There’s way more selection than ever before with regards to smart speakers, and choosing the best one for your purposes isn’t always easy. Not surprisingly, the Amazon Echo was the first popularized voice-controlled speaker and, with Apple Homepod and Google Home offering stiff competition, the updated 2017 Amazon Echo is being relied upon to maintain Amazon’s leadership role.
The good news for Amazon is that this continues to be our preferred option: the Amazon Echo is a superb speaker, with an enhanced design, and an exceptional AI smart home assistant, as well.
The Amazon Echo satisfies a reasonably priced but still impressive perfect place in the Amazon smart help collection. As a result of its dual-speakers driven by Dolby, it sounds significantly better compared to the smaller sized Amazon Echo Dot. However, on the price range for smart speakers, it qualifies as a mid-range option compared to the more expensive Echo Plus.
Even though its sound quality is decent, it’s not equipped to take the place of your hifi or present audio setup. With that said, it’s a very good beginner choice if you wish to step into the smart home arena without spending too much.
From the time when the first model of the smart speaker was launched in 2015, Amazon has done slight but considerable enhancements to the Echo’s appearance – the brand new material and wood finishes will probably go well with many of your home decoration much better than the brushed aluminium Amazon favored in the past.
The one problem with the Echo’s design is that there is no volume dial like the Echo Plus. Generally speaking, it’s Alexa digital helper frequently doesn’t appear as smart as Google Assistant either, yet that could be really a personal taste. With this reasonable price, however, we’re thrilled using this smart speaker.
US and UK price and availability
The Amazon Echo is among the most widely available smart speakers on the market. You’ll spend only $99.99 ($AU119) in the US, or £89.99 in the United Kingdom.
It’s a way more desirable impulse purchase compared to the original Echo was at release. It will set you back $180 (£150).
But even though these are the most recent prices, you’ll usually come across smart speakers at a discounted price because Amazon and Google really want you to buy them today. However, without a price reduction, the competitor Google Home rarely is listed for less than the magic $100/£100 price point. It will cost you $129 (£129, $AU199).
Third-party Alexa speakers are finding it difficult to keep up. The Kitsound Voice One ($179, £129.99) is more expensive and doesn’t sound impressive, and the majority of cheap devices are only speaker sleeves for an Echo Dot.
For now, the Amazon Echo is a bargain and a good option if you’ve been thinking about which smart speaker to try out.
Design and features
Due to the latest design upgrade, the most recent model of the Amazon Echo is the most minimalists looking of the Amazon collection of digital assistant speaker systems. It is enclosed in a fabric grille, instead of the brushed aluminium of the Echo Plus.
Needless to say, Amazon might have taken this step to reduce costs, however, it provides the speaker with more of an “interior design” style. This is definitely a significant modification as smart speakers are becoming more popular and a fundamental element of everyone’s living area, instead of simply early adopter devices that stick out when you don’t want it to.
The enhanced Echo is more compact and a bit wider compared to its earlier model. Instead of making it more conspicuous, it is, in fact, a pleasant update, which makes the smart speaker more stable. Although we believed that an unintentional bump might push over the previous Echo, the brand new Echo’s firmer base means it is more stable.
Its new style is more in line with the latest models of smart speakers, such as the Apple HomePod and Google Home.
We don’t have a problem with this. The design is more appealing compared to the previous Echo and Amazon has made a decision to blend aspects of the Dot with the bigger unit, changing the volume control for a couple of buttons. Also included is a mute button to prevent Alexa from hearing everything, and a button to call Alexa if you are unable to call her name aloud.
This means the pleasant ergonomic experience or turning a knob instead of pushing the buttons on top is omitted, which for many will be missed.
More than just the design has been upgraded in the most recent version of the Amazon Echo. Alexa has gone through quite a few upgrades, attaining new Skills and functions, in addition to enhanced voice recognition and comprehension. (Take a look at our choice of the best Alexa Skills in our extensive review, along with some enjoyable Alexa Easter eggs.)
Since Alexa is now integrated to other gadgets, like the Sonos One and Ultimate Ears Megablast, and the style of the Echo is more minimalist, will Amazon’s smart speaker face the threat of integrating a tad too much?
The latest Amazon Echo’s precise dimensions are 148 x 88 x 88mm. Do a comparison of this to the original’s 235 x 84 x 84mm and the reduction in height and gain in width is noticeable. It weighs in at a sturdy 821g.
The Amazon Echo we analyzed was the color Charcoal Material, however, there are a variety of other colors available. This is a good selection. Amazon has expanded its color palette beyond black and white, and the fabric it is applying to protect the Echo’s inner workings.
It includes three material choices: Charcoal, Heather and Sandstone. In addition, there are three ‘finish’ options; Oak, Walnut and Silver. Their labels (besides the last) might picture wood mentally, but it is good to note that the shells are constructed with plastic material and are £10/$10 higher in price compared to the fabric varieties.
The shell is also interchangeable. Should you alter the theme in your living area you can purchase a fresh shell to make your Echo blend in? These can be purchased individually for £19.99/$20 for the fabric models and £29.99/$30 for the other ones. This might appear to be a bit costly granted that you’re spending almost one-third of the cost for a just a shell when the majority of the money has definitely been invested in the inner workings of the Echo device. But, you have the choice if you want.
If a high-quality sound is your main concern and the Echo fails to live up to your present audio system, it is possible to link the Echo to a bigger loudspeaker or hifi if you want. It includes wireless Bluetooth, as well as a 3.5mm output jack on the rear.
The Amazon Echo (2nd Generation) is really easy to put together, but you need to make use of the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone to get it going.
It outlines the best way to get the Echo on your system and only takes a few minutes to sort out. Set up a New Device in the Settings area and then simply select the best Echo for setting up (they are conveniently listed as icons) and carry out the setup directions.
