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Amazon Echo (2017) review: More of the same, only better

jason-cipriani-author.jpg
Written by Jason Cipriani on
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9.0

Amazon Echo (2017)

Outstanding
$35.00 at Amazon
Like
  • Sleek design
  • More affordable
  • Quality sound
Don't Like
  • Would be nice to have a volume dial, instead of buttons, on the top.

Nearly three years after the first Amazon Echo was released, Amazon has released a redesigned smart speaker. Only instead of facing almost no competition, Google Home is ever growing, and Apple will soon release its HomePod smart speaker to compete directly with Amazon's Echo lineup.

The sleeker $99 Amazon Echo still boasts the same features we've come to expect from the Echo and Alexa. Only, it's less expensive and much better looking.

Design

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

For the second-generation Echo, Amazon shrank the device from a tall, black cylinder to a shorter, more aesthetically appealing gadget. In addition to a more compact size, Amazon also offers six different shells of varying color and material.

Amazon sent me the Sandstone fabric model, with an additional Oak Finish shell. Removing a shell is done by twisting the exterior of the Echo and sliding it off. Installation follows the same steps, just in reverse.

Read also: Amazon expands its Alexa everywhere strategy, launches new Echo devices, Connect, Plus, Buttons, Spot | The Echo Show looks like the desktop PC of the future | Robotic suit now has Amazon Echo integration

At this time, however, it doesn't appear Amazon is actively selling shells for those who want to change up the Echo's look from time to time.

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Measuring 5.9 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches and weighing a lowly 29oz, the new Echo does a far better job of blending with its surroundings.

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

A light ring still adorns the top of the Echo, turning blue when the wake word is heard. The ring also lights up bright yellow, slowly flashing when you have a pending notification. It could be a placebo effect, or due to the base of the Echo being a different color, but the light ring seems brighter when compared to the original Echo.

On top of the Echo are the volume controls, an action button, and a mute button.

Tucked behind the new exterior is a 2.5-inch woofer and 0.6-inch tweeter. The new sound system has a crisp sound quality to it, in terms of Alexa's voice and when listening music. It's not going to compete with higher-end speakers from the likes of Sonos, but it's enough to fill a room with some tunes.

New tricks

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

Amazon has continued to add new features to its Alexa platform since it first launched. More recently, multi-room music, routines, and groups for smart home integration have been a focus of the company.

With routines, you can do things like say "Alexa, good morning" to the Echo to have your coffee pot powered on and lights turned on.

My family and I have enjoyed using multi-room music, which will play the same song or station on multiple Echo devices throughout the home. As longtime Sonos users, we've grown fond of having music throughout our home, instead of being limited to a single room.

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

After creating a group of Echos and giving it a name like "Upstairs," a simple voice command of "Alexa, play music upstairs" will begin playing an Amazon Music station on all appropriate Echos.

Another household favorite is asking Alexa to play a TV show on our television using a Fire TV. The kids, especially, appreciate being able to use a voice command and not have to navigate through a grid of apps and shows.

Read also: Amazon Echo Show review: A smart speaker that shows up the competition | These are all the new Echo devices Amazon just announced | Amazon Echo review: Alexa is the first digital assistant that is actually helpful

Of course, the list of Alexa skills and features that the Echo has long had access to are still available. Ask for weather updates, set reminders, create timers, or play trivia games with the family -- it's all there.

It was time

(Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet)

I never did purchase the original Echo, partly due to not being convinced I would use it beyond setting timers =- to some extent that's still my primary use case -= but also because I didn't like the way it looked.

The idea of placing the original Echo on the TV stand in my living room wasn't appealing. And during that time, there was nothing forcing Amazon to rethink how the Echo looked.

Then, Google released Home with a stylish design, and Apple announced the HomePod, which, of course, has Apple's design flair.

Amazon's competition was not only getting smarter, but it was starting to look better. The second-generation Echo, however, keeps pace with competitors and lowers the price point at the same time.

The second-generation Echo is a respectable upgrade from the original Echo, inside and out.

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First, Amazon destroyed retail -- now, it's coming for Starbucks

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