Amazon’s Echo gets a decent-sounding refresh

Amazon seemingly didn’t realize what it had on its hands with the original Echo. Released five and a half years back for a select number of Amazon Prime users, the first Alexa device ushered in a consumer electronics revolution.

According to numbers from Canalys, 26.1 million smart speakers were shipped in Q2 2019. That’s a hefty 55.4% growth from the year prior, with Amazon capturing just over a quarter of the total global market. Much of Amazon’s growth (up 61% y-o-y) is courtesy of its rapidly growing line, which now ranges from the $50 Echo Dot to the $200 Echo Studio.

At $100, the Echo sits right in the middle. And unlike Google, which has left the Home largely unchanged during its two-year existence, Amazon’s now on the third generation for its own base-level device.

The latest version of the device, announced at an Alexa event at Amazon HQ in Seattle earlier this month, ditches the swappable face gimmick of the previous generation. Instead, the company has focused on the speaker part of the smart speaker. It was something that was too often neglected by earlier devices, which were primarily viewed as a conduit for voice assistants.

amazon echo 2019

Of course, if someone is simply looking for a cheap and easy way to introduce a smart assistant into their home, they can pick up an Echo Dot or Nest Mini for a fraction of the price — or, for that matter, the $25 Echo Flex wall plug.

The new Echo slots pretty nicely between the Dot and Studio, Amazon’s new HomePod competitor. It’s probably not where you want to do all of your music listening, but it’s a nice addition to a desk at home or work, or a room like the kitchen where music listening is secondary. More importantly, software updates like stereo pairing with two Echo devices and multi-room music, paired with hardware add-ons like Echo Sub, Link and Input, have made the $99 product a potential addition to a larger, better sound system.

The third-generation Echo certainly marks an improvement sound-wise over earlier models. It offers decent 360 sound and surprisingly heavy bass, courtesy of a 3.0-inch woofer and 0.8-inch tweeter. There’s also a 3.5-inch audio jack for inputting or outputting sound. The setup is essentially the same as last year’s Echo Plus, only without the increasingly less important smart home hub functionality.

In fact, the device looks almost identical to the second-gen Echo Plus, leaving many wondering if the product is long for this world. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the company phase out the product entirely after selling through this batch during the holiday season.

amazon echo 2019

With four different colors, the Echo should fit in well with most surroundings. The rounded, fabric-covered model is a far cry from the early days of hard plastic. There is a prominent light ring up top to let you know when the Echo is listening, along with a quartet of buttons: volume up/down, microphone and the action button, which performs a variety of tasks, including firing up Alexa and turning off timers.

Maybe it’s the fact that I just reviewed the Nest Mini, but touch functionality would be a nice addition here. When you move your hand toward the speaker while it’s playing music, a pair of lights illuminate for volume. Tapping the middle of the device would play or pause music. It’s a simple but handy addition.

All in all, solid additions on the hardware front, coupled with the continued addition of things like selectable music services make for a solid upgrade to the company’s base smart speaker.