The Amazon Echo has undergone a few changes since its launch. In the first iteration, we were treated as a tall plastic cylinder. Then came the second generation of fabric cylinders, followed by the third generation of better, smaller fabric cylinders.
In 2020, however, we launched the fourth version of the Amazon Echo — a huge design deviation that turned a cylinder synonymous with straight lines into a sphere. It was a surprising move when we first reviewed the device at launch, but two years later, the standard Echo is still as powerful in the smart home as previous models have proven.
The fourth-generation Echo has not only changed the design, but the internal structure has also undergone a considerable makeover.
But what exactly do you get for your money, and is it still worth the effort in 2022?
Our Quick Take on Amazon Echo 4th Gen
Amazon Echo devices have always offered great value for money, but the 4th generation model builds on an affordable price by adding new technology to make Alexa faster, improving audio performance, and including a variety of technologies to ensure support for future smart home technologies.
We’re still not entirely convinced by the new design, but it makes the speaker even more distinctive. Finally, a natural competitor to the standard Echo is the Google Nest Audio, which is an equally powerful device. Which one you choose may depend on how much money you’ve already invested in each company’s smart home ecosystem, but there are plenty of smart speakers out there today that support both key smart assistants.
In terms of upgrades, we’d only really recommend the fourth-generation model if you’re coming from a first- or second-generation device, or of course the Echo Dot. For starters, keep in mind that this model is likely to be replaced by Amazon in the next year.
Still, this spherical Echo not only rivals the current generation of smart speakers, but it’s also a device we continue to recommend wholeheartedly.
- Dimensions: 144 x 144 x 133mm / Weight: 970g
- Finishes: Charcoal, Twilight Blue, Glacier White
- Buttons: Action, Mic on/off, Volume up/down
- Input: 3.5mm line in/out
The sphere is the new cylinder, not just for this Echo, but for the rest of the range: the new Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock have also been updated to match this new design language.
While the 4th-gen Echo is similar in height to the previous model, it now has a larger footprint. This is not necessarily a good thing. These devices are often placed on bookshelves, windowsills, or corners of workbenches where space is limited.
But then the Echo has progressed to the Echo Plus spot in the series, which means that while it doesn’t fill a room like the Echo Studio, it’s likely to be the main speaker in the room — so there’s an argument that might win without hiding.
Coincidentally, it’s also significantly heavier than the device it replaces — nearly 200 grams heavier — which gives you an idea of the improved audio. Coincidentally, Amazon now says the Echo is made from 50 percent recycled plastic, while the fabric and aluminum used are 100 percent recycled.
It also marks a far cry from the traditional “Echo Cue,” which features a halo around four buttons — mic mute, motion, and volume up/down. The buttons are still there, but they’re integrated into the fabric – yes, the fabric upholstery is still there, available in black, light blue, or white. However, the buttons work well and have a nice “click” effect.
A small indented panel on the back lets you connect power, while there’s a 3.5mm audio input or output – you can control whatever you like in the Alexa app.
However, on the amazon echo 4th gen, the halo is now at the bottom. We have a little problem: if you’re near the Echo and it’s on a countertop (we usually live on a standard kitchen countertop) and you’re not petite, you can’t actually see the halo activate unless it’s from a reflection of the light ring on the surface. Crucially it’s harder to see out of the corner of your eye.
Of course, most people don’t wait for the light ring to activate before issuing a command to Alexa, but it can be harder to tell that Alexa is dealing with your request and that isn’t a good thing.
Echo 4th Gen vs Echo 3rd Gen: What’s the Difference?
We get it, a new design does freshen up the Echo range. But with a few other spherical devices around – and with the similar-looking Apple HomePod mini soon to launch – we can’t help but think that the Echo has lost a little of what made it so distinctive.
- Smart home support: Zigbee, Amazon Sidewalk, Bluetooth Low Energy Mesh
- Alexa app for iOS and Android
- In-browser support too
Amazon has been working hard lately to improve the settings for its Echo devices. The effort has clearly paid off—if you’ve already set up an Echo device in the Alexa app, adding an extra is a breeze. No need to log in or enter a wifi password as it’s all from an existing device. The presence of new devices is also automatically detected.
Alexa itself doesn’t have any special skills dedicated to this Echo, and we’ve covered Amazon’s voice assistant in depth elsewhere – you can set timers, check messages, access skills, control smart devices, and talk or send to other Echos – equipment.
But this new Echo also has a lot of potential in the future. Because the Echo’s smart home smarts have also been significantly improved – while previously there was a Zigbee controller in the Echo Plus, now the Echo uses that too. With it, you can control and set up various other smart home devices.
Like the others, it’s designed to tie together smart home devices over a low-power wireless standard – but crucially it’s designed to work over a longer range. Perhaps we’ll see devices that won’t have Wi-Fi and will just use Sidewalk to communicate with a hub in your home, like the Echo.
Of course, Amazon owns both Ring and Blink, two companies with smart home devices, and we’re seeing some Ring devices get support already. The incoming Ring Car Alarm is a key example of where Sidewalk will be useful – your car probably isn’t in range of your Wi-Fi while it’s parked up. We’re looking forward to testing that out when it’s available. The ring will also be introducing compatible Smart Lighting soon.
Sound and performance
- Platform: Dual-core MediaTek MT8515 with 2GHz CPU
- Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi 5 and earlier (2.4 and 5GHz)
- 1x 3in neodymium woofer, 2x 0.8in tweeters
The Echo internals have had a significant improvement this time around, too. There’s a new MediaTek chip inside (as well as the Echo Show 10 and Echo Dot), Bluetooth 5.0, and Wi-Fi 5 (not Wi-Fi 6, but then it is early days for that technology). This is bespoke hardware designed with Amazon and the platform integrates the brand-new Amazon AZ1 Neural Edge processor. It’s not just a chip that’s been thrown in, either – it’s fully integrated alongside the MediaTek silicon.
Amazon Echo 4th Gen Makes Alexa More Accurate and Responsive
The key aspect of this is to make voice recognition better – especially recognition of wake words and keywords – and therefore make Alexa more accurate and responsive. It is clearly a bit speedier in responding to requests – it’s a tiny amount of time in the grand scheme of things, but it’s welcome nonetheless.
The performance improvement is evident from a simple task – startup. We started up the new Echo alongside the older version from cold and the new device is ready in seconds, whereas the old version takes around 20-30 seconds.
The sound has also had a power-up. Not that the previous model was lacking in that area – the second-generation Echo Plus and third-generation Echo shared basically the same audio hardware, and both were pretty good in terms of the quality they offered. The beef of the sound for the Amazon Echo 4th Gen comes from a 3-inch woofer, just like in the older model.
But there’s a key change: whereas the older devices were designed to have 360 audio – as the Echo Studio does – the new Echo adds in two 0.8-inch tweeters that make it more directional (the previous device had a single tweeter) which Amazon says now provides stereo separation without having to pair up a second device with it.
Bassier tracks are where you’ll find the limit of the Echo’s ability at full volume. It does an admirable job unless it’s maxed out. But really the mark of the audio quality is that you don’t need to turn the volume up for crisp sound during everyday listening to the radio, audiobooks, podcasts, or music.
Once again, you can multiroom connect really easily with other Echo devices. This works especially well with Spotify Connect, although all the big streaming services are supported. You can also pair the Echo with an Amazon Fire TV device should you wish. Plus you can, as you always could, stream from a Bluetooth device, too.
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Amazon Echo 4th Gen is the Best