When the 2nd Generation Amazon Echo was announced, I (somewhat reluctantly) placed my order, even though I had more Alexa devices than I have rooms in my house. Here are my thoughts on the new smart speaker, what you need to know about it, and how it compares to the original Echo.
Since I cover Alexa’s capabilities fairly thoroughly as they become available, this review will focus only on the hardware of the Echo 2, since Alexa functions the same on the new Echo as it does on all of the other Echo devices. It’s also important to note that this review was written after Amazon updated the Echo 2 software to improve audio quality.
The all-new Amazon Echo is about 6-inches tall and 3.5-inches wide, which makes it about two-thirds as tall as the original Echo and slightly wider. I prefer the new squat form factor to the old shape, since it makes it easier to find an adequate spot for the speaker and it’s less prone to being knocked over.
The new Echo now comes in 6 different outer shells, which greatly improve its aesthetics. The shells are easily removed without needing any tools, since they’re held tightly in place via the friction of several rubber tabs along the top. Amazon sells these shells separately for $20-$30 if you later decide you want a different look for the Echo.
Apart from the shape, the new Echo is nearly identical to the old. It still has an array of 7 far-field microphones on top, which it uses to pick out the wake word, even with loud music playing. Amazon says the microphone array has been improved with this new Echo and I have to agree. During side-by-side testing with the old Echo, the new one would often hear me say the wake word when the old one did not.
The Echo still has a 2.5-inch woofer inside, but the new model has a smaller 0.6-inch tweeter, while the old one had a 2-inch tweeter. More on that later when I discuss audio quality. Another difference is the new Echo now has a pair of volume buttons on top, instead of a volume ring that turns, like on the old Echo. While I hardly ever control the volume through the physical controls, since it can be done by voice, I do prefer the ring to the buttons.
The Echo still has Bluetooth, which can be used to either send audio from a mobile device to the Echo or from the Echo to a Bluetooth speaker, but it also now has a 3.5mm audio out port on the back, next to the power plug, that lets you connect the Echo to other speakers without needing to rely on Bluetooth. This is a welcomed addition that frankly should be on all Echo devices moving forward. It was surprising to not have an audio out port on the Amazon Echo Show.
While multiple ways to get audio out of the new Echo is great, I suspect most people will use the Echo’s built-in speakers. The new 2nd generation Echo’s speakers aren’t going to blow you away, but they sound good. If I had to choose between the 1st and 2nd generation Echo based on sound quality alone, I would easily choose the 2nd generation Echo.
The new Echo has a richer and fuller sound with noticeably more base. However, that’s not to say that it outperforms the original Echo in every way. To my ear, the original Echo sounds better with spoken words and a cappella vocals, likely thanks to its larger tweeter, but once the beat drops on a track, the new Echo sounds much better. I still consider the Echo Show to be the best sounding Echo device, but the new Echo 2 is a close second with the Echo 1 a very close third.
Based on the genre of music you listen to, it’s certainly possible that you’d prefer the crisper sound of the Echo 1 over the richer sound of the Echo 2. The difference is really only noticeable when the two devices are listened to back-to-back, so I wouldn’t say its enough of a difference to make or break the device.
If you have an original Echo, there’s no reason to buy the new Echo as a replacement, but if you’re looking to buy your first Echo or add additional Echos to your home, you’ll be very happy with the new Echo. It’s impressive that Amazon managed to maintain most of the qualities that made the original Echo so great, while cutting the price by nearly half.
The all-new Amazon Echo is available for $99.99 in the three fabric colors or $119.99 in the two wooden colors and one shiny silver color. For the time being, you can save $50 on an order of 3 by using promocode ECHO3PACK.