The Amazon Echo Dot was already the best compact smart speaker around and this iterative 2022 update maintains that
- Still the best-value small smart speaker
- Improved bass
- Temperature sensor could be handy
- Minimal change
- Line in/out jack has been removed
The Echo Dot is back for a fifth generation in 2022, and it follows the traditional Amazon playbook of slow-and-steady iterative improvements year-on-year. What this means is that the Echo Dot is, once again, the best small smart speaker you can buy.
But honestly, the differences are so small that there’s no need to upgrade from the 2020 model. In fact, I’d even suggest buying the older version instead if the prices are sufficiently different, since it really is that small of a difference.
The new Echo Dot with Clock, meanwhile, is a more substantial upgrade, but even then it’s arguably not worth the extra cost if you’re itching to buy the latest model.
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Amazon Echo Dot 5th generation (2022) review: What you need to know
So, what’s changed? Really not very much at all, as it turns out. The headline difference is improved audio, with the 2022 Echo Dot gaining a 1.73in speaker, as opposed to the previous generation’s 1.6in part. This delivers better sound – especially in the bass department – and it promises less distortion at louder volumes too.
A bigger change is the addition of a new sensor with the sole purpose of measuring temperature. The idea here is that you can add this to routines, to turn on your smart thermostat if the ambient temperature drops too low, or make a tower fan kick in if it gets too high. Notably, this already exists on the full-size 2020 Echo, which hasn’t been refreshed this time around.
It’s also now touch-sensitive on top. That means you can tap it to silence alarms or pause your music without shouting. A small change, but possibly a handy one if you keep one by the bedside or like to play music at aggressively high volumes.
Finally, something which promises to be big but sadly isn’t available in the UK at the time of writing. In North America, the new Echo Dot doubles up as a Wi-Fi extender with Amazon’s mesh WiFi eero system built-in. There’s no word on if and when the UK will get this, but given it’s also coming to fourth-generation Echos as a software update, it’s not in itself a reason to upgrade either way.
There’s also one big downgrade: the 3.5mm line in/out jack is no more, which is deeply disappointing. Previously, you could wire your phone to the speaker, or connect the Dot to a better one. Now it’s Bluetooth only I’m afraid.
Amazon Echo Dot 5th generation (2022) review: Do you need the Echo Dot with Clock?
That’s the full extent of the changes for the basic Echo Dot, but the Echo Dot with Clock also gets a bonus improvement.
For those unfamiliar, the Echo Dot with Clock is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the same powerful little speaker with a digital clock on the front, which also displays key information like the volume and ambient temperature on demand. The small LED panel has also been updated to include extras like the title of the song you’re listening to.
It sounds like a big improvement, but bluntly it’s not all that, as the LED can show around five letters at a time, scrolling across to reveal the full words gradually. In other words, it’s a little impractical unless you happen to like the songs of the alternative 90s band ‘A’.
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Amazon Echo Dot 5th generation (2022) review: Price and competition
That’s a fiver more than Amazon was asking for the 2020 Echo Dot, though that’s kind of a moot point for two reasons. First of all, the old version seems extremely well hidden on Amazon (and doesn’t have any stock if you do find it) and secondly, this is the kind of product Amazon loves to discount on Black Friday. If you’re prepared to wait, you shouldn’t have to pay anywhere near full price.
That’s also worth remembering for the full-size Echo, which normally costs £90 but will likely come down by a significant amount for the annual commerce festival.
If you’re in the Apple ecosystem, there’s the Homepod mini, which sells for £89. There used to be a full-sized HomePod too, but Apple has discontinued it – although you can still find them knocking about for around £250.
Amazon Echo Dot 5th generation (2022) review: Design
The new Amazon Echo Dot looks almost identical to the previous version. I don’t say that lightly: I’ve had both side-by-side for days, switching between the two to hear the (minor) differences, and at times I’ve forgotten which is which, relying on the differently coloured buttons on top for a hint.
While it’s the same dimensions as the last version – 100 x 100 x 89mm – the new version has gained a tiny bit of weight at 340g to the predecessor’s 328g. I assume that’s down to the larger speaker, but you can barely tell the difference even when holding one in each hand.
Otherwise, they look and feel exactly the same from the front, and that’s no bad thing: it’s a charming little speaker that blends in perfectly with the surroundings. The Echo Dot is a little spherical ball with one flattened edge, is slightly larger than a cricket ball and mostly covered in fabric. On the top are the familiar four buttons: two for adjusting volume, one for cutting off the microphone and another to make Alexa listen if it can’t hear you shouting the wake word.
When you press the button or say “Alexa”, a light appears at the base of the device, casting a soft ring of blue light across whatever surface it’s placed on. It’s a lovely touch.
There is one big change that I’m massively against, however. Amazon has removed the 3.5mm line in/out jack that was once found next to the power socket.
That’s a huge loss and a big advantage the Echo Dot had over the Nest Mini. Previously, you could attach your phone to play a podcast through the Dot, or attach your Dot to a better sound system to give it Alexa’s skills. Now it’s Bluetooth or nothing, and that’s a bitter disappointment.
Amazon Echo Dot 5th generation (2022) review: Sound and performance
Other than that, it’s all good when it comes to performance, which is to be expected. Amazon’s usual method of iterative improvement has worked its magic yet again.
Putting the new model and the 2020 version side by side on my desk and switching the music between them using Spotify Connect, the difference is noticeable, but not as great as the change from third-gen to fourth-gen. The bass is stronger, the overall sound is more full-bodied and it’s capable of getting to higher volumes without distorting – although if you’re looking to put it much above the 50% mark, then you’re shopping for the wrong speaker.
To be clear, this is far superior to the recent Nest Mini, but there’s only so much magic Amazon can work with given the small form factor. If you’re serious about your music or want to fill a larger room, this won’t be your main speaker. As an ancillary one for the bedroom or study, however, it’s absolutely perfect.
Alexa, for my money, is still a distinct second on smarts, however, lagging some way behind Google Assistant. Even if this generation marked a big improvement, as a cloud-based service available on every Echo it still wouldn’t be a reason to upgrade, but it’s worth noting if you’re choosing between smart speakers. It’s great for smart home functionality (“Alexa, turn off the lights” still has a sci-fi charm for me) but less good for generic questions.
An odd case in point: the new Echo Dot has a new temperature sensor built in, so you’d think getting a temperature reading from it should be easy, right? Sadly this wasn’t the case: If I ask the temperature, I get the weather outside, which is reasonable enough. But if I say “Alexa, what’s the temperature in this room” it chirps back “Bedroom doesn’t support that”. After some Googling, I found the magic combination of words: “Alexa, what’s the indoor temperature?”
Maybe that’s a bug, but it feels oddly representative of my universal experience with Alexa to date, where you have to obey Amazon’s oddly specific phrasing to get useful results. Google Assistant is far better at inferring what you want from vague instructions.
The temperature sensor is rather handy, