Amazon Echo (4th Gen) review: The circular speaker that won my heart

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Great sound. A lovely design. Excellent price.

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The Amazon Echo needs no introduction in 2020. What started off as an experimental invite-only gadget back in late 2014 has since become the most popular family of smart speakers on the market, with Amazon crushing competition from Google and Apple without breaking a sweat.

It’s become a tradition that we get new Echo hardware every year, with one of the latest entries in the series being the Amazon Echo (4th Gen). It’s the new middle child in between the Echo Dot and Echo Studio, and with a retail price of just $100, it’s packing a ton of value.

There’s nothing about the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) that’ll make you an Alexa convert if you still don’t like how the virtual helper works compared to something like Google Assistant, but for existing Alexa fans or anyone that’s been wanting to finally jump on the bandwagon, this is one of the best speakers you can buy right now.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) review:

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

amazon echo 4th gen blue official render

Bottom line: The new 4th-gen Amazon Echo is the most radical redesign we’ve ever seen for the smart speaker, and the risk Amazon took paid off in spades. This latest Echo sounds considerably better than past generations, the new round aesthetic is quite pleasing, and it has all of the same Alexa features you’ve come to know and love at this point. You get all of this for the same $100 asking price we’ve had since the 2016 model, making it a must-buy whether you’re looking to expand or start your Alexa household.

The Good

  • Lovely new design
  • Seriously impressive audio
  • 3.5mm audio jack
  • Built-in Zigbee smart hub
  • Great price

The Bad

  • Inconsistent button response

$100 at Amazon
$100 at Best Buy

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) Price and availability

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is available for purchase as of October 22, 2020. The speaker costs $100 and is available in three colors: Charcoal, Glacier White, and Twilight Blue. That’s the same price as the Echo (3rd Gen) that came out before it, which is great to see when you consider all of the upgrades offered with this latest model.

In addition to buying the Echo on its own, Amazon also offers a few different bundles to help you save a bit of cash. If you want to buy two Echos in one transaction, entering the code ECHO2PK at checkout will save you $30 off the original pricing — bringing it down to just $170 for both units.

Some other options include:

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) What I like

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The design of the Echo (4th Gen) is the elephant in the room for this review, so let’s start there. All past Echo speakers up until this one have featured a tall, cylindrical shape that changed ever-so-slightly with each new release. The 2nd Gen model added fabric for the first time, the 3rd Gen rounded out the shape a bit more, and the new 4th Gen Echo we have now has gone complete circle.

It’s a stark difference compared to all of Amazon’s past Echo hardware, and personally, I’m very here for it. There’s a hard plastic base on the bottom half of the Echo, but the top portion that you see when it’s sitting on a desk or table is entirely fabric. It’s warm, inviting, and allows for a new speaker array that I’ll talk about more below. The unit I have is Amazon’s Glacier White color, but you can also get the Echo (4th Gen) in Charcoal and Twilight Blue.

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There are four playback buttons on the top of the Echo (all of which are very clicky), a rubberized base keeps it secure on whatever surface you place it on, and you’ll find a 3.5mm audio jack next to the power output for playing your audio to another speaker or listening to music from an external source. You also get a 1/4″ thread mount on the bottom, making it easy to place the Echo on a speaker stand for easier placement around your home. Features like that and the 3.5mm jack might be insignificant to some shoppers, but I’ve always appreciated the extra utility Amazon adds to its speakers compared to something like the Google Nest Audio.

amazon echo 4th gen speaker layoutamazon echo 3rd gen speaker layout

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) speaker array compared to the Echo (3rd Gen)

Going back to the speaker array I prefaced above, Amazon made sure to take full advantage of the Echo’s new circular housing. Inside the Echo (4th Gen) is a 3″ woofer and two front-firing 0.8″ tweeters. The woofer is the same size as the Echo (3rd Gen), with the big benefit being that you now get two tweeters instead of just one. They also switch to a front-facing array instead of the upward placement of last year, and the end result of all this is damn impressive sound quality.

The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) sounds way better than it should for being a $100 speaker.

No matter what I listen to on the Amazon Echo (4th Gen), I’m constantly impressed with how it handles all of my music. The Echo kicks out a ton of bass, but it never gets to the point where it sounds too muddy. You get a nice thump on the low end, but the mid and high end still sounds good to my ears. If the out-of-the-box listening experience is too bass-heavy for your liking, you can always open the Alexa app and change EQ settings for bass, midrange, and treble.

Songs like Colors by Beck are especially impressive on the Echo (4th Gen), with the speaker doing justice to the constant bass throughout the song. It’s a punch I was not expecting for a $100 speaker, and like I mentioned above, it manages to do this while still keeping other parts of the song clear and enjoyable. The violin from the opening of Sometime Around Midnight comes through beautifully, Ashe’s vocals in Save Myself are wonderful. It’s all good stuff.

I used to rely on the Sonos One as my office speaker for listening to music throughout the day, and coming to the Echo (4th Gen) from that, it’s impressive just how well the Echo holds up to it. I’d argue that Sonos still delivers audio that’s more well-rounded, but we’re talking about a speaker that costs twice as much as the Echo. For $100, the Echo (4th Gen) knocks it out of the park.

