What's a company to do when it seeks to improve a perfect device? For Amazon, the answer is as simple as adding a clock.
Yes, the principal change Amazon made to the excellent third-generation Echo Dot is the addition of a small LED display tucked beneath the outer rim of the company's budget Alexa-enabled smart home speaker. With an Echo Dot with Clock ($59.99), you will no longer need to ask Alexa for the time, which Amazon said is among the most frequent queries garnered by Echo speakers.
The latest iteration is utterly unremarkable in innovation yet quite remarkable in experience. As a longtime Echo Dot owner, I never considered the lack of a clock a concern. I never considered the clock, period. But now that the Echo Dot with Clock is here, it introduces a potential expectation for the best smart speakers in its category.
Design: Exactly as advertised
I'm tempted to laugh at this device's guileless name. Without a doubt, it is an Echo Dot with a clock. Retaining last year's significant design update, the Echo Dot with Clock is an unpretentious piece of smart decor. The fabric-swathed sides lend a homey presence, while the sandstone exterior lets the Echo Dot with Clock blend in with most interiors. It comes in only one color, although the standard Echo Dot is available in charcoal, heather gray and plum variants.
A white LED display shines from beneath the fabric on the side opposite the power port and 3.5mm audio output. More LEDs create a ring on the top of the Echo Dot with Clock that light up blue when Alexa is listening. On top, you'll also find two volume buttons, a button to turn the microphone on and off, and a button to summon Alexa.
At 3.9 inches in diameter and 1.7 inches tall, the Echo Dot with Clock is compact enough to sit on most nightstands, which is exactly where I'd keep this device.
Display: More than just a clock
Despite its name, you can use the Echo Dot with Clock's display for more than checking the time. This display is smart. It gives a purpose to the Echo Dot beyond listening for or completing commands.
The Echo Dot with Clock automatically displays the current time, but the speaker can also show volume levels, alarms, timers and the local temperature when asked. You can't change the color of the LEDs, but you can adjust the brightness within the Alexa app or with your voice.
I found it useful to see the time while getting ready in the morning. A quick glance let me know how much time I had to fret over what to wear. The timer proved a neat feature, too. It let me walk away from the kitchen while I had dinner in the oven. I used to ask Alexa the status of a current timer to judge if there was time to take a shower, walk the dog or grab the mail. Now, I can just glimpse at the Echo Clock with Dot without wasting my breath.
Sound: Same and solid
Nothing has changed inside the new Echo Dot. It features the same excellent audio hardware as last year's model. The Echo Dot sounds great, especially for its size. It's not the loudest speaker, but the sound fills a medium-sized room.
Childish Gambino's "This Is America" sounded full and animated through the Echo Dot with Clock. But when I increased the volume, the audio grew hollow and fuzzy. After tinkering with the speaker's settings, I found the Echo Dot with Clock performs best at a medium level (5 or 6) with its bass boosted. I even asked Alexa to make these adjustments.
Of course, the sound from the Echo Dot still doesn't sound nearly as good as that from the full-size Echo or other high-end Alexa-enabled smart speakers. But if you're looking for a smart speaker to play some tunes while you're cooking or reading, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything better for the size and price.
Smart features and privacy: All of Alexa's perks
As an Amazon speaker, the Echo Dot is built to support most Alexa features. Just use the wake word "Alexa" to make commands and ask questions. You can control your smart home devices, music and more, all with your voice.
Recently, I've found Alexa a worthy aide for online shopping. When I ran out of storage on my Nintendo Switch Lite while downloading a new game late one night, I asked Alexa to order me a new microSD card. When I visited Amazon's website the next day, Alexa left a reminder in my shopping cart to approve the purchase. Had I requested a specific microSD model, Alexa could have even placed the order for me.
Alexa is also great for Drop In and phone calls. With the Drop In feature, the Echo Dot with Clock can act as an intercom with my other Echo speakers and also dial up any of my phone contacts. When I called my mom to check about dinner reservations, Alexa connected us quickly.
The Echo Dot with Clock's microphones could be better. Though my mom sounded clear, she complained that I sounded distant. Alexa also struggled to pick up commands over conflicting sounds. Whether the audio was coming from my laptop or the Echo Dot, I had to raise my voice more than I considered appropriate for my apartment building for the Echo Dot to hear me clearly.
But I do like that the Echo Dot with Clock has a button that disconnects the microphones. This is a staple privacy feature that lets you decide when you want the speaker to listen. With the Echo Dot with Clock, you also have control over your voice recordings. You can view, listen to or delete them at any time from your Alexa account.
One reason the Echo Dot is so popular is that it costs $50 — or far less, depending on the deal — so I was a bit leery of the $10 premium for the clock. After using the Echo Dot with Clock for a few days, however, I realized that the LED display is actually useful. Whether I was checking the time in the early mornings or setting a timer for my latest culinary experiment, I routinely used the clock.
I'm willing to spend $60 for the Echo Dot with Clock because the LED display makes the speaker a better device and gives it an advantage over other budget smart speakers. It might not provide the biggest sound, but you get all of the Alexa features you'd expect from an Echo speaker, without having to ask the voice assistant for the time ever again. As a clock for a nightstand or desk, this new iteration is absolutely worth it.