by David Casteel
Amazon has released their first update to the Echo hardware since the original was released in 2015. The Echo has changed quite a bit in the last two years, in size and price. Most users are going to love the new Echo, despite its smaller size.
The first thing you will notice about the 2nd Generation Echo is its size. The new Echo is about 30% or so smaller than the original. The size of the 2nd gen makes it blend in a bit better on the counter then its larger brother. Along with the size difference comes several different colors and materials for the outside. The one I received had the dark gray or “charcoal” fabric. I have to say the fabric looks much nicer then the plastic of the older generation. It makes it look like a much more expensive piece of electronics. I wasn’t a huge fan of the plastic look of the older model. There are two lighter colored fabric options as well as some faux wood grain and a silver plastic (although these models are more expensive). Another major change on the new model are the buttons on the top. Gone is the round volume dial and two buttons take its place for volume control. This is one of the few downsides to the new model, as the old dial for volume had a great intuitive feel to it.
Onto one of the main uses of this device for many people is going to be music. Amazon claims the 2nd generation Echo comes with “improved sound”. Depending on the music you enjoy, you may or may not notice any sound quality difference. Being a smaller speaker, it doesn’t seem to me like it has the same amount of low end as the original. But to cut the size and the price that much and keep it as close as they have is an accomplishment. If you aren’t using this Echo for music much, I don’t think you will notice much difference at all. I wouldn’t suggest trying to compare either of the Echo’s to a speaker like Sonos, you will be sorely disappointed. But at half the price (and size) of the Sonos, you really can’t realistically expect them to compete.
Microphone and alexa
The main reason to buy most assistants like Alexa is the hands-free voice activation. While I haven’t noticed any marketing on the 2nd generation having better microphones, this certainly seems to be the case. With the previous Echo I would have trouble getting Alexa to respond at anything over volume 6 or 7 while playing music. I even tried shouting as loud as I could with the volume at 7-8 only a few feet away with the 1st gen and it wouldn’t respond at all. Not the case with the new version. Volume levels of 6-8 had me barely raising my voice to get the new Echo to light up the blue ring letting me know Alexa was waiting to respond. I also noticed a much better response to my children using the device. The previous version would had about a 20-30% success rate on my child getting the initial voice command to trigger the Echo. The new Echo is seeing at least 60-70% success rate. This could also be the AI built into the backend of Alexa is getting better, the better mic’s or a little bit of both. Either way it’s a welcome improvement.
At almost half the price of the original, you really can’t go wrong with the newest version of the Echo. For about 100 bucks you get a decent music device along with an assistant that doesn’t show any sign of slowing on its quest to add features or “skills”. But if you love your music and are used to large floor standing speakers or a great pair of headphones, you might be better off looking at the new Sonos One now that it has Alexa built in. If you are like me and already have some Sonos speakers the Amazon Dot makes a great addition to the Alexa family for even half the cost of the current gen Echo.
Budget Smart HOme Rating: 9/10
Update: If you want to win our review unit of the 2nd Generation Echo, head on over to our Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/budgetsmarthome.org