Don’t get left behind…
When it comes to new technology, you really need to learn about these voice assistant gadgets.
I know it can get a bit confusing, so I’ve put together this full guide on the new Amazon Echo Dot.
Here’s the truth:
Voice assistants are the latest gadget that is slowly but surely taking over the world.
When they first appeared, many viewed them as another one of those redundant devices – a trend that would quickly die off.
Boy were they wrong.
Not only did they not fade away into obscurity, but devices from the Alexa series became really popular.
Today, some three years after the initial one was released, we have the Echo Dot. This is a second generation Echo voice assistant and it brings a whole new package that puts it right at the top in this still limited industry.
I’m going to take a closer look at the Echo Dot in this review, and compare it to its two older cousins.
Let’s start from the beginning.
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The Origin of Voice Assistant Gadgets
Ever since they've hit the mainstream, Amazon became America's main source of just about everything.
No longer were you required to get in your car and spend a good portion of your day chasing the best deal for whatever you are looking for. Amazon changed all that.
The next logical step was to make shopping even easier. Not that going on Amazon and typing in a few words is hard, but you can always do better. Even something minute as that can decrease the chances of making a sale.
A voice assistant such as Alexa eliminates that completely.
All you have to do is tell Alexa what you need and it will appear on your doorstep a few days later.
Naturally, these devices are capable of much more than just taking care of your Amazon shopping, but we can't shake the feeling this was the primary role of this new line of gadgets.
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The Evolution of the Echo Dot - Smaller, Better, Smarter
The original Echo became the standard, and it still is for the most part.
You have a whole bunch of 3rd party vendors scrambling to provide updates making their products and services compatible with Alexa series of voice assistants.
With that said, the original Echo had one flaw - it was chunky.
On top of that, some solutions such as the mono speaker were in dire need of upgrades. It became apparent that Amazon was rolling out the next-gen Alexa device, and it was only the matter of time when it would be released.
Out of all the possible directions Amazon could have gone with this new model, the one they have chosen has caught many by surprise.
However, their decisions were genius in nature:
Instead of packing a similar format with much better components, better range, and similar upgrades, they did a complete 180.
Changing The Format: The New Key Feature You Need to Know About
One of the first things you will notice about the new Echo Dot is just how small it is.
When compared with the original Echo, you can probably stack about five of the new Echo Dots on top of each other before you reach the same size.
A more compact size was not an attempt to simply minimize an already existing platform purely for the sake of appearances. No, Amazon enables Echo Dot to work in networking mode.
In other words, you can have one of these devices in your kitchen, one in your bedroom, or pretty much anywhere you want.
The idea is to cover your entire apartment/house with Echo Dots, which would then allow you to activate any one of them no matter where you are in the house.
Their networking ability is enhanced using what Amazon calls ESP:
Echo Spatial Perception allows this network of Echo Dots to select the one that is closest to you, and have only that specific Echo Dot answer your question.
Aside from offering better connectivity between devices, a cool side feature of ESP is that you won't hear two or more Alexas answering your call and then delivering different results based on what they heard.
Build Quality and Some New Features
In terms of build quality, you are looking at the same simple design.
Plastic body with no special features aside from the glowing ring, only disturbed by the Amazon logo on the side.
Some found this to be a bit disappointing, however it is obvious that Amazon went for a low profile aesthetic that would blend into any environment.
The device's puck like shape allows you to conceal the Echo Dot quite easily. Some users prefer to have these devices hidden and out of sight.
Connectivity options are pretty limited, yet sufficient.
Unlike its predecessor, this new Echo Dot features an audio out right next to its MicroUSB port. Even though you get a stereo speaker in this iteration, its small size and the fact that it is a simple speaker mounted on the top of the device makes it useful for communication with the device only.
Music doesn't really sound all that great when played through it. Amazon understood this would be an inherent flaw in the design, so they added a 3.5mm audio out which allows you to connect a dedicated set of speakers to your Echo Dot. On top of that, you can also connect any of your mobile devices via Bluetooth.
The top is also where you will find a number of buttons.
There is your activation button, the same one we have seen on the original Echo, while you also get a volume up and volume down buttons.
Finally, there is also a mute button whose purpose is pretty self-explanatory. The bottom of Echo Dot features a nonslip pad which should, in theory, keep the device from moving around on just about any surface.
Looking at the LED rings, you get a variety of colors which indicate what the device is doing.
