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

Although Amazon launched the Echo Dot 4th Gen & 4th Gen with Clock in October 2020, it still sells the older 3rd Gen Dot for a slight price dip. The two miniature speakers aren't that different from one another — unsurprising given the 3rd Generation model only came out a year prior — but the 4th Generation Dot makes significant improvements in Alexa commands, environmental impact, and sound design.

If you're wondering how the Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen stack up against one another — whether you're considering upgrading, or saving a few bucks on the older model — we have all the information you need.

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

The Echo Dot 4th Gen 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 inches3.9 x 3.9 x 1.7 inches
Weight12 ounces10.5 ounces
ColorsCharcoal, Glacier White, Twilight BlueCharcoal, Heather Grey, Plum, Sandstone
ProcessorAZ1 Neural EdgeMediaTek MT516
Speaker1.6-inch speaker1.6-inch 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

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.

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; we can't validate this with 100% certainty, but our Echo Dot 4th Gen reviewer was totally satisfied with the response time to his commands. 

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.

Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen with Clock, 3rd Gen with Clock, and 4th Gen

Amazon Echo Dot 4th Gen with Clock, 3rd Gen with Clock, and 4th Gen (Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

The second change is much more obvious: Both Echos are the same width, but the 4th Gen took on a spherical shape that's twice as tall as the sardine can-shaped 3rd Gen model. 

The ball-shaped Echo Dot 4th Gen has fabric covering the entire top portion, with blended buttons slightly elevated on its top; and the LED ring has been moved to the bottom. With the 3rd Gen model, you have a hard plastic top that makes the buttons more visible and shows off the trademark LED array. 

Our Echo Dot 3rd Generation reviewer felt that the old LED array was "segmented" and "not quite as smooth" as other Echo devices — but it was, at least, easily visible due to its placement. With the Echo Dot 4th Gen, the bottom LED is bright but more "problematic" because it means the full height of the device must be visible from any angle, or else you won't be able to tell what color is flashing or whether it's listening to you.

The 3rd Gen model also gives you buttons with a "tactile and satisfying click," while the 4th Gen model — similar to the larger Echo (4th Gen) speaker — also has a nice click and blends more seamlessly into the fabric, but may not be quite as responsive as the previous model.

Echo Dot 4th Gen 1

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Both devices have a 1.6-inch speaker, but the 4th Generation model makes it a front-facing model. Our 3rd-Gen reviewer found that the tiny speaker had strong volume and decent bass considering its size, but that it does get muddier at the higher volumes. 

For comparison, our 4th Gen review says that you get "much louder output and a richer, more well-rounded sound" than you get with the 3rd Gen model. And when he paired two 4th-Gen Echo Dots for stereo sound, he was totally "blown away" by the "impressive" quality on display.

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.

The Echo Dot 3rd Gen is the better mounted option

Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) sitting next to a bowl of fruit

(Image credit: Android Central)

Both Echo Dot models are 3.9 inches 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. It may lack the focused audio of the newer model, but it's specifically designed to be screwed sideways into a mount and spread audio throughout a room, without taking up too much room.

For comparison, the 4th Gen model is twice as thick, protruding further from the wall and making it more of a potential hindrance or eyesore. Plus, 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 (opens in new tab) 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. 

We've collected the best Echo Dot wall mounts available, and there are 4th Gen accessories — they just work by placing your Echo Dot on a circular tray that juts out from the wall. 3rd Gen mounts take better advantage of its thinner frame for much more versatile and attractive designs. 

Echo Dot 4th Gen vs 3rd Gen: Otherwise, it's time for an upgrade

Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) on nightstand

(Image credit: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Wall mounting aside, the 4th Generation model improves on the old Echo Dot in all the areas that count. Improved Alexa response time makes voice commands more appealing and easy to use; the front-firing speaker gives you a clear audio boost; 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!).

The Echo Dot (4th Gen) is the second-best Alexa speaker behind the larger Echo (4th Gen), and this takes up less space and costs half the price. For comparison, the Echo Dot 3rd Generation is still perfectly effective as an Alexa speaker, but it won't age quite as well and the price difference between generations is negligible, especially since the 4th Gen frequently goes on sale nowadays.

Due to their small sizes, neither Echo Dot will quite hit the audio quality of a more powerful, expensive speaker. But it's a cheap way to access lightning-fast Alexa commands, and we've collected a list of the best speakers to use with an Echo Dot that pair its smarts with another brand's beautiful audio.

Lastly, we'll note that both models came with variant models, either with an LED clock or kid-friendly designs. But the 3rd-gen versions are no longer in stock on Amazon, whereas the Echo Dot 4th Gen with Clock and 4th Gen Kids Edition remain available. If you want to see the time without asking, or want a safer smart assistant option for your kid, you'll want a newer generation device.

Michael L Hicks
Senior Editor, VR/AR and fitness

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.