Amazon Echo Dot (2020) overview: Anticipate a sale

Amazon is switching up the design for its hottest sensible speaker.

Chris Monroe/CNET

2018’s third-gen Echo Dot has been among the finest sensible audio system within the brief historical past of sensible audio system. Its mixture of a intelligent voice assistant and spectacular {hardware} packed right into a tiny gadget with a fair tinier value made it wildly and understandably fashionable (in sheer variety of purchaser evaluations, it dwarfs each different Echo gadget on Amazon’s on-line retailer).

Now, Amazon’s new Echo Dot faces an issue. It is a stable sensible speaker and a simple entry level into the market, however it’s competing with 2018’s still-excellent Dot, which has seen costs in latest weeks as little as $19. And on the opposite finish of the worth spectrum, Amazon’s new $100 full-size Echo represents a severe improve in sound high quality and sensible residence management.

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  • Improved sound high quality
  • A recent design with out added bulk

Is a brand new Echo Dot value $50? In a vacuum, undoubtedly. However pressed on each side by the superior smarts and sound of the $100 Echo and the one barely inferior Echo Dot at enormous reductions? The reply is not so easy.

For a lot of prospects, this ball-shaped Dot in all probability is not the perfect choose for the worth.

Now enjoying: Watch this: Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) overview: Dot, Dot, Dot…

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Buying and selling a puck for a ball

Like the brand new, full-size Echo, the 2020 Dot boasts a hanging new spheroidal aesthetic. OK, it is probably not that hanging — the muted, mesh-covered speaker has merely adopted a barely brisker geometric form (one fairly comparable in form and dimension to Apple’s upcoming HomePod Mini). And just like the Echo, it solely is available in three colours: Charcoal (black), Glacier White and Twilight Blue.

However this Dot does characterize the clearest aesthetic divergence since Amazon’s audio system exchanged arduous plastic shells for mushy material exteriors, and somewhat visible evolution is welcome. Amazon even neatly saved the Dot’s footprint the identical as earlier generations, so regardless of the taller body, it will not take up extra shelf area.

Together with the footprint, the area of interest the Dot seeks to fill hasn’t modified: it is an entry level to sensible audio system, the path to attempt Alexa with out breaking the financial institution. And the $50 price ticket stays intact for this fourth technology.

In truth, the Dot does nearly precisely what its earlier iteration does. And Alexa — who will reply questions, facilitate voice calls, management sensible residence gadgets, monitor your property for break-ins and lots extra — performs identically on every speaker. So what is the distinction?

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Dotting your ears

The brand new Echo Dot’s large change, aside from in profile, is in sound. Its 1.6-inch speaker is extra highly effective than the third-gen’s 1.1-inch speaker, however that half-inch improve is not as significant because the half-inch between the second- and third-gen Dots. For perspective, the brand new Dot at 90% quantity is about equal to the third-gen Dot at max.

However how does it evaluate to the competitors?

Like the brand new full-size Echo, the Dot incorporates a spheroidal form. In contrast to its large sibling, the Dot maintains the precise footprint of its earlier iterations.

Chris Monroe/CNET

After we examined them side-by-side final 12 months, Google’s Nest Mini boasted barely superior sound to the third-gen Echo Dot, and this time round, the brand new Dot simply edges previous the Mini. For those who’re listening to acoustic music, equivalent to Bon Iver’s “Re: Stacks,” at 50% quantity, the speaker boasts heat tones, stable monitor distinction and good steadiness.

After all, the whole lot is relative. Enjoying a track like “This Life,” by Vampire Weekend, with distinct bass, guitar, vocal and drum tracks, shortly falls into messy noise at any quantity above 80%. Even beneath the excessive volumes, the monitor loses distinction, changing into pretty muddy behind the clear vocals.

The bass, which has by no means been sturdy in small audio system like Echo Dots and Nest Minis, stays notably weak right here. For those who take heed to entice music or hip-hop, it merely will not sound very full on the brand new Echo Dot — and Lil Wayne is far much less gratifying when his increased pitched rasp is not counterbalanced by booming bass.

Two Echo Dots — together with Dot with Clocks — might be linked on the Alexa app to make a stereo pair.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Two Echo Dots can nonetheless be paired for stereo sound, however I am unable to think about recommending this over shopping for a greater high quality $100 speaker, just like the Nest Audio or 2020 Echo. Ditto organising encompass sound to your residence theater.

That mentioned, although a number of the novelty has worn off, it is nonetheless value standing in awe of what firms like Amazon and Google have achieved in such an inexpensive product. This isn’t a speaker that can envelop you in music, however it’s helpful for informal listening nonetheless — and at the least marginally higher than the present Nest Mini and third-gen Echo Dot.

With this continuous impressiveness, although, does come the trade-off of privateness. Amazon, like its rivals, income immeasurably from folks utilizing their gadgets, speaking to Alexa, instructing their know-how and offering huge quantities of personal information at no cost. Utilizing a Dot, as with all Echo gadget, requires you to make use of an Amazon account, which implies agreeing to the corporate’s phrases and circumstances. I’ve written extensively in regards to the issues of this construction, each for market competitors and for particular person privateness. That is the issue of voice know-how, and it stays principally unchanged with this new Dot.

Dot, Dot, Dot…

My disappointment within the new Echo Dot is extra normal than acute: not each new technology can revitalize a tool (because the third-gen full-size Echo demonstrated), however somewhat extra creativity can be good to see. The brand new Dot does not even embody Amazon Sidewalk help — one of the crucial fascinating connectivity options of the brand new Echo sensible speaker and the upcoming Echo Present 10. The place Amazon seems to be innovating now will not be in the usual Dot, however relatively in its options, the Dot with Clock and the Youngsters Version Dot.

Final 12 months’s Dot with Clock was an incredible gadget, including a small-but-useful improve to the Dot. This 12 months’s Youngsters Dot provides a enjoyable tiger- or panda-themed design and genuinely fascinating kid-facing content material that you just will not get on different Echo gadgets with no subscription (the Youngsters Dot comes with a free 12 months of Amazon Youngsters+, which usually prices $3/month). These different Dots use the very same fundamental {hardware}, however they’re extra thrilling merchandise partially as a result of they characterize one thing past easy iterative enchancment. They really feel extra delicate to buyer wants.

After all, the Dot with Clock and Youngsters Version Dot each value $10 greater than the usual Dot.

Apart from its LED clock, the Dot with Clock shares its {hardware} with the usual Dot. Which means music sounds the identical on it, for higher or worse.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Ready for Go(Dot)

The 2020 Echo Dot is a stable gadget. It improves the sound of 2018’s Echo Dot, and the brand new design is recent, if not revelatory. However Amazon appears to have saved its true improvements for different gadgets this technology — including higher sensible residence management to the full-size Echo and extra fascinating options to the Youngsters Version. 

Because of this, the 2020 Dot feels non-essential. It stays an incredible entry level to voice help and the sensible residence, however I would in all probability suggest a sale-priced, third-edition Dot earlier than shelling out far more for the latest technology. And for those who’re after sound high quality or hoping to actually jump-start your sensible residence, the $100 Echo will probably be a significantly better funding than a Dot.

Briefly, as the traditional knowledge appears to counsel about Echo Dots, anticipate it to go on sale. In any other case, there are higher merchandise to satisfy your wants.

First printed Oct. 24.

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