“Alexa, review my device!” The godfather of smart speakers, the Amazon Echo was first released in the UK in 2016 and has in the last few years not only become one of the best-selling smart devices in the world, but has taken voice-control into the mainstream, with Amazon’s intelligent personal assistant “Alexa” now a household name up and down the land.
Combining smart speech recognition technology with an affordable good quality speaker, the Amazon Echo in all its forms has been a big hit for consumers looking to perform a variety of day-to-day tasks in their lounge, kitchen, bedroom and beyond.
Offering the ability to play music and radio, set timers and alerts, play news and weather bulletins, answer myriad questions – plus access a huge number of Alexa “skills” (essentially voice apps) developed by third party companies and organisations the Amazon Echo delivers a lot of functionality for a device of its price, and has a good enough sound that the casual music fan will be pleased with the way the speaker performs.
The 2019 version (3rd generation) of the Echo has seen improvements in the way it looks and the way it sounds – and with the price of the smart speaker at one of its lowest ever, it’s certainly still one of the best choices for consumers looking for a great all rounder which won’t break the bank.
- What is the Amazon Echo?
- How much is the Amazon Echo?
- Sound quality
- Amazon Echo set-up
- Difference between the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot
- Our verdict
- Where to buy
Although the 2019 update of the Echo hasn’t got ground-breaking new updates on its predecessor, with its slick new looks and improved sound, it’s certainly still one of the best choices in the market place for those looking for a solid smart speaker that is good quality, versatile and affordable.
Price: Amazon Echo (3rd generation) is available from £89.99 from Argos
- Premium speakers powered by Dolby
- Alexa intelligent assistant allows you to voice control your music (compatible with Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, Deezer and TuneIn amongst others)
- Voice control your home by connecting your Echo to other smart home devices like lights and thermostat
- Access tens of thousand of ‘skills’ via the Alexa app
- Great value for money
- Improved sound quality
- New colours available to suit your decor
- Ever-increasing Alexa skill base
- Improving human speech recognition
- Serious audiophiles may want a more expensive speaker, but the sound is still very good for the price
The Amazon Echo (2019) is the latest incarnation of Amazon’s extremely popular smart speaker. Offering Alexa intelligent voice assistant as standard the Echo series is one of the first mass-market and best-selling smart speakers across the globe, offering great voice recognition and sound quality without breaking the bank.
What does the Amazon Echo do?
In short the device uses voice recognition to play music, answer questions, set timers and alerts and access ‘skills’ (Amazon Alexa apps) to perform all manner of tasks including games, news and weather, learning, entertainment and much more.
- Driven by Alexa intelligent voice assistant that recognises human speech and acts upon commands
- Plays music and audio in great quality for the price through Dolby speaker designed for 360 degree performance
- Offers tens of thousands of ‘skills’ developed by third party developers to enhance voice experience including news and weather, fun and games, learning and education and entertainment and planning.
- Can communicate with other Echo units and allows messaging and sound drops
- Offers alerts synced to your Amazon shopping services
Is the Amazon Echo good value for money?
In our opinion, the Amazon Echo remains tremendous value for money for those looking for an all-round smart speaker but who don’t want to spend huge amounts of money. Prices on smart speaker devices have been coming down for a while, and primarily this has been led by the very competitive Echo range. This speaker offers great sound quality for its size and price as well as being very well built and coming with the huge amount of Amazon skills available. Certainly a great buy for first time entrants to this market or those looking to upgrade their smart home.
The latest Echo is a good looking addition to any home, available in a range of colours, it’s smaller and softer than some of its earlier incarnations – but that doesn’t mean there’s been any loss of sound or quality along the way.
- Style: The Echo is a stylish looking cylindrical unit with fabric finish and soft edges at the top and the bottom. The main controls (should you need to go beyond voice) are on the top of the unit which is available in charcoal fabric, heather grey fabric and twilight blue fabric (see below)
- Robustness: The Echo is a very well build solid-feeling unit that feels like it will last. And although we wouldn’t recommend it, we have seen take a tumble on a few occasions and live to tell the tale. Although the unit is one of the cheaper available in the smart speaker market it certainly feels and looks like a high-end unit.
