The utility of the Amazon Echo Dot over the years, even though it was positioned as a smart speaker, was more about other tasks. Such as being a bedside or a workstation accessory, as an alarm clock or even to enable the Alexa access to a larger speaker that you may have had. It could have been used as a speaker all this while, but one would rather not. Now however, the Echo Dot which is in its third generation, it is becoming a full-fledged smart speaker. Well, at least it is getting there. The new Amazon Echo Dot is priced at Rs4,499.
Out of the window goes the plastic shell. Instead, the Echo Dot gets a fabric wrapping around the circumference, much like the Google Home or even the Apple HomePod. Safe to say that the plasticky look of the previous Echo Dot has been replaced with something that you really wouldn't mind keeping in plain sight in the living room. At present, you choose between the black, grey and white fabric options, though the latter ones might look dirty quicker of you will be handling your Echo Dot and move it around often or keep it in the kitchen. Expect a lot of accessories for the new Echo Dot to be available in due course as well, offering even more colourful options to go with this. On the top of the Echo Dot are the same control keys, though the mic-off button now has a new icon this time around. The anti-slip layer on the top and bottom makes the speaker more grippy, and it sits more comfortably on a table without sliding around at the slightest of absent-minded nudges. All said and done, the new Echo Dot is slightly larger than the one it succeeds, though that is marginal, and doesn’t at all take away from the “Dot” positioning at all.
It is not just the design which has received a major reconfiguration. The speaker inside the new Echo Dot is a 1.6-inch speaker, which is larger whichever way you compare this with the 1.1-inch speaker in the previous generation Echo Dot. As expected, the audio quality is better too—it is louder, holds the clarity better at higher volumes and still retains the warm feeling that a personal audio device tends to. Much isn’t to be expected in terms of the bass response though. Chances are that you will still be listening to while it is placed on a bedside table, or while cooking. The purely functional upgrade to the sound is fine if you are not expecting too much in terms of bass-heavy music playback.
Amazon has reduced the microphones in the new Echo Dot—it is now down to 4 instead of 7 in the predecessor. One would imagine that would be a downgrade and make the Echo Dot less accurate in detecting our voice and thereby in the responses it generates. But it isn’t. At no point did the Echo Dot falter in detecting our command from anywhere in the room. Lesser microphones, but better microphones, to summarise the experience.
Apart from the hardware changes, the functionality remains the same. Call out “Hey Alexa” to Amazon’s virtual assistant, and the Echo Dot lights up in expectation for the incoming command from your end. You can call out to it for news, weather, music, making phone calls to other Echo users, recite recipes as you cook or even answer any queries for which you may otherwise have had to fire up your laptop or phone for a web search. This will even control any compatible smart home gadgets that you may have, such as smart lighting, air purifiers and more. Alexa continues to plug into the music library of Amazon Music, Saavn and Tunein Radio, which means you will find the track that you are searching for, more often than not. Amazon has updated the Alexa functionality consistently off late, and it shows with the wittier and smarter responses. That said, it will still falter with accents or ambient noise from time to time, but that is a minor compromise considering the smartness that Amazon's Alexa brings to the table. It could be just us, but Alexa feels a bit more chatty and offers warm responses compared to the Google Assistant in the Google Home smart speakers. The Assistant tends to sound a bit factual, not entertaining and borders on cold in some responses. However, nothing comes close to the wittiness of Apple's Siri in the HomePod. Unfortunately, Siri tends to go into this chatty mood a few times but not always. Perhaps, we are now in an age where we might have to deal with the attitude issues of virtual assistants too? As if humans weren't enough as it is!
One thing to note is that Amazon have changed the micro-USB charging port from the previous Echo Dot to a proprietary port in the new Echo Dot. That is because the new Echo Dot ideally requires more power than the one it replaces. The Echo and the Echo Plus already use proprietary ports for their power requirements, but this change in the Echo Dot means you'll have a new cable to carry if you tend to take the Echo Dot with you as you travel.
The thing with the Amazon Echo Dot is that it is a versatile little smart speaker, which can do a lot of things without breaking a sweat. It can be a small speaker for the bedside for humming out some music to put you to sleep, it can be your cooking partner in the kitchen, it can be the default one-stop for web searches without actually pulling out a phone and even be connected to an existing speaker and make it a smart speaker instead. At this price, it is a no-brainer to pick this up if you are looking for your first tryst with a smart speaker or an artificially intelligent virtual assistant, or simply one for the kitchen, study or the bedside table.