Ahead of Apple releasing its smaller HomePod mini at $99, in mid-September, Amazon unveiled the fourth iteration of its Echo smart speaker – complete with an overhaul in sound quality and design.
Amazon touts improved sound quality and acoustics with this generation of Echo. It features a new cylinderical design which looks distinctly different to previous generations. We found the buttons on top positioned well and were clickier than those on the old design. It’s also lighter and more portable than the Echo Plus 2 thanks to this (rounder) design upgrade.
– Superb directional audio with good bass
– More practical and portable design
– Brighter LED strip indicator
– Smaller plug is less bulky than previous generation
– Zigbee hub remains a gimmick for most home users
– AZ1 Neural processor not taken advantage of by Alexa
– No WiFi 6 could affect some
We were skeptical if this design was purely a visual change to persuade users this is a new product – it’s not. The Amazon Echo 4th generation has a 3″ woofer with two 0.8″ tweeters – an upgrade over the highest end Echo Plus 2’s single tweeter.
Bass is more prominent and midtones clear – the sound starts to get muffled at full volume but we noticed significant differences in clarity and volume against the older generations. If you’re replacing an Echo Dot, you’ll instantly hear a difference.
This is all thanks to the new design – rather than using 360 audio, the Echo has a directional audio system with the woofer directly in the middle. We could certainly hear a difference between the Echo Plus 2 and Echo 4th-generation with the directional woofer. You can place this speaker against a wall and audio will push directly out of the front – Amazon clearly wants you to be sitting in front of it.
The new design repositions the LED indicator to the bottom, under the mesh fabric, and it’s up to 2x brighter (personal judgement) than the Amazon Echo Plus 2 with the ring indicator placed around the top. The glow given off by this repositioned LED strip provides – we think – better indication when Alexa is listening: one of many privacy concerns Amazon has been in trouble with in the past.
Echo improves on what Amazon’s been working on for years – Alexa. It’s set to be faster at processing voice commands with a new AZ1 Neural processor, although this isn’t available yet. The assistant is brilliant at everything – smart home queries the most.
A built in Zigbee hub can connect smart light bulbs, plugs, sensors and more and means you won’t need a separate hub to control devices. Without a screen, we’re not sure how helpful this is, and the experience with smart devices is practically identical to other Echos. Maybe more devices will come out in the future that can directly work with Zigbee. A temperature sensor is also included to measure the temperature of the room the Echo is placed in.
Overall, the $99/£90 Amazon Echo 4th-generation is a solid package for those that want the best smart speaker without spending hundreds of dollars. Upgraded sound inside the new design, improved smart home support and faster reactions from Alexa make this our top choice when it comes to smart speakers – there isn’t yet anything that can beat it at this price.
Will the HomePod mini offer more for the same price? We’ll have to wait until it’s available, but one thing’s for sure – it’s going to be hard to beat what the new Amazon Echo offers.