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Amazon Echo (2017) review: The best Alexa device yet – Mashable

If only every guest could slide into your life as smoothly as an Amazon Echo

Amazon’s smart speaker, home to its digital assistant, Alexa, found a place in my home years ago. The 9.25-inch-tall black cylinder sits on my hutch, answering questions about the weather, sports, news, adjusting the climate on the first and second floor of my home, setting alarms, checking my schedule and even playing games.

Over time, it’s woven its way into more and more of my daily activities. I don’t think my story is that different from millions of other people around the world who’ve welcomed home the Echo, the Echo Dot, and the Amazon Tap. So it’s not surprising Amazon now faces a heap of competition from the biggest tech guns on the planet: Apple, Google and, yes, Microsoft.

Amazon’s answer is, naturally, new Echo devices. A bunch of them, in fact. 

The new Echo costs $99.99, and it’s arguably the least exciting addition to the new Echo family. But it may end up being the most popular.

Here's the $99.99 All New Amazon Echo in its gray fabric covering.

Here’s the $99.99 All New Amazon Echo in its gray fabric covering.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

The original Echo was a black (or white) cylinder that I struggled to make mesh with my home décor but grew to love despite of its awkward looks. At 5.9 inches tall, the new Echo is considerably shorter, and it can slip on and off different covers as easily as you change shirts. The options include oak, walnut, charcoal, heather gray or sandstone fabric, and silver. Notably absent is pure black or white.

My test unit, which was covered in a subtle gray fabric, also arrived with a walnut covered (fake wood, of course) shell. To swap coverings, I just held onto the Echo’s body and pushed a round rubber indent on the base. The body easily released from the shell. I slid it all the way off and then slid the walnut covering on, which seated with a satisfying click. Ultimately, I switched back to the gray fabric because it has the benefit of hiding the Echo’s 360-degree speaker grille.

It took just a few seconds to swap in this "walnut" covering, but I  prefer to hide the speaker grille.

It took just a few seconds to swap in this “walnut” covering, but I  prefer to hide the speaker grille.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

With the fabric shell on, the new Echo looks more than ever like a run-of-the-mill Bluetooth speaker. Even the Echo’s signature volume ring is gone. In exchange, the new Echo gives you physical volume control buttons on top. The other two buttons, carried over from Echo 1, are for stop/reset and microphone mute.

There’s also evidence on top of the significant changes Amazon made inside new Echo. There are 7 tiny dots on the cover, little holes for the powerful microphone far-field listening array, which replace the circular grille on the original Echo. But more on that later.

This is the rare consumer electronics gadget updated with more buttons. The tiny dots are microphone holes.

This is the rare consumer electronics gadget updated with more buttons. The tiny dots are microphone holes.

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

Setting up the Amazon Echo is a simple affair, eased by the device’s habit of talking you through any potential rough spots.

Moments after I plugged in the Echo, the signature light ring glowed orange as Alexa piped up and told me to open the Alexa app on my phone. Together, they guided me through a quick and painless setup.

Afterwards, the color ring went dark as the Echo waited for its first instruction.

I started by simply asking for my news brief and then the weather. These were unremarkable interactions. After all, it’s the hardware Amazon updated, not Alexa. Well, actually, as a cloud-based digital voice assistant, Alexa is updated daily. It gets smarter, faster, and more useful as third-parties add more and more skills. Those skills let Alexa tap into other smart devices like the Nest thermostats I have in my house. Amazon’s Alexa app also connects the new Echo device to other Amazon Alexa-powered hardware, like my Amazon Fire TV. When I said “Alexa, Watch Transparent,” My Fire TV turned on and started playing the first episode of the show.

With Alexa’s new Routines capability, a single command or phrase like. Alexa, Good Morning” or “Alexa, It’s Movie Time,” can launch a collection of smart tasks like lowering the lights and turning on Fire TV. 

A naked Amazon Echo

A naked Amazon Echo

Image: lance ulanoff/mashable

A closer look reveals the audio system.

A closer look reveals the audio system.


Routines weren’t live at the time of my testing, though I did see them in action when Amazon launched the new devices last month.

I’ve had no trouble integrating my smart devices and services like Sirius Radio and my Sonos speakers with the Echo, but the Echo’s big bother, the $149 Echo Plus, adds a built-in Smart Hub so you don’t have to add something annoying to your life like the Wink Hub that acts as the communication hub to IoT devices like Philips Hue light bulbs. Oddly, this more powerful and expensive Echo Plus looks a lot like the old Echo.

Can you hear me now?

For my review of the new Echo, though, I tried to focus my tests on how Amazon’s hardware changes impacted the device’s ability to hear me and play my music. 

When I was in the same room, speaking at a normal volume, the Echo heard me every time. I decided to make it more difficult and stepped out of the living room and into the hallway. Then I whispered, “Alexa.”

The top of the device glowed blue with a green highlight pointing in my direction (it always points toward the sound of my voice.) Then I asked, “Are the Yankees playing tonight?” Alexa heard and gave me schedule for that night’s ALCS game.

All of the new Echo's covering options.

All of the new Echo’s covering options.

Image: nate gowdy/mashable

The only time the Echo struggled was when I started playing a station from Amazon Music and then asked Alexa to play a game. Alexa heard my request fine and asked if I wanted to play Categories. I said yes, and she launched into the game. For some reason, though, she kept the music going. It was slightly muted, but not completely. I couldn’t follow the game, so I asked Alexa to stop the music. Instead, Alexa was stuck on the game and kept telling me she didn’t get my response. Finally, I just hit the physical stop button.

The new Echo has improved speakers and new Dolby audio processing, and the result is literally music to my ears. The 360-degree audio, powered by a 0.6-inch tweeter and a 2.5-inch down-firing woofer, is louder, richer (with more bass) and clearer than the original Echo. Overall, I still prefer the audio from the Sonos One Smart speaker, but the new Echo’s audio skills should please the average non-audiophile.

In addition to better sound, the Echo can provide smarter sound. To be fair, the feature is enabled through an Alexa App, but the ability to control all my Echo smart speakers through one Echo device is cool and useful.

In the app, I added the new Echo and my original Echo to a group called Everywhere. Now, when I tell Alexa to play David Bowie music everywhere, she asks me if I want to play Bowie music on the group called “Everywhere.” When I confirm, every speaker in the group plays the same song.

Amazon’s all new Echo is also a communication device. When I asked it to call Ray (our Senior Tech Correspondent Raymond Wong), it confirmed I wanted to contact Ray Wong and then dialed his number. A moment later Ray picked up and we were chatting. The sound quality on phone calls is decent (it’s dependent, in part, on connection quality). I didn’t have to raise my voice for him to hear me and Ray’s voice came through clearly.

Overall, I like the new Echo even more than the old ones because, in additional to hosting an increasingly intelligent and useful voice assistant, it is now cheaper, louder, smaller, better at blending into my home décor, and, most importantly, an even better listener.

Amazon Echo (2017)

The Good

Better listener Great price More stylish Smaller

The Bad

Volume ring replaced with buttons

The Bottom Line

There has never been a better Amazon Echo.

Every editorial product is independently selected by Mashable journalists. If you buy something featured, we may earn an affiliate commission which helps support our journalism.

Amazon Echo (2017) review: The best Alexa device yet – Mashable

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