Over the last few years, I’ve reviewed the impressive progression of Amazon’s remarkably helpful Echo Dot through its 2nd and 3rd Generation editions, and now we’ve reached the 4th Generation! Heading in with the benefit of knowing how the others have operated means I can fully delve in, see what’s been improved, check out the functionality with Alexa and also offer those new to the Echo game an idea of what expect from the tech.
In a literal sense, the all-new Echo Dot (4th generation) is a Smart Speaker with Alexa but I’d personally find it helpful for some background on what that means, for both the casual and family user – So, with that in mind, let’s begin…
What is the Echo Dot and Alexa?
Think of Alexa as extra help around the home, she’s your virtual assistant that works with AI technology. Through the power of your voice, you can ask her to stream your music library, or select songs, via the likes of Amazon Music (now in HD!), Apple Music, Spotify or Deezer – and others! As well as music, which is something I use her for a lot, she also plays audiobooks (with Audible) and your favourite podcasts either through one device or, if you’ve got more than one, can use multiple devices around the home.
That’s definitely not all the Echo Dot can do, it’s also invaluable for setting timers or reminders, tuning into your favourite radio station, telling you terrible jokes on demand, playing random games with you and even singing… oh yes. It’s an experience, I’ll tell you, but for reasons unknown the design actually gives her a personality and even some bizarre quirks. Which works!
At home, we even have the Echo Dot looped into our Smart Home thermostats, so with a quick ‘Alexa…[turn the heat to 20…’ type-request, she can turn the heating on/off or up and down, to whatever you need. She does also have the function to deal with Smart lighting and doors, but that all depends on what you have, but all that sounds rather addictive as well.
After small shifts in the size of the last two models, Amazon have made some major leaps with the 4th Generation. The small Hockey-puck Echo Dot is gone, and now it’s a big hello to a Baseball-sized one! I love this change. While it might be a bit more prominent on the shelf, or wherever you keep it, it’s still as subtle as ever and effortlessly blends in, looking smart in appearance, modern and stylish. The other huge change are the speakers. These are undoubtedly a step up, noticeably clearer in sound and with a much-improved response and range for songs with deeper bass. In the past, anything with a beautiful bounce of bass would start to fuzz and vibrate, but – so far – this much more distinct. While, in truth, I use normal speakers for music as well, because of this vital update, I’ve discovered that I’ve started leaning towards requesting songs, as well as digging out the vinyl. This is a useful shift of a tech, and one they’re obviously really thought about.
While the response time to you saying ‘Alexa…[and making a request]’ was always exceptionally good, this new one appears to be a second or two faster. Whether that’s down to the literal increased height of the entire system alone could be assumed, but I think with advances in the tech, even though it was only three years ago since the 2nd generation review, the internal mics have upped their game and come out fighting. Granted, it could be that I’ve got used in what to do, whereas Alexa has trained me, but this also seems to be useful for many situations but especially for making calls or dropping in on other Alexa devices in the house, as you can use it to announce things like dinner or so forth.
Oddly, with the 4th Gen, I do miss seeing the blue light at the top of the device, as it’s now in the base unit instead. For me, because she’s kept on a higher shelf, I now can’t see from a distance whether it has picked up my ‘Alexa…’ request. If you needed to see the light, it’d have to be lower down, so this might change might depend on how you use it now, should you require to see the light, so to speak.
Saying all this, the light is a bonus but does give it a little ‘life’, however the point of saying ‘Alexa’ is the ‘wake word’, which activates the Echo Dot, so the light is purely a responsive thing but maybe it’s a human need to see a reaction when you say someone/something’s name. The blue ring light is also useful for notifications because when you’ve got a delivery, it pulses as a yellow ring instead. Again, I’ve missed seeing this as a regularly and so are a little less aware of that being active. Moving on, and linking to my photos below, if you’re concerned about privacy, and whether the internal mics are listening in on your conservations about your favourite biscuits, you can turn the microphones off on the device itself, which disconnects them.
In terms of downsides, that’s pretty much it and – in a weird way – some of those feel like a #FirstWorldProblem but this might be down to me being used to the older varieties. While less helpful for people with sight problems, I wonder if they’ll phase out the light ring over time, and rely on her response time being even more instant, so you don’t have to even consider whether she’s heard you or not. I’m sure people even more tech-aware than me have discussed that in deeper detail. If you’re one, let me know!
The funny thing about Alexa is, and this Echo Dot (4th Generation), is that as well as being useful, is she’s also there for random fun things. Ask about her favourite Star Trek character, or play word games, or tell you some jokes about bananas (or other fruit of your choice) and she’ll usually come back to you. As briefly mentioned, there is also singing involved from time-to-time, so ask about that for truly mad songs. Oh, also get her to whisper, it’s kind of quite creepy but another it’s an addictive addition alongside the likes of ‘learning your voice’ (literally so the AI knows it’s you), telling you what movies are on tonight, playing music for a set amount of time, helping you with recipes, tracking orders and even helping you relax. There’s almost no ends to the uses of the device.
So, yeah, this new version is quite genuinely a big part of the household! From time-to-time, I start the day with a ‘Alexa, Good Morning!’ and she replies with a fact or famous birthday. As discussed, it definitely has vastly improved volume on the speakers, better bass levels and an overall stronger upgrade than the previous products. If you still have an older one, or even looking to upgrade at an affordable place, I completely recommend the Echo Dot 4th Gen. This specific model also comes as a ‘digital clock’ version, and it’s only a bit more, which could be handy if you want that option as well – I’ve put links in for either option below!
Echo Dot (4th Gen) order link at £49.99: https://amzn.to/3bLxONk
Echo Dot (4th Gen) with Digital Clock is £59.99: https://amzn.to/3cpRpC0
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|THINGS TO TRY |
Got my mind on a number…
Just say, “Alexa, rap about pi”
“Alexa, how long is a piece of string?”
“Alexa, how long is a marathon?”
“Alexa, Simon says ‘stop copying me’”
“Alexa, add milk to my shopping list”
From list to till, Alexa can help you prepare your weekly shop. Learn more.
“Alexa, what’s my Flash Briefing?”
Manage your news in your Alexa app. Tap the More icon in the bottom right-hand corner, select Settings, Flash Briefing. Tap the Plus icon to select your favourite Flash Briefing skills and edit the order to customise what content plays first.
“Alexa, set an alarm for 7:00AM to Classic FM”
Set your alarms to wake up with your favourite radio station.
“Alexa, open the bedroom blinds by 50%”
Use your voice to control select smart window blinds from IKEA, Lutron and Somfy.
“Alexa, open Big Sky”
“Alexa, connect to Bluetooth”
Pair your smartphone or tablet with your Echo device and stream popular audio services. Learn more.
“Alexa, read my audiobook”
“Alexa, what’s on my calendar tomorrow?”
Link your calendar and ask Alexa to add new events or check upcoming appointments. Learn more.
“Alexa, give me a pasta recipe”