Alexa is better than ever, and the latest, third-generation Echo uses the same acoustic design and drivers as the Echo Plus, but removes the Zigbee home automation hub and temperature sensor. It turns a speaker with gimmicks most people ignore into a speaker that sounds louder and fuller than the previous Echos for the same price. The Echo Plus is still available if you want the hub and sensor, but chances are you don’t, in which case the Echo provides the same solid audio performance for significantly less money.
The new Amazon Echo is identical in design to the Echo Plus, slightly shorter and a fair bit wider than the previous Echo. It’s a 5.8-by-3.9-inch (HW) cylinder, available in black, blue, light gray, or dark gray versions that determine the color of the grille fabric wrapped around the sides of the speaker. The blue and light gray models have white plastic top panels and bases, while the black and dark gray models have black ones. The interchangeable covers of the second-generation Echo are gone; the color you choose is the one you’ll have to stick with.
The top panel of the Echo has four buttons (Alexa, microphone mute, and volume up/down) and six pinholes for the far-field microphone. The panel is surrounded by a translucent light ring that glows blue when Alexa is listening or talking, orange when it’s ready for setup, and red when the microphone is muted. The back of the speaker has a connector for the included power adapter and a 3.5mm audio combination input/output.
Just say “Alexa,” (or set one of the three alternate wake words through the Alexa app) and give a command, and the Echo will spring to life with a bright blue light ring and a reassuring voice. Alexa can answer your questions about general information, like the weather, sports scores, unit conversions, and general trivia. Alexa can also set timers and alarms for you, and remind you of tasks.
For music, you can ask Alexa to play anything from Amazon Music, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, or Spotify, and to read you audiobooks from Audible. If you want to listen to anything that isn’t on those services (or you don’t use them), you can connect your phone to the Echo over Bluetooth and use it as a standard wireless speaker.
Alexa supports thousands of smart home devices, including smart lights, smart locks, smart outlets, smart thermostats, and more, covering all major consumer home automation brands. You can program complex routines to control multiple devices with a single voice command, like turning the lights off and locking the smart locks on your doors when you say “Alexa, goodnight.” You can also use Alexa to control your Fire TV device with voice commands.
The Echo is acoustically identical to the Echo Plus, with the same downward-firing 3-inch woofer paired with a 0.8-inch tweeter. Just like how the Echo Dot With Clock sounds the same as the regular Echo Dot, the new Echo sounds the same as the Echo Plus.
The speaker offers fairly powerful bass for its size, but don’t expect it to shake the walls (though it can still rattle loose objects on the table it’s sitting on).
A Better Echo Minus the Plus
The Echo sounds powerful and satisfying for the price. It’s an excellent upgrade in performance from the previous Echo, and the lack of a Zigbee hub and temperature sensor won’t be missed by most people (and if you need them, the Echo Plus is still available). If you want a bit more power, the Sonos One offers better sound quality (and Google Assistant support) and if you want to save money, the less powerfulEcho Dot and Echo Dot With Clock are among our favorites for smaller smart speakers. For the price, though, the Amazon Echo really hits a sweet spot.