- Microphone has great voice recognition
- Ultra-affordable price point
- Can connect to external speakers and headphones
- Speakers are a bit hollow and tinny
- Alexa Assistant not as advanced as Google
In the battle for smart speaker supremacy, the 2nd Generation Dot is the smallest and most affordable option in the Amazon Echo line of products. And despite it’s tiny size, it packs a big punch, and might just be the best value going in today’s smart home industry.
While dubbed a “smart speaker”, the Amazon Echo Dot does so much more. It’s a personal assistant that guides you through the news, weather, and sports report. It can set up an appointment or read a text message that came through to your phone. Play music from your favorite streaming service. But perhaps most importantly, it can add voice control to electronic items in your home with just a few taps. For $50, that’s quite an impressive feat.
Streamlined Design Means Lower Price
The 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Dot cleans up some of the mistakes it’s predecessor made in its launch less than a year ago. The volume knob that was rarely used has been removed. This shortens the Echo Dot to a size in line with your standard hockey puck. This design change also likely resulted in the much needed price drop from $89 to $50.
The Dot is powered by a micro USB port in the back and does not have a built-in battery like the Echo Tap. A 3.5mm AUX audio output sits next to it in the event you want to attach larger speakers for stereo sound. Amazon’s unique 7-microphone array (six on the edge, one in the middle) with far-field voice recognition helps pick up your voice from across a noisy room.
On top you’ll find a series of useful buttons. An up and down button for controlling the volume is available, although volume control can be done through voice commands. A button to turn off the microphone is handy and will illuminate the outer ring in red until it’s turned back on. And finally, an action button which can be use for various functions such as turning off an alarm, waking up the device, or enabling Wi-Fi during the setup process.
The Amazon Echo Dot comes in a black and white design. Our only minor gripe is the white version doesn’t have a white top (it’s grey) to match. The Dot has an attractive light ring along the outer edge. The blue mixed with cyan when giving it a command is stunning and gives a futuristic feel. The light also changes to other colors to communicate things such as errors (spinning orange), notifications waiting (pulsing yellow), or a call coming in (green). Unfortunately these cannot be customized at this time.
Major Improvements to Microphone Technology
The original Echo Dot had one glaring flaw, it was terrible at picking up a voice in a noisy room. The 2nd Generation Echo Dot has fixed that in a big way. With music playing in a room, it picked up my voice commands every time. It even did a great job at taking in my commands while other people in the room were speaking.
Distance was also much improved in version 2.0 thanks to the “far field” voice recognition . Using my normal speaking tone, I was able to get the Echo Dot to pick up my commands at up to 30 feet without an issue. That’s pretty remarkable for such a small device. If you’re using multiple Dots in the home, the microphones can pick up the closest one to you and will communicate with the others as to not duplicate your voice commands.
Speaker Not as Bad as Reports Indicate
Due to it’s size, the Dot has the least powerful speaker in the Echo line. And from early reports from other outlets, we had low expectations for that speaker going into this review. While the speaker can come across a bit hollow and tinny, it isn’t that bad. It certainly wouldn’t be advisable at parties, but it’s fine for some music in the kitchen or when taking a shower. Podcasts and audiobooks fared well too.
But the Echo Dot’s speaker limitations doesn’t mean you’ll have to accept a lesser audio experience. The audio input and Bluetooth capability make it easy to hook up quality speakers to the Dot easily. And the sound transferred to those more powerful speakers was great, especially being powered through such a tiny device.
One of the only issues with plugging in external speakers is the inability to decide whether you want sound coming from it or the Echo Dot. If you want to go back to using the Echo Dot, you’ll need to unplug the external speakers. It’d be great to just use a voice command to dictate whether you wanted your music to play through the plugged-in speakers or the Dot itself. This is minor since we feel like most people are shifting their speakers toward Bluetooth, which is much easier to control.
Skills Provide Endless Possibilities
While we can talk about the physical aspects of the Echo Dot, it’s primary function is acting as a bridge between your voice and the devices and services you want to use. This is done through the built in virtual assistant “Alexa”. This cloud-based voice activated assistant uses “skills” (think apps) that can be enabled through the Alexa App.
Music fans for instance can enable skills that allow for streaming from Pandora, Spotify, and Amazon Prime Music. You can setup your favorite podcast services like iHeartRadio or listen to radio stations locally or nationally with TuneIn and SiriusXM. All of these can be activated with the sound of your voice using the Echo Dot.
You can set up an alarm for the morning using your voice. Wake up to it and ask for your daily news briefing which can be customized with virtually every major news outlet in the country. Follow it up with the weather and traffic report for a heads up on your morning commute. And when you’re done, call for an Uber or ask for your checking account balance using just your voice. It’s like a personal assistant updating you on what’s happening in the world and in your life.
Services are one thing, but connecting the Amazon Echo Dot to other smart home appliances is a must for many of us. Thanks to the headstart Amazon has on other companies in this area, they have the most robust list of compatible gadgets going. Major companies like Philips, Nest, Ecobee, Belkin Wemo, Wink, SmartThings, Scout, and many more can be setup with just a few taps in the Alexa App. Even off-brand products have added skills of their own in the ecosystem. You’d be hard pressed to find a voice-controlled smart home product that doesn’t work with the Amazon Echo Dot.
Long term we think this will only get better. Not only are more companies making their products compatible with Amazon’s system, but savvy programmers are developing skills that make smart speakers that much more useful. From business applications to playing Jeopardy, the possibilities feel endless.
Conclusion – You Should Buy This
Coming up with flaws for the Echo Dot was tough. The speakers are not great for music but those who are looking for quality are probably purchasing name brand speakers that can be connected to the Dot. An internal battery would be handy too I guess but that would really drive up the price. Vendors are offering battery cases if you really need to take your Echo Dot mobile.
The Echo Dot inevitably gets compared to the Google Home Mini which is also a great device. While I think Google’s assistant is a touch better than Amazon, their ecosystem of linked products is nowhere close at the moment. That could change down the line, but Amazon has shown no signs of slowing down and is years ahead in that area.
The Amazon Echo Dot is a great all-around smart speaker that is incredibly affordable for all that it does (even moreso if you can catch it during the $30 sales). It’s a great starting point for those intrigued by smart assistants as well as a powerful gadget for advanced users who want one in every room of the house. Because of that, we feel the Echo Dot is the best value smart speaker on the market today. It’s a must-buy for anyone who wants to add voice controls to their home.