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Amazon Echo (3rd Gen) review: minimalist design, well-balanced sound

Amazon has been on a product launch spree recently, launching multiple variants of its Alexa-enabled Echo smart speakers to cater to every budget and need. Among the products it brought to India recently is the all-new Echo, the third-generation of its basic smart speaker. The new Echo is placed in an odd position in Amazon’s lineup – it’s not as cheap as the Echo Dot, doesn’t offer an inbuilt Zigbee smart hub like the Echo Plus, or come with a display like the Echo Show. Instead what you get is an Alexa-powered speaker with an improved design and better audio output. So, is this the Echo for you? I’ve been using the third-gen Echo for the past few weeks to find out.

Design

The new Echo features a minimalist, modern design that will blend right in with most home décor. It’s relatively compact, measuring 3.9-inches in diameter and 5.8-inches in height. Unlike the second-gen Echo which featured swappable fabric shells, the new Echo features a fixed fabric finish, similar to the Echo Dot. You can get it in white, grey, blue and black colours. Amazon’s also added a nice curve at the top, which I prefer to the straight lines of previous Echo speakers. On top, you get the classic Alexa light ring and four physical buttons for volume up/down, mic off and action. You can press the action button to give Alexa commands without using the wake word, or use it to stop an alarm or timer. This button is also used to set up the Wi-Fi for your Echo. A small cut out at the bottom of the Echo houses the power socket and 3.5mm audio input/output. The Echo also comes with Bluetooth connectivity, so you can pair your phone or tablet and use it like a regular Bluetooth speaker.

Audio quality

The sound is where the all-new Echo gets a significant upgrade from its predecessor. It gets a 3-inch woofer and 0.8-inch tweeter, which is the same as the higher-end Echo Plus. The audio output of the Echo is clear and well-balanced. I placed it in my living/dining area which is quite big, and the sound was loud enough to be room filling. Of course, you can’t expect the bass you’d get from a premium speaker, but it’s still pretty good. It’s worth noting however that the audio tends to get distorted at higher volumes. On the plus side, you can link a second Echo speaker from the within the Alexa app, which will give you a stereo audio experience.

Alexa – now in Hindi

Given that this is an Echo speaker, you can expect all the usual functionality you get from Alexa. This includes asking Alexa to play music, give you weather updates and answer basic questions. While Alexa has been available in English so far, a recent update added support for Hindi. You can enable this by going to Device settings in the Alexa app, and selecting Hindi/English for the Language option. Interestingly, Alexa doesn’t just speak and understand Hindi – it can also recognise “Hinglish”. Hinglish, as you may have guessed, is a blend of Hindi and English, and is commonly spoken in India.

For example, can say, “Alexa, aaj ka weather kya hai” and the assistant is able to understand the usage of the English word “weather” in a sentence that is otherwise Hindi. Other commands like “Alexa, Bollywood songs sunao” also work flawlessly. “Alexa, ek joke batao”, or “Alexa, das baje ka alarm set kar do” are just some of the other ways you can communicate with Alexa in Hinglish. I find this feature particularly useful in India, since even native Hindi speakers tend to liberally intersperse English words in their conversations. Being able to implement this on a smart speaker is impressive, because it makes conversations more natural and less formal. If you prefer to speak pure Hindi, Alexa understands and responds too.

Smart home features

While the Echo doesn’t come with a built in hub to control Zigbee-enabled smart devices like the Hue, the good news is that many smart home products these days are Wi-Fi enabled and don’t require a separate hub to work. Even Philips, known for its Hue light bulbs, has introduced standalone Wi-Fi enabled smart lights that don’t require a Hue bridge to work. Apart from smart lights, you can also buy Wi-Fi enabled smart plugs which respond to Alexa commands. Therefore, you can give the Echo commands like “Alexa, turn off the bedroom lights”, or “Alexa, turn on the geyser” (if it’s plugged into a smart plug) to control your various smart home devices.

Bottomline

At its asking price of Rs 9,999, the all-new Echo doesn’t come cheap. The Echo Show 5 is probably its biggest competitor, being priced cheaper at Rs 8,999 and adding a display to the mix. The Echo Plus is more expensive at Rs 14,999, but apart from the Zigbee hub, doesn’t offer any other notable upgrades. Therefore, if you want an Alexa-enabled smart speaker with room filling sound, the new Echo is your best bet. If you don’t want to shell out that much though, you can opt for the Echo Dot or Echo Dot with clock, which offer the same core Alexa functionality.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

What works:

  • Immersive, room-filling sound
  • Minimalist design
  • Can be linked to a second Echo for stereo sound

What doesn’t:

  • No inbuilt Zigbee hub
  • Sound can get distorted at high volumes
  • Same basic functionality as the Echo Dot
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Ketaki Bhojnagarwala

Ketaki has 10 years experience writing on tech, having worked at the Hindu Business Line and 91mobiles earlier. When she's not editing copies or reviewing the latest gadgets, she spends her time binge-watching Netflix and reading fantasy fiction.