- Size: The Echo measures 148 x 99 x 99 mm, meaning it is not imposing in any environment and can easily fit in on a bookshelf, side table or kitchen counter without becoming a distraction to a room.
The Echo has been criticised in some of its earlier incarnations of not putting enough effort into delivering high quality sound for music, but instead focussing the main speaker design on voice (which sort of makes sense with Alex talking to you so much). This has meant the Echo has always delivered a fabulous performance sound-wise for speech-driven experiences like audiobooks, podcasts and talk radio – and for all of the bulletins and updates that are read aloud to you.
And although the music delivery has certainly been no slouch in the past, this current incarnation of the Echo has the underlying architecture that was previously found in the top-of-the-range Echo Plus and there is a marked improvement on the performance of the sound quality across the board as a result.
For the price and size of the unit, the sound quality is very good on this device. Considering most of the music played through the unit will be DAB radio or streamed via Amazon, Spotify etc. the quality will never be high enough to please serious hi-fi enthusiasts who are looking for the replication of CD quality via a serious separates set-up, but for most average consumers looking to enjoy their favourite songs without lifting a finger, this unit hits the mark.
There’s a good response in across the frequencies and the Echo can also achieve a decent volume for its size, meaning you’ll always be able to get the party started at the drop of an “Alexa” with one of these in the room!
If you are looking for a slightly more sophisticated sound system that still has the voice control, perhaps consider the more expensive Amazon Echo Studio or the Sonos One – but with the improved sound quality comes a more hefty price tag.
The Echo is fairly straightforward to set-up as far as connected devices go.
Once you’ve got your speaker out of the box, all you really need to do is download the Alexa app to your smartphone and plug your unit in.
The rest is a fairly intuitive journey that involves ensuring your app and Echo unit are both synced to your home wi-fi setup and you’re pretty much ready to go. If it’s your first speaker it may take a little longer to set up and connect to your Amazon account, but if you already have other Echo family products in the house, adding another is incredibly quick and easy.
There are a number of options available to you as a new user once your speaker is set up, with probably the relevant to many people being which music service you want your Echo to default to. Without configuring it, you will get Amazon Music, which has a limited set of songs available to all Amazon Prime customers. You can upgrade this to expand your song selection, or if you already have an Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer (or others) account, you can connect that via the app and make it your default account to get all the songs you love available on the speaker immediately.
Other settings you’ll want to look at include your location (to ensure you get the right weather reports) and any default news services that you prefer. After that you can spend as much or as little time as you like browsing and installing skills that suit your lifestyle.
The main difference between the Amazon Echo and the Amazon Echo Dot is the size of the unit and the quality of sound because of the much smaller speaker.
Although the Dot is capable of performing largely the same level of hands-free tasks as the Echo using the Alexa intelligent assistant, on its own it won’t offer a high quality sound experience to users.
It’s possible to plug the Dot into another speaker using a aux lead if you want to beef up the sound, but for those who want one nice unit with a much better sound, the full-size unit is probably worth the extra initial outlay.
The Dot is much more suited for someone who just wants speech-based voice controls and perhaps weather and news updates and alarms and timers that don’t require a higher quality sound response.
To see how it compares to the new (4th Gen) smart speakers, read our Echo Dot review.
“Alexa, what do you think?”
The answer is a yes. This third generation of the popular Amazon Echo smart speakers is the best yet at a really competitive price. The voice recognition is getting better all the time, as is the range of ‘skills’ that only give you more options of how you want to voice control your home and your life. With a really decent sound for a speaker of its size and a very competitive price, in its class of smart speakers it’s very hard to look any further than the original and best Amazon Echo range if you want to make your life smarter.
Whether you’re a first time buyer in the smart speaker world or adding to your connected home – this has got to be in the mix for your next purchase.
Sound quality: 4/5
Value for Money: 4/5
Overall rating: 4/5
The Amazon Echo is available at a number of retailers.