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Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) vs. Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen): Should you upgrade?

Echo Dot 4th Gen Lifestyle
Echo Dot 4th Gen Lifestyle (Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)

Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen Render

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The Echo Dot 4th Gen doesn't make major strides from the previous model, but improves where it counts. Alexa commands are twice as fast thanks to an improved chip, the speaker is now front-facing for directed sound, and the speaker design is both more stylish and more energy-efficient.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)

Faster Alexa + energy efficiency

Striking new design
Improved processor chip for Alexa commands
Low power mode
Made from recycled plastics and fabrics
Front-facing speaker
Cannot be wall-mounted
Has the same size of speaker as last year's Dot

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Echo Dot 3rd Gen Cropped

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The Echo Dot 3rd Gen is the only Dot model that can be wall-mounted, which many users prefer. Plus, Amazon will continue to update the Echo Dot 3rd Gen with the latest Echo and Alexa tech, including the Sidewalk Bridge program and Guard Plus security features for smart homes.

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)

Compact + wall-mountable

More compact
Selling at a discount with similar specs
Can be mounted on the wall
Works with Sidewalk and Guard Plus
Speaker isn't forward-facing
Uses older processing chip for Alexa commands
Muddy sound mixing at higher volumes

With the new Echo Dot arriving in late October, many Amazon speaker fans are wondering how the Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen stack up to one another, and if it's worth upgrading from the current Dot. The two miniature speakers aren't that different from one another — unsurprising given the 3rd Generation model only came out a year ago — but the 4th Generation Dot makes significant improvements in Alexa commands, environmental impact and sound design.

Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen: A minor specs upgrade

The Echo Dot 4th Generation model essentially has the same services and connectivity as its predecessor: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi protocols haven't changed, nor have the smart home devices or streaming services to which you can connect the Dot. Amazon also generally keeps its old Echo devices compatible with the newest Amazon initiatives and programs like Amazon Sidewalk and Amazon Guard Plus.

The primary differences between the Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen are physical changes made to the external design and internal components. We break down the differences (and similarities) below:

Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Size3.9" x 3.9" x 3.5"3.9" x 3.9" x 1.7"
Weight12 oz10.5 oz
ColorsCharcoal, Glacier White, Twilight BlueCharcoal, Heather Grey, Plum, Sandstone
ProcessorAZ1 Neural EdgeMediaTek MT516
Speaker1.6" speaker1.6" front-firing speaker
3.5mm port3.5 mm line out3.5 mm line out
BluetoothYesYes
Wi-Fi802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz / 5GHz)802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz / 5GHz)
ButtonsVolume up and down, Mic off, Action buttonVolume up and down, Mic off, Action button
Pair Multiple Dots for Stereo SoundYesYes
Free Audio Calls in North AmericaYesYes
Light ringRuns along base of speakerRuns along top of speaker
Wall-mountableYes (technically)Yes
Alexa Guard PlusYesYes
Amazon Sidewalk BridgeYesYes

First and foremost, upgrading to the 4th Generation model gets you the AZ1 Neural Edge chip. Amazon alleges that it processes Alexa commands twice as fast as its 3rd Generation Echos. Considering the Echo Dot is more useful as an Alexa speaker than as a dedicated music player, that's a fairly significant reason to upgrade.

The AZ1 Neural Chip makes your Alexa commands faster than ever before, and the Echo Dot gives you access to this upgrade at a fair price.

The second change is more subtle: both devices have a 1.6-inch speaker, but the 4th Generation model makes it a front-facing model. Our Echo Dot 3rd Generation review found that the tiny speaker had strong volume and decent bass considering its size, but that it does get muddier at the higher volumes. Ideally, the new front-facing speaker will help the sound mixtures remain distinct at higher volumes; however, until we can review it for ourselves, it's possible that this problem will persist in the newer model.

Both devices have the trademark LED array that indicates when the device is listening to you, but the newer model moves the ring to the bass of the speaker, which makes sense given the new Dot no longer has the old model's flat plastic top. Instead, the fabric extends all the way to the top of the sphere, and the control buttons are slightly elevated above the fabric on the top of the device.

Our 3rd-generation Echo Dot reviewer felt that the old LED array was "segmented" and "not quite as smooth" as other Echo devices, so we're hoping that's an area of improvement for this model. On the other hand, he praised the control buttons for their "tactile and satisfying click", and we hope that the new button model doesn't make them more spongy.

The final change to the Echo Dot's design is a new focus on responsible environmental design and energy use. Amazon reportedly used "50% post-consumer recycled plastics, 100% post-consumer recycled fabric and 100% recycled die-cast aluminum" to build the 2020 Echo Dot. Moreover, all the 4th Generation Echos now feature a "Low Power Mode" that activates whenever the Dot is idle, so it will drain less electricity over time.

Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen: Keep the 3rd Gen if you mount it

Echo Dot speaker lifestyle image

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

Both Echo Dot models are 3.9" wide and deep, so if you buy the 4th Gen Dot you can place it exactly where your 3rd Gen Dot sits now. Except, of course, if you mount the 2019 Echo Dot on your wall. The 2020 Echo Dot is nearly twice as thick as the 2019 Echo Dot, protruding further from the wall and making it more of a potential hindrance; and, the front-facing internal speaker means it isn't exactly built to spread from the wall throughout the room.

The 3rd Generation Echo Dot can be mounted on an outlet, the wall, the ceiling or even on a desk stand.

Amazon told The Verge that it would continue to sell the 3rd Generation model for customers that want to wall-mount an Echo speaker, making it clear that the 4th Generation model is not built for it. And while there is already a 4th Gen wall mount available for sale on Amazon (opens in new tab), there is a much better selection of excellent Echo Dot wall mounts for the 2019 Dot that really showcase the older model's versatility.

Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen: Time for an upgrade

Echo Dot 4th Gen Lifestyle

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

Wall mounting aside, the 4th Generation model improves on the old Echo Dot in all the areas that count. Improved Alexa response time will make voice commands more appealing and easy to use; the front-firing speaker should make the Dot's volume more effective and clear across a room; and the low power mode and recyclable materials will make you feel greener when you use it (just make sure to recycle or donate your old Echo Dot!).

On the other hand, the Echo Dot 3rd Generation is still perfectly effective as an Alexa speaker. And considering Amazon still adds new software features like Sidewalk and Guard to even its 1st Generation Echos, you can rest assured that your device won't become obsolete anytime soon.

Still, considering the affordable $50 (opens in new tab) list price of the 2020 Echo Dot, it's an upgrade purchase that your budget can easily afford. It doesn't make substantial improvements in speaker quality, but a device that small really can't; instead, you can rely on it for lightning-fast Alexa commands and pair it with one of these excellent speakers to improve the audible experience down the line.

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.