When I say the words "Amazon Echo," what's the first image that pops into your head? I bet that despite five years of new products and iterations to existing ones, the iconic Amazon Echo image (or even, dare I say it, that of Alexa herself) is this one below — the original, black, plasticky tube. Heck, I write about Echoes for my job, and this is still the image that pops into my head when I hear that word. Granted, it is probably because that original Echo from five years ago still sits prominently in my living room and still gets used every day.
Amazon has long since moved on from this original form factor to create an entire line of smart speakers and screens under the Echo brand name in the half-decade since the original Echo's launch. Yet despite all that innovation and change, the company has kept the "regular" Echo in the lineup (or at least, the original name). Last refreshed with the second generation in 2017, Amazon low-key dropped an update to the Echo that I think is not only its best yet, but arguably the best buy for any Echo device. Hot take you say? Well, just hear me out.
The sweet spot
Amazon Echo (3rd Gen)
Bottom Line Refresh or rehash, the Echo (3rd Gen) is a great mid-sized smart speaker for the price. The audio and styling are much improved, and it fits well into its spot in the overall Echo device lineup.
- Much better speakers than previous versions
- Softer, classier styling
- Five color options including Product Red and Twilight Blue
- Still keeps classic UI features like buttons, light ring, and 3.5 mm audio output
- Not a huge leap forward in innovation
- No built-in smart hub
- No display
So what's different? Spec comparison
Before I dive into my review on the third generation Echo, let's take a quick look at the specs to see how it matches up to the version it's replacing, the Echo (2nd Gen), and what it's emulating, the Echo Plus (2nd Gen).
|Echo (3rd Gen)||Echo (2nd Gen)||Echo Plus (2nd Gen)|
|Size||5.8" x 3.9" x 3.9"||5.8" x 3.4" x 3.4"||5.8" x 3.9" x 3.9"|
|Weight||27.5 oz||29 oz||27.5 oz|
|Speakers||.8" tweeter and 3" woofer||.6" tweeter and 2.5" woofer||.8" tweeter and 3" woofer|
|Line-out with 3.5 mm cable or Bluetooth||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Smart Home Controls||Yes with Alexa||Yes with Alexa||Yes with Alexa and built-in Zigbee hub|
|Pair Multiple for Stereo Sound||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Free audio calls to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Finishes||Fabric (5 colors - Charcoal, Heather Gray, Sandstone, Twilight Blue, Product Red)||Fabric or Veneer (6 colors - Charcoal, Heather Gray, Sandstone, Walnut, Oak, Silver)||Fabric (3 colors - Charcoal, Heather Gray, Sandstone)|
So summing up the chart here, the updates from Gen 2 to Gen 3 go like this: Amazon sorta-kinda rebranded the Echo Plus (2nd Gen) as the new Echo. It pretty much borrowed the design language from the Echo Plus; the speaker setup is essentially the same between the two devices. Just about the only substantive difference is that the Echo (3rd Gen) doesn't have a built-in Zigbee hub (and it's debatable if that matters or not).
The Echo (3rd Gen) is basically a rebranded Echo Plus (2nd Gen), and that's ok.
Now, don't get me wrong. Copying these traits from the Echo Plus (Gen 2) are improvements to the regular Echo (3rd Gen) in every way. They are not, however, revolutionary. It's more like Amazon decided to tidy up and simplify the Echo speaker product line. Now the Echo Dot (3rd Gen and with Clock), Echo, and Echo Studio share a much more unified design language.
Amazon Echo (3rd Gen) What I like
A lot of what I like about the Echo (3rd Gen) applies to all Echo devices. I like how easy they are to set up in the Alexa app. I like how Amazon is taking customer privacy more seriously and focusing on features like physical mute and camera buttons and giving us easier access to our recordings in order to review or delete them. I like how there are tens of thousands of Skills that you can tap into to make Alexa even more effective. I like that you can connect basically any music service you want and it's treated as a first-class app on the Echo. I like that you can easily create your own routines, automations, and even Blueprints for Alexa skills. And I like that it's such a great tool for controlling your smart home.
