Android Central Verdict
The 4th-gen Amazon Echo is the most radical redesign we've ever seen for the smart speaker, and the risk Amazon took paid off in spades. This latest Echo sounds considerably better than past generations, the new round aesthetic is quite pleasing, and it has all of the same Alexa features you've come to know and love at this point. You get all of this for the same $100 asking price we've had since the 2016 model, making it a must-buy whether you're looking to expand, or start, your Alexa household.
Lovely new design
Seriously impressive audio
3.5mm audio jack
Built-in Zigbee smart hub
Inconsistent button response
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The Amazon Echo needs no introduction at this point. What started off as an experimental invite-only gadget back in late 2014 has since become the most popular family of smart speakers on the market, with Amazon crushing competition from Google and Apple without breaking a sweat.
The latest Echo option is the Amazon Echo (4th Gen), the middle child sitting in-between the Echo Dot and Echo Studio, and with a retail price of just $100, it's packing a ton of value. Interestingly, Amazon will launch a 5th-Gen Echo Dot in 2022, but seemingly has no immediate plans for an Echo (5th Gen). Evidently, the Echo (4th Gen) still holds its own more than two years after launch.
There's nothing about the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) that'll make you an Alexa convert if you still don't like how the virtual helper works compared to something like Google Assistant. However, for existing Alexa fans or anyone that's been wanting to finally jump on the bandwagon, this is one of the best speakers you can buy right now.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Price and availability
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) was announced in late September 2020, and became available for purchase on October 22, 2020. The speaker costs $100 and is available in three colors: Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue. That's the same price as the Echo (3rd Gen) that came out before it, which is great to see when you consider all of the upgrades offered with this latest model.
You'll also find bundled options to buy the Echo (4th Gen) with two Echo Dots, a battery base, a smart bulb, Amazon Music Unlimited, or a wall mount.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen): What I like
The design of the Echo (4th Gen) is the elephant in the room for this review, so let's start there. All past Echo speakers up until this one have featured a tall, cylindrical shape that changed ever-so-slightly with each new release. The 2nd Gen model added fabric for the first time, the 3rd Gen Echo rounded out the shape a bit more, and the 4th Gen Echo we have now has gone completely circular.
It's a stark difference compared to all of Amazon's past Echo hardware, and personally, I'm very here for it. There's a hard plastic base on the bottom half of the Echo, but the top portion that you see when it's sitting on a desk or table is entirely fabric. It's warm, inviting, and allows for a new speaker array that I'll talk about more below. The unit I have is Amazon's Glacier White color, but you can also get the Echo (4th Gen) in Charcoal and Twilight Blue.
There are four playback buttons on the top of the Echo (all of which are very clicky), a rubberized base keeps it secure on whatever surface you place it on, and you'll find a 3.5mm audio jack next to the power output for playing your audio to another speaker, or listening to music from an external source. You also get a 1/4" thread mount on the bottom, making it easy to place the Echo on a speaker stand for easier placement around your home. Features like that and the 3.5mm jack might be insignificant to some shoppers, but I've always appreciated the extra utility Amazon adds to its speakers compared to something like the Google Nest Audio.
Going back to the speaker array I prefaced above, Amazon made sure to take full advantage of the Echo's new circular housing. Inside the Echo (4th Gen) is a 3" woofer and two front-firing 0.8" tweeters. The woofer is the same size as the Echo (3rd Gen), with the big benefit being that you now get two tweeters instead of just one. They also switch to a front-facing array instead of the upward placement of the last model, and the end result of all this is damn impressive sound quality.
No matter what I listen to on the Amazon Echo (4th Gen), I'm constantly impressed with how it handles all of my music. The Echo kicks out a ton of bass, but it never gets to the point where it sounds too muddy. You get a nice thump on the low end, but the mid and high end still sounds good to my ears. If the out-of-the-box listening experience is too bass-heavy for your liking, you can always open the Alexa app and change EQ settings for bass, midrange, and treble.
Songs like Colors by Beck are especially impressive on the Echo (4th Gen), with the speaker doing justice to the constant bass throughout the song. It's a punch I was not expecting for a $100 speaker, and as I mentioned above, it manages to do this while still keeping other parts of the song clear and enjoyable. The violin from the opening of Sometime Around Midnight comes through beautifully, Ashe's vocals in Save Myself are wonderful. It's all good stuff.
I used to rely on the Sonos One as my office speaker for listening to music throughout the day, and coming to the Echo (4th Gen) from that, it's impressive just how well the Echo holds up to it. I'd argue that Sonos still delivers audio that's more well-rounded, but we're talking about a speaker that costs twice as much as the Echo. For $100, the Echo (4th Gen) knocks it out of the park.
In regards to how the Echo performs as a smart device, there's a ton on offer. Just like we saw in the now-discontinued Echo Plus, the Echo (4th Gen) can act as a smart hub for Zigbee-enabled devices — such as Philips Hue bulbs and Yale smart locks. When they're available, you'll also be able to use the Echo as a hub for Ring Smart Lighting devices.
The Alexa experience offered here is just like it is on any other Echo device, which is to say you can do a lot with it. Ask about the weather, control music playback, or set up Alexa Guard to keep your home safe while you're away. I also put the microphones to the test by saying "Alexa" with music playing at a blistering volume, and the Echo managed to hear me without a problem.
It's been a while since I've had an Alexa speaker in my home, but using it over my Google Assistant device has been a perfectly seamless experience. I still prefer the way Google handles certain questions, and the integration it has with my Google account, but Alexa doesn't feel noticeably crippled in its functionality. It's encouraging to see Amazon still expanding on Alexa to this very day with features like Alexa Care Hub, Guard Plus, and more natural language processing.
