“The new Echo Dot is the best compact smart speaker on the market by a wide margin.”
- Impressive full sound quality
- Inexpensive introduction to smart home control
- Alexa smarter than ever
- Improved aesthetic befitting modern home design
- Better microphone sensitivity
- Fabric covering could show dirt over time
- New power port is less universal
The Echo Dot has always been more smart than speaker. Originally designed to deliver cheap and easy access to Alexa, the Echo Dot was never about sound quality. Aside from making Alexa’s voice audible and playing music back at a volume level that just barely served as a wake-up alarm, the Dot’s best utility was as a sound source for a bigger speaker system. With the latest version of the Echo Dot, however, that’s all changed.
Bigger and more powerful than before, the third-generation Echo Dot ($50) is a proper speaker. In fact, this new Dot has us wondering if it might eat into Amazon’s standard Echo speaker sales – it’s that much better.
Out of the box
Cracking open the Echo Dot’s turquoise box reveals a speaker that has clearly received an overhaul. The new Dot is still hockey-puck shaped, and it’s still compact enough, but you can see it is considerably larger. Picking up the speaker makes it clear it’s put on some weight as well.
The new Dot’s slightly wider base is treated with an even grippier spread of anti-slide silicon, and it feels great. The top of the speaker sports the same array of four control buttons, each next to a pin-sized microphone hole, though the microphone mute button has a different icon this time around.
The circumference of the speaker is wrapped in fabric (charcoal, heather gray, or sandstone depending on color choice) much like the Apple HomePod, which looks like it is bound to pick up stains, especially if it sits in a kitchen, though we’re hopeful a sponge and some mild detergent could help keep it respectably clean.
One surprising change for the new Dot is a new power connection. Amazon has ditched the micro-USB port and gone with a small cylindrical DC power tip and a rounded wall plug.
Under the fabric hood is a single 1.6-inch speaker firing 360-degrees. This is a big jump up from the prior models, which used one tiny speaker and let the sound leak out of multiple port holes in a weak effort to convince users that it broadcast sound out in every direction.
Bigger and more powerful than before, the third-generation Echo is a proper speaker.
Outside of that one key difference, the core functionality of the Dot remains the same. The speaker is the gateway to the built-in voice assistant Alexa, which can answer questions, make phone calls, set kitchen timers, provide the latest news, and more.
The ability to control smart home devices remains the same as well. For example, saying “Alexa, turn on the master bedroom lights,” will do exactly that, providing you have those lights connected via the Alexa app. Alexa works with thousands of smart home devices (here are some of our favorites) including locks, lights, cameras, and video doorbells. Heck, there are even robot lawn mowers that Alexa can control.
A recent Alexa App overhaul brings user-friendly usability to the set-up process, allowing you to quickly connect to compatible devices.
Setting up the new Echo Dot remains simple. The device will come registered to your Amazon account unless you specifically request otherwise at the point of purchase. Android and iOS users will need to download the Alexa app to a mobile device if not already installed, then sign in to their Amazon account.
From there, the newly refreshed version of the Alexa app makes adding devices and creating groups easier than ever. Click add device, select Echo speaker, and the new Echo Dot will appear ready and awaiting assignment. A couple more clicks, and the speaker is ready to go.
If you prefer to use Spotify to Amazon Music or Pandora (including Pandora Premium), you’ll want to set Spotify as your preferred music service within the Alexa app. This way, when asking Alexa to play music or playlists, the speaker will default to Spotify – it’s not necessary to specify that you want your “starred playlist from Spotify,’ for example. Just say, “Alexa, play my starred playlist.”
We’ve already let the cat out of the bag – the new Echo Dot sounds dramatically better than the prior version — but we also want to point out that this new speaker sounds damn impressive for its size. To put things in perspective, we tested the new Echo Dot against the Google Home Mini, and the Dot won by a mile. The Echo Dot has smoother treble, respectably clear midrange and vocal timbres, and offers much more low-end response than the Google Home Mini. By comparison, the Google speaker sounds slightly harsh – at louder volumes we had to turn it down, but the new Echo Dot can be driven to full volume and is not only louder but avoids distortion and is pleasant to listen to.
What’s more, the tiny speaker was still able to register our wake-word command even with music blaring at full volume. The Echo Dot excels in all meaningful ways, making it the best compact smart speaker on the market today.
The new Dot comes with a 90-day limited warranty and service. Optional one-, two-, and three-year extended warranties are available as a separate purchase.
Is there a better alternative?
For this price point? No way. The Google Home Mini ($49), previously the Dot’s biggest competition, doesn’t sound anywhere near as solid as the new Dot. Unless you’re married into the Google Assistant family already, the Dot is the clear winner here. We’d even recommend the Dot over Amazon’s flagship Echo, which costs twice as much as the Dot and features similar sound quality.
Those seeking more bells and whistles in a smart speaker, like a screen, should check out the Echo Spot alarm clock ($130) or Echo Show ($230). The Lenovo Smart Display (starting at $199) is a great option for Google Assistant lovers.
How long will it last?
Amazon has a proven track record with Echo devices. With regular firmware updates and upgrades to Alexa that make the voice assistant brainier than ever, this 3rd-generation edition Dot should last awhile, at least until Amazon releases a new one in a few years. Even then, at $50 a pop, you can afford to buy the 4th edition when it’s released.
We are a little surprised by the 90-day warranty, as typically Amazon products come with a one-year warranty. Still, unless you’re treating the device as a hockey puck, it should easily last you a couple years or more. Amazon and Alexa aren’t going anywhere.
Should you buy it?
Yes, without a doubt. This is the best-sounding little smart speaker on the market, and you won’t be disappointed.
Updated November 20, 2018 to note that the Echo now supports Pandora Premium.
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