Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) Review

Use this tiny smart hub device to get started with Amazon’s Alexa

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3.1

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

What We Like

  • Tiny form factor fits anywhere

  • Excellent microphone pickup

  • Decent audio quality

What We Don't Like

  • Audio is mono unless you pair two together

  • Uses same large power pack as other Echo devices

  • Issues with the app and connectivity

  • Fabric is difficult to clean

The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) is a pretty cool little device and a great introduction to the world of smart devices, and Alexa is a very responsive voice assistant. If you’re interested in smart devices but don’t want to spend a lot of money finding out if they’re right for you, the Echo Dot is a great buy.

3.1

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

The Echo Dot (3rd Gen) is a tiny little smart hub and part of a wider series of Echo-branded smart devices offered by Amazon. With Echo devices you can control a huge range of smart home products like Philips Hue light bulbs, home security, and even keyless door locks. We tested how the Echo Dot compares to other similar devices and how it fits into the Amazon Echo ecosystem.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

Design: Looks and feels much better than the 2nd Gen

The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) measures in at only 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.7 inches and weighs less than a pound. It’s the smallest of Amazon’s Echo devices and can fit practically anywhere. Even with its minimal design and tiny form factor it’s still very aesthetically pleasing, and you can easily see its light ring indicator from across the room.

All of the newest generation of Echo smart speakers share the same general design guidelines: cylindric, fabric covered bodies, power port and 3.5mm audio port on the side with the controls located on top. The 3rd generation Dot is available in charcoal, heather gray, and sandstone white.

We never actually used the physical buttons on the Echo Dot, aside from testing them. They have a nice feel when depressed and make a little click, the auditory and tactile feedback you want from such petite buttons, but we used the Dot entirely by voice or with a mobile device.

Between the fabric body and top of the device is a light ring that’s used to indicate what the device is actively doing. The ring encircles the entire circumference, so no matter how you position the Echo Dot you will be able to see that it’s recognized your voice. The LED ring is bright and has a pleasant color palette with nice gradients.

The Echo Dot comes with a 15W power adapter. The power adapter is slightly smaller than the Echo Plus and the same as the new Echo Show 5, but for such a tiny hub it feels a bit outsized.

People are often surprised by the quality of Amazon branded products being sold at such low prices and a lot has been said about Amazon’s pricing and marketing methods. We were certainly surprised that we could get a device that feels like it’s worth twice as much for such a low price. Overall, the Echo Dot feels like a durable, quality product.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

Setup Process: Confusing, vexing, but eventually successful

We found the setup process for the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) harder than expected, but it was all software related—physically setup is incredibly easy. After unpacking it, we simply plugged it in with the provided power adapter. The LED lights up to indicate that it’s ready to be connected to the Amazon Alexa mobile app, and here’s where things got tricky for us.

The app is a challenge, and its user reviews confirm it (the version on the Apple store has a score of 2.6 out of 5, with the Google version coming in at 3.4 out of 5). The number of one star reviews is exceedingly high, and we agree with a lot of the complaints about the user interface, design, and missing functionality.

Every Amazon Echo device we tried to set up besides the Echo Show 5 didn’t initially connect. We tried over multiple days, read through the troubleshooting guides, reset devices, and tried manually connecting them by forcing them into pairing mode. The Echo Dot (3rd Gen), Echo Plus (2nd Gen), and Echo Sub all failed to connect to the app for an excruciatingly long time. The weird thing was that all of them later connected quickly and easily, at seemingly random times.

The app is a challenge, and its user reviews confirm it.

After hours and days of frustration, we abandoned the Echo Dot for the night. The next day we opened the Alexa app, went to the Devices screen, chose the Echo Dot from the list, and it connected on the first try. We figured that meant the other devices could now be connected as well but found they still didn’t work, even though the Echo Dot had just connected successfully.

We have absolutely no idea why there was such difficulty connecting all these devices but eventually we got all of them working. We can’t really offer any advice if you run into a similar problem because we don’t even know what the problem was in the first place. It took a few weeks of trying several times a day to finally get all the devices connected.

Software: Voice succeeds where the mobile app fails

When talking about Amazon Echo devices there are really two totally separate aspects of the software—the Alexa mobile app and the hands-free, voice-controlled Alexa interface. We mentioned our poor experience with the Alexa mobile app during setup, but not all of the app’s functions are as frustrating or hamstrung by errors.

Devices can be named and sorted into groups. We set up the Echo Dot in the kitchen because its small size makes it perfect for tight spaces. The Echo Show 5 makes a nice bedside device with its visual display and angled screen, while the Echo Plus and Echo Sub were paired together in what Amazon calls a speaker group. Speaker groups allow you to use two speakers for stereo sound and add the Echo Sub if you want some extra bass, which is also possible with the Dot.

We named our three groups Bedroom, Kitchen and Living Room. Creative right? Other smart devices can be added to groups, but when we tried connecting some Philips Hue light bulbs it took weeks to get them to connect. Again, we have no idea why.

The Echo Dot is a good value, especially if you want to see what all the voice assistant hype is about without dropping a bunch of cash.

We found the most confusing aspect of our Alexa Echo home takeover to be Alexa skills. Amazon says that skills are like apps that you don’t need to install. We asked Alexa about the weather and it enabled a weather skill/app. When we asked to listen to NPR News, it enabled that skill. For the most part, skills just seem like core functions of the device, and it’s unclear why they’re categorized differently—they rarely feel like they’ve got anything approaching the versatility or the feature set of a complete app. 