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In regards to how the Echo performs as a smart device, there’s a ton on offer. Just like we saw in the now-discontinued Echo Plus, the Echo (4th Gen) can act as a smart hub for Zigbee-enabled devices — such as Philips Hue bulbs and Yale smart locks. When they’re available, you’ll also be able to use the Echo as a hub for Ring Smart Lighting devices.

Where Google Assistant can feel a bit stagnant, Alexa is constantly improving.

The Alexa experience offered here is just like it is on any other Echo device, which is to say you can do a lot with it. Ask about the weather, control music playback, or set up Alexa Guard to keep your home safe while you’re away. I also put the microphones to the test by saying “Alexa” with music playing at a blistering volume, and the Echo managed to hear me without a problem.

It’s been a while since I’ve had an Alexa speaker in my home, but using it over my Google Assistant device has been a perfectly seamless experience. I still prefer the way Google handles certain questions and the integration it has with my Google account, but Alexa doesn’t feel noticeably crippled in its functionality. It’s encouraging to see Amazon still expanding on Alexa to this very day with features like Alexa Care Hub, Guard Plus, and more natural language processing.

The Echo (4th Gen) is also one of the first speakers to use Amazon’s AZ1 Neural Edge processor, which touts 2x faster speech processing and lower memory usage by up to 85%. These are innovations we aren’t seeing enough of from Google, and it paints a promising future for Alexa many years down the road.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) What I don’t like

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During my time with the Amazon Echo, I found that the playback buttons aren’t always the most responsive. They feel great to press and have a wonderful click to them, but they don’t always perform the action that they should. More than once, I found myself pressing the volume or mute buttons and them not doing anything. Adding a bit more force does the trick, but does take away from the overall experience just a little bit. I also would have preferred touch gestures for the controls, as the physical buttons interrupt the otherwise seamless design.

Outside of that, everything else about the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) has been fantastic.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) The competition

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The Echo (4th Gen) is a great purchase, but before you click that Buy Now button on Amazon, there are a couple of alternatives you should first consider — the first of which is the Echo Dot (4th Gen). It’s $50 cheaper than the regular Echo, though you get the same circular design and in a smaller form factor. Audio quality isn’t quite as impressive on its own, though you can pair two Echo Dots together and get stereo sound for the same price of one regular Echo.

If you have a bit more cash to spend and want to remain in the Alexa ecosystem, it’s also worth considering the Echo Studio. It costs twice as much as the Echo (4th Gen), but you’re getting even better sound. Thanks to automatic calibration features and more/larger speakers, it still remains as the go-to pick if high-end audio is at the very top of your shopping list.

Finally, if you aren’t 100% committed to Alexa, it may be worth checking out the Nest Audio. This is Google’s latest smart speaker offering, and it has many of the same features of the Echo (4th Gen): great sound, a sleek design, and reliable microphones. If you like the idea of the Echo (4th Gen) but would rather talk to the Google Assistant, the Nest Audio is for you.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen) Should you buy it?

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You should buy this if …

You want an affordable speaker that sounds great

$100 may not be “cheap,” but it’s considerably less than a lot of other speakers out there from Sonos and Apple. If you don’t want to spend more than a hundred bucks but still want a speaker that sounds great, the Echo (4th Gen) strikes that balance almost perfectly.

You want to expand or start your Alexa household

Chances are you already have at least one Alexa device in your home, and if you do, the new Echo (4th Gen) will fit in perfectly. If not, it’s a great jumping-off point to dive into the platform and get started with it.

You have Zigbee-enabled smart devices

Whether it be Philips Hue bulbs or a Yale smart lock, having the Echo (4th Gen) double as a Zigbee hub means you can simplify your smart home setup — something we could all use a little more of.

You should not buy this if …

You don’t like Alexa

This should be pretty obvious, but if you still don’t like how Alexa works, nothing about the Echo (4th Gen) will change your mind. Just stick with your Nest Audio or HomePod.

4.5
out of 5

I think the best way I can describe the Echo (4th Gen) is that it’s just a fun piece of tech. The design is refreshing, it’s a joy to listen to music on, and there are virtually endless features to expand its functionality. You get all of that for just $100, making it impossible to ignore for anyone that finds themselves in Camp Alexa.

The core feature-set of the Echo (4th Gen) isn’t any different from the one you get on any other past or present Echo speaker, but its magic lies in being able to deliver all of those things and a legitimately great audio experience without breaking the bank.

I’m personally too invested in Google Assistant devices to completely convert my apartment into an Alexa-powered one, but my time with the Echo (4th Gen) has certainly made me compelled to start paying closer attention to what Amazon’s doing in the smart speaker space. Whether you’re buying for yourself or a family member this holiday season, it’s hard to think of a reason why you shouldn’t buy the new Echo (4th Gen). Amazon nailed it with this one.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

amazon echo 4th gen blue official render

Bottom line: The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) checks all the boxes for a great smart speaker: Excellent audio, a pleasing design, robust features, and a competitive price. Amazon didn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel with this one, but the changes and improvements it did make are greatly appreciated.

$100 at Amazon
$100 at Best Buy

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