Blue is the standard color that lets you know Echo Dot is activated. If you decide to mute the device, the ring will change the color to a more reddish, orange hue. Aside from these two colors, you will also see white and the combination of red/blue which indicates that Echo Dot is processing your query.
The quality of the entire package feels pretty solid.
Sure, it's not the most durable gadget out there, but that is not really something your average user would expect anyway. It is smaller, lighter and just more practical.
Let's drop the specs real quick, just to summarize the capabilities of the 2nd Gen Echo Dot:
- Power - Power adapter
- Wi-Fi - 802.11a/b/g/n Dual-band (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz)
- Alexa Activation - Word activation/Action button
- Speakers - Bluetooth and audio out
- Compatible with Alexa Voice Remote - Yes
- Accessories - 3.5mm audio cable, Alexa Voice Remote, Amazon Echo Dot Case, all available as an extra.
List of the Awesome Features!
Just like it is the case with all previous voice assistant devices from Amazon, you will have to grab the Alexa app for Echo Dot and sign in using your Amazon account.
This process is made very easy and can be done within minutes as soon as you choose the WiFi network you want Echo Dot to connect to.
Once you get that out of the way, it is time to start setting up your Echo Dot.
One of the very first tasks a user has to do at this point is voice train their new Echo Dot.
With the previous version, Alexa only supported US English. As you can probably imagine, that caused a lot of trouble for people who couldn't nail the accent, and even gave the UK English speakers a headache.
Things have changed since then, and Alexa now recognizes both US and UK accents just fine, while it is also capable of understanding German.
This evolution of events suggests that other popular languages are in development and might become available with the following updates. Whether or not the language library will expand to cover some less popular languages is yet to be seen. Even if Amazon does choose to include them, chances are it is going to be quite some time before we see them available.
The previous Echo had a decent range, and hence a decent microphone installed. Sometimes the query would be wrongly processed, but those instances were rare.
Naturally, the more clutter there is between you and the microphone, slimmer are the chances of getting your input through to Echo accurately.
The new Echo Dot is even better in this regard. It can clearly hear your commands from quite a distance away. Combine that with the intended network of these devices and you probably won't even have to speak up too loudly to activate and use Alexa at all.
Loyal Voice Assistant: Keeping Your To-Do List on Track
When you are not shopping for items on Amazon, there are still many other ways your Echo Dot can make your life much easier.
For example, it is one of the most practical tools you can have in your kitchen. With how easy it is to set up timers and look up information using the Echo Dot, you will never forget about that cake in the oven or have an overcooked pasta for lunch.
With that said, Alexa's task manager allows you to create extensive to-do lists and keep track of your progress as you go through your day. It will notify you whenever you are supposed to do something, which allows you to focus on the task at hand and not worry about keeping your schedule.
On top of that, Alexa can keep you updated with local and international news, as well as any other information you might need.
Alexa Has Mad Skills!
One of the best things about Alexa is the Skills feature.
You can look at it as an app store that is constantly being expanded by both Amazon and third-party developers.
The type of apps you can find here will allow you to connect your Echo Dot device to various other gadgets, such as your fitness tracker and similar. On top of that, you can find some pretty unique skills.
Being semi-open source means that we will probably see a whole lot of interesting skills in the future. Voice assistants are becoming pretty popular, which has attracted numerous developers into this niche field.
Streaming Music is Super Easy
As I mentioned above, Amazon did include a stereo speaker with their all new Echo Dot.
However, because of the size of the speaker, its performance tends to be limited.
For the purposes of interacting with Alexa, it is more than adequate. You can hear Alexa clearly even from a decent distance.
Playing music via Echo Dot is not as great, unfortunately. There are remedies to this issue, though.
Let's talk a bit about streaming music using Echo Dot. The Alexa app comes with its own music player, although it is pretty basic.
However, you can easily connect to Spotify, Amazon Music and other services of that type. Speaking of Spotify, you can use the full range of commands for this service, without a single issue. It makes streaming music very simple and intuitive. Even when ti comes to creating playlists.
Alright, so you have selected your favorite song and now you want to play it. What kind of sound quality can you expect to hear?
The speaker, although very underpowered, does offer a decent definition. You won't hear distortion or anything similar, just a very narrow frequency range that doesn't really make Echo Dot a great music speaker.
There are two ways you can get around this problem. One is to attach your favorite set of speakers using the audio AUX port which is found next to the micro USB slot.
This may work for some many users, but it is not the greatest solution if you are looking for mobility. In that case, a set of Bluetooth speakers might work a lot better.