The Amazon Echo’s true learning curve is somewhere else: knowing exactly what to ask Alexa, precisely what works and what will not, and then jumping into Echo Skills to install functions. These are similar to apps for your smart speaker, and currently, there are over 30,000 to choose from.
Take a look at the useful best Alexa Skills guidebook to get more details, but Amazon provides a small booklet with a few beginning suggestions. These are straightforward, but highly effective.
You could ask Alexa the time, the weather (you will need to put in location for this), for a quick news update, request a joke, to set a timer… you will discover many different actions you can take without creating a Skill.
However, to truly get your Echo to sing (and it really does sing, simply ask it) be sure to jump into the Skills and program the Echo to meet your needs exactly.
Remember this really is a hassle-free process (go to the All Skills section of the app) however, it’s a massive selection. You can find thousands offered, but just a fraction of those are really worth using according to the other ‘smart’ devices you have in your home.
During our evaluation, we connected the Echo to the following Skills: Amazon Music, Spotify, TuneIn Hive thermostat (together with smart lights), a Sonos system, our Just Eat membership and Google Calendar.
Overall the Echo did work effectively, although it now and again hit a few snags and got mixed up. When requesting 6Music (a radio station in the UK) would occasionally send us to a devilish playlist of 666 songs, although we did ultimately reach the radio station we requested by sometimes stating BBC 6Music to prevent mix-ups. In other cases, we would need to include “on TuneIn” to the conclusion of Alexa request.
You have to do this when you have multiple music accounts connected to it at the same time, but that seems sensible. In the app you could choose, for example, Amazon Music as your main music provider to prevent the need to keep repeating commands every time.
Additional teething problems involve certain content getting played back on a different Echo unit in a different room from where we needed it to be played on the brand new Amazon Echo. We tested Alexa reading out loud a Kindle book we owned and its reading voice appeared to be faraway –after a couple of seconds, we discovered that it was because the kindle book was getting read in the bedroom upstairs, the location of our 1st-gen Echo.
However, these are just temporary snags with what is overall an easy and seamless service. Echo and Alexa make regulating your house smart a great deal simpler and these kinds of gadgets deserve the praise for that.
Quality of sound of the Amazon Echo (2nd generation) is sharp and clean. Whenever Alexa talks she’s very clear, and the Echo’s seven-mic assortment means that every time you call her, she will pick up. And Alex, much to the irritation of our pal named Alex.
To experiment with what sound is like using it, we select a variety of tracks. Four Tet’s exceptional New Energy produced great bass notes, with the Echo handling it up to a certain point. Having said that, if you would like an upgrade in sound, then the Amazon Echo Plus is a better choice. The latest Amazon Echo is better than satisfactory with its lone 2.6-inch woofer and solitary 0.6-inch. The addition of Dolby processing provides an even more extensive sound, however, we wanted it a bit warmer. Turn it up and the sound quality begins breaking up a bit.
Weeser’s guitar twang in Pacific Daydream was crystal clear, by the way. The Echo begins to strain at lower frequencies.
When you compare it to the first Amazon Echo the newer model competes easily, and that is great when you think about the drastically reduced price.
While not unique to this make of Amazon Echo, Alexa has been upgraded significantly recently with a few terrific new functions.
The power to receive phone calls via the Echo is a great improvement, as well as the Drop In function – which is basically an intercom for your house between Echo units. This reduces the ‘shouting to the upper levels that dinner is ready’ racket in our house.
The Routines function is appreciated, as well. This links several smart things which could take place with a single order. Now you are able to switch on lights and get a briefing every morning by simply saying, “Alexa, start my day”. It’s a neat function and one which will develop further as additional Skills are included. Similar to other aspects of Alexa, it’s a work-in-progress.
The blend of smart home gadgets has been enhanced as well, making it much easier to manage multiple gadgets (from different suppliers) with only one order. Once again, if you would like to even out your smart home, you might want to go with the Amazon Echo Plus, which provides an even simpler smart device detection and basically eliminates extra smart device hubs, due to its integration of ZigBee.
You will discover a few more engaging updates which have recently been released – along with some that are coming shortly.
The latest news is that Alexa got a brand new function named Can Fulfill Intent Request, which permits the designers of Skills to tell Amazon what types of inquiries their tool is able to answer. This means that when a user makes an unclear demand, the new function is going to skim through every Skills in its data bank to locate the one most probably to answer in the right way. Therefore, there isn’t any more stress if you don’t remember the triggers to particular Skills! Yeah!
The Amazon designers are also developing an easier way to assist Alexa to comprehend conversations naturally. The is that you don’t need to say Alexa’s name every time to grab her attention throughout a discussion – Alexa will simply continue to listen and reply until you’re done making requests.
Alexa Brain’s leader, Ruhi Sarikaya, states these upgrades will be released to US, UK and Germany initially, but didn’t provide an actual date for when we might see the update. Be on the lookout.
The most recent Amazon Echo (2nd generation) smart speaker is a delightful upgrade to the Amazon line. The price point is lower, a more attractive design and Alexa improves with every new release.
Since most of these upgrades aren’t very big, the introduction of the most recent Amazon Echo didn’t possess the heft or ‘wow’ element of the first Echo.
Amazon is clearly getting fierce competition from Apple HomePod, Google Home and maybe even the Sonos One because of its outstanding sound quality.
It really is too soon to know if any of these technologies will actually take control of smart home devices. In spite of this, all reviews state Amazon Echo systems outsell the ones from the Google Home line and Apple HomePod.
Although you may not fall for the notion of smart home technology, it is possible to utilize the Echo strictly as a Bluetooth music speaker.