But what specifically about this new device do I like so much? Well, it comes down to the improvements in substance and style.
Every time a manufacturer comes out with a new speaker, you can bet the first thing they're going to say is how much better it sounds than the last speaker. I'll admit that I'm not the biggest audiophile, and sometimes I just can't really tell the difference from model to model, manufacturer to manufacturer. However, in this case I can definitely hear a significant improvement from the previoius generations.
As you can hear from these amateurish recordings (sorry for the hand wobble!), U2's Pride definitely sounds better on the Echo (3rd Gen). The 2nd Gen is not as full sounding, and while loud, the 1st Gen is very tinny (sounds like it's in a can).
Aside from the improved sound that the Echo (3rd Gen) inherited from the Echo Plus (2nd Gen), the other thing that it took from its older sibling that I really like is the overall styling. While the Echo (2nd Gen) moved away from the hard, cold plastic look of the 1st Gen to a fabric covering, the Echo (3rd Gen) has a softer, less tubular shape to it, and now comes in five different colors to suit a variety of tastes. The Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone variants are classics that can blend in to just about any space, while the Product Red and Twilight Blue are attractive finishes that will definitely appeal to those with more adventurous tastes.
I also like that Amazon is sticking with what works in the user interface department. It has kept the loveable (to me) LED light ring, as well as the tactile buttons up top to control volume, mute the microphone, and the action button. To me, the look of this I/O is almost as iconic as the classic iPod clickwheel, and just as useful. I hope that Amazon never takes these user interface elements away (especially the light ring!).
Amazon Echo (3rd Gen) What I don't like
As I said in my review of the Echo Dot with Clock, I really don't have that many complaints here because, frankly, there isn't that much "here" to screw up. Amazon does a nice job nailing the basics in creating an affordable smart speaker, and that's exactly what this is. Plus, it's even more affordable thanks to tons of discounts during the holiday period.
But as long as I've got a platform here from which to vent, I might as well go ahead and lay out a few minor frustrations or things I'd like to see updated in the next iteration of the classic Echo.
With exception of Sandstone and Twilight Blue, I don't think Amazon should use the white finish top for the colored Echo devices. I love this Product Red color (and totally believe in that organization's mission, by the way), but I don't like how the entire package looks on the Echo (3rd Gen). I complained about this on the Plum color variant of the latest Echo Dot (3rd Gen), because the contrast is too severe in my opinion, especially when you add a third color in the LED light ring to the mix.
Unlike the Echo Plus (2nd Gen), this device does not have a Zigbee smart hub controller built-in. Is that really a big deal? I'm not so sure. More and more smart home devices work with Amazon's Echos, Google's Nest Hubs, and Apple's Homekit without the need for a bridge or hub of some kind, and with Amazon introducing its Certified for Humans initiative, connecting these devices to your Echo should get even easier.
I would've liked to have seen a version of this Echo with a built-in LED clock, similar to the Echo Dot with Clock. Perhaps it could even have a slightly larger display than that on the dot, or be in multi-color LEDs, or be able to display more kinds of notifications... or all of the above! Alas, that's not to be found on the Echo (3rd Gen), but maybe we'll see it at some point in the future on the Echo (4th Gen)?
Amazon Echo (3rd Gen) Should you buy it?
Yes! No really, you should get this if you need to upgrade an old Echo, or if you're looking for the best Alexa speaker to put in your personal space. It's big enough to fill a decent-sized room with sound, but small enough that it's not going to stick out like a sore thumb amongst your other decor. Plus, it comes in 5 really nice colors!
I really and truly believe the Echo (3rd Gen) is a good product. It's well-built, it doesn't try to be anything it's not, and it's still in the "affordable" range at even at its full-price (though we've seen it discounted by nearly half-price recently). For the money, there really isn't a better mid-sized smart speaker around.
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