Aside from the new design, everything else about the new Dots is practically identical to last year’s models. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as last year’s Dots were rated quite highly. Yet, if you already have a Dot from last year, there’s maybe little reason to get the new one. If you don’t have one though, then I do think the new 2020 Echo Dot ($50) is a great choice if you want an attractive Alexa-powered smart speaker with quality audio, especially for the price.
While I’m not averse to the puck-like design of the older Dots, I have to say I vastly prefer the style of the new one. Yes, it’s a little taller (it’s about 3.9-inches all the way around) but I just love the design of the round fabric-clad orb. There’s something quite charming about it and I simply like the look of it on my desk. This is an Echo that I would proudly display on a shelf or a nightstand. There’s also a Kids version of the Echo Dot that adorns the spherical orb with cute animal faces.
On the top of the Dot are the usual volume controls, a mic mute button, plus a button that wakes Alexa without having to say its name first. There’s also a 3.5-mm line out on the back if you want to hook up the Dot to better-sounding speakers. Underneath is a light ring that glows blue when Alexa is activated.
On the Echo Dot with Clock, you’ll see an LED display on the front that shows the current time by default. If you ask it for the weather, it’ll show the current outdoor temperature for a brief moment. It’ll display your alarm time after you set it, and it’ll show countdown timers too. Additionally, you can turn off the display altogether, which makes it look identical to that of the normal Echo Dot. Because of this, there’s no reason in my view to get the Echo Dot over the Echo Dot with Clock, unless you really want to save $10.
Like last year’s model, you can tap the top of the Dot with Clock to snooze your alarm. Apparently, that feature was so popular, Amazon brought it to the regular Echo Dot too, even though it doesn’t have a clock display. And of course, turning off the alarm is as easy as telling Alexa to do so.
In fact, Alexa is the primary way in which you interact with the Echo Dot. Though there are the aforementioned physical volume controls and you can tap-to-snooze, everything else is mostly Alexa-driven. Actions such as playing and pausing music or adjusting the display’s brightness (it goes from 0 to 100) or setting the alarm are primarily done with voice. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but I did wish it had physical controls in situations where you might have a sleeping spouse next to you. That’s why I think something like the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential would work slightly better as a smart alarm clock, as it has more manual options. Amazon did tell us that you can play/pause music, check your alarms and change the display brightness through the Alexa app, but I still think on-device controls are better as it means you don’t have to use your phone while in bed.
Like last year’s Echo Dot, the new one has pretty good audio quality. It certainly has a much better sound than most other smart alarm clocks I’ve experienced — much more robust than the aforementioned Lenovo Smart Clock Essential. The 1.6-inch front-firing speaker sounds great, with decent bass, clarity and plenty of volume. Of course, it doesn’t have the same caliber of the Sonos One or its larger Echo sibling, but I still thought it sounded spectacular for its size and price. Plus, you can even pair two Echo Dots together in stereo mode, which should increase its audio performance even more for not a lot of money.
Like all Alexa-powered speakers, the Echo Dot works with a wide variety of music streaming services such as Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Apple Music, Tidal, SiriusXM and Deezer. You can also listen to books on Audible. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work with YouTube Music (at least not natively) due to a dispute between Amazon and Google (similarly, Google-powered devices don’t work natively with Amazon Music either). That’s generally the problem with smart speakers or displays; you often have to pick a side, be it Amazon or Google.
There is a workaround, however. Like all Echos, the Dot also doubles as a Bluetooth speaker. Simply say “Alexa, pair” to pair it to your phone, and you can stream whatever you like — even YouTube Music — from your device to the Dot. It’s not as easy as simply telling Alexa to play the song, but it’s an option if you need it.
Of course, the Echo Dot will work like most other Alexa-powered speakers. You can ask it for the weather, your upcoming calendar appointments, find out the latest sports scores, add to your shopping list, and more. It’ll also work with most smart home devices; I often used it to turn on and off my Philips Hue lights.
As far as competition goes, the obvious rival is Google’s Nest Mini. In our previous review, we noted that it has a similar audio quality to the Echo Dot, but it lacks physical controls. The Nest Mini also doesn’t have a digital clock display, and in my opinion, doesn’t look nearly as cute as the spherical round 2020 Dot. If you specifically want to have a smart alarm clock, I might opt for the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential instead, if only because it has more manual alarm clock controls.
The Echo Dot is no longer the cheapest Alexa-powered speaker you can buy; that honor likely goes to the $25 plug-in Echo Flex which debuted last year. But the Echo Dot is many times more attractive, and the audio quality is a whole lot better as well. If you want an affordable Alexa-powered speaker that pairs an adorable aesthetic with good audio quality, then you would do well to consider the Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock.
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