The Echo (4th Gen) is also one of the first speakers to use Amazon's AZ1 Neural Edge processor, which touts up to 2x faster speech processing and lower memory usage by up to 85%. These are innovations we aren't seeing enough of from Google, and it paints a promising future for Alexa many years down the road.
One of the best features of just about any Amazon Alexa-enabled speaker is the ability to create different routines. These are essentially groups of actions that can be activated with a single request. But a 2021 update to the 4th-generation Echo and Echo Dot enabled Ultrasound Motion Detection.
With this enabled, your Amazon Echo is now able to automatically activate a routine simply based on the motion in the room. The sound is only emitted after being enabled, and none of the audio captured is uploaded to the cloud, which should put the minds of privacy-focused users at ease.
Nevertheless, with Ultrasound Motion Detection and Occupancy Routines, your Echo is now capable of turning off all of the lights whenever someone leaves the room. The opposite is also possible, ensuring that the lights in the room turn on when it senses movement in the room. It's just another great feature that Amazon has added to one of the best smart speakers.
The latest Echo (4th Gen) update on October 20 brings eero support, which allows your Echo to serve as a wi-fi range extender for your Eero Pro router. If you keep your Echo in a room away from your router, it'll help give you better internet speeds in that portion of the house or apartment. Amazon says the Echo can "add up to 1,000 square feet of coverage to your existing eero network and support speeds up to 100 Mbps," but you can disable the feature in the eero app if you don't need it.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen): What I don't like
During my time with the Amazon Echo, I found that the playback buttons aren't always the most responsive. They feel great to press and have a wonderful click to them, but they don't always perform the action that they should.
More than once, I found myself pressing the volume or mute buttons and them not doing anything. Adding a bit more force does the trick, but does take away from the overall experience just a little bit. I also would have preferred touch gestures for the controls, as the physical buttons interrupt the otherwise seamless design.
Outside of that, everything else about the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) has been fantastic.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Competition
The Echo (4th Gen) is a great purchase, but before you click that Buy Now button on Amazon, there are a couple of alternatives you should first consider — the first of which is the Echo Dot (4th Gen). It's $50 cheaper than the regular Echo, though you get the same circular design and in a smaller form factor. Audio quality isn't quite as impressive on its own, though you can pair two Echo Dots together and get stereo sound for the same price as one regular Echo.
And in theory, the Echo Dot (5th Gen) should produce even better audio for the same price; we're excited to review it this October.
If you have a bit more cash to spend and want to remain in the Alexa ecosystem, it's also worth considering the Echo Studio. It costs twice as much as the Echo (4th Gen), but you're getting even better sound. Thanks to its larger speakers (and more of them), it still remains the go-to pick if high-end audio is at the very top of your shopping list.
Finally, if you aren't 100% committed to Alexa, it may be worth checking out the Nest Audio. This is Google's latest smart speaker offering, and it has many of the same features as the Echo (4th Gen): great sound, a sleek design, and reliable microphones. If you like the idea of the Echo (4th Gen) but would rather talk to the Google Assistant, the Nest Audio is for you.
Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Should you buy?
You should buy this if...
- You want an affordable speaker that sounds great
$100 may not be "cheap," but it's considerably less than a lot of other speakers out there from Sonos and Apple. If you don't want to spend more than a hundred bucks but still want a speaker that sounds great, the Echo (4th Gen) strikes that balance almost perfectly.
- You want to expand or start your Alexa household
Chances are you already have at least one Alexa device in your home, and if you do, the new Echo (4th Gen) will fit in perfectly. If not, it's a great jumping-off point to dive into the platform and get started with it.
- You have Zigbee-enabled smart devices
Whether it be Philips Hue bulbs or a Yale smart lock, having the Echo (4th Gen) double as a Zigbee hub means you can simplify your smart home setup — something we could all use a little more of.
You should not buy this if...
- You don't like Alexa
This should be pretty obvious, but if you still don't like how Alexa works, nothing about the Echo (4th Gen) will change your mind. Just stick with your Nest Audio or HomePod.
I think the best way I can describe the Echo (4th Gen) is that it's just a fun piece of tech. The design is refreshing, it's a joy to listen to music on, and there are virtually endless features to expand its functionality. You get all of that for just $100, making it impossible to ignore for anyone that finds themselves in Camp Alexa.
The core feature-set of the Echo (4th Gen) isn't any different from the one you get on any other past or present Echo speaker, but its magic lies in being able to deliver all of those things and a legitimately great audio experience without breaking the bank. It's why we list it as the best Alexa speaker available today over any other option.
I'm personally too invested in Google Assistant devices to completely convert my apartment into an Alexa-powered one, but my time with the Echo (4th Gen) has certainly made me compelled to start paying closer attention to what Amazon's doing in the smart speaker space. Whether you're buying for yourself or a family member this holiday season, it's hard to think of a reason why you shouldn't buy the new Echo (4th Gen). Amazon nailed it with this one.
Our favorite Amazon device
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) checks all the boxes for a great smart speaker: Excellent audio, a pleasing design, robust features, and a competitive price. Amazon didn't necessarily reinvent the wheel with this one, but the changes and improvements it did make are greatly appreciated.
This article was originally published in October 2020. It was first updated in May 2021 with the following changes.
- Added retail availability.
- Updated bundle pricing information in the Price and Availability section.
- Added changelog.
The review was updated in December 2021 after an Amazon feature update with the following changes:
- Added information regarding the introduction of Ultrasound Motion Detection and Occupancy Routines.
This review was updated in July 2022 to fix formatting errors and re-add deleted text caused by the switch to a new website design. It was updated in October 2022 with the following info:
- Added info about the new eero Built-in functionality.
- Mentioned the new Echo Dot (5th Gen) in intro and Competition.
Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.
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