The stylish Echo Dot packs better sound for under $50

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Fri July 12, 2019

Story highlights

  • The big changes with the 3rd Gen. Echo Dot are a larger 1.6" speaker and a fabric outer shell
  • Amazon's Echo Dot is still our go to entry-level smart speaker

Coming in at the size of a hockey puck or a large doughnut, the Amazon Echo Dot can do a lot. Now in its third iteration, the smallest smart speaker from Amazon opts for a home-like fabric outer shell that packs plenty of tech inside.

Just as interesting as the design is the price. The 3rd Generation Echo Dot officially costs $49.99, but it's almost always on sale for less. Right now, it costs just $24.99.

So what makes the Echo Dot such a good value? For starters, it's Amazon's most popular smart speaker, and a major reason for that is its affordability. For many buyers, it's the entry point into a smart home or even into a smart ecosystem. The Echo Dot unlocks the power of Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, which lets you control other devices, order groceries, rock out to music, hear the news and much more.

What's in the box?

Pull the Echo Dot out of its nondescript blue box and you're greeted with a wall plug that has the power cable permanently attached. While previous Echo Dots opted for a micro USB port, the third generation uses a custom power port. Just plug it into the wall, plug it into the Echo Dot and Alexa will greet you and help you complete setup with the Amazon Alexa app for iOS or Android. After that and the brief installation, you're off to the races.

A soft outer shell makes it easier to let Alexa in

The original Echo Dot's design was mostly plastic, and it stuck out visually as a piece of tech. For many people, the magic of asking a virtual assistant to play music or turn on lights is how it seems to just work. They don't want to see the technology.

So the team behind the Echo Dot went for a more pleasing design approach. With fabric around the outer ring, the third-generation Dot is not only more beautiful to see and touch but can blend in with the aesthetic of your home. It comes in sandstone, heather gray and charcoal.

The top of the Echo Dot is plastic and features four buttons -- volume up, volume down, mute and a "call Alexa" feature, so you can ask Alexa to do something without saying the wake word. Amazon was smart to make the bottom a rubber material, so the Echo Dot won't slide around. The only downside here is that it picks up dust and crumbs pretty quickly.

If for some reason you want to hold it, you can easily palm this smart speaker. The Echo Dot weighs just 300 grams (10.5 ounces) and is 3.9 inches in diameter with a thickness of 1.7 inches. So yes, it's still a really tiny smart speaker, on par with the Google Home Mini.

The sound is good enough for most, and that's an improvement

Truth be told, the first and second generation Echo Dots didn't have the best sound. For a device that small, you can only fit so much speaker inside. The result was a tinny audio experience as the speaker tried to push out more than it could deliver. Luckily with the third generation, Amazon didn't stop at redesigning the outer shell, but also put a new speaker inside.

This Echo Dot features a 1.6-inch speaker that's way better than previous models. It delivers a much more balanced sound stage with low, mid and high tones clearly defined. Bass is also seeing a big improvement and comes through in a way that complements the track. You can customize the sound experience a bit in the Alexa app with a built-in equalizer.

So for the size and the price, you're getting a decent speaker that sounds good enough. I only experienced a little distortion at full volume on heavy rock tracks or ones with a lot of bass. But for most uses, the Echo Dot will do just fine and match the Google Home Mini. You can pair two Echo Dots for a stereo experience, or pair another Bluetooth speaker for a better sound experience. Of course, you can also go old school and plug in a speaker, via a 3.5-millimeter headphone jack.

Alexa can hear you well, and that's a good thing

Even with a speaker inside that can get loud, Alexa had no trouble hearing me on the Echo Dot -- even from across the room with the speaker at nearly full volume. This is thanks to the far-field microphones built into this smart speaker (and essentially all smart speakers). After all, if these didn't work, the Echo Dot wouldn't provide much value.

In the music space, you can stream music from Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio and many others right from the smart speaker itself. Plus you can also get SiriusXM on the Echo speakers to bring your favorite channel into the house. You can also ask Alexa for the weather, movie showtimes, and even for updates on your favorite sports team.

Another big plus with the Echo Dot is that you can control your smart home. Many third-party products like light bulbs, air conditioners, plugs, door locks and countless others work with Alexa. This allows you to have one app that can control nearly all of them, and you can do it with your voice. Ask "Alexa, turn on Jake's room lights" or any other task with a connected device, and she'll do her best to fulfill it.

Bottom line

Amazon insists that there's at least one Echo out there for everyone, and the Echo Dot fits with this narrative. At $49.99, or an even better bargain at $24.99, the third generation Echo Dot is a tiny smart speaker that keeps getting better.

The sleeker and more environmentally friendly design, paired with a much better speaker, really makes this entry-level smart speaker even better than previous generations. Without a doubt, the Echo Dot is still our go-to tiny smart speaker, and hopefully we'll see a more substantial and more innovative update in the future.

For now, though, the 3rd Generation Echo Dot will work well for most. And if you're eager for better sound, check out the Echo ($69.99, originally $99.99; amazon.com), Echo Plus ($149.99, originally $164.98; amazon.com) or even the Echo Show 5.

Note: The price above reflects the retailer's listed price at the time of publication.