The third-generation Echo packs even more into a $99 price

Jacob Krol, CNN Underscored
Fri October 25, 2019

It's pretty wild to think that Amazon originally released the first-generation Echo in 2014 — so we've had five years of Alexa getting smarter, more natural and more everywhere. Now, fast forward to the fall of 2019, when Amazon unveils the third generation of the Echo smart speaker.

It keeps a design that echoes back to the original, but with a homier and more compact feel. Rest assured though, it still has the beloved far-field microphones, solid sound, and easy buttons for control. In fact, the real story is around the improved audio capabilities.

For 2019, Amazon took the great sound from the Echo Plus and brought it down to the lower price point. So when it comes to reviewing the all-new Echo, the main question is this: Is it still an Echo?

Well, I can answer that for you — let's dive in.

The story is with the sound

The sound quality of the Echo Plus now lives in the Echo, and it also has a bit more oomph behind it. Powering the sound are a woofer and a tweeter inside. Specifically, it's a 0.8-inch tweeter and a 3.0-inch woofer. In comparison, the previous Echo had a 0.8-inch tweeter and 2.5-inch subwoofer. Support for Dolby audio is here as well, and several music services including Amazon Prime Music support this quality.

So with all this new hardware on the inside, how does the third-generation Echo perform? Well, it sounds really good and does a nice job of filling a room. The old trick with any speaker is to fire it into a corner, or rather place it in one so that the sound can fill the space. It holds true for this Echo, and the sound is a big improvement over the original Echo and even the second generation.

Bass tones come across much stronger and snappier, while the mid and high tones still offer vibrancy mixed with less distortion. Compared with the Echo Dot or Nest Mini, which can produce some distortion at higher volumes, this full-sized Echo handles higher volumes much better. I only experienced some distortion at a super high volume with a very compressed track. (I was casting a bootlegged song from a Bluetooth device.)

On Taylor Swift's "Paper Rings" you can clearly hear the backing tone throughout, while the vibrant electronic tones come through along with her vocals. On a classic wall-of-sound track like "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen, both the original and remastered versions are a great test. You have the large and fast drums that then open up guitars, horns, tambourines, piano and of course vocals. It's a pretty energetic mix that offers a good test for the Echo. I will note that songs with a lot of bass, like "Bad Guy" by Billie Eilish or "Royals" by Lorde, can cause the surface to shake, especially with the stronger woofer inside.

At $99 you're getting a much better sound experience as a whole. And that stands when getting a flash briefing from Alexa or using a skill. Normal conversation is presented clearly, and it's easy to listen along without the need to follow a bouncing ball.

The third-generation Echo presents the flagship smart speaker from Amazon as a stronger and more capable one. Improving the sound on a smart speaker should happen with every iteration, and Amazon is making good on that mission this year.

It's a similar design

The biggest change with the design is the addition of new colors to the core Echo. You can get the third generation in a new Twilight Blue (aka light blue), along with sandstone, heather gray or charcoal. It's a nice rounding, but I wish Amazon had kept a wooden option in the line. I also have a feeling we'll see more colors added throughout the product's life cycle, and hopefully that Product(RED) variant might arrive again.

But regardless of the paint job, this Echo looks like an Echo. There's no longer an Amazon logo on the front, so you're presented with just a cylinder speaker in the color of your choice. Amazon is sticking with the mesh fabric outer shell, and I really dig it.

On the top, you'll find the main physical controls — after all, the real main control will be your voice. You get volume up, volume down, an action button that lets you activate Alexa, and the microphone mute button. This top piece is built from plastic, and the classic LED light ring surrounds it. It can glow many colors: red for muting, blue for listening, green for notifications, and other shades in between.

The back of the device features the proprietary power port and a 3.5mm audio jack, which can be used to connect this Echo to a larger speaker system. You get full control over that port in the Alexa app for Android and iOS. You can also pair two Echos together for a stereo pairing, and the effect is pretty nice. I've used it with the previous generation, and I'm inclined to believe that two of the third-gens would sound terrific with a wider soundstage. This is, of course, thanks to the improved audio setup inside.

And yes, the bottom keeps a rubber-like build to ensure no toppling over if you knock into the Echo. It's also helpful when you really crank up the sound — it won't knock itself over. After all, it can get quite loud.

All the power of Alexa is here

This third-generation Echo gives you the power of Alexa. Unlike an Echo Show, you don't have a display, and unlike the Dot with Clock, you don't get a set of LEDs for visuals. I do wish that was here — fingers crossed for next time.

It's the classic Alexa experience, the one that the original Echo introduced. You can still ask her for music, the weather, news updates and to activate skills. So there is still a lot of functionality here, and I wouldn't be concerned on that front.

The calling functionality also works on this smart speaker. This will allow you to easily call other Echo devices and even other contacts who have the Alexa Messaging feature turned on. It's an easy way to stay in contact with others; just remember, it's audio only here.

But yes, the third-generation Echo is still a fully functional Alexa device. Notably, the far-field microphones still do a really good job even with a much louder speaker setup. You can easily get Alexa's attention when it's at full volume.

Bottom Line

The all-new third-generation Echo is still an Echo, and at $99 you're getting a pretty significant value, especially when you compare it to the previous second-generation model. It's still $50 cheaper than the Echo Plus (which didn't get an update this year), and it's only missing the capability of acting as a smart hub.

So unless you really need Zigbee connectivity built inside of an Echo, this third-generation Echo is the way to go. It's a no-brainer to purchase if you want an Alexa-enabled speaker that packs a nice crisp punch with sound. And it'll likely be on sale this holiday season.

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