Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) With Clock Review
Quick verdict: Amazon’s updated Echo Dot (4th Gen) benefits from its redesigned shape in a design sense, but there's not much point buying one while the cheaper third-generation model is still available
- Compact size
- Clock is surprisingly useful
- Good microphone pick-up
- Third generation matches most features for less
- Relatively weak speaker output
- Audio is highly directional
- 3.5mm connection only adds line out
- Clock option is a pricey extra
Amazon's Echo Dot has long been the online retail giant's cheapest play for smart homes, designed to quickly and easily add smart home features at a relatively affordable cost. That's still true for the fourth-generation model, which picks up the round style from the 2020 full-fat Echo, making it an easier match for your home décor. If it was just a question of this being the cheapest Echo on the market, it'd be an easier recommendation for Alexa-enabled smart homes.
However, Amazon's still selling the third-generation model, and that's available with much the same feature set at an even lower price point. That makes the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) just a little harder to recommend.
- Small round shape fits in just about anywhere
- Clock option is rather bright
- Single audio output, but not input
You really don't have to look too far to work out where Amazon got the design inspiration for the fourth-generation Echo Dot. It's the shrunk down sibling of the Amazon Echo 2020, which means it borrows the same spherical design and the same three colour choices – charcoal, glacier white or twilight blue – but on a smaller scale.
That's long been the Echo Dot style because it's Amazon's entry-level model, designed for people who want the basics of smart speaker operation or want to add smart speaker features to an existing sound system.
In this respect, nothing much has changed. The Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) still operates as a standalone smart speaker or works as the smart front end for other speakers if you hook it up through the 3.5mm output jack located on the back of the speaker.
The Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) is a smaller unit, measuring in at 100x100x89mm and 328 grams, which means it's pretty easy to locate anywhere you'd like. I'm a fan of the sphere design at an aesthetic level, but it's not hard to see that while a smaller sphere is more discrete than a bigger one, the raised profile of the Echo Dot relative to the last generation makes it stand out even more.
The oddity here – at least at the time of writing – is that Amazon still sells the third-generation Echo Dot, and for less than the fourth-generation variant. If discretion or wall mounting is part of your smart speaker play, that's going to be a lot easier with the older and flatter Echo Dot without a doubt.
The Echo Dot (4th Gen) just stands out more. That's especially true if you opt for the more expensive Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) with clock, which very much does what it says on the tin, adding an LED-style display underneath the fabric for simple time-telling functions.
It's undeniably cute, but also means that there's a separate glowing display besides the base mounted light ring that indicates that Alexa is processing your commands. Like every other Echo, it lights up red if you opt to mute the Echo Dot (4th Gen) from the top control buttons.
- Good microphone pick-up
- Ordinary audio output
- Clock is quite useful
The Echo Dot (4th Gen) is Amazon's cheapest 2020 Echo speaker, and like the Dots that have come before it, that means you're accepting that it's not exactly going to be a speaker powerhouse. Like its bigger round sibling, you might think that the sphere design gives it 360-degree audio, but you'd be wrong there. The Echo Dot's 1.6" speaker very much points outwards and upwards from the "front" of the speaker ball where the mesh is, which means if you want the best audio, you're better off putting it against a wall rather than in the centre of a room.
Actually, if you want the best audio out of the Echo Dot (4th Gen), you plug it into a set of speakers that can take a 3.5mm input. The one catch here is that the 3.5mm jack on the Echo Dot (4th Gen) is an output-only jack, so you can't plug other music sources into it. That's a feature reserved for the full-fat Amazon Echo 2020 model instead.
Like the Echo 2020, the one area where the Echo Dot (4th Gen) really impressed me was microphone pick-up. It's a small speaker at a low price point, and it could be forgiven for being a bit slow on the uptake, but that wasn't my experience at all. Amazon's Alexa assistant still sometimes has its challenges picking up an Australian accent, but that's a software issue, not a hardware one. Head to head with Google's Assistant, I've typically found Alexa to be a little swifter when dealing with smart home gadgets, but realistically that's one of those choices you make at a platform level, choosing one side or the other anyway.
The other feature specific to the Echo Dot (4th Gen) that I tested was the clock. Opting for the clock model does add $20 to the local price, which is a bit high for what looks like a digital clock, although it's just a tad smarter than that. Ask Alexa to run a timer for you, and the clock shifts into a download counter, which is handy if you're using it as a kitchen timer – or in my case, using it to help run battery rundown tests on laptops and mobile phones and time myself for language study. It's certainly not a must-have inclusion, but it integrates pretty smartly with the Alexa experience if you're going to be using it as a desk clock and speaker anyway.
Should you buy the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) with clock?
- Buy it if you like the style and you're already invested in Alexa as your smart home assistant.
- Don't buy it if you can still grab the third-generation Echo or want a more discrete set of smart speakers.
The Echo Dot (4th Gen) is a good and quite functional smart speaker, and the clock inclusion is fun, if not actually super compelling, as an add-on option.
However, it's really hard to overlook the fact that Amazon itself still sells the third-generation model at a lower price point. The smallest smart speakers never really impress with audio quality, and that's the case here, so what you're paying that extra for is essentially the design. It's cuter, but it's going to be harder to hide or mount than the prior generation was, and that does make it harder to absolutely justify at launch. That will undoubtedly change; it seems unlikely that Amazon will continue making the third-generation model, and we will probably see a price dip when it formally stops selling it too.
As always with smart home speakers, it's wise to pick a course and stick to it. If you're already in the Alexa world, the Echo Dot (4th Gen) would be a fine extension of it. If you're looking for cheap and simple to start a smart home speaker system, I'd advise starting on something a little bigger – take your pick of the Nest Audio, Echo 2020 or upcoming HomePod mini – and then extend out with the Echo Dot (4th Gen).
Pricing and availability
Images: Alex Kidman
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