In a manner of speaking, the Echo Dot is to the Echo what the iPod nano was to the original hard drive-driven iPod. But this likeness wasn’t always so apparent when the Echo Dot was first released in March 2016. Also, it didn’t help that we only started seeing the Echo Dot in India from the second-generation model on. With the new third-generation model though, it’s amply clear that the Echo Dot is a shorter, more affordable version of the outgoing Echo. Sure, it may feature fewer microphones and speakers but it’s a proper Echo device nonetheless, in the same way an iPod nano was considered a proper iPod. And that’s exactly what Amazon wanted to create.
Rs 5,499 is rather steep for the added time display functionality
Amazon is currently selling the third-generation Echo Dot with an optional digital clock on its website. So, the clock-less Echo Dot sells for Rs 3,499 as of writing this review. If you wait for a grand sale (the way I did), you can get it for as low as Rs 1,999 along with a free smart bulb. It comes in grey, black, purple, and white colour options. The variant with a clock, however, sells for Rs 5,499. It’s available only in white and, as of writing this review, in stock again only in late February 2020. Still, let’s find out how it did during its stay at the Digit Test Centre.
Design and Build
The third-generation Echo Dot shares its design language with the current Echo and that’s no coincidence. It’s lost that original hockey puck design but has acquired a larger, softer, more curvy figure that looks friendly and approachable in any part of the house. Like the larger models, the Echo Dot is wrapped in fabric tightly around the sides. Like the second-generation model, there are four buttons on top: Volume up, Volume down, Microphone on/off, and Action. The signs on these buttons are embossed, so identifying them in the dark shouldn’t be a challenge. While the Echo has seven microphones around its four buttons, the Echo Dot makes do with four. The Echo Dot with Clock, however, comes with the addition of a four-character eight-segment LED display.
Four mics on top
On the back, the Echo Dot features a round-pin power port and a 3.5mm jack for audio output. The latter gives the Echo Dot a serious edge over the recently launched Google Nest Mini, its most direct competitor. You can read our review of it here. This should let you hook the device up to a larger, more powerful set of external speakers, thus letting you enjoy better sound while retaining the device’s smartness. The Echo Dot’s base has a large circular rubber foot, which should keep the speaker in place on most indoor surfaces. Like the more expensive models, the Echo Dot sports a proper multi-colour light ring to tell you what the device is up to. All things considered, the Echo Dot is built and designed quite well. If anything, the non-clock variant could have come with a wall mount on the back for added flexibility.
The 3.5mm audio output jack is a boon
Setting up the Amazon Echo Dot is as easy as setting up the Google Nest Mini, if not easier. The setup process, which typically takes up to twenty minutes to complete, requires you to install the Amazon Alexa app on your iOS/Android smartphone first. The display greets you with a quick ‘Hello’ when the device is powered on but doesn’t help with the setup process or display any other messages, which means you have to hook the Echo Dot up to your local Wi-Fi network using the app. That’s understandable because very little textual information can be communicated on the speaker’s four-character eight-segment LED units. If anything, the Amazon Alexa app could be more responsive. Whether it’s on iOS or Android, the app is tiring to use.
Four-character eight-segment display is only to show the time
Amazon Alexa app is not always responsive
Once you’ve set the Echo Dot up, you can start using the speaker for simple questions such as, “How far is the moon?” and “Who is the President of India?” To book a taxi, you’ll have to go to the Skills & Games section of the Amazon Alexa app to enable the Ola and Uber skills. The same goes for other requests that need an Alexa Skill to be enabled beforehand. You can, in addition, hook up smart appliances to the speaker in the Settings section. You can even connect to a smartphone over Bluetooth, which will then allow you to use the Echo Dot like any other Bluetooth speaker. If you connect the Echo Dot to a pair of external speakers, then it will work as a Bluetooth receiver for your phone, in addition to following voice commands.
No wall mount on the clockless variant of the Echo Dot
Like all the other Echo products in Amazon’s stable, the Echo Dot is powered by the company’s proprietary digital assistant Amazon Alexa. On our review unit, the device responded to lusty ‘Alexa’ calls from as far as eight feet away but only in a quiet environment. It worked when the call was made from other rooms as well but only one out of two times. With music playing in the background, it was a little hard to get Alexa’s attention but not to the point where I had to yell when I was in the same room as the device. In other words, you’ll have very few problems reaching out to Alexa if you’re in the same room as the device. I’m happy to report that the whisper mode on the unit worked well for quiet responses. When I whispered, “Cancel all my alarms,” Alexa responded in an equally quiet tone, “Cancelling all your alarms.”
That’s a nice and bright clock on the new Echo Dot
Apart from showing the time, the display on the front side of the Echo Dot tells you how much time is left on an active timer, when the next alarm will ring right after you’ve set it, and the current volume level when the volume buttons are pressed. The brightness of the display changes automatically based on ambient light, making it ideal for bedside use. In my experience, the Echo Dot is an ideal bedroom companion for help with everyday tasks such as ordering food, controlling nearby smart devices, and music playback. In my opinion, its physical buttons are nicer to operate than the haptic ones on the Google Nest Mini.
The etched physical buttons on the Echo Dot are easier to press than the haptic ones on the Google Nest Mini
The Echo Dot features a single 1.6-inch speaker driver, which works fine for Alexa’s responses and casual music playback. Compared to the louder and crisper-sounding unit on the Google Nest Mini, the speaker on the Echo Dot sounds muffled for most genres of music, especially pop. Lows are generally heard when the volume is maintained below 70 per cent but mids and highs don’t always make it. Luckily, the Echo Dot can be hooked up to a pair of external speakers using the 3.5mm jack on the back. This ability to connect to another audio source while retaining the smartness of Alexa is easily one of the Echo Dot’s best features.
The little Echo Dot is no match for the Echo but does the job for casual music listening and voice commands
I got a chance to use Google’s recently launched Nest Mini around the same time I set the Amazon Echo Dot up for review, so I had enough room for comparison. I personally like the Echo Dot over the Nest Mini because Amazon’s Alexa is friendlier to talk to and can do more than Google Assistant can at the moment, such as connect to my Apple Music account for music playback. The Echo Dot, in my opinion, is also better aesthetically in that it has a handy display, a 3.5mm audio jack for audio output, and easy-to-press physical buttons. All things considered, the Amazon Echo Dot is a fine bedroom companion for music playback, nearby device control, and common tasks (such as taxi booking, etc). If anything, the variant with the clock is priced a bit too steeply.
- When the feature is enabled, you can tap any of the four buttons on the Echo Dot to dismiss ringing alarms
- Two small dots on the display glow to indicate that there are active alarms and timers
- The third-generation Echo Dot is significantly heavier than its predecessors; it also moves away from microUSB charging