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Can the New Amazon Echo Make Your Smart Home Even Smarter?
Despite fierce competition from the likes of Google and Apple, the Amazon Echo and its trusty AI companion, Alexa, have held onto the lion’s portion of the smart speaker market, which is no mean feat.
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) At A Glance
Looking at the latest Echo, it’s plain to see Amazon has been tinkering day and night to create something fresh and exciting, benching the cylindrical body for a sleek, modern spherical number.
But this smart speaker makeover goes far deeper than mere cosmetics. There’s also been a complete design overhaul within the cute, globular enclosure, so let’s peep under the hood and see what Amazon has been working on for the last two years.
- Improved Audio Quality
- Built-In Smart Hub
- Sleek Design
- Low Latency Response
- Low Volume
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) Features
The 4th gen Echo is still capable of all its old party tricks, such as syncing with your other smart devices and giving you voice control of an army of appliances and gizmos, but this time around, it’s ready to perform a few new tricks too.
The most significant improvement is the integrated smart hub, enabling you to hook this little ball up to all your Zigbee gadgets, something you would have needed an external device or the Echo Plus to accomplish in the past.
In fact, the 4th gen Echo has all the extra juice of the plus, including a beefier CPU for uber low latency response times, and improved drivers for a more nuanced audio response — but more on that later.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) Alexa
Of course, I couldn’t conduct a review of this nifty, space-age orb without bringing everyone’s best AI pal, Alexa into the equation. Something you’ll no doubt pick up on pretty soon if you bring the 4th gen Echo into the fold is just how snappy everything seems to function.
It’s almost as if Amazon has given Alexa a shot of adrenalin, or something else slightly more illegal, because they’re faster than ever, responding to your wake words and executing commands in split seconds.
Sure, Alexa was pretty quick to begin with, but when you’re late for work, and you’re relying on them to navigate your whole smart ecosystem, the slight lag between a request and fulfillment could be a problem, but that’s no longer the case. Alexa will have your coffee brewed, your Monday psych up playlist blazing, your garage open, and you on your way in record time!
The all-new Alexa also works wonderfully with the baked-in smart hub, as you can just ask them to search for devices, and voilà...there they are. Digitally assembling your smart home network has never been easier.
Once you’ve connected Alexa to all your gadgets and gizmos, you can get started dialing in some custom routines to smooth out the edges of your day-to-day life. With a fleshed-out smart array, the possibilities for customization are effectively limitless.
Do you want your thermostat to fire up as soon as you walk through the door? Alexa and a door sensor can make it happen. Do you want lights to turn on at a certain time to fool thieves into thinking that you’re home? No problem.
From there, you can fine-tune Alexa’s abilities to an even further degree by adding Skills in the app.
These “Skills” are basically just smaller apps that slide into Alexa’s core function to make them a little more fun and interactive. For instance, you can use the Song Quiz Skill to transform your smart speaker into a musical game show host.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) Audio
The 4th Gen Echo is loaded with a 3-inch bass driver, dual 0.3” tweeters, and what Amazon is calling 360° audio, which sounds like the Echo is going to pump out noise every which way, but in reality, it just means the audio is directional.
It’s a pretty neat touch, but it does limit things in the volume department, as overall, the voice of the new Echo is a little on the soft side. You’ll hear it clearly from a few feet away, but if you’re in the next room, audio clarity diminishes significantly.
I found this a little disappointing because, in terms of tonal quality, the Echo doesn’t do such a bad job.
The bass is quite rich, and the highs never feel all that shrill, and although the output isn’t going to rumble your walls or satisfy the audiophiles in the house, it’s still impressive considering how small the Echo is.
You can even tweak the EQ to refine the sound to your tastes, but the parameters are fairly limited by the size of the drivers.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s very little audio separation, so if you enjoy dense or detailed music, you're better off using your sound system than the Echo.
Fortunately, the gen 4 Echo supports most of the major streaming services including Spotify, Apple Music, TIDAL Deezer, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and SiriusXM.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) Design
Design is a real high point of the new Echo. Ornamentally speaking, the spherical body looks a lot nicer and neutral than the 3rd gen cylinder, helping it to slide into almost any style of room, especially since it comes in three colors.
The sphere is split into two distinct sections. The top side is a mesh material, clearing the way for audio, while the bottom side is a solid plastic held up by rubber feet that protect the surface of your furniture from scratches.
Media controls are situated on the top side of the enclosure, while the AUX port can be found around the back, enabling you to hook the Echo up to a better sound system.
It’s sleek, space-age, intuitive, and remarkably robust — perfect!
Amazon Echo (4th Gen) - The Final Verdict
Is the new Echo a flawless device? No, not quite. There are still areas I’d like to see Amazon work on in the future — the audio facilities, for example. But a few small gripes notwithstanding, I think they’ve done an amazing job of upgrading their flagship smart speaker.
It looks great, performs better than ever, and the integrated Zigbee support is a Godsend for those with more intricate smart home networks. Is it worth the upgrade from the 3rd gen Echo?
If you come across it on sale...perhaps, but if you’re still using a 1st gen Echo, it’s 100% worth making the switch.
Feel free to check prices here.