Amazon Echo (2019) commentary: Don't Touch It

It's fair to say that the original Amazon Echo changed the world when it was released in 2015. It introduced the concept of a smarter speaker, with Alexa offering voice control and intelligent skills that have left the traditional speaker and radio makers out of their depth to keep up. While Google has its own artificial intelligence system that could rival Alexa, the launch pace for Echo Devices was now lacking.

Humble Echo is now in its third generation format for 2019. Having dominated the smart speaker market for the past few years, the new Echo is perhaps the most important thing Amazon has ever revealed. That's why.

Design Plus

  • Dimensions: 148 x 99 x 99mm / Weight: 780g
  • Colours: Anthracite, Gray Melange, Sandstone, Twilight Blue

It might be a bit of a harsh statement to say that this is the most important echo this far, but it's true. The design moves in quality over previous devices at this price, adopting the solidly built 2018 Echo Plus looks, making it wider and more responsive than the second generation Echo.

echo show review

The second generation Echo tried to sell itself for replacement covers and at a price that is hard to ignore. It wasn't as compelling as the first generations of the Echo or the plus that it ran along for a number of reasons that are now laid to one side.

The third generation Echo comes in a range of colors - black, grey, white or blue (don't give them too trendy marketing names) - but the design has improved a lot since it's basically the old Echo Plus. There is no ring rotation to change the volume as in the first generation of devices, as Amazon now sticks to the buttons on the top.

Among them is a mute button - accompanied by a red light ring so you can see that your privacy is protected - and there's an Alexa button you can use to call Alexa without using conversational integrity, as well as for a manual function like start installation.

echo third-gen review

So all in all, it's a big win, especially considering the Echo Plus is priced at $149.99/£139.99 and the only difference is that the more expensive the speaker is with the ZigBee controller in it.

Audio quality and sound

  • 3.0" woofer, 0.8" tweeter
  • 3.5mm in or out
  • Bluetooth connectivity
  • 360 degree sound

Aside from the design, the biggest change in the third generation Echo to the first and second generation models is in terms of sound quality. This new response is the same hardware sound as the Echo Plus (with 0.8" tweeter and 3.0" woofer), the drivers line up in the speaker cabinet giving you 360-degree audio so you can place the Echo in any room, any position and benefit from its audio equally.

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This is a big push in Echo's performance, now delivering much richer and more powerful bass. It's not pushy, but where the second-gen Echo might come across as a little thin, this new model is far more satisfying.

echo review

There are bigger and better speakers available, of course - and Echo Studios is Amazon's next step up approval in this regard - but echoes don't have to work in isolation. It can be grouped by the Alexa app for multiple music devices, and can also be stereo paired and combined with Echo Sub too, if you like.

This is where it gets a lot more interesting, as the third generation Echo can be stereo paired with another third generation Echo or with the 2018 Echo Plus. Yes, if you bought the Echo Plus, you can add a stereo partner for a little money. Basically, you could buy two Echo units to a stereo pair for about the same as you would pay for your closest competitor, the Sonos one.

There's plenty of volume from the 2019 Echo - certainly enough to fill an average room and fidelity is maintained in large volumes. Yes, turn it up too loud and you'll get some distortion, especially when the bass starts off slightly unnatural, but for most people this is unlikely to be a problem.

There's also a 3,5mm input or output, meaning you can choose how to use the Echo - work as a speaker from an external source or use smart output skills on another device. It's an expensive way of doing the latter - echoing at a lower cost, but options like this add versatility that other speakers lack. Then there's Bluetooth, which essentially does the same thing: connects to another speaker, but without wires.

echo review

So it's great sound at a price that's hard to ignore, plus the flexibility to choose how you set up or use your speaker. I also think that the choice of options for sources is expanding. Not only will you get a great experience from Amazon Music or Spotify, but it supports Deezer, TuneIn and Apple Music, as well as many other services such as BBC sounds.

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We think Spotify is better due in part to how well Spotify does on its own across platforms, but other services such as Amazon Music or Apple Music Music have the advantage of allowing you to play different music on different echo devices if you have a family subscription, which is something to consider if you have a home full of music listeners.

Alexa, jump through hoops

  • Alexa voice control

Alexa has been the shining star of the Echo family for a while now and continues to expand the functionality and options that you can do with your Echo. While it's not always as smart as its closest rival, Google Assistant, we prefer saying "Alexa" to "Hey Google" - because it just feels more natural.

As we mentioned, there is no controller output in Echo, then Echo Plus has a skill that this device does not - And here is the ability to control a wide range of smart home devices (lights, sockets, heating, for example) without having to install them using hubs and other applications.

It's perhaps a bit niche anyway, since it's much easier to install these devices the way the manufacturer intended, and then pair them with Alexa using the appropriate skill. We've used Echo to work with Ring, Arlo, Hue, Hive and a number of other platforms, and everything works great without a ZigBee controller - you just have to link things through the Alexa app.

echo 2019 review

And it's the app that's at the heart of the Echo experience. As the range of skills on offer has expanded in recent years, so has the Alexa app. It's from here that you can use your phone to control the entire Alex experience, with Alex's help naming, defining your preferences, associating with those additional skills, and changing things like hardware preferences.

The Alexa app isn't the fastest app on any smartphone, but it can improve the experience for those who are heavy users of the app. If you have a whole home setup with lots of Echo devices and lots of compatible smart devices then that can get a bit annoying as it can take a while to load and navigate through the pages to things like options. But generally speaking, once you're set up, you can get away with not using the app too often.

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