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Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation (2020) review: Get it for less this Black Friday

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
50
inc. VAT

A great smart speaker, refined

Pros 
Great new design
Improved clearer sound
Flexible line in/out jack
Better sound than dedicated £50 speakers
Cons 
Alexa isn’t the brightest
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The Echo Dot is back to it's cheapest price ever for Black Friday

Amazon has cut the price of multiple devices in its Black Friday sale, including the 4th gen Echo Dot. Previously £50, this smart speaker is now just £29, its joint-lowest price ever.
Amazon
Was £50
Now £29

It’s not just the full-sized Amazon Echo that’s got a fresh new look for 2020. While most would accept a year with a full-blown pandemic as a valid excuse for an iterative update, Amazon has found time to come out with a whole new look for the Echo Dot and Dot with Clock, too.

 
Like its big brother, the fourth-generation Echo Dot has gone spherical for 2020. And while it doesn’t have any obvious spec bumps to speak of on paper, in day-to-day use, Amazon’s best-value smart speaker is better than ever, and remains the top choice for smart-home buyers on a budget.  
 

Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation (2020): What you need to know

Amazon’s best-selling smart speaker is back for 2020, and this time it has a fresh new look – looking like a scale model of the full-sized 2020 Echo. While I compared the regular Echo to a child’s bowling bowl or a fabric-covered cantaloupe melon, the new Echo Dot is like a slightly swollen cricket ball in size and shape.

 
 

On the inside, theoretically, nothing has changed. A single 1.6in speaker is shared between both the third-generation Echo Dot and this new look pretender. And as for Alexa – the virtual assistant that can control your smart home and answer your spoken questions – it’s the same in every Echo, as it’s cloud-based and continuously updated.   

Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation (2020): Price and competition

Given the lack of change, you may not be surprised to learn that the fourth-generation Echo Dot is going for the same price that the third-gen model launched at: £50. The version with an LED clock goes for £10 more at £60. Last year’s model sees a £10 price cut and can now be had for £40, although unfortunately the clock version seems to have been discontinued.
 
The main opposition comes in the form of the Nest Mini, which also goes for £50. It comes with the superior Google Assistant built in, but still has no line-out port, meaning the slightly ropey speaker it comes with is the only option.
 
If you’re happy to spend £40 more, then the full-sized 2020 Echo and Nest Audio come in to play at £90. Your extra money buys you superior audio quality, but a far larger footprint.   

4th-generation Echo Dot vs Echo Dot with Clock: What’s the difference?

For once, the differences between the two Echo Dots really is in the title.

 
 
The Echo Dot with Clock has a LED clock built into the fabric. This generally just shows the time, but has a couple of context-sensitive functions too: it flashes up the temperature outside if you ask Alexa the weather, shows the volume number when you make adjustments, and displays the time left on any timer you set. 
 
You can also cancel alarms with a tap on the top, in a call back to the old snooze buttons on alarm clocks, which is a nice touch.
 

Other than that, the fourth-generation Echo Dot and Dot with Clock are virtually identical: same dimensions, same sound quality and same Alexa, with just a 10g weight difference between the two, according to Amazon.

 
 
For my money, it’s worth the extra £10 – especially if you have it in the kitchen or bedroom, but you don’t miss out on too much if you decide to opt for a regular Dot. 

Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation (2020): Design

The Echo Dot, like the full-sized Echo, gets a fresh new look for 2020. Gone is the plastic hockey puck of the first two generations, and the slightly fatter fabric look of the third: in its place, a sphere slightly larger than your average cricket ball. Like the full-sized Echo, it’s about two-thirds covered in fabric, with the remaining third a hard matte plastic. It is, of course, flat on one side, to prevent it rolling around.
 
I’m especially keen on the trademark ring of blue light that appears when the wake word is said. While on previous generations, this would appear at the top of the device, it’s now on the bottom, so it reflects softly against whatever surface it’s on. It’s a strong look.

 
 
The one thing I’m not hugely keen on are the plastic volume control, Mute and Action buttons that sit on top of the device and ruin an otherwise delightful minimalist look. To be clear, I’m very happy they exist, as voice controls can be finickity if the music is on too loud, but I do wish Amazon had found a way to make them a touch more discreet.
 
In the past, Amazon’s smart speakers have had one key advantage over their Google counterparts, and I’m delighted to report it’s still here for the fourth generation of Echo Dot: the 3.5in line in/out jack. This means you can both plug your phone in with a cable to output to the speaker, or transfer the Dot’s output to a better-sounding device. 
 
The latter has lessened in importance since the last generation, as the sound quality improved dramatically. Amazon also now has a cheaper, dedicated device to make dumb speakers smart, but it’s still a welcome extra, and I’m delighted Amazon has stuck with it.  

Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation (2020): Performance

So, how does it perform? Well, the bizarre thing is that despite having the same internal speaker specs as the third-generation Echo Dot, the 2020 version somehow manages to sound markedly better.
 
Maybe it’s something to do with the new round design, but I had both the 2019 and 2020 Echo Dot side by side on my desk, switching the same tracks between the two via Spotify Connect, and it was pretty clear which was better. While the third-generation Dot sounds a bit murky, the new Dot is a lot more crisp and clear, with more distinction between each instrument on a track. It can also reach louder volumes without distortion, although it’s still not a speaker you’ll routinely want to push past 5/10 on the volume dial. Both are better than the Nest Mini I have connected in my study, too.

 
I don’t want to overstate this: there are limits to the kind of sound a £50 speaker can push out. The point is that Amazon has once again made me revise my opinion of what those limits can be: it’s truly excellent for the price, and while it clearly misses the full-sized Echo’s 3in woofer, most non-audiophiles will be absolutely fine with it. Even the big audiophiles will be okay with it in a smaller room, I’d expect. 
 
Plus, you can always pair it with a second Echo Dot for stereo sound, and an Echo Sub to give it the missing bass – although at that point you’re looking at a bill of £220, and you may wonder why you didn’t just buy a £190 Echo Studio instead.  
 
Where it still falls down a little is in its smart capabilities. While Alexa is still streets ahead of Apple’s Siri digital assistant, Google Assistant makes it look like a dunce, both in terms of understanding the questions you ask, and the quality of answers it delivers. 
 
That may not be a big deal for you. Personally, I don’t find myself needing much from my digital assistant, preferring instead to Google things myself. But that's partly because I’ve lived in an Alexa-based household since the original Echo arrived, so my expectations have been lowered somewhat. I expect I’d be more inclined to use it if I’d bought a Google-powered device.
 
Still, if you’re like me and tend to use Alexa just to play music, get the weather and hear the occasional joke, then the Echo Dot is fine. If you want your virtual assistant to be a surrogate encyclopedia, then you’re far better off getting a Nest-branded device – although probably not the Nest Mini, given its reedy sound quality.  

Amazon Echo Dot 4th generation (2020): Verdict

 
The third-generation Echo Dot was a huge improvement on the previous Dots. The fourth-generation version is a smaller step forward, but only because there was nothing screaming out for improvement. It was already our favourite small smart speaker, and now it looks nicer with better sound for the same low price.

 
Yes, Alexa is no Google Assistant, but you should really consider Alexa to be a bonus. If this were a standalone speaker, I’d still give it top marks for the price; consider Amazon’s AI butler to be a delightful bonus, and it becomes an absolute bargain. It’s another winner – especially if you spend £10 more for the version with the clock.