Amazon Echo review: Is the fourth-generation Amazon Echo worth the investment?
With its handsome new shape and dramatically improved sound, the latest Amazon Echo is one of the best smart speakers money can buy
What We Love
- Sleek, Spherical Design
- Superb Sound Quality For Size
- Great Price
- Works With (Almost) All Smart Home Kit
- Alexa Is As Personable As Ever
What We Don’t
- Bulkier Than Previous Design
- Missing Some Fun Colours
- Google Assistant Is Smarter
The all-new Echo is the most well-rounded smart speaker that Amazon has ever released, literally. The US company has borrowed a number of features previously reserved for its priciest Alexa-powered kit and brought them to the smart speaker that most people will actually buy – the standard Amazon Echo.
For the first time, Amazon Echo enjoys the intelligent audio-tuning introduced with the £189.99 Echo Studio and the built-in Zigbee smart hub functionality once reserved exclusively for the £139.99 Echo Plus.
The latter allows you to set up smart home gadgets that would usually require a dedicated hub plugged into your router – like products from Philips Hue, Hive, Honeywell, and Yale, to name just a few – using just an Amazon Echo. It’s something we praised in our Eero 6 review, which also arrives with Zigbee baked-in and saves you from the hassle of another blinking box in the cupboard.
These improvements alone would’ve made for a nice upgrade from the third-generation Amazon Echo, released in October 2019, but the R&D team didn’t stop there.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo has dramatically improved sound and now supports lossless HD audio too. This CD-quality streaming is available with Amazon Music HD, Apple Music, TiDAL. If you mainly rely on an Amazon Echo to listen to music – whether that’s streamed albums and playlists or DAB radio stations – the upgrade to the latest model will be worthwhile.
Don’t be fooled by its compact size, this land bowl-like speaker can comfortably fill small- and medium-sized rooms with well-balanced sound.
Alexa remains one of the most personable AI assistants on the market. But while chatting with Alexa feels more human than rivals like Siri and Bixby, it can’t match the infallible knowledge of Google Assistant.
Asking Alexa about the opening times of local supermarkets and delays at our nearest railway station caused the friendly AI to struggle …unlike Google Assistant.
Amazon is quietly adding new features all the time, from topical jokes to genuinely new tricks like the burglar alert system recently rolled out in the US, so the Amazon Echo is sure to only get better as time goes on.
Our only complaint is the spherical design – for our money, the best-looking Amazon Echo we’ve seen – is a little bulkier than previous, Pringles tube-like iterations of the smart speaker. If you’re upgrading from a previous generation, you might find the shiny new fourth-generation Amazon Echo doesn’t fit into exactly the same spot. We’d also like to see Amazon revive some of the flashier colours seen with earlier entries too.
These are minuscule nitpicks with a stunning smart speaker that doubles as a convenient way to unify dozens of different smart home gadgets. It’s easily the most well-rounded Amazon Echo we’ve used. Highly recommended.
Amazon Echo (4th-Gen) review
With its latest model, Amazon has made some pretty drastic changes with its fourth-generation Amazon Echo smart speaker.
It has re-engineered its best-selling voice-controlled gadget so that it resembles a lawn bowl and offers dramatically improved sound. Amazon has also added a Zigbee hub inside the Echo, so that Alexa can control a truckload of popular smart home gadgets without the need to plug in any extra hubs or dongles into your router.
Until now, the latter was an exclusive feature for the pricier Amazon Echo Plus. With the introduction of the fourth-generation of the Echo, Amazon has scrapped the £139.99 Echo Plus since all of its smarts are now bundled into the £89.99 Echo.
So, with boosted sound, a spherical redesign, and smart hub features baked-in for the same price… is this the most well-rounded Amazon Echo yet? And more importantly, is it time to upgrade the existing Alexa-powered speaker sat on your kitchen counter or bookshelf?
We’ve been listening to music, streaming audiobooks from Audible, playing podcasts, setting timers and reminders, and controlling smart lightbulbs with the fourth-generation Amazon Echo for a number of weeks now. Is it time to upgrade? Our in-depth Amazon Echo review has everything you need to know.
The stylish, spherical design of the latest Amazon Echo is a little bulkier than previous looks
Price and Availability
The latest Amazon Echo is available to buy right now. Prime members will be able to take delivery of the new smart speaker on the next-day at no extra cost. Amazon sells the fourth-generation Echo in a Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue finish.
It’s worth noting that “Charcoal” is pretty similar to the colour of the same name included with the previous generation of Amazon Echo – so if you’re looking to match your new Amazon Echo with any existing Alexa-powered gadgets in your collection, that’s the one to opt for. Unfortunately, most of the other colours used in the Echo range with the last refresh, including Red, Heather Grey, Oak, Sandstone, Silver and more, don’t make a reappearance this time around.
Priced at £89.99, the new Amazon Echo carries the same price tag as its predecessor. We’d expect to see that price tag drop as we get closer to Prime Day and Black Friday. If you’re happy to wait a little longer, you might be able to unlock the best Amazon Echo deals.
New Spherical Design
There’s no getting around it, the R&D department at Amazon have really shaken things up this time around.
Gone is the Pringles tube-like design used for the previous three generations of Echo, replaced with a spherical shape. There’s something quite charming about the rounded shape, although for our money, the smaller Echo Dot carries the look a little better than the bulkier Echo.
Amazon says the new shape has enabled it to improve the sound of the Amazon Echo. Borrowing from the Echo Studio, the first smart speaker from Amazon designed from the ground-up to focus on sound quality, the fourth-generation Echo is now able to automatically sense the acoustics of whatever room you’ve plonked it in and fine-tune audio playback.
