Comparing Amazon's latest Alexa smart speakers to find out which is right for you
Amazon's Echo smart speakers are now on their fourth generation, with an all-new look and the same Alexa voice assistant for playing music and controlling your smart home.
The Echo and Echo Dot look identical, but the latter is around 50 percent smaller than the regular Echo, affording it the space to include more speaker drivers and therefore offer a better, louder sound.
However, at $50 the Echo Dot is half the price of the full-size Echo, and for some situations the smaller option could well be best. We have lived with both models of fourth-generation Echo, and here is how we've got along with them.
For the first time in the Echo's history, the smaller and larger models are visually identical. We really like Amazon's spherical design and think it really suits a smart speaker, with the rounded edges and fabric cover helping them to blend into any household environment.
The larger Echo is 5.7 inches wide and 5.2 inches tall, while weighing a fairly considerable 34.2 oz. It is available in charcoal, white, blue and these are joined for a limited time by a (Product) Red edition.
Meanwhile, the more compact Echo Dot is 3.9 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall. It weighs 12 oz and is also available in charcoal, white and blue, but there is currently no red example. Both have a 3.5mm audio jack on the back for connecting to another speaker, and both require their own wall plug, as neither can be powered by USB.
Both also have a light ring at their base for indicating when Alexa is active and when it is muted. A mute button for the microphone, along with volume controls and a button to summon Alexa without saying the assistant's name are on the top of both speakers.
Only the larger Echo has a screw hole on its base for connecting to a speaker stand. This is because a pair of Echoes can be used as a stereo pair and connected to an Amazon Fire streaming TV, replacing your TV's audio. The Echo Dot cannot do this, and so misses out on the screw hole.
Naturally, this is where you will find the greatest differences between the Echo and Echo Dot. The smaller of the two has just a single, 1.6-inch speaker, while the larger has a 3.0-inch woofer and a pair of 0.8-inch tweeters. This means significantly more bass and a much wider dynamic range than the Dot. It also means more volume and less distortion at louder levels.
The Echo can certainly be used to fill a room with music, while the Dot struggles to keep its composure when the volume level is pushed beyond about 70 percent. But, once you know its limitations, the Dot is still surprisingly good for its size and price.
As I explained in my recent review of the Dot, I have it sat on my desk, just a few inches away from my keyboard, where at low volumes it does a perfect job of playing the radio and turning Alexa into a convenient desk assistant.
The Dot is designed to fill the gaps in your smart home, rather than be the main event. It is designed for the bedroom, the office and the study, not the lounge or the kitchen.
Meanwhile, the full-size Echo is really rather impressive for a $100 speaker. It is loud, with more bass than ever before, and has a power that was lacking from previous models. It is also capable of Dolby Audio, whereas the Dot is not.
Both speakers work with Alexa in an identical way. The intelligence of Amazon's voice assistant is exactly the same on both speakers, and they connect to the Alexa app – then onwards to a huge number of smart home devices – in the same way.
However, a key difference is how the larger Echo has support for Zigbee and Amazon's new Sidewalk system, whereas the Dot doesn't. This might not matter to your smart home, especially if every device you own connects to Alexa via the app. But if you own certain Zigbee devices, or want to connect them directly to the Echo instead of via their own hub or bridge, then the larger speaker is the one you need.
Otherwise, they are the same. And being Echo speakers, they have a set of features missing from some third-party Alexa speakers. They can act as a home intercom system using Drop In, and you can make calls with them to phones and other Echo devices anywhere in the world. They will also alert you when Amazon packages are on the way, and they will announce when someone is at the door if you connect them to a Ring doorbell. They also form a home security system using Amazon's Guard and new Guard Plus function.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) vs Echo Dot: Price
As I mentioned earlier, the Echo is $100 and the Echo Dot is $50. However, both are often subject to discounts and deals, with Amazon regularly lowering their price and/or including extras like smart light bulbs for free. Both speakers are still relatively new, but later this year you can expect to see some decent discounts and deals.
Not that they don't represent good value in their own right, because I believe they absolutely do. Currently, for $150 you can buy an Echo with a pair of free Philips Hue smart bulbs, plus an Echo Dot, which I think is a great smart home starter kit.
Picking a winner here is difficult because, despite their similarities, these speakers are aimed at different areas of the smart home market. If all you need is an Alexa device to play music, radio or podcasts quietly at your desk or bedside, then the compact Echo Dot is ideal.
If you want room-filling sound and can accommodate the larger size and price of the regular Echo, then you should go for that one instead. And if you can afford both, buy both. That way you can unlock extra features from Alexa, and have the assistant in more places at once.
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