The Amazon Echo is one of those products that truly kickstarted a whole category. The best smart speakers now come from far and wide, many using the same Alexa voice platform. Amazon wasn’t the first to bring a voice assistant to the world, in fact coming behind Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Alexa debuted in late 2014 on the original Amazon Echo. The Genesis moment. The rest is history. The competition is fierce but the Amazon Echo continues to not only exist but improve with each iteration. We’re now up to the 4th generation of the Amazon Echo and it looks a lot different from the first. The iconic cylinder is no more, Alexa as a platform has grown with each passing year, and in many homes, it’s become part of the family. My kids don’t really know of the Amazon Echo, they just know to talk to Alexa and ask for the Encanto soundtrack.
That ease of use is part of what has always made the Amazon Echo such a great device. Even if you’ve never owned one, you probably know who — or rather, what — Alexa is. It’s one of those technologies that transcended its hardware and found its way into the wider world. Now, the Amazon Echo is but a piece in the puzzle, Alexa is everywhere. On your speaker, on your wrist, on your TV, or in your car. But it all started on the Echo.
It’s now 2022, almost eight years on from the debut of the Amazon Echo. Google has some first-rate alternatives, Apple has its own, and third parties such as Sonos are onboard with voice assistants. Is there still a place for the Amazon Echo or has it been usurped by a younger, funkier alternative?
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Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Pricing and Availability
Amazon has pretty wide global support for both the Amazon Echo and Alexa, selling through its own store. Even those using “international versions” have varying services available if not full support.
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is, unsurprisingly, available primarily through Amazon with a regular retail price of $100. You get a choice of three colors, too, with white, blue, and charcoal all available. You can also find them at third-party retailers, such as Best Buy in the U.S., for the same price.
The real magic about shopping for an Amazon Echo is grabbing one at one of the regular discount events. The biggest ones are Prime Day and Black Friday every year, but there will also be sporadic sales throughout the year and Amazon isn’t shy about providing big price cuts on them.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Specs
|Specification||Amazon Echo 4th Generation|
Design and Features: The center of your smart home
The latest generation of Amazon Echo moves away from the cylindrical design for the first time. Instead, you now get a sphere, and given the size, I liken it to holding a crystal ball as you extricate it from the packaging. The base is naturally flat, but otherwise, it’s a perfect Echo ball. The controls are still up top, the power connector is still around the back. But the ring light now runs around the bottom with the same iconic blue hue when you trigger it with the magic word.
The move to a sphere means that it’s a lot wider than any of its predecessors. But I also think this design just looks better in the home. That’s subjective, of course, but having owned previous generations right back to the original, the newest is definitely my favorite in appearance. I’ve got the blue one to make a change from past years, and it’s OK. But I wish it was one of the others. It’s not a bad color, but it’s not the greatest shade of blue ever and it clashes with the aesthetics in basically each of my rooms. My tip would be to grab the white one, but maybe the blue does fit into your aesthetics.
The design is supposed to get out of the way and it does. If you need to touch it, you can, but 99% of the time you’re going to be using your voice. The power cable hooks up in the back so you have some possibility of neat cable management, right next to the 3.5mm jack. The Amazon Echo can be hooked up over cable to your existing music system to add some smarts and additional audio power.
Better than this though is the ability to create a stereo pair in the Alexa app. If you also own a Fire TV, this makes for an affordable, easy-to-use home theater setup that you never have to get up from the couch to control. It’s a similar ecosystem play to the Apple TV and the HomePod Mini, and you can’t deny how awesome it is. The last way to get audio out of the Echo is over Bluetooth. This feels more like Amazon couldn’t really leave it out, but it’s nicer to have it and not use it than the other way around.
Inside the Amazon Echo, you also find a Zigbee smart home hub. The most common way of using an Echo with your smart home is through Alexa. But Alexa requires a data connection, a local Zigbee hub does not. Zigbee also uses a different connection with a much lower data speed, so devices are both power efficient and don’t add to network noise on your home Wi-Fi.
I don’t have any Zigbee compatible devices on hand to use with the Amazon Echo, but there are some popular brands that support the technology. Philips Hue is probably the most well-known, along with the likes of SmartThings, Ring, and even some smart door locks. You might not ever touch it, but again, it’s good that it’s there for those who do want it. It makes the Amazon Echo a true smart home hub.
For everything else, there’s Alexa. You can mute the microphone whenever you don’t want the Echo to listen, but other times you just say her name, and away you go. This review isn’t long enough to talk about all the services and skills you can use with the Amazon Echo. Just know that it’s a lot. All the major smart home devices, most of the lesser-known ones, your Xbox, your Fitbit, there’s a ridiculous array of devices that can hook into Alexa.
It means the Amazon Echo can be what you make of it. You could just use it to listen to music and podcasts. Or you could use it to command and automate your entire home. That extends to home security, too, though Alexa Guard probably isn’t the first reason you’d be buying an Echo. Nor is the motion-sensing capabilities, but it sends a clear message about why smart home enthusiasts should look towards Amazon.
Audio: The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) packs a punch
For those who hunt for the highest quality audio, the Echo Studio exists. For those who just want something that sounds good, the Amazon Echo is generally excellent. That starts with what Amazon crammed inside this ball of fun. There’s a 3-inch (76mm) woofer paired with two 0.8-inch (20mm) tweeters, so you get a ton of bass. I’m not the biggest fan of overpowering lows, but generally, the output from the Echo is pleasing.
On stock settings, you have a warm tone but you can lose a little clarity and volume from vocals. The sound doesn’t suffer from distortion at higher volumes and it’s a nice room filler. The Amazon Echo sounds like a much larger speaker than it actually is.
You do have some basic controls to tweak the audio, but they are pretty buried in the settings. Amazon could definitely do a better job at putting audio controls for your devices within easier reach. When you find them, though, you have sliders for bass, mids, and treble. Equalizer presets would be nice, but at least you can customize them manually.
If you find yourself looking for even more bass you can link the Amazon Echo to the Amazon Echo Sub. With a stereo pair and one of these, you’ll have a real room shaker.
The sound from the Amazon Echo is good, though, especially for something that costs just $100 and has all the smart features included. The Google Nest Audio perhaps sounds a little better for music, but the Echo will surprise you with how good it is.
Should you buy an Amazon Echo (4th Gen)?
The $64,000 question; should you buy an Amazon Echo in 2022? The answer is a resounding yes. For most people, the Amazon Echo is the perfect addition to their homes. If you’re a music fan it’s worth the extra spend over the Echo Dot for the added, well, everything. The new design is the best yet and while the blue is probably the worst looking, it’s not a disaster.
Perhaps the only thing really missing from the latest Amazon Echo is the LED clock found on the Echo Dot. It would be a nice little addition, even if it was an optional model that cost a little more. But on the whole, it’s really hard to pick fault with this thing.
Amazon’s eight years of making smart speakers show through. When the Echo first debuted and Alexa was new, it was exciting and a device to get enthusiastic about. To some degree that’s worn off. It’s the best at what it does, absolutely anyone can use one, it doesn’t cost a lot and you can’t really, truly find anything meaningful wrong with it. Honestly, the Amazon Echo is so good you could also say it’s actually a bit boring. But is there anything wrong with that?
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