Amazon's "all-new" Echo isn't really so new. It's a replica of the Echo Plus. But with both the Echo Plus and Echo due for a third-generation rollout, Amazon opted to merge its midrange speaker under the latter's name and price.
The Amazon Echo ($99) feels like an upgrade from its predecessor. Its audio hardware matches that of the excellent Echo Plus, and it still maximizes Alexa's smart assistant powers. Positioned between the $50 Echo Dot and $199 Echo Studio, the well-rounded Echo is one of best smart speakers to get right now.
Echo design: Echo Plus in mind
The sophisticated look of this redesigned Echo looks nothing like its predecessors. At 4.8 inches tall and 3.9 inches in diameter, it's the same height as the second-generation Echo but thicker. The added bulk lends authority, suggesting the exterior conceals greater hardware inside.
The fabric-swathed sandstone model I reviewed looks great among white and grey decor and matches the new Echo Dot with Clock impeccably. The traditional Charcoal and Heather Grey options are sharp, too. Amazon also introduced a charming Twilight Blue variant exclusive to the new Echo, which I imagine would fit a beach home nicely.
A rubber base keeps the Echo in place, while the top features a microphone array, LED status ring and four familiar control buttons. Two change volume, while one wakes Alexa and another turns the microphone on or off.
Echo sound: Phenomenal for the price
Like the Echo Plus, the Echo packs a 3-inch woofer, 0.8-inch tweeter and Dolby Audio. According to Amazon, deep levels and 360-degree sound make this the best-sounding Echo yet.
And for the most part, it delivers. The bass isn't as booming as some other speakers I've reviewed, like the Sonos Move, but it's good for the price. As the Echo played "Can't Hold Us" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, its vibrations amped me up while I prepared to hit the gym.
When communicating with Alexa, listening to podcasts or setting background music, the Echo is best set at a medium to low volume. But for jamming out, it's exciting to show off how loud this speaker gets.
At the Echo's maximum volume, I threw a private Elton John concert in my living room. "Tiny Dancer" sounded lively and crisp. I could even make out the violins beneath John's crooning. But his piano playing lost out, so I unimaginatively switched to Billy Joel's "Piano Man" to see if it was a blanketing issue.
It's not – Joel's keys expertise and iconic harmonica diddy soared out of the Echo and through my entire apartment without sacrificing balance at its loudest level. I'm tempted to say you could skip Billy Joel’s Madison Square Garden residency if you have the Echo, but that would betray my Long Island heritage.
Though this kind of praise is reserved for expensive, high-end speakers from Sonos, Bose and Sony, it's remarkable how Amazon makes an affordable speaker sound so great.
Echo smart features: All of Alexa
As an Amazon-brand speaker, the Echo benefits from Alexa embedded within. You can ask the smart assistant to play music, make phone calls, answer common queries and more. It's also able to carry out commands for controlling a number of the best best smart home devices, but there's a catch.
What differentiates the Echo from the Echo Plus is its lack of a built-in ZigBee hub. If the Echo is one of your first smart devices, this is not an issue. Yet, if you have a large ecosystem of smart lights, smart locks and smart plugs, you might want to consider the $50 premium for the second-generation Echo Plus.
But the Echo has built-in Bluetooth setup compatibility with some brands like Philips Hue lights. So if you're looking for a smart home entry point with a more fulfilling sound than the Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini, the Echo is a great option.
The Echo also pairs with other Alexa speakers, allowing you to create a stereo system of smart speakers. This is excellent for enabling Amazon's two-way intercom feature, Drop In.
Echo privacy: Complete microphone control
When it comes to a tool like Drop In, it's important to know when someone may be listening. The Echo's LED status ring glows green to indicate an entity other than Alexa is eavesdropping, while it shines blue when Alexa is awaiting a command. And, if you'd prefer the microphone to remain off and simply use the Echo as an average Bluetooth speaker, you can hit the control button on top at any time.
But you'll get the most out of your smart speaker if you leave the microphones on. That way Alexa can field queries and learn how to improve as a virtual assistant based on your feedback. You can also review or delete your Alexa history and recordings within the Alexa app for greater control over your privacy.
The all-new, third-generation Amazon Echo is basically the Echo Plus without a ZigBee hub. It maintains solid sound, yet lowers the cost.
This is the smart speaker I would recommend to most people I know. The Sonos One is still the pick for audiophiles, but for $100 the Echo is the best you can get.