Okay, so the Alexa app kind of sucks and getting everything set up was really grueling. Alexa is all about voice commands though, that’s really the whole point. How did Alexa work for us? Great. We loved asking Alexa random questions, being able to control music, podcasts, and lights by voice and never having to open the Alexa app. The Echo Dot has a great microphone array and we rarely ran into any problems with voice recognition.

When we started this adventure we were wary of having a voice assistant in every room, but after a few weeks of everything actually working properly we love it. It’s been kind of fun learning what Alexa can do, and it seems like she can do a lot. Even though the mobile app software and general connectivity needs a ton of improvement, the voice controlled side of Amazon’s software works really well.

Audio Quality: Outdoes the competition

One of the most important aspects of any smart hub speaker device is audio quality, and the 3rd Gen Echo Dot is a huge improvement over the last generation. At 1.6 inches, the built-in speaker is half an inch larger than the previous generation and delivers surprisingly good audio quality for its size. We tested it with a variety of music and other audio and found the volume was plenty loud enough for us.

We say “usable” audio volume because the audio quality degrades at around 80%. At that point, significant amounts of distortion become noticeable. In comparison with other devices of its size, it does a great job balancing low end with mids and treble without sounding too tinny. The bass isn’t very strong because the Echo Dot doesn’t have a subwoofer, but low frequencies sound pretty good regardless.

The microphone array picked up our voice easily, even when we had music playing. Voice calls sounded good as well. Overall, we think most people will be very happy with the Echo Dot’s audio quality but if you’re looking for a higher quality speaker in your smart hub, we’d suggest the Echo Plus. The Echo Plus has a 3 inch woofer and 0.8 inch tweeter, making it much better suited for music.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Lifewire / Benjamin Zeman

Features: Use it like a walkie talkie

The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) has a few additional features we thought were pretty cool and probably many more we haven’t discovered yet. In addition to regular voice calls and messaging when paired with your phone, you can make free audio calls to US, Mexico and Canada. The microphone and audio quality is great and we found this especially useful in the kitchen when we were in the middle of making dinner.

The microphone and audio quality is great.

The Echo Dot also has two features that act kind of like walkie talkies. The Announce feature can be used to have Alexa make an announcement on any devices you choose, such as “Dinner is ready in 5 minutes!” The Drop In feature is more like a traditional walkie talkie—you talk into one Echo device and your voice comes out another.

Most of the features available through a smart hub come by way of the devices you connect to them. Aside from Alexa, by itself the Dot is basically just a control center and audio player, though cool extra features like Announce and Drop In are nice perks. And Alexa also has tens of thousands of skills, with more being added all the time, so there’s a lot of functionality to explore. The Echo Dot is quite the versatile little device, and a great hands-free replacement for your phone, tablet, or PC in some scenarios.

Price: Surprisingly low price for the quality

The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) is very inexpensive at only $50 and is often on sale for as low as $30. With its nice build quality and looks it feels like a device that should cost more. Other similar devices like the Google Home Mini are in the same price range, but thus far the Echo Dot has the best speaker quality of the field.

While Alexa competes well with Google Assistant and Siri, the Alexa mobile app is definitely a weakness. That said, we still think the Echo Dot is a good value, especially if you want to see what all the voice assistant hype is about without dropping a bunch of cash.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) vs. Google Home Mini

The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)’s direct competition is the Google Home Mini. They have similar hockey-puck form factors and mix fabric and plastic with colorful LED feedback. While the Echo Dot has physical buttons, the Google Home Mini has capacitive touch sensors on either side. Its speaker is roughly the same size as the Echo Dot but the Dot wins out in audio quality.

While the Echo Dot has a four microphone array, the Home Mini only has two microphones. Audio pickup for voice commands works well but quality on the receiving end of phone calls is lacking. On the digital assistant tip, Google Assistant can do almost anything Alexa can do, and both devices are compatible with almost all smart devices.

Whether you prefer Google Assistant or Alexa will probably dictate which product you purchase, but if you don’t have a preference the Echo Dot edges out the Home Mini when it comes to quality. The speaker and microphone quality on the Echo Dot is noticeably better and the Home Mini seems closer to the 2nd Gen Echo Dot than this latest iteration.The improvements Amazon made with the 3rd Gen Echo Dot definitely show.

Final Verdict

A nice intro to smart hubs.

The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) is a great little home smart hub and speaker. It has some excellent, handy features and good sound quality but suffers from an incredibly frustrating mobile app, which hinders setup tremendously. Ultimately, we were able to get everything up and running so we could enjoy using Alexa as a control hub for our smart devices and as a voice assistant, and it’s a robust option in a compact, versatile device. 

Specs

  • Product Name Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
  • Product Brand Amazon
  • Price $50.00
  • Weight 10.6 oz.
  • Product Dimensions 3.9 x 3.9 x 1.7 in.
  • Color Charcoal, Heather Gray, Sandstone
  • Warranty 1 year warranty
  • Compatibility Fire OS 5.3.3 or higher, Android 5.1 or higher, iOS 11.0 or higher, Desktop Browsers by going to: https://alexa.amazon.com
  • Ports Stereo 3.5 mm audio out
  • Voice Assistants Supported Alexa
  • Internet Streaming Services Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora, Spotify
  • Connectivity Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  • Microphones 4
  • Speakers Full range 1.65” built-in speaker.
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