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Amazon's simpler, cheaper Echo Dot is still pretty great

Amazon has recently unveiled the latest addition to their Amazon smart speaker family: the new and improved Echo Dot. The release of this product marks the first time that we’ve ever seen Amazon upgrade one of their Echo products. (Earlier this year, we saw new additions to the product line with the Echo Dot, but this is the first direct upgrade.) Amazon promises some major improvements upon the original Echo Dot with this new generation, but are the improvements really worth trashing your home audio system for? The retail giant has already turned some heads by selling this new product in sets of six and twelve, as if they genuinely intend to compete with other home audio set-ups. Is this the right way to go, though?

In this article, I’ll talk a little bit about what we know about the new Echo Dot so far, based on details and product specifications that have been released by Amazon. If you’re looking at this review to decide whether or not you’re going to purchase this new product, it may be wise to take all of this information with a grain of salt. Although Amazon has shared images and specifications for this new product, there is no guarantee that the hardware itself will perform up to par. However, based on Amazon’s track record with hardware releases, I think it’s safe to assume that the second generation Echo Dot’s release should play out pretty smoothly, and that there won’t be any major surprises. Without further ado, let’s take a closer look at this powerful little speaker.

Price: $49.99
Release Date: October 20, 2016

Specs:

  •     Reported weight of 163 grams, which is a little more than one-third of a pound
  •     Reported height of 1.3″, which makes it a little shorter than a can of tuna
  •     Built-in speaker for voice feedback
  •     7 microphone array along the speaker’s light ring, enabling 360 degrees of voice input
  •     Dual-band Wi-Fi connectivity, compatible with 802.11 a/b/g/n (2.4 and 5 gHz) networks
  •     Fully compatible with Amazon’s Alexa App
  •     A2DP support for audio streaming from your mobile device to the Echo Dot, or from Echo Dot to a Bluetooth speaker. AVRCP for voice control of mobile devices (Mac OS X devices are not compatible with AVRCP features yet.)

When we look at the Echo Dot’s technical specifications, there don’t seem to be any drastic changes from what we are familiar with from Amazon. This device looks similar to the first generation Echo Dot, as well as the original Amazon Echo. Amazon has chosen to stick with their “hockey puck” design scheme, although it’s worth noting that they’re also going to be selling this new Echo Dot in white. Aside from that slight aesthetic change, this isn’t too jarringly different from what Amazon already offers. The second generation of the Echo Dot will feature the same 7 microphone array that most Amazon smart speakers are equipped with, and it will still be fully compatible with Alexa. (If you’re unfamiliar, Alexa is basically Amazon’s answer to services like Apple’s Siri. It has been praised as being more comprehensive, versatile, and accurate than Siri, however.)

I feel like it’s really important to note the prime difference between the standard Echo and all Echo Dot iterations. The second generation Echo Dot, like the previous Echo Dot, isn’t a pure “smart speaker”, so to speak. As you may have noticed in the technical specs that I noted before, the puck doesn’t boast any major speaker. The only speaker directly integrated into the device is meant for voice feedback only, which basically means any form of communication that you may have with Alexa. If you’re looking to stream music, as most people would, you would need to connect the Echo Dot to an external speaker via its 3.5 mm audio jack.

 

How is the new Echo Dot any different?

So, I’ve already covered how the second generation Echo Dot is similar to its previous iteration. Are there enough differences between the two devices to warrant an upgrade? Well, I think it depends on your situation. To begin with, the new Echo Dot is much more inexpensive than its predecessor. The original Echo Dot debuted at $79.99, whereas this latest version is only going to cost $49.99. This is a great move by Amazon, since this tiny price point should do well in swaying anyone who’s hesitant to buy into the smart speaker hype to begin with. Not only that, but the new Echo Dot is smaller and more convenient in form factor. This device is around two inches shorter and 100 grams lighter than the original. What did they sacrifice to make up for this size? One of the most noticeable cosmetic differences between generations is the exclusion of the volume adjustment “wheel” that sat on top of the Echo Dot itself. Basically, you could turn the top of the device either way to adjust volume. This new product uses more traditional buttons in place of that slider.

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