No two Amazon Echo smart speakers are the same—each one has its own unique range of capabilities. We examined each speaker in the line for its unique characteristics, sound quality, and responsiveness to help you decide which one is best for your home.
In doing so, the fourth-generation Echo sits at the top of our rankings of best Amazon Echo smart speakers. It has the most universal appeal and would be perfect in any room of the house. But there are multiple models available, each with something notable to offer.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
The fourth generation Echo looks nothing like previous generations of Echo speakers, taking on an even more modern and minimal aesthetic as a fabric-covered orb. The status light ring is now around the base of said orb, which is a little more difficult to see from across the room. It also has the smart home hub capabilities of the previous Echo Plus, and it comes loaded with a faster processor that speeds up Alexa's response time.
The sound on the Echo is certainly respectable, though it can’t compete with the bass produced by larger speakers like the Bose Home 300. We like using it solo, as a stereo pair, or for multi-room music when connected with other Echo speakers. It also functions as a Bluetooth speaker.
The 4th-gen Echo has a built-in temperature sensor, which means you can open the Alexa app and see what the temperature is in the room where the Echo resides.
It's the only Echo speaker, aside from the Echo Studio, that doubles as a smart home hub. It uses the Zigbee smart home standard to help allow easy connection to other smart home devices like Hue Bulbs and Kwikset smart locks.
While its sound doesn’t compete with our favorites, especially in the bass department, it does well for a speaker at its cost, especially if you buy it on sale.
The 5th-generation Amazon Echo Dot received a significant boost when it comes to sound. It produces more bass, and displays more proficiency in reproducing tracks that lean heavily into those lower frequencies than the previous generation. To be clear, the Dot won’t rattle windows or shake picture frames off their hooks. But for a speaker that weighs less than 11 ounces, the Dot does a surprisingly good job of bringing the bass.
The new Echo Dot now doubles as a Wi-Fi extender for eero Mesh Wi-Fi systems, and is now reportedly capable of adding up to 1,000 square feet of coverage to your network and handling speeds of up to 100 Mbps. For eero owners, the Dot represents a useful, 2-for-1 gadget that can set timers and tell you the right way to pronounce “biopic” while providing a handy boost to your network.
Aside from the extender skills, the Dot’s new accelerometer offers up new tap gesture controls. Simply tap the top of the speaker to pause or play music, snooze alarms, or even end communications through the Dot.
Unfortunately, not all of the Dot’s new features hit the mark. The speaker’s new ambient temperature sensor, while intriguing, measured about 9°F to 10°F colder than the real temperature of the space. Still, that’s a rather minor issue compared to the rest of the lineup of solid, noteworthy features packed into Amazon’s latest Alexa-enabled smart speaker. Add in the bump in bass and audio quality overall, and the fifth generation Echo Dot has plenty of perks to once again be one of the most valuable smart speakers around.
The 4th-generation Amazon Echo Dot comes in three models: The Dot, the Dot with Clock, and the Dot Kids Edition.
The Amazon Echo Dot with Clock has a numerical display on the front that shows the time or the status of timers you've set. The Kids Edition is covered in fun animal designs and comes with a free year of Amazon Kids+ programming and a 2-year guarantee (because kids aren't easy on tech!).
Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers have always had a sleek aesthetic. But the orb-like design of the 4th generation is as minimal as it gets, matching with the larger 4th-gen Echo. The Dot looks like a small mesh ball, and with three color options, it will blend nicely with most décor. If you’re wondering how much Echo Dots are, they are usually the most affordable of the current available Echo speakers.
While you can't expect mind-blowing sound from a speaker barely larger than a baseball, the Dot gives a surprisingly decent listening experience. It especially works well when linked with another Dot as a stereo pair. Playing bass-heavy tunes makes for a somewhat disappointing experience, but acoustic tracks sound pretty respectable.
Larger, more expensive Alexa smart speakers like the Echo Studio will deliver far superior sound quality, but the Dot is certainly sufficient for smart home control, Alexa interactions, and background tunes at dinner.
If you’re looking for the best sound quality in the Echo lineup, the Echo Studio is absolutely the best pick. It's also a great choice for smart homes because, like the 4th-gen Echo, it has a built-in Zigbee hub.
