Amazon nonetheless has the best speaker for sensible home management, nevertheless it nonetheless trails Sonos and Google in musicality.




echo 4th gen front top down

Michael Brown / IDG

Immediately’s Greatest Tech Offers

Picked by TechHive’s Editors

High Offers On Nice Merchandise

Picked by Techconnect’s Editors

The fourth era of Amazon’s Echo sensible speaker marks a radical departure in industrial design, ditching the acquainted columnar kind issue of earlier iterations for one thing that appears for all the world like a toddler’s bowling ball. Two things haven’t modified: The Echo (and Alexa) remain our favorite tools for sensible home management, and the firm nonetheless trails Sonos in terms of building sensible audio system that sound great. The current introduction of the Nest Audio leaves Amazon in third place behind Google in terms of audio performance (don’t neglect the powerful Google House Max).

Amazon continues to make strides in terms of audio high quality, and the fourth-gen Echo sounds very good, particularly in case you like your tunes leavened with bass. However in a three-way comparability with the Nest Audio and the Sonos One (which, I should be aware, prices twice as a lot as both of its competitors), the Echo comes up just a wee bit quick, as I’ll focus on a bit later. However Amazon additional strengthened its sensible home bona fides by building a Zigbee radio into this Echo, so that you now not need to step up to a “Plus” model to get a true sensible home hub. The new Echo has an onboard temperature sensor, too.

This review is an element of TechHive’s coverage of the best sensible audio system, the place you’ll discover critiques of competing merchandise, plus a purchaser’s information to the features you should think about when purchasing for this kind of product.

In fact, Amazon despatched an Ecolink door/window sensor and a Philips Hue White and Shade Ambiance sensible bulb alongside with the speaker for this review. And in lower than quarter-hour, I had paired these Zigbee merchandise to the Echo and created a routine in the Alexa app that turned the sensible bulb on and tuned it to a heat white once I separated the two items of the sensor (simulating a door opening by breaking the magnetic area between the two elements). In case you’re a wise home first-timer, you won’t discover something simpler. You should remember, nonetheless, that in case you want to take full benefit of all the features that come with Philips Hue sensible lighting merchandise, you’ll nonetheless want to buy a Philips Hue Bridge.

zigbee contact sensor Michael Brown / IDG

Amazon despatched alongside this Ecolink Zigbee door/window sensor alongside with a Philips Hue bulb, so I might consider the speaker as a wise home hub.

I proceed to wish that Amazon would go all the way on the sensible home entrance and build each Zigbee and Z-Wave radios into the Echo, just to cowl all the bases. Amazon-owned Ring does just that with its Ring Alarm system. The new Echo also has a Bluetooth Low Power radio onboard (you may join up to 10 Philips Hue Bluetooth/Zigbee bulbs with out fiddling with Zigbee in any respect, in case you so select), and Amazon would want me to level out that its new Echo sensible home hub also helps its new Sidewalk “neighborhood” network. Amazon says “beginning later this year,” patrons will have the ability to use this Echo as a Sidewalk Bridge to help compatible gadgets join and reconnect to their router, in addition to to set up new Echo gadgets and Ring Sensible Lighting merchandise.

And whereas Google is backing out of its personal home-security effort—investing in ADT, however then withdrawing its personal Nest Safe product from the market—Amazon has launched Alexa Guard and Guard Plus. With the free version of this service, you may inform Alexa you’re leaving—“Alexa, I’m leaving,” and the Echo will begin listening for smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms, and breaking glass. If it picks up any of these sounds, Alexa will ship a notification to your smartphone. You may also program the Echo to robotically flip related sensible lights on and off when you’re away, to supply the phantasm that somebody is home. Guard also works with safety programs from Ring and ADT.

Amazon has also announced the upgraded subscription-based Guard Plus that may hear for the sound of footsteps and doorways closing—noises that shouldn’t be taking place in an unoccupied home—and enlist outside safety cameras to observe motion outside the house. Along with sending you an alert, Guard Plus will sound a siren on the Echo’s speaker and also you’ll have the option of contacting a live agent to get help in an emergency (just say “Alexa, call for help”). Amazon says it’ll cost $4.99 per thirty days or $49 per year for Guard Plus.

echo 4th gen light ring Michael Brown / IDG

Shifting the LED light ring to the backside of the fourth-gen Echo sensible speaker is a great concept.

Design

I think the new Echo’s spherical design can be polarizing. I’ve had the speaker for 4 days and nonetheless haven’t determined I like it, though I do like having the LED light ring on the backside of the speaker, the place it casts a glow on no matter floor it’s resting on. The speaker is bigger than it appears in photos, measuring 5.7 x 5.7 x 5.2 inches  (WxDxH) and weighing a hefty 34.2 ounces, I might barely maintain a one-handed grip on its slippery material overlaying and practically dropped it whereas moving it from one spot to a different. Amazon despatched a “charcoal” version of the speaker for this review. You may also select between “glacier white” and “twilight blue.”

