Regardless of which camp you belong to, it's clearly emerged that the battle of the smart speakers and AI assistants will depend on how deeply you're invested in a particular ecosystem.
Amazon then, by far, has the most amount of options to choose from. The Echo range has been expanding every year and now has something for everyone, including the demanding audiophile, the bemused granny, the enthusiastic kids and everyone in between.
Amazon Echo devices: Build quality
The brand new third generation Echo, though, is a key model in the range because it fits right in the middle and is most likely the first entry point into the Echo universe. It now looks almost identical to the Echo Plus, which is only a good thing because the build quality feels solid and the fabric material lends it an air of premiumness over its earlier iterations.
But importantly, the changes are more than skin deep and the driver complement is similar to the Echo Plus too with a 3in mid/woofer joining hands with a 0.8in tweeter to emanate sound in an almost omnidirectional pattern.
Amazon Echo devices: features and verdict
All Echo devices have gained support for full Hindi language support and this works well in the much-abused “Hinglish” dialect too that most urbanites grow up speaking. This suddenly makes it appealing to different generations and not just the ones used to flagship smartphones.
Giving commands to play the hits of Kishore Kumar is simpler than switching on a Carvaan radio, but in spite of having multiple microphones, we found it a bit of a stretch to get our voice heard over an active kitchen and two chefs arguing about the lunch menu for the day.
The Echo does get strained when you push it beyond level 7 on its volume scale, especially with bass-heavy music like Deep Deep Water, ARIZONA and the likes. Keep it under that boiling point and it makes for an easy listening, all-day companion speaker on your desk without calling attention to itself. I am yet to hear the Echo Studio, but this certainly won’t be winning the audiophile in me. It’s strictly a conversational speaker with background music, if need be.
With the omnidirectional speaker layout internally, whether you’re walking around or sitting, the presentation remains consistent. It’s best used for background listening, unless you want to add another Echo to make a stereo pair or shell out for the optional Echo Sub.
Alternatively, there’s the 3.5mm line out too if you want to hook it up to your proper hi-fi system, but for that, the Echo would be overkill anyway. The Echo Dot or the Input would be more prudent of a device for that situation. The Echo Dot Clock though, is a great bedside clock in this day and age of backlit smartphones that burn your retinas first thing in the morning. It even regulates the brightness according to ambient light and shows up the temperature or timer on its LCD screen should you ask of it. It’s a nifty little package for not a lot of money and it sounds decent enough for something with a 1.6in full-range driver in it.
Controlling everyday lights, smart plugs, appliances and streaming music on to an Echo Link connected to your system is a doodle with the Echo devices. They aren’t ZigBee hubs and won’t support offline commands for connected devices, but otherwise, they do what most people expect an Echo device to do — play music, answer trivial questions and put a smile on your face with its newfound Hindi-speaking skills. Try saying, “Alexa, mar jaa”. Both devices are great bargains for all that they offer and now with improved sound quality to boot, it's a good time to upgrade to a smarter home. Although, in my opinion, the Echo Show 5 represents an even better value, offering a screen that opens up a whole new world of information and visual cues at almost the same price as the Echo. It’s up to you and what your usage will be like though. Out in the living room or in a kids room, the Echo without a screen is more secure and private. The Echo offers discreet smartness and that’s its USP.