Design – Like the new Echo only the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) is smaller
- Spherical design looks beautiful
- Lights now shine downwards, so they’re not as distracting
- New controls are easier to reach
Amazon has gone spherical this year, with its new Echo smart speakers all following the same pattern. So, the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) is just a smaller version of the full-size Echo (4th Generation): that’s to say, that the new model is a little bigger than a baseball (100 x 100 x 89mm).
At this size, the new Echo Dot doesn’t take up a lot more desk space than the old one, although the new model is considerably higher. This new model is available in three colours (Charcoal, Glacier White or Twilight Blue), losing the Plum option of the old Echo Dot: a move that I think we can all live with.
Amazon has also moved the light ring, pushing it to the bottom of the speaker, so that it shines down, rather than up. It’s a subtle change, but means that the Echo Dot no longer lights up the room when its light ring comes.
The big change is that the new Echo Dot looks properly designed: it’s interesting enough to catch your attention, yet subtle enough that it blends into a room. I think it’s a genuine step up from the previous designs.
I should also point out that the fabric covering is made from 100% recycled materials, 100% of the aluminium used is recycled and 50% of the plastic parts are reused.
Although Amazon has the same controls on top as it’s always had (Action button, microphone mute and volume controls), this time around the buttons are towards the back of the speaker, gently blending in with the material covering. They’re slightly raised, making them easier to feel for, too, particularly as each button is a different shape.
Around the back, you get the 3.5mm audio output and the power input. To be honest, if you’re going to use the 3.5mm audio output for connecting to an external speaker, you might as well buy a cheaper speaker, such as the Echo Flex.
Features – The Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) does everything that Alexa can do
- Cloud-based smart assistant gives you constantly-updated features
- Excellent routines for controlling your smart home or life
- You can make phone calls for free
Buying a new Echo speaker doesn’t generally get you a whole load of new features, as the cloud-powered Alexa works the same on every Amazon smart speaker. While my guide to Amazon Alexa covers what the smart assistant can and can’t do in more detail, it’s worth covering some of the basics here.
Alexa has improved over the years, and it is now a reliable voice assistant that mostly understands what you ask it. It can read your calendars, tell you what the weather is like and it can answer general knowledge questions to some degree. Alexa still lags behind Google Assistant in some ways: Google’s better on directions, local businesses and it can use Google Search to answer more questions, but the gap is narrowing.
Alexa pulls ahead in other ways, particularly with the smart home. With (just) more compatible devices, you’ll not have problems getting your smart home to play nicely with your speaker, and Alexa Routines are more powerful than the Google Home ones.
You can now make free outbound calls with Alexa, and if you’re on EE or Vodafone, you can pair your phone number with the speaker to get incoming calls, too.
Controls on top are the same as for other Echo speakers, and you still get Tap gestures to snooze an alarm: just tap the speaker with more than two fingers to pause an alarm. Tapping this speaker is easier than with the old Dot, as you’ve got more surface area to aim for and can avoid hitting a button by mistake.
As with other Echo speakers, the light ring shows the volume level, filling up as you increase volume. As the light shines down, it’s a bit easier to read.
There’s also the new Low Power mode on this model that puts the speaker into an energy-saving state when it’s idle. Well, it does unless you meet one of the hefty restrictions, including you’ve got Spotify linked to your account, there’s an active notification or you’re using the 3.5mm audio output. That effectively means that a lot of people won’t save any power at all.
Sound quality – A step up from the last Dot but the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) is not an ideal music speaker
Inside the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) is the same 1.6-inch speaker as used on the previous generation Dot. This time, the extra height inside the speaker has meant that Amazon can make the speaker forward-facing, projecting sound towards you, rather than firing.
Can it make that much of a difference? Absolutely. Pushing the audio forwards means that you’re not losing any sound by bouncing it off the wall behind or up into the air. The result is that everything is pushed out towards you.;
Voice responses sound excellent, with Alexa sounding clear and detailed, with a richness to its voice. Certainly, podcasts and talk radio sound very good on this speaker and you won’t wish for more detail.
Music playback is good enough for the occasional listen. There’s an alright level of bass here, although the speaker has been tuned to not distort, so you don’t get the full impact of bass lines. Top volume is loud enough to be heard in a large room without distortion, although the midrange tends to get a bit muddled lacking the sophistication of more expensive speakers. At higher volumes, music starts to lack the clarity that it has at lower volumes.
If you want better stereo separation, you can pair two Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) speakers (including the With Clock variant): see, how to create an Amazon Echo stereo pair for more information.
Should you buy the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation)?
The very short answer is that, yes, the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Generation) is well worth buying. Nicer-looking and better sounding than the old Echo Dot (3rd Generation), this is a worthy upgrade on last year’s speakers. It’s also a better overall speaker than Google’s competition, the Nest Mini. Although, if you need a larger speaker, check out our selection of the best smart speakers.
There are a couple of caveats, though. If you have last year’s Echo Dot (3rd Generation), this year’s not a massive upgrade and I’d stick with the older generation. And, if you’d benefit from having a clock as well, the Echo Dot with Clock (4th Generation) is a great choice.