Smart Home

Amazon's new Echo Dot is here—and it's better than before

This tiny Echo Dot delivers connectivity—and sound.

Amazon's Echo Dot smart speaker Credit: Amazon

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Amazon has its own lineup of smart home devices, including a plethora of Alexa-enabled speakers that not only bring music into your home but can easily run all of your smart gadgets, too. We took a close look at the smallest of the bunch, the budget-friendly Echo Dot, which has a lot to offer despite its petite size.

What is Echo Dot?

Echo Dot on table
Credit: Amazon

The Echo Dot is small, compact, and easily fits into your decor.

The Echo Dot is the smaller sibling of Amazon's popular midrange smart speaker, the Echo. This third-generation model still rocks the circa-2017 design upgrade that's slightly more rotund than the model that came before, but it still won't take up a ton of room.

Its pleasing inflated hockey puck shape comes in at just a bit smaller than 4" in diameter (official measurements are 3.9" x 3.9" x 1.7") and features fabric sides and a smooth top, complete with four buttons. It also has the same light ring as the bigger Amazon (Echo and Echo Plus) smart speakers, which helps you know that it's hearing and responding to your voice commands. The buttons on top let you manually control volume, as well as mute the microphone completely. The fourth button is a wakeup button that's handy to use if you're close by and don't want to shout your wakeup word over your pounding tunes.

While it does have a relatively tiny speaker (it comes in at a diminutive 1.6"), it gives off a lot more sound than you might expect out of something so small. It's also a huge upgrade over the second-generation Echo Dot, which we found to be lacking in sound quality.

How Echo Dot works with Alexa

Echo Dot from top
Credit: Amazon

The buttons on top of the Echo Dot allow you to manually control the volume, wake the device up, and mute the microphone.

The Echo Dot, like the rest of the Amazon Echo family, utilizes Amazon's own Alexa smart assistant. No matter which smart speaker you buy, it's all the same Alexa, and while other products might have skills that utilize a display that the speakers alone don't have, there is plenty an Echo Dot can do. You can ask her to play music, tell you a joke, communicate with other Alexa-enabled devices, set an alarm, set multiple timers, tell you a story, spell words, translate, and tons more.

The Echo Dot gives you control over your entire smart home

Alexa can help you connect your Echo Dot with your smart home devices, such as smart light bulbs, plugs, thermostats, and more. With a simple command ("Alexa, turn on the living room light"), you can tell your Echo Dot to do just that, or to control just about any smart device you have—and with the Alexa app on your phone, you can give commands while you're off your property, too.

What users are saying

Echo Dot white
Credit: Amazon

The Echo Dot can hear you over background noise—even the music it's currently playing.

The average star rating of the Echo Dot is 4.6. The ratings are broken down by feature as well, with voice recognition, sound quality, Bluetooth connectivity, and Alexa integration getting the highest marks (also at 4.6). Bass quality is a little lower with an average rating of 4.3, and motion detection brings up the rear at 4.2 stars.

Sound quality gets a lot of recognition in the individual reviews, with one mentioning that it's the best sound quality they've experienced on a speaker this size. Other reviews mention that Alexa is a fun smart assistant and extremely useful. Some users note that sometimes Alexa misunderstands voice commands, while others feel that the third generation is an improvement.

Privacy concerns

One potential concern of anyone who uses a voice-activated assistant, whether it's Alexa or others, is privacy. Alexa is designed to only "wake up" and record your voice commands when it hears the wake word (often "Alexa"), and you can even check to see what has been recorded (and delete it if you wish).

Recently, Bloomberg revealed that Amazon workers could be listening in on what you tell Alexa in order to improve its overall usability and efficiency. While this sounds like a reasonable activity, sometimes workers commiserate in a chatroom to deal with some of the things they've overheard. You can disable the use of voice recordings for software development, but even then, sometimes recordings are still analyzed manually.

Should you buy an Echo Dot?

Echo dot side table
Credit: Amazon

The Echo Dot integrates easily with your smart home devices, courtesy of Alexa.

The Echo Dot is an excellent smart speaker for anyone who is on a budget or not sure if Alexa is the right smart assistant for them. It's also a great starter device for someone who is new to the smart home game. It's easy to connect Alexa to smart devices, and while you have to enunciate clearly for Alexa to understand what you're saying, that’s a common learning curve with all smart assistants.

Also, the price point is quite modest for a tech tool that does everything that it does. While its regular price is more than reasonable ($49.99), it goes on sale frequently and can often be purchased for half that—or even less, in some cases (watch for specials around holidays, Prime Day, and Black Friday).