A Review of the New Amazon Echo

January 27, 2021
It’s been five years since Amazon Echo first arrived, showing people just how useful a virtual assistant at home could be. With Amazon adding tons of new features to Alexa, its virtual assistant, the new Echo hardware isn’t quite as exciting over those years. Of course, this hasn’t stopped Amazon from updating its devices, as well as launching tons of Echo variations. Last year’s version of Echo was one of the best smart speakers we’ve seen, adding the improved speakers first found in 2018’s $150 Echo Plus. This year, however, Amazon has made some of the most significant hardware updates to the Echo yet, including a fresh design and some high-end features brought over from the more expensive Echo Plus.
More important than these external changes is what’s inside. There’s a new speaker arrangement, with a three-inch woofer and dual .8-inch tweeters. The new Echo has six microphones, one less than last year’s model, but I didn’t often get the speaker to hear my requests. The other significant spec change is that the Echo now includes a Zigbee smart home hub inside. This feature was previously reserved for the $150 Echo Plus, but with improved audio quality and Zigbee support, the Echo Plus is now obsolete.

For the Sake of Simplicity

If you’ve set up an Echo speaker before, the process hasn’t changed. Everything goes through the companion iOS or Android app. There, you’ll connect the Echo to your WiFi network, pick a room for it, pick what music/podcast services and other Skills you want to enable, set up any intercom, calling and messaging features, and so forth. It also includes any lists and notes you create with Alexa and reminders, alarms, routines, speaker groups, and more. It’s a cluttered app and not intuitive to use once you have an Echo set up, but at the very least, connecting your speaker is easy. Since the Echo is ultimately just a conduit for Alexa, the new Echo doesn’t have any significant “features” to set it apart from existing Alexa devices. What it does have is that new speaker arrangement, which I was eager to test out. Amazon already has experience making affordable speakers that punch above their weight, so my expectations for the new Echo were high. Amazon did not disappoint.

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