The Amazon Echo range of products has captured the hearts and minds of people worldwide thanks to the voice assistant Alexa. They not only provide good sound and interesting additions to tech in your home, but the inclusion of Alexa also makes the full range some of the most game-changing products currently in the space.
In Seattle a few weeks back Amazon lifted the curtain on what the future of the range looks like. With everything getting at least a little love with this latest update, it is sad to see that as with past generations, not everything will make it up to Canada.
But that is not the end of the world, because what we do get comprises some of the most exciting products in the range, and makes Alexa an even more stimulating prospect as the centre of your voice-activated household.
This year Canada will get to experience the Echo Show, and with the latest iterations on the device, it is more exciting than ever. A new 10-inch display, better speakers, and an overall more fleshed out device, the Show is a welcome addition to the lineup.
Also coming in tow is the all new Echo Sub, a speaker that brings bass and power to your music. Combine that with the all-new cloth covered Echo Plus and you have yourself an audio setup that rivals many dedicated audio options currently on the market. And should you want something just to provide a window to the world of Alexa, the Echo Dot has been redesigned to offer a better overall experience.
We have broken down the full range and tested how the set of new devices can fit right your smart home world. From the Echo Dot to the Echo Show, we have a look at what is and is not worth your money.
Echo Show 2nd Generation:
Out of this year set of devices, the Echo Show is simultaneously the most exciting and the most baffling. Expectations for what the Show would offer our smart space were limited. While I loved the concept of what the Show offers—giving a visual window into the world of Alexa—the limited set of Canadian skills meant it would be a bit limited. Yet, after using it for around two weeks, I have found the little smart display a far more welcome addition then initially thought.
First and foremost, you can’t look at the Echo Show as a tablet on a stand. While yes, it looks like it and the basic concept of the device rests on this notion, in practice, the ability to use it as a touchscreen is a secondary focus. The Show works best when being controlled via your voice.
Pulling up a recipe, or throwing on a video was easy with the device. I never found myself struggling to get the Show to recognize my voice or my commands—that is as long as my voice could be recognized. Pulling up a video from CBC was a breeze, and I quickly found myself pulling up the news every morning as I made breakfast and got ready for the day.
While the show worked flawlessly in testing at pulling up Amazon Prime video, it must be noted that the Show at this time does not support Netflix and the implementation of YouTube leaves a lot to be desired.
But I would argue that is not where the Show shines, while it does have a serviceable 1280 x 800 display, it is meant to function more as a speaker with a screen than a true mini TV. It fits perfectly reading the latest news or throwing up a fun web video, but I would not suggest watching a full movie or show on it. While it will work, it is not designed for it, and will ultimately provide a sub-par experience overall.
What the Show is built to do though, it does very well. The audio is loud and clear, if not a bit bass heavy, (This can be adjusted with the equalizer settings), and the 5-megapixel front facing camera gets the job done for voice calls, but don’t expect it to replace your tablet anytime soon. Amazon has built an excellent home assistant, that sits well at the center of your home. You have to decide if this is a device you need in your life, and if having your morning news videos shown as you make your coffee is worth the $299.99 price tag.
Echo Plus Second Generation:
I was a fan of the first generation Echo Plus. It provided fantastic audio quality, had a unique look, and thanks to the Zigbee home hub built in, fit right at the centre of my digital smart home. The second generation of the Echo Plus carries this legacy forward but improves on the device in almost every way.
The sound on the Echo Plus is once again fantastic, but thanks to the new fabric covering, I found the overall sound better and more precise than prior models. I was impressed with how well the full sound profile managed, the 0.8-inch tweeter and 3-inch sub offer great omnidirectional Dolby sound. Now it does not have the range you can find from the Sonos One, and the highs of the songs we tested felt a little bit muffled, but overall I was impressed on what the Echo Plus offers. Amazon has come a long way from the first generation Echo, and that is an excellent thing.
The Echo Plus this year allows for audio-in and audio-out through the included 3.5mm jack, and thanks to software improvements, the Echo Plus can be linked in a stereo pair with another Echo Plus, or in an audio group with another in the Echo range. If that were not enough, this year’s Echo Plus comes with a built-in thermometer, making it the perfect companion for your smart thermostat such an EcoBee or Nest.
All in all, I am impressed at how Amazon has improved on this year’s Echo Plus. While it is hard to recommend should you already have a Sonos One, if you are looking to make a new smart speaker purchase, the Echo Plus makes a fantastic addition to your home.
While the Echo range of products has always offered more than serviceable sound, I have found the bass on offer a bit lacking, especially to fill a full room. It is for this reason I was ecstatic to hear that not only was the Echo Sub a thing, but it would also be brought over to Canada.
In testing, when paired with an Echo Plus, the Echo Sub offers crisp, powerful, and impactful bass sound, especially when jumping into Electronica or Dubstep. The down-firing 100-watt amplifier and 6-inch woofer function at a level of depth the Echo range of products have lacked in the past.
Even better was the fact the Sub could be connected to more than one speaker at once. Setting up a room grouped with two other speakers gives some of the best room-filling sounds this side of a full Sonos setup. Sadly, there is no way to connect a non-Echo speaker to the Sub, lacking any 3.5mm connectivity.
I will admit there are better subs, and if you are willing to spend the money, there are louder, more advanced full home audio solutions. But what the Echo Sub ads to the Echo lineup can’t be understated. It offers a way to expand the audio range of the already “good” speakers and does so at a relatively affordable price. If you already have another in the Echo range, the Sub at $169 is a worthy and exciting addition.
Echo Dot 3rd Generation:
While I have never been a fan of the super-small speakers such as the Google Home Mini or the Echo Dot, Amazon has taken all past criticisms and built a new version of its speaker with many of the issues addressed. While it still lacks 3.5mm audio input and the speaker is still far from at the level of its bigger brothers, the Echo Dot is finally ready for prime time.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The Echo Dot, while possibly better than the Google Home Mini, is by no means an exceptional audio experience. The 1.6-inch 360°-firing speaker hits that good enough threshold and will fill a room with sound far more than the size would indicate. However, it never hits the quality or levels you can find on the lineups bigger brothers.
The sound is clear but lacks the depth offered by high-quality speakers. It is serviceable for audio books, or even as an extra speaker during a party, but if you love music and want a full, rich sound, the Echo Dot is not for you.
But honestly, I would argue that is not what it is built for. The small Echo product works beautifully as an entry point into the world of Alexa, and this it does very well. I never had any issues communicating with the virtual assistant. The microphones work well almost anywhere in the room. I was impressed at how easy it was to get the Echo Dot to recognize my commands, especially considering its small size.
If you are a lover of audio and want the best, the Echo dot is not for you. The Echo Plus or even the standalone Echo fit this benchmark far better. But if you are looking to experiment with Alexa, need an additional speaker, or want an inexpensive option to expand on your smart home, the $69 price tag is hard to beat.