(Pocket-lint) - The Echo Dot has always been an affordable gateway to Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, for voice control, queries and answers, smart home management and more.
For a number of years, the Dot was the cheapest way to get Alexa in any room of the house, only recently undercut by devices like the Echo Input and the Echo Flex.
But Amazon's plan for the Echo Dot was always slightly grander than a bit part in the Echo symphony. The changes made in the third-gen Echo Dot in 2018 brought with it much better sound quality - and by adding a clock in 2019, well, it's a no-brainer.
Dot design with LED goodness
- Dimensions: 43 x 99 x 99mm / Weight: 300g
- Colour: Sandstone (others in the future?)
The Echo Dot with Clock sits in the same design format as the 2018 Echo Dot. It's cute; a flattened puck with mesh around the sides, a plastic top, and a rubberised bottom. It's very much in the vein of the new (and full-sized) Echo.
That Amazon has abandoned the mostly shiny plastic of previous generations is a good thing, because the newer Echo Dot fits naturally into any home.
The Echo Dot comes in a range of colours. There's the charcoal or heather fabrics paired with a black top, while the plum and sandstone options come paired with a white top. At the time of writing, however, only the sandstone is available, but we're hoping that more colours are available in the future.
That top panel contains four mic holes, as well as four buttons to control volume, mute as well as a button to manually trigger Alexa. There's an LED ring around the edge that illuminates in colours to reflect status and to acknowledge that you've triggered Alexa and that it's listening; it lights up red when you press the mute button.
All this is basically the same as the Echo Dot, the only real change being the illuminated clock that shines through the fabric at the front of the device.
What does the clock face do?
- Time, timers, alarms
- Can show temperature
You think it's just a clock right? Wrong - it's a little smarter than that. Firstly, that clock face will dim when the lights go down. There's no obvious ambient light sensor, but it's adaptive nonetheless. You can opt to turn off the clock or the adaptive brightness via the Alexa app, or set the brightness manually. You can also opt to shift to a 24 hour clock display via the app - it's not on by default, so you'll have to go and dig out that setting.
When you start up the Echo Dot with Clock you'll get scrolling "hello" messages in the languages that Alexa supports. This should indeed indicate that actually the LED display does a little more than just tell the time.
Firstly, it can give some visual feedback. Ask it what the weather is, for example, and it will show you the temperature as well as tell you via voice. Volume changes, meanwhile, are presented with a number. Secondly, timers will be displayed as a countdown on the Echo Dot with Clock. That's really useful, because you can set a cooking timer and just glance to see how long is left.
The actual countdown will only show when the timer is under an hour - i.e., it will run down from 59:59 on the display - while an LED to the top right of the display will illuminate to show you that you've set a timer for longer than an hour. This makes sense because if you've set a timer for four hours to slow cook something, you don't want the time display aspect obliterated for the duration of that countdown.
Similarly, when you set an alarm, an LED will illuminate in the bottom right of the display to show there's an alarm set, while the time of that alarm will be shown on the display, briefly. Once the alarm goes off, it's very much like other Echo devices, with the option to tap to snooze for 10 minutes if you're not quite ready to get out of bed, or that cake hasn't quite finished baking.
What the display really does is give the Echo Dot a visual element that other Echo speakers lack. The Echo Dot is an affordable option as a bedside companion, but now it's a lot more practical - and in many cases, a lot less distracting than something like the Echo Spot or Echo Show 5, which both have proper displays.
Sound quality and performance
- 1.6-inch speaker
- 3.5mm output and Bluetooth
- Stereo pairing and Sub compatibility
The third-generation Echo Dot and the Echo Dot with Clock have the same internal components, with a 1.6-inch speaker and a 3.5mm audio output, meaning you can connect it to external speakers if you choose, in this case adding both Alexa skills and a clock to an existing audio setup. You can also connect the Dot to another Bluetooth speaker.
The speaker in the Echo Dot with Clock is just about passable for listening to music. Certainly it works well enough for smaller rooms, bedrooms or an office where you don't want blaring music. It's slightly better suited to talk radio than it is to more demanding music, because there's not a huge capacity to deliver trickier bass.
That said, the Echo Dot with Clock will have a place in many kitchens, and while we'd pick the regular Echo speaker for its audio performance over the Echo Dot every time, some people just don't need that performance and will want to take advantage of the clock on this model.
The Echo Dot with Clock can be paired with other Echo devices in groups or you can stereo pair with another Echo Dot (third gen) as well as connecting to an Echo Sub, if you really want to. Two Echo Dots in a stereo pair in a bedroom is actually a great way to bring your music to life, although obviously Amazon's larger devices bring more punch and better performance.
As smart as any other Echo
- Information, music, games
- Smart home control
We've already mentioned the clock's functions all working via Alexa's voice control. In that sense, the Echo Dot with Clock is very much like any other Echo device - and it offers the same great range of functions that Alexa enables.
That means you can ask a full range of questions and get answers, you can control smart home devices you've setup and linked to via the Alexa app and you'll be able to play games, music and a whole lot more.
Amazon has moved to support an increasing range of music services, from Amazon Music and Spotify through to Apple Music and Deezer, along with individual radio services, including BBC Sounds, and bigger services such as TuneIn.
While we maintain that talking to Alexa is better than other voice assistants, we think that Google Assistant has a slight advantage in being able to access more information. We get the feeling having been using these services for a few years that Google is learning slightly faster than Alexa - but we do prefer saying "Alexa" than "Ok, Google".
The Echo Dot with Clock is a no-brainer to buy. It's an ideal addition to a bedroom, less distracting than larger devices with a display, but it still performs that essential job of showing you the time in the middle of the night. Equally, thanks to things like a countdown timer display, it's a useful companion in the kitchen too.
The positioning of the Echo Dot with Clock doesn't change over the Echo Dot of 2018, albeit now it comes with that clock. The audio performance is surprisingly good for such a compact device, although it's not really designed for bigger rooms or for being the background to your house party.
That the Echo Dot with Clock only costs a little more than the regular Echo Dot should give it wide appeal. Although at its core it's just a Dot with a slight difference, the addition of that clock goes to great lengths.
This article was first published on the 27 September and has been updated to reflect its full review status.
Google Home Mini
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