As well as introducing recycled materials, the new design allowed Amazon to improve audio components
This feature was supremely impressive in the Echo Studio.
However, at £189.99, the Echo Studio is a bit more of a niche proposition than the standard Echo, so it’s great that more people will now be able to experience these sound smarts. Whether you’ve got the new Echo squeezed between books on a shelf, nestled next to a kettle on the kitchen counter, or pressed tightly against a wall in the living room… Amazon will ensure the sound is always firing in the right direction to get the best audio quality.
But it’s not all about the smarts, the new Echo also includes improved components too. Amazon has managed to include a 3.0-inch woofer with dual-firing tweeters, compared to the single 0.8-inch tweeter found in the previous version.
The new Echo also boasts Dolby processing support to deliver “stereo sound with clear highs, dynamic mids, and deep bass,” Amazon says. This is another feature that debuted with the costlier Echo Studio, which now makes its way to the standard Echo.
What does all of that actually mean?
In a nutshell, the Amazon Echo sounds really good. Sure, Sonos One owners don’t have anything to be jealous of… but the fourth-generation Echo is more than capable of blasting your favourite tracks, streaming songs on the radio, or filling a room with the latest episode of your latest podcast obsession. The fourth-generation sounds noticeably bass-ier than earlier entries in the series, so those with a first- or second-generation Echo at home will really notice the upgrade with this new model.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is more than capable of blasting your favourite tracks, or filling room with the sound of your latest podcast obsession
Those who still want the best sound that Amazon offers will be better off plumping for the £189.99 Echo Studio or buying a Sonos One, which has built-in Alexa support – as both of these boast a more full-throated sound, especially if you’re trying to annoy the neighbours by cranking up the volume.
But for £89.99, the Amazon Echo is impressively capable. And if you’re only planning to listen to a playlist or two while washing-up, up or tune-in to the radio when preparing breakfast in the morning, you’ll have no complaints about the Amazon Echo’s sound quality.
Despite the improved sound, one complaint we have about the new design is that it means the new Amazon Echo doesn’t always fit as snuggly around the home as its predecessors. While the previous cylinder shape had a whiff of function-over-form, it was able to squeeze onto bookshelves, between cereal boxes, beside tellies, and more.
The new spherical shape takes up more volume — and you might struggle to squeeze this new model into the same nooks and crannies as your existing model. Given the improved sound, it might be a trade-off you’re willing to make, but we’d recommend dusting off the tape-measure before adding the fourth-generation Echo to your basket.
Using hands-free assistant Alexa is a complete joy
Despite the radically redesigned exterior, the fourth-generation Echo is still an Echo. That means it can handle all of the usual questions and commands, from dishing out the latest news and weather reports, prompting you with reminders, finding out answers to any general knowledge queries that pop into your head, order takeaways, control playback on any Fire TV streaming dongles in your home and adjust smart lightbulbs and thermostats.
If you’ve never owned a smart speaker before – trust us, it’s great.
Playing your favourite albums, finding out when a new movie will be playing at your local cinema, setting timers while cooking, turning on the lights, and checking the closing time of your local supermarket all works phenomenally well with Alexa. It also saves you from constantly reaching into your pocket to pull out your smartphone.
There are thousands of extra apps, which Amazon calls “Skills”, for the talkative voice assistant, but there’s are often less useful. Some are comically niche, like one that enables Alexa to play cat sounds, while others will require you to fit your requests into a pre-set formula. For example, the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner Skill requires you to say “Alexa, ask Roomba to start vacuuming” or “Alexa, ask Roomba to stop vacuuming”, rather than “Alexa, start my Roomba” which would be more natural.
As mentioned above, the fourth-generation Echo includes a baked-in Zigbee hub, so you’ll be able to set up Hive smart plugs, Philips Hue connected lightbulbs, and Osram light strips, to name a few, with plugging in additional hubs or dongles into your router.
If the Echo is your first foray into a smart home set-up, this is a hugely useful feature and makes adding new accessories in the future a doddle.
Is the fourth-generation Amazon Echo the one you should buy?
With the latest refresh, Amazon has brought a number of features from its pricier gadgets to the Echo that most people will buy. From the intelligent audio-tuning from the £189.99 Echo Studio, to the baked-in Zigbee smart hub previously only found in the £139.99 Echo Plus.
Coupled with improved sound quality, the Amazon Echo is a great buy for anyone who wants to start building a smart home set-up and a worthwhile upgrade for those with a first or second-generation Echo in the house. If you are upgrading, just make sure that the bulkier spherical design will fit into the small spot as the old Echo, which was noticeably svelter.
The improvements to the sound performance and new smarts make the fourth-generation Amazon Echo almost impossible not to recommend
With any luck, Amazon will bring back some of the flashier colours we saw with its earlier Echo speakers. Even if it doesn’t, this is a small nitpick.
Alexa remains one of the friendliest AI assistants on the market. However, it can’t always match Google Assistant’s infallible knowledge, especially when it comes to opening times for local businesses and follow-up questions (without the hassle of repeating exactly what you’re talking about every single time).
Of course, Amazon is quietly adding new features all the time, from topical jokes to genuinely new tricks like the burglar alert system recently rolled out in the US, so the Amazon Echo is sure to only get better as time goes on.
Amazon Echo is marketed as a smart speaker. With the overhauled audio components, automatic tuning, and support for lossless music, not to mention the advances in Alexa and built-in Zigbee hub …this is the smartest and best sounding Amazon Echo yet. It’s an incredibly well-rounded package that’s almost impossible not to recommend.