4 tightly grouped buttons on the high of the ball management quantity up/down, electronically disable the microphones, and perform actions (e.g., summon Alexa with out saying the wake phrase, flip off an alarm, and so forth). The LED light ring at the backside of the speaker grows or shrinks as you regulate the quantity, and the ring turns pink when the mic is disabled (an LED behind the button itself also glows pink). Despite the fact that I’ve by no means used it, I respect that Amazon features a 3.5mm jack next to the Echo’s power connection that may be configured as both an audio enter (so you may play music from a supply that doesn’t have Bluetooth) or as an audio output (so you may ship music to a higher-fidelity speaker or audio system that doesn’t help Bluetooth).

echo 4th gen muted Michael Brown / IDG

The button to mute the mics glows pink when activated, as does the light ring on the backside of the speaker.

Audio performance

The fourth-gen Echo sounds very good for a $100 speaker, however the competition is fierce and Google has a higher $100 speaker in the Nest Audio. The Sonos One is even higher than that; however again, it also prices twice as a lot. Personally, I want the best of each worlds, so I use Sonos audio system for multi-room audio and Amazon Echoes for controlling my sensible home—with one exception: I use a Sonos Transfer for each tasks once I’m out in the yard.

The new Echo had no problem filling my 13×19-foot home theater with distortion-free sound. And as I hinted earlier, Amazon’s latest speaker overemphasizes bass, nevertheless it comes by it actually. The speaker has three drivers inside its enclosure: Twin 0.8-inch tweeters and one 3-inch woofer, a combo Amazon says delivers stereo sound (I had difficulty discerning a definite left and proper sound stage).

echo 4th gen in hand Michael Brown / IDG

My fingers aren’t notably small, however I nearly misplaced my grip on the speaker once I picked it up.

A cropped cutaway illustration in the reviewer’s information shows the tweeters facing forward, however pointing very barely to the left and proper and tipped up to a minor diploma. That honkin’ woofer points practically straight up, however is tilted far sufficient towards the entrance of the enclosure that its sound waves don’t emerge from the very high of the speaker. I wish I might inform you what materials these drivers are fabricated from and what varieties of amplifiers are driving them, however Amazon declined to supply these particulars.

Amazon did say in its reviewer’s information that “a sphere also has the lowest possible floor area to quantity ratio, so it offers better back quantity for fuller and deeper bass.” That I can imagine. This new Echo places out a lot of bass, however listening to “Rolling On,” from the Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris album All the Street Working, the bass strains sounded just a bit bloated, whereas devices in the center of the frequency range—corresponding to the fiddle—obtained misplaced in the combine. I had an identical experience with the Steely Dan observe “Jack of Pace,” from the band’s Two Towards Nature album. The bass was way forward in the combine, however the crack of the drummer’s snare drum was barely perceptible.

echo 4th gen aux out Michael Brown / IDG

The 3.5mm connection on the back of the Echo (4th Gen) could be configured as both an analog audio enter or output.

As compared, the Sonos One and the Nest Audio ship higher-fidelity audio performances, however with out practically as a lot low-end oomph (Sonos provides the option of a subwoofer—and so does Amazon, not that you simply need one with this speaker; Google doesn’t). In case you like growth in the room, you’ll enjoy Amazon’s providing. And in case you’re wanting for a speaker to supply background music, versus one thing you’ll use for critical listening periods, this fourth-generation Echo is sure to drift your boat. Talking of floating, Amazon even thought to incorporate a threaded mount on the backside of the speaker, so you may mount it to face or cling it on the wall (you’ll should deal with the dangling power twine, although).

Backside line

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is a fairly good audio performer, nevertheless it’s a great sensible speaker that’s also equipped with a Zigbee radio. I’m taking a wait-and-see strategy to Amazon’s Sidewalk network for now. It sounds promising, however there’s nothing tangible in the real world to guage it by. In different phrases, don’t buy this speaker in the identify of future-proofing your sensible home—it’s just too early. Zigbee, on the different hand, is tried-and-true tech that can be right here for the lengthy haul. Including help for Z-Wave (are you listening, Amazon?) could be icing on the cake. Oh properly, possibly next year.

Notice: If you purchase one thing after clicking hyperlinks in our articles, we might earn a small fee. Learn our affiliate hyperlink policy for more particulars.

  • Sensible audio system are attaining higher constancy, and Amazon’s fourth-generation Echo is not any exception. But it surely’s higher as a wise home hub than as a musical performer.

    Execs

    • Zigbee, Bluetooth LE, and Amazon Sidewalk radios onboard
    • Alexa can management an enormous quantity of sensible home programs and gadgets
    • Lots of bang for the buck

    Cons

    • Google’s Nest Audio sounds higher
    • Sonos helps more music-streaming companies
    • Polarizing industrial design

Michael covers the smart-home, home-entertainment, and home-networking beats, working in the sensible home he built in 2007.