This speaker is considerably larger than other Echo speakers, but the additional size allows for deeper bass, better clarity, and immersive sound. The Studio is also unique in this space as it is designed to deliver 3D sound, thanks to its Dolby Atmos compatibility. It even features an upward-firing driver that bounces sound off your ceiling to better immerse you in the audio.
Usually, we think of surround sound in reference to movies. But there is a burgeoning movement in music to use 3D-audio technology like that in the Echo Studio to deliver sound that seems to come from everywhere–even above you. At present it's limited to a small list of artists and streaming services, such as Amazon Music Unlimited and Tidal, but it’s becoming more widespread.
Regardless of whether or not you use this speaker to play 3D music, the sound it delivers will be satisfying, and impressively full for a speaker of its size.
The 3rd-gen Dot may be an older model Echo speaker, but it still gives you access to all the standard Alexa features at a fraction of the price of its larger siblings. However, with the price break, you do have to sacrifice sound quality.
The small speaker delivers noticeably low-quality audio playback, though this generation presents a major improvement in that area over its predecessors. Like the Echo Dot, the third-gen has a 3.5mm input on the back and Bluetooth connectivity, so you can easily connect it to any existing speaker for a boost in audio quality.
Given that the price difference between the two speakers is nominal, the 4th-gen Echo Dot is a better buy (if you can swing the small price increase). The only reason to buy the 3rd-gen Echo Dot is if you prefer the hockey puck-like shape to the fourth-gen Echo Dot’s revamped orb design.
Hi there, I'm Rachel Murphy, and I’ve been covering smart home for Reviewed for several years now. My work in this article is built upon the original work and testing of Sarah Kovac, Reviewed’s accessibility editor.
Because every Echo speaker has its own strengths and features, our testing couldn't be standardized across each device. Instead, we used each Echo for several weeks before deciding which one is best for which use cases.
Echo Speakers and Privacy
Privacy might seem like a thing of the past. Everywhere you go, there's some computer watching or listening. But, in your own home, you can do a few things to protect yourself, even from naturally invasive smart home devices.
You can stop your Echo speaker from listening for (and possibly mishearing) your wake word by turning off your mic via the mute button on the top of the device. Or, turn on audible alerts within Settings in the Alexa app to know when your Echo is listening beyond just the indicator light.
You can opt-out of having your voice recordings included in Amazon’s review process by going to Settings > Alexa Privacy > Manage Your Alexa Data, then toggling off the setting that says Use Voice Recordings to Improve Amazon Services.
In these privacy settings, you can also delete Alexa voice recordings, which are accessible to anyone you share the app with. You can even set up auto-deletion every three or 18 months.
What’s The Difference Between Alexa and Echo?
Alexa is Amazon’s voice assistant. It can respond to voice commands, and it performs a wide variety of functions to help you throughout your day. Alexa can help you manage smart home devices like lights and thermostats. It can also take notes and give you calendar reminders, make purchases online, and more.
In order to use Alexa, you need Alexa-enabled devices or the Alexa app on a compatible smartphone or tablet. There are a host of smart appliances that have Alexa built in, but you can also pick up Echo devices to bring Alexa into your home. That includes smart speakers featured here, and the Amazon Echo Show, which can make video calls and stream movies and TV.
Alexa is the main way you control Echo products. You can use it to also display photos across devices, pull up streaming content, play music in a multi-room audio setup, and more.
Sarah Kovac is an award-winning author and accessibility editor for Reviewed. Previously, she worked with a multitude of outlets such as Wirecutter, TIME, PCMag, Prevention, The Atlantic, Reviews.com, CNN, GOOD, Upworthy, Mom.me, and SheKnows.
Rachel Murphy is Reviewed's home editor. She holds a journalism degree from the University of Central Florida. Prior to joining the team, she worked as a freelance writer for publications like Insider and Mashable, and as an associate editorial producer for Good Morning America. Aside from smart home tech, her interests include food, travel, parenting, and home renovation. You can usually find her sipping on coffee at any time of the day.
Nick Woodard is a tech journalist specializing in all things related to home theater and A/V. His background includes a solid foundation as a sports writer for multiple daily newspapers, and he enjoys hiking and mountain biking in his spare time.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.