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Lifewire / Erika Rawes
New round design
Includes Zigbee Hub
Temperature sensor built in
One less mic
Takes up more desk space
The new Echo (4th Gen) is a powerful smart speaker that provides a lot of value for its $100 price tag.
Amazon released a 4th generation version of its Echo speaker, and it's sporting a brand new look. It's also a completely different smart speaker under the hood. What’s new and different about the Echo? How does it perform? I tested the latest generation to find out.
Over the years, as Amazon has released newer generations of the Echo speaker, the brand started steering away from the long cylinder shape in favor of a shorter and wider Echo. With the new Echo 4th Gen, Amazon has abandoned the cylinder altogether, and the brand new Echo is shaped like a sphere. The round device is made from environmentally-conscious materials, earning it a “Climate Pledge Friendly” tag on Amazon, and it comes in three different color options: charcoal, glacier white, or twilight blue. I tested the glacier white model.
The Echo (4th Gen) sits 5.2 inches tall, and it measures 5.7 inches in diameter. In addition to the spherical shape, the new Echo also has fabric covering the top portion of the speaker, so it lacks a hard plastic top panel for button controls. A fabric grille covers the majority of the Echo, and the four main buttons are located directly on top of the speaker.
Amazon designed the Echo for use in any lighting, with slightly raised buttons so you can feel which is which in the dark. The mic off button is in the center for easy access, and the light ring is now on the bottom of the speaker, so it illuminates whatever surface it sits on when the Echo is in dark or dim lighting.
The speaker has a sleek and modern design. It looks like an expensive and high tech device, and it fits in with most home decor. However, it does take up a bit of space on a desk or table, so it’s not as easy to hide in a corner as its predecessor. This is a device that’s supposed to be seen—a conversation starter.
Setting up the Echo is extremely easy, and it’ll take only a few moments if you already have the Alexa app downloaded. However, for the best possible experience, it’s a good idea to make sure the Alexa app is updated.
In the Alexa app under the devices menu, you select on the “+” to add a device. Then, follow the prompts to add the Echo 4th Gen speaker to your home.
The Echo (4th Gen) has significant sound upgrades. The Echo has a 3-inch neonadium woofer and dual 0.8-inch tweeters, which means it has an additional tweeter compared to its predecessor. The extra tweeter isn’t the only thing that makes the new Echo sound better though. The Dolby-powered speakers are strategically placed within the Echo for optimal sound, and the new round design allows for better sound delivery. The new mdoel can even adjust its sound based on room acoustics to provide the best possible music quality—a feature included on the more expensive Echo Studio.
When testing speakers, I often listen to songs that include a range of low, mid, and high tones like the song Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia. I also listen to songs with different types of bass, like Chains by Nick Jonas and Comedown by Bush. The Echo (4th Gen) is a surprisingly powerful speaker with clean sound and punchy bass. Music sounds phenomenal on the Echo, and it gets loud enough to play throughout an entire house.
The Echo (4th Gen) is a surprisingly powerful speaker with clean sound and punchy bass.
The Echo retains the 3.5 mm output jack, so you can connect an external speaker using the 3.5 mm jack or using a Bluetooth connection. You can also take advantage of multi-room music and play music on more than one Echo device at a time. But, there’s not really much need. The Echo is plenty loud enough, and it even supports Amazon Music HD.
The Echo now has six microphones instead of seven. For the first few days I used the Echo, I had some trouble getting the device to hear me from any distance. I placed the Echo in my living room on a corner table, and I have an Echo Dot in my kitchen, the next room over. On some occasions, the Dot would hear my commands from the living room instead of the Echo. This lasted about two days, and then the Echo appeared to get its act together. I moved the Echo to a more central location in the room, which seemed to help too.
After that initial hiccup, I didn’t have any problem getting Alexa to hear my commands, even in the presence of background noises like conversations or running appliances. The new Echo runs on Amazon’s first generation AZ1 Neural Engine Processor—a silicon module built for speeding up machine learning and speech recognition while using less memory. An all-neural speech recognition model will be available later in 2020 that should process requests even faster.
The voice assistant on the new (4th gen) Echo is the same Alexa as ever. You’ll be able to control your smart home devices, listen to tunes, set routines, and perform all of the same Alexa skills you could before. Alexa is always learning new skills though, and Amazon has announced new features (coming soon) like Alexa Guard Plus, which is a subscription-based model of Amazon’s Alexa Guard feature that gives you hands-free access to an emergency helpline and security features and alerts for your home.
The new Echo has a few other tricks up its sleeve as well. With the previous (3rd Gen) model, Amazon designed the Echo and Echo Plus to look and sound the same, with the same dimensions, speakers, and the same fabric surround, but the Echo Plus always had the Hub where the Echo did not. The new 4th Gen Echo eliminates the need for a separate Echo Plus altogether, combining the two devices into one speaker by giving the Echo a built-in Zigbee Hub and temperature sensor. You can set up and manage Zigbee compatible devices, as well as set up Bluetooth Low Energy smart home devices (think smart light bulbs and sensors). With the temperature sensor, you can say things like, “Alexa, turn on the fan when it reaches 75 degrees” if you have a compatible smart fan or box fan plugged into a smart plug.
This is one of the best smart speakers you can buy at this price.
With adaptive audio and a built-in hub, Amazon took some of its stronger features from its other Echo speakers and incorporated those features into the $100 Echo, making the Echo an outstanding value. This is one of the best smart speakers you can buy at this price.
Google upped its game with the Nest Audio—another $100 smart speaker that focuses a lot on music and sound. Also made from environmentally friendly materials, the Nest Audio has a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter, as well as the ability to adapt sound to the room. The Google Assistant-powered Nest Audio lacks a built-in Zigbee hub, temperature sensor, or second tweeter. If you’re a new buyer or you’re already an Echo user, you’ll probably like the extensive features you get with the Echo. But, if you’re already invested in Google Assistant, you’ll probably prefer the Nest Audio.
A completely different Echo.
A worthwhile investment, the new Echo looks better, sounds better, and it performs better in just about every category.