With the new Echo Dot, Amazon will invade your home with voice controls

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With the new Echo Dot, Amazon will invade your home with voice controls

Only $50 • Alexa does everything the Echo does • Small and compact design • Save $20 if you buy two together

Weak • tinny-sounding speaker

The Amazon Echo Dot still does everything the Echo does, now at an even lower price and it’s not exclusive for Echo or Fire TV owners.

Amazon’s second-generation Echo Dot is everything the first-generation of the miniature smart speaker should have been: smaller and cheaper.

Even though the Dot is the cheapest Echo device in the lineup, it’s still a surprisingly powerful and convenient voice-controlled smart home hub.

Compared to the second-gen Echo and Echo Plus, the Dot is squatter and glossier. Plus, if you buy two at once, you’ll get a $20 discount. It’s not as sweet as the six-pack of Dots Amazon offered briefly in 2016, but buying two still means you can create dual-room setup for less than the second-gen Echo.

The Echo Dot (second-gen) next to the Echo Dot (first-gen).

The Echo Dot (second-gen) next to the Echo Dot (first-gen).

Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

The Echo Dot comes in glossy black or glossy white. Amazon also sells customizable cases in a variety of fabrics and colors to decorate your device with. You know, to better blend in with your home decor.

Functionally, the Echo Dot works exactly the same as the old one. You can summon Alexa with your voice to play music, check the weather, read the news, control your smart home devices like Philips’ Hue smart lights, call an Uber, order a pizza, read you a Kindle e-book, send and receive hands-free calls and voice messages, etc.

The number of “skills” that Alexa knows continues to grow at an extraordinary rate, connecting her with new services and devices. As of the spring of 2018, Alexa knows more than 30,000 skills.

The new Echo Dot is $50 and you’ll actually be able to buy one.

It has the same seven built-in microphones to hear your voice from across a room. During my testing, I didn’t notice any difference in responsiveness between the old Echo Dot and new one. 

The Echo Dot has a feature called Echo Spatial Perception (ESP). If you have multiple Echos or Dots set up in your home, ESP prevents all of them from going off at once when you say the Alexa command; only the one closest to you should activate. 

For the most part, ESP works well… if your Echo devices aren’t too close together. In my small one bedroom apartment in New York City, ESP didn’t work as well as I would have liked. Calling for Alexa on the Echo Dot in my bedroom still often woke up Alexa on the Echo in my living room about 30 feet away. Speaking in a softer voice helped resolve this issue. Another workaround is to change to give each Echo a different wake word. For example, you could have the Echo Dot respond to “Alexa” and other Echo devices to “Amazon,” “Echo.” or “Computer.”

The rotatable volume ring is gone. On the new Echo Dot (left), there are volume buttons on top.

The rotatable volume ring is gone. On the new Echo Dot (left), there are volume buttons on top.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

In streamlining the Echo Dot, Amazon removed the rotatable volume ring and added two volume buttons to go with the mute microphone and push-to-talk Alexa buttons up top. Honestly, I like this new change since I never use the rotatable volume ring on my Echo; I just tell Alexa to increase and decrease the volume. There’s still a light ring around the top and it still glows blue when Alexa is activated.

The glossy black finish is a fingerprint magnet, but it’s not an issue after you’ve set it up since most people aren’t going to move it around much. The Echo Dot also comes in a glossy white finish, which looks equally slick.

Shorter glossy second-gen Echo Dot (top) vs. matte first-gen Echo Dot (bottom).

Shorter glossy second-gen Echo Dot (top) vs. matte first-gen Echo Dot (bottom).

Micro-USB for power and a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting to your own speaker system.

Micro-USB for power and a 3.5mm audio jack for connecting to your own speaker system.

How about the speaker? Well, it’s still kind of average. The first Echo Dot’s speaker emitted hollow and tiny sound. The new Echo Dot is slightly louder with fuller mids and a teensy bit more bass, but it still makes your ears cringe at the highest volume setting.

Just like the first model, you’ll want to plug the new Echo Dot into your own speaker with the included 3.5mm audio cable or pair it with a Bluetooth speaker. Both of these options will give you much better sound. 

The Echo Dot’s built-in speaker is really meant for Alexa to respond to you and not for music playback.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Past the mediocre sound, there’s really nothing not to like about the new Echo Dot. It’s the same as the old Echo Dot and extremely affordable.

The low price makes the Dot the easiest way to set up a smart home based around Alexa. Amazon also sells an Echo Dot Kids Edition for $80, which comes with a color case, a year of FreeTime Unlimited, and a two-year warranty. As Mashable Tech Editor Pete Pachal put it:

“Other than the Dot itself, you don’t need any of that stuff. The only bit that’s arguably worth the extra expense is the year of FreeTime Unlimited ($36 value), but, if you don’t have a Kindle Fire tablet to enjoy the children’s books, mostly means just some extra songs and playlists.”

So yeah, skip the Dot Kids Edition if you, well, have kids. It’s just not worth the extra moola.

The Dot’s main competition is the Google Home Mini, which is also $50. Personally, I think Home Mini is more attractive with its soft fabric surface and more intelligent Google Assistant, but which one is right for you ultimately comes down to which platform you want to embrace. 

For newcomers who just want to dip their toes into building a smart home, the Echo Dot is the perfect device to start with. It’s only $50. You can use the extra money saved from not buying the full-sized Echo to buy some smart light bulbs or a Bluetooth speaker.

This review has been updated to include the Google Home Mini as a competitor, a more significant number of Alexa Skills, new Alexa features, and current discounts on the Echo Dot.

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