Amazon Echo Dot (2nd generation) review

Amazon's Echo Dot is a tiny box with a big brain that keeps getting smarter

Amazon's Echo Dot is a genius way to make any stupid speaker smart.
Amazon's Echo Dot is a genius way to make any stupid speaker smart.
Amazon's Echo Dot is a genius way to make any stupid speaker smart.

Highs

  • Compact and unobtrusive
  • Connects to any audio system
  • Far-field voice recognition
  • Constantly evolving functionality

Lows

  • On-board sound is weak

DT Editors' Rating

When Amazon introduced the Echo Speaker, we were less excited by what it did out of the box, and more by what it could ultimately become. Today, the Echo’s potential is only beginning to be realized, but it’s already one of the most versatile smart home devices available today. Even with competition from the cuter Google Home Mini and now the Dot 3.0 which features stronger sound quality, the original Dot, for now anyway, still holds up as the most sought-after smart speaker on the market.

Of course, without Alexa – the snappy voice inside – Amazon’s Echo wouldn’t be interesting at all – just another Bluetooth speaker. Which raises the question: Can’t we have Alexa’s smarts without having to buy the speaker, too? Amazon answered that question with the Echo Dot, a hockey puck-shaped device with all of Alexa’s brains and none of that burdensome, bulky speaker stuff — all at half the price of the original Echo.

Small but powerful

To be fair, the full-size Echo speaker isn’t actually bulky or burdensome, the Echo Dot just makes it look big in comparison. If you were to chop off the top two inches of the Echo, you’d get the Dot, right down to the two interface buttons on top, and a volume control ring running the perimeter. Where it differs is toward the bottom, where you’ll find two ports, one micro-USB jack for power, and one auxiliary output for a hard-wired connection to a powered speaker, or just about any home audio system. While the Google Home Mini has rounded, pebble-like edges, the Dot’s edges are more angular.

Bring your own sound

Given the popularity of Bluetooth speakers today, Amazon is safely betting that many would-be buyers want to try out Alexa, but don’t want to spend $180 on yet another Bluetooth speaker. The Dot will work with any Bluetooth speaker, allowing us to use a Riva S and Riva Turbo X speakers for significantly better sound than the Echo speaker is capable of. It also works with any audio system with RCA inputs, making full-on home theaters an option. In addition, several companies have come out with an Alexa-compatible speaker, so now you can add a Sonos One smart speaker to your setup up so you don’t have to listen to the Echo Dot’s superficial sound.

You don’t have to have a separate speaker or sound system to use the Dot, though. The puck includes tiny speakers on par with what you might get with a decent tablet – acceptable, but not impressive. This allows you to get information like the weather, the time, and sports scores, or use the Dot on its own as an alarm clock.

Amazingly able Alexa

Since Amazon opened up the Alexa Skills Kit and the new Smart Home Skills API, developers have been working to make thermostats, smart lights, and switches controllable through voice commends issued to Alexa. And that’s just the start – smart garage-door openers, security systems, and other smart-home controls are likely right around the corner, like changing the color of lights.

Amazon’s digital assistant is expected to be one of the best smart-home device controllers on the market.

Alexa links with Spotify, Pandora, and a host of other Internet music services and access them via voice control. Along with Prime Music access, this makes calling up a tune from multiple streaming services easier than ever before. You can also select Spotify as your primary music source on the device – an option that wasn’t available before.

Not surprisingly, Alexa can order products from Amazon for you, too. The commands take some getting used to, but if you want, you can tell Alexa to make a purchase, and after a confirmation, the order is placed. Just make sure you have your Amazon purchase preferences in order so you don’t accidentally run the wrong credit card or ship to the wrong address.

Outside of that, Alexa will help you with basic math problems, perform measurement conversions, get you answers to questions with the help of Wikipedia, and countless other capabilities we don’t have room for here.

Alexa’s issues

Nobody is perfect — not even a virtual, digital assistant like Alexa. For instance, she tends to perk up and listen when you don’t want her to. And her response to what is sure to be a misunderstood question will come as a surprise if you’re out of visual range and didn’t realize she was listening.

That brings up another issue: Alexa can seem kind of creepy … at least at first. Alexa is capable of far-field communication, which means you can be across the room but she can still “hear” you. She also knows where you are and proves that by targeting you with an aqua-colored LED indicator strip. This means that Alexa will occasionally pipe in from across the home, which is just a long-distance version of the same creep-factor described above.

Amazon Echo Dot
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends
Greg Mombert/Digital Trends

To be clear, Alexa is no more invasive and no more a spy than any other so-called digital assistant, like Google Assistant, Siri, or Cortana. The notion of any of them “listening” is also contentious, since they’re only supposed to activate when they hear their “wake-up” word. Still, if you aren’t comfortable with the idea, Alexa isn’t going to change your mind.

Exactly as Amazon advertised

Amazon promised all of Alexa at half the price, and that’s exactly what the Dot is. Practically speaking, we think it makes good sense. Most of us have an audio system or wireless speaker already, and don’t need another one taking up space, but still like the ease of use and ability that Alexa affords.

Frankly, there’s not another device on the market quite like the Dot. Its abilities are unique, useful, and like with the original Echo, will only get better with time. The original Echo was a device we could heartily recommend to anyone, and at half the price, the Echo is an easy Editor’s Choice award winner. While you can get an excellent deal on an older Dot right now, keep in mind that the 3.0 version available in October 2018 will feature better sound. You might want to hold out for that version, which will cost $50 just like the old, tinny sounding version.

Updated September 25, 2018 to note that Amazon has introduced a Dot 3.0, which features better sound.

Deals

Amazon knocks $50 off the Sonos Beam soundbar and smart speaker

If you're looking to add some oomph to your home audio setup, then through February 3, the Alexa-enabled Sonos Beam is on sale for $50 off, bringing this excellent sound bar down to just $349 on Amazon.
Computing

Cortana wants to be friends with Alexa and Google Assistant

Microsoft no longer wants to compete against Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant in the digital assistant space. Instead, it wants to transform Cortana into a skill that can be integrated into other digital assistants.
Smart Home

This just in: Alexa can now deliver the news like a professional newscaster

The Amazon Alexa team has given Alexa a newscaster voice that improves the way she delivers the news and reads Wikipedia articles, making the smart assistant easier to understand.
Home Theater

Polk Audio’s Command Bar joins Alexa’s multiroom music party

Polk's Command Bar is a home theater soundbar with Alexa built in. But with a new update, it can also be grouped with Amazon's Echo products and other third-party speakers for a multi-room experience.
Smart Home

Idaho mother says her child’s light-up sippy cup exploded

After a mother filled a Nuby insulated light-up cup with milk, the cup allegedly exploded. The incident caused burns to the mother's hand and face and a stinging sensation in her lungs that required a trip to the hospital.
Smart Home

Project Alias is a ‘smart parasite’ that stops smart speakers from listening

Two designers chose to do something about nosy smart speakers. The result is Project Alias, a "smart parasite" that whispers nonsense to Google Home and Alexa until it hears a specific wake word.
Smart Home

The Instant Pot Lux is a gateway drug into the pleasures of pressure cooking

The 3-quart Instant Pot Lux is one of the most affordable Instant Pots you can buy. Is it still a solid pressure cooker? Here are our thoughts on the Instant Pot Lux, a great IP baseline model.
Smart Home

DS3 Clean water-free swatches could be the future of cleaning products

DS3 Clean swatches were on display at CES 2019. The small swatches come in several types, including shampoo and toilet cleaner. They're great for travel, but their real impact is in how such supplies will be shipped and stored.
Smart Home

Amazon patents a technology to help Alexa fight fake voice attacks

Amazon filed a patent this month for a new technology that looks like it would help its digital assistant Alexa fight fake voice attacks that could potentially fool Alexa's biometric security protocols.
Smart Home

Amazon Prime members number more than 100 million in the U.S., survey says

Consumer Intelligence Research Partners estimated there were 101 million U.S. Amazon Prime members as of December 31, 2018. Last April, CEO Jeff Bezos wrote there were more than 100 global million Prime members.
Smart Home

With focus on interoperability, is Nevo Butler a smarter home hub?

Universal Electronics is the latest company getting into the smart home market, announcing at CES 2019 that it intends to market the Nevo Butler, a new smart home hub with onboard A.I. and voice control technology.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: camera with A.I. director, robot arm assistant

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Google’s radar-sensing tech could make any object smart

Computer scientists have shown how Google’s Soli sensor can be used to make dumb objects smart. Here's why radar-powered computing could finally make the dream of smart homes a reality.
Smart Home

The best air fryers deliver fried food with a fraction of the calories

What is this magical mechanism? It's an air fryer, and when used correctly, it can mimic the effects of frying while using just a little bit of oil. You still get that crispy, golden exterior and the fluffy center.