Ed. Note: We've reviewed the Amazon Echo a couple times now. First in February 2015, not long after it was first released. We took another look at it in November of that year, to see where things stood. Now that we're expecting an updated Echo later this year, it's time to take one last look back at the speaker that started it all. Also: We're re-reviewing the venerable Amazon Echo Dot, as well.
"How long has it been?" That's what I asked myself before I looked up our original Amazon Echo review. I know that it's been a while, and the Echo — and Alexa — have been somewhere in my home every day since. But I was honestly surprised to see that it's been almost two years since the Echo first sprung forth from Amazon.
And it's probably even more surprising that other companies — Google, Microsoft and Apple, specifically — are only now figuring out smart speakers.
It had to happen eventually, of course. But the original Amazon Echo remains a strong choice — if you can get it at the right price.
The design of the OG Echo mostly holds up, too, though I'm definitely looking forward to a refresh. It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with the 9-inch black cylinder look — but I've never been a fan of the plastic that Amazon used. It's got that sort of matte finish that picks up oil from your fingers any time you happen to touch it. And while I've probably moved my Echo around more than most folks, I (like a lot of you out there) also have kids who can't help but touch it any time you they use it.
It was good enough for what it was at the time, and it definitely says something that the design has held up for this long. But it's time for something new.
(And before you say "You should have gotten a white one," remember that you couldn't get that color until September 2016, some six months and change after my initial review. Time and SEO wait for no one.)
Interestingly, Amazon has kept with the rotating top section for volume control, eschewing the physical buttons that the Echo Dot switched to. Either one is just fine with me — it's just interesting to see a divergence. Will the dial live on in the next-generation Echo?
The real story of the original Amazon Echo in 2017 comes down to price. (Yes, it's also the sheer number of Skills Alexa has picked up over the years, too.) It's still listed at $179, and has been for a while. But it's also not been uncommon to see it discounted, most recently to a much more reasonable $99 or so. Sometimes a little more, on rare occasion less.
But that's really the price point you'd expect to find this sort of speaker at these days. It's never been the best in terms of audio expectations, but it always was a hard sell at nearly $200. Maybe that was to make room for the Echo Dot (particularly at its $50 price point). But it also meant the only real choice of Echo for anyone who wanted easy music that also sounded good was one that was too expensive.
Then came the new Echo Show, however, and the original Echo now fits squarely in the middle. Echo Dot, $50. Original Echo, $100. Echo Show, $200+.
The real question is "what's next." The answer, of course, will be another Echo. We haven't had too much in the way of leaks. What we do have comes from Engadget and boils down to this:
None of that is overly surprising. Better design, better sound. The hardware is important, for sure. But it's still just one half of what makes the Amazon Echo special. The other half we call Alexa, and it's fair to ask where she'll head in the future.
Amazon's not alone in this space any more. It was first, and arguably the best, and it's done well to get multiple devices to market at multiple price points, when its competitors are barely out of the gate. Consider:
- Amazon: Echo ($179), Echo Dot ($49), Echo Look ($199) , Echo Show ($229), Amazon Tap ($99)
- Google: Google Home ($129)
- Microsoft: Harman Kardon Invoke ($199)
- Apple: HomePod ($349), coming later this year.
That's four Echo devices from Amazon, plus the Tap (which I argue counts). And that's not even counting third-party devices, like the UE Boom and Megaboom speakers, or the integration on the HTC U11 phone, or any number of other things out there.
Amazon hit us all extremely early, and extremely well, when it came to the Echo, which has held up remarkably well given its age. And it's only going to get better with the next one.
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