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Amazon Echo review 2017

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.

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Amazon Echo

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.)

An updated Echo is almost certainly on the horizon, so don't spend more than $100 on this one if you must.

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:

The new Echo will be both shorter and slimmer than the original, almost as if it were three or four Echo Dots stacked on top of each other, our source claims. Amazon is also softening its design with rounded edges and a cloth-like covering, rather than the current Echo's plastic shell and flat ends.

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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  • The new battery bases for the echo make it a total winner for me. I have gone back and forth between home and echo many times... But now the echo is portable throughout my house, and the voice interaction is even more usable. I put it out by the pool, and don't have to touch it to change music. I put it in the bathroom whole I'm taking a shower and can continue listening to my podcast... Right now.. Echo=win
  • Are these battery bases you speak of, only for the echo, or the echo dot too? TY.
  • Hi Subliminal, Did you see my post the other day, I don't suppose you can spare a min. or 2? Thank-you, & BR!
  • 2 typos for you to fix, then a review complaint. "also have kids who can't help my touch it any time you they use it." It's a UE Boom, not UA Boom. I have one, and it doesn't have hotword detection, which severely limits it. For the small review complaint - in 2 years, the biggest improvement the Echo has to show for itself is the insane amount of skills it has acquired, especially compared to the Google Home - Integration with smart home "things" being the biggest, in my opinion. I'm very surprised you skipped right over this.
  • I have had an Echo and Echo Dot for a long time (the original $90 Echo Dot). And I have a Google Home. Google Home is smarter than the Echo and far as questions/answers (to be expected since Google is the best at searches). I have Samsung Smartthings and I'm impressed with both devices. But I like the Google Home better overall as it offers me much more than the Echo ever could. Integration with casting ability is cool on the Google Home. Also the new calling feature of Google Home is WAY better than Amazon's approach with the Echo. With Alexa, you can only call other people with Alexa. That's not nearly as flexible as the Google Home. With Google Home, you can call any phone number you want. My wife has been using it everyday now. With 2 small kids, it's been terrific to have when you just don't have hands free carrying kids everywhere. I think the Google Home is awesome and has come a long way and offers more than the Echo does FOR ME (Casting to Chromecast, wifi calling, Smartthings, Philips Hue, Wemo, Nest, etc. - all products I already owned). And I'm sticking to it. It does help that I have a Google Play Music family subscription too. I like my Echo's too especially the tiny Dot. Those are cheap now and easy to have in multiple rooms. But it's only a matter of time before we see a smaller version of the Google Home. The Echo really gives me nothing that the Google Home doesn't and it has some shortcomings that the Google Home solves.
  • Fair enough, I haven't followed the Google Home's impressive progression. I'll probably get one of those eventually. Maybe version 2.
  • You're totally right. ... Probably I'd just written that exact same thing for the Echo Dot and it slipped my mind here. Fixing! (And thanks for the backseat editing, too!)
  • I have the echo dot and the echo. Both are great devices and get used a lot. The only difference that I noticed other than size, was the volume. The echo is a bit louder than the dot.
  • Love both the dot and echo EXCEPT for multi-room, which in my opinion is half baked. Both the Echo and Dot will NOT support bluetooth connected speakers with multi-room. I confirmed this with Amazon support. I also experienced lag between rooms and one cannot control master volume for both devices from the app. Since the Echo does not support a aux cable to speakers, it renders multi-room useless for me.
  • It's first compared to Google and some others... only in the US! there is no Echo or Alexa in other langages than English... So they are really barely first, I'd argue they are late!