The Echo Dot can be stereo paired to give a wider soundscape and more natural-sounding music. It can even be paired with the Echo Sub in a 2.1 system, for added bass, although you might want to think about what you're trying to achieve if that's your plan – it works, but you'd be better off choosing bigger Echo devices for your main speakers.
The Dot does raise an interesting question about the regular Echo: is it still needed? For many, we suspect the new Dot would be able to replace its bigger brother. Surely, Amazon's next Echo launch will be a replacement for its £79 speaker?
Alexa, what are you doing?
- Smart home connectivity
- Question and answer
- Huge Echosystem of devices
The Echo is synonymous with Alexa and, in our opinion, is the best way to experience Amazon's AI assistant. Alexa's advantage over its competition is that it's a lot more natural to talk to than others, so it feels more friendly.
Google Assistant is more accomplished technically speaking, but saying "Ok Google" lacks that human feeling – it feels like you're addressing a billion dollar corporation. Oh, you are. Apple's "Hey Siri" sounds more like you're telling off a naughty dog and compared to Alexa or Google Assistant, Apple is some way behind in its AI assistant experience.
Alexa will play music from a wide range of sources – Amazon Music or Spotify are generally the best – as well as answering questions. These can be random things, like "how many calories are there in an apple?" through to the more useful "what's the weather going to be this week in Cairo?".
Alexa's intelligence is expanding all the time, but there's huge growth in the skills that Alexa offers. Skills are a little bit like apps, allowing Alexa to access other information or devices from different sources. These skills are universal rather than device specific, so once the link is made, all your Echo devices can access those things.
For example, the Fitbit skill will let Alexa access the information from your Fitbit Aria scales to report your weight, the Hue skill will let Alexa control your lights and the Hive skill will let Alexa control and report on the status of your heating. So the Dot can capably be a smart home controller if you have a wider network of devices setup in your home. It lacks some of the skills that the Echo Plus and the Echo Show (second gen) offer – there's no Zigbee controller – but for many, it will be all you need to bring voice control to a smart home.
Because the Echo – and Alexa – has critical mass, it's also the platform that pretty much everyone wants to work with. That means there's a great deal of future-proofing, something that's evident to first-gen Echo owners: the skill set of those devices is growing, because Alexa is getting smarter.
Amazon's real challenge now is to keep this expanding Alexa system in check and making sure that, from a software point of view, it doesn't develop too many cracks.
The 2018 Amazon Echo Dot is such a significant improvement over its predecessors. It's now much better suited for anyone who wants a compact music device, while still being affordable and increasingly smart.
The introduction of the new £34.99 Echo Input means that if your sole requirement is to connect to another existing audio system, there's a cheaper device that will meet your needs. Otherwise, the Echo Dot is a perfect first device to get into the world of Alexa, or to expand Alexa to other areas of your home.
Alternatives to consider
Google Home Mini
The natural rival to the Echo Dot is the Google Home Mini. It sits in a similar position in the Google ecosystem, offering Google Assistant skills in a place-anywhere package. It's the same price, covers many of the same use cases and even has a similar design too. This is really a case of which system you want to live in and work with: Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.
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Amazon Echo Spot
The Amazon Echo Spot takes the Dot's compact approach and adds a display, making it an ideal bedside companion. It offers all the same skills as the rest of the Echo family, but means you can make video calls. However, the new Echo Dot does sound better than the Echo Spot.