One of the additional features which make the networking nature of the Echo Dot a great tool for any home is the Smart Home app.
If you have cloud-connected thermostat or lights in your home, you will be able to control them using your Echo Dot.
The process of connecting these devices is pretty simple and intuitive.
Now, as of yet, Smart Home is only limited to these two features - lights and thermostats. However, we can definitely expect more components to be added in the future.
The Main Benefit of the 2nd Gen Echo Dot
So far everything we have seen indicates that the Echo Dot offers some pretty decent improvements, but most of them are still related to the Alexa app.
The question on everyone's mind right now is: What makes the Echo Dot so much better than the original Echo?
Well, aside from the networking feature, there is the price.
This all new 2nd generation Echo Dot costs just a fraction of what the original Echo did.
In some ways, that is perfectly logical seeing how the average user is meant to use several of these devices in networking mode. However, the fact that a single Echo Dot offers more or less the same value as the original Echo while costing a fraction of its price, is impressive, to say the least.
It is fair to say that Amazon swatted two flies with one hit by creating such an affordable voice assistant.
They have pushed the practical value of the product to a whole new dimension thanks to the ESP function, while at the same time allowing many more users to afford one of these devices.
This type of policy will have serious implications on the future development of the Alexa app as well. With more voice assistants on the market, it is only logical to assume that third party developers will get even more engaged with this platform.
With all that said, let's check out what some of the most frequently asked questions are about the Echo Dot and Alexa in general, and give you brief answers for each one of them.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What Is The Amazon Echo Dot?
A: The Amazon Echo Dot is a voice assistant device. It is a second iteration of the Echo family which has been rather successful in the past. As a voice assistant, you can use Echo Dot to search for things online, order products and services from Amazon, stream music, and so much more. The idea behind these devices is to offer the highest level of automation possible at the moment. In the future, we will see the spectrum of features expand to cover many more functions.
Q: Does The Echo Dot Require A Subscription?
A: In order to use Echo Dot or Alexa app, you absolutely do not need a subscription. Only things that you need are an existing Amazon account and a WiFi internet connection. Other than that, there are no hidden fees or other services you have to purchase in order to use this device or the software which comes with it.
Q: Is Amazon The Echo Dot Always Recording Me?
A: With the recent scandals surrounding CIA's surveillance methods, the Amazon Echo series have come under attack from critics. The answer to the question above is simple. The Amazon Echo is not always recording, but it is always listening for the activation word. Now, whether or not anyone else has access to your Echo Dot is hard to answer, although it is extremely unlikely. Privacy is the number one concern these days, especially with devices such as this one.
Q: Does The Echo Dot Need Batteries?
A: No, the Echo Dot is not powered by batteries but rather a standard power adapter. The reason for this is that you are meant to use the Echo Dot as a stationary device anyway. Making it battery powered would definitely reduce its practical value.
Is There Any Reason To Even Consider The Original Amazon Echo?
One of the main questions users and potential users have is whether or not there is any reason to even consider getting the original Echo over the new Echo Dot.
The answer is no.
Just from a purely statistical point of view, The Echo Dot is better in just about every way imaginable. It is smaller, much cheaper and more versatile thanks to its networking ability. Having two Echo Dots, which are still more affordable than one Echo, will offer more coverage and are easier use.
Even if the audio quality is not as good, and might require you to get a dedicated set of speakers for your Echo Dot, it is still not a good enough reason to even consider the Echo.
The Amazon Echo was a great voice assistant when it first came out. It was original, technologically advanced, and just all around great. However, its time is slowly coming to an end. We can look forward to much more compact voice assistants which will offer much better performance and a spectrum of features.
My Final Thoughts
The Amazon Echo Dot is everything we could have ever wanted from a modern voice assistant.
While many anticipated a more feature packed Echo, which would still feature that tower design, what we got instead is so much better.
How good will a network of Echo Dots be as opposed to a single device, is left to be tested in the field.
It is absolutely reasonable to anticipate good results, especially since Amazon relies on spearheading this new market with the Echo Dot.
One of the absolute best things about the new Echo is the fact that it is so affordable. Click here to find the up to date price at Amazon.
Now, even those who were left out by the price of the original model can taste the benefits of having a voice assistant in their home.
Before, when Alexa's abilities were still in their infancy, there wasn't much incentive to get an Echo. However, that is quickly changing.
Seeing how many upgrades were included so far, we can only conclude that the future carries a lot of great things for this type of tech.