(Pocket-lint) - The Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock have changed for 2020. Indeed, the main Amazon Echo that we've also reviewed has changed. All these devices are now spherical by design rather than the cylinders of old.

The Dot's change is interesting because the "ice hockey puck" had become quite recognisable, even to those who didn't know much about the devices. They've also been at such an acceptable price point that people have been used to buying multiples and creating a system in various rooms of their home.

However, with the redesign Amazon clearly wants to take things into a new generation of Echo – yet the company hasn't fiddled with what the Dot is fundamentally. So is the design shift a step into the future?

  • Dimensions: 100 x 100 x 89mm / Weight: 338g
  • Finishes: Glacier White, Charcoal Blue
  • Directional design 
  • LED display

Design

The first two versions of the Echo Dot were a little challenged in terms of sonic capability since they were predominantly intended to be hooked up to some passive speakers. That mantle was quickly assumed by the Echo Input (and now the Echo Flex) and so the third-generation Dot was improved to the extent that it could properly function as a standalone speaker. That prowess is improved still further here – as the sound in the spherical ball-shaped Dot has received a boost.

The Echo Dot is now really a mini-me of the main Echo. It's actually a fair bit smaller though. But while the Echo has a larger footprint than its predecessor, the Echo Dot's is a similar size to before – although it's taller than the outgoing Dot.

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The Dot has the standard four Echo buttons on top of the fabric-covered speaker – action, mic mute, volume up/down. The rear panel has power and 3.5mm aux inputs.

As on the main Echo, the light ring is now at the bottom. With the new version of the standard Echo we aren't so thrilled at the positioning – because the speaker is larger it can be hard to see the light ring if you're looking down on the Echo, though it does reflect off of the surface below it.

However, because the Dot is smaller it's not so much of a problem – you'd probably have it on a shelf or bedside table – but even so we think it is less visible than before.

It's slightly unfortunate that Apple's new HomePod mini looks very similar, even if it is twice the price of the standard Dot – and around £40/$40 more than this model depending on discounts and current retail price.

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The main difference between the standard Echo Dot and this model is the LED display on the front. As with earlier generations it displays the time, but also a volume level – out of 10, not 11 disappointingly – and it'll also display the temperature when you ask for the weather. It's not exactly bursting with functionality. If you don't want the display, then you need to simply get yourself a standard Echo Dot instead.

The clock concept has been successful with those who want an Echo Dot to use on the bedside and who don't want a cumbersome old alarm clock or simply want a bit more of a standard clock without the distraction of a glaring phone display.

Sound and performance

  • Custom-designed Amazon and MediaTek MT8515 SoC
  • 1.6-inch front-firing speaker
  • 3.5mm audio line out

Like the standard Echo, the new Echo Dot devices are directional rather than having 360-degree sound. That's no bad thing with this device because, after all, the clock needs to face outwards towards where you can see it.

Like the main Echo, the new Echo Dot has been given a power-up in terms of the silicon that drives it. It's now designed by MediaTek in cahoots with Amazon (the end result being the MT8515). Crucially, this incorporates a new AZ1 Neural Edge processor.

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All that means Alexa is quicker to respond, while the amount of information able to be processed on device is significantly more. Alexa is also able to hear you while your music plays at higher volumes, which wasn't always the case with earlier Echo devices.

The device has line-in audio, plus Bluetooth A2DP support for streaming from other devices – though you can easily select it as a device in Amazon Music and via Spotify Connect. 

Alexa and setup

  • Alexa app auto-detects new devices
  • Access to full-range of Alexa capabilities and skills
  • 2.4 and 5GHz 802.11ac Wi-Fi supported

Setting up new Echo devices in the Alexa app is easier than ever, especially if you already have Echo devices in your home.

The new Echo device is auto-detected using Bluetooth when you're close to it and you simply need to confirm the next few steps to confirm your Wi-Fi network (2.4 and 5GHz are supported) and which room it's in and so on – you can be setup and sorted within a couple of minutes. Although a fresh setup takes longer, it's still much quicker than it used to be.

Alexa is still as capable as ever – we've covered the full range of skills elsewhere – but basic commands and audio are handled with precision and very little in the way of erroneous results. Core functionality is the same as on the new Echo and Echo Dot and very similar to earlier Echo devices.

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Sound-wise, you can group the Echo with other speakers for a multi-room setup or stereo pair with another Dot should you wish. And all the key services are supported – Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, TuneIn and BBC Sounds. As with all Echo devices there is Spotify Connect integration. 

We've also noticed how Alexa is able to handle more complex commands than ever and it's this that really helps it and Google Assistant maintain an edge over Apple's Siri. Google Assistant's slight advantage is in some localisation features, like being able to tell you when your next bus is.

Smart home devices such as Alexa-enabled thermostats are able to be controlled too, though there's no native Zigbee controller onboard here unlike inside the main Echo and bigger Echo Show.

The Alexa app is better than ever thanks to a redesign and the only chink in the armour is the patchy Skills from third-party sources. These enable Alexa to do more, of course, but integration is hit and miss.

Verdict

If you're after a smart speaker for a desk or bedside table, the Dot with Clock is a no-brainer – but get the standard Dot if you don't need the clock, of course. 

One thing against the Echo Dot and Dot with Clock is that Amazon frequently discounts the main Echo speaker in sales as well, often deeply. So if it's a bit more of a room-filling sound you're after, you're much better off saving up a few more pennies for the main Echo.

But as a secondary device or to bring Alexa to a room where you don't have a device already, the Dot represents superb value. It's a bedside no-brainer purchase, that's for sure.

Also consider

Amazon Echo (4th generation)

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The previous Echo was great value and this newly designed version features the same new tech as the Echo Dot range – which means a faster Alexa plus better sound. We're not totally sold on the new design, but it does give the Echo range a freshen up and makes it even more distinctive. 

Google Nest Mini review

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Google's alternative remains a smart and enticing entry-point to Google Assistant in the home, with this update bringing the improvements where they matter the most. For a first-timer, it's now a savvy buy and it's a natural competitor to the better-sounding Echo Dot, although we think the Echo Dot is now the better sounding of the two devices since the redesign. 

Writing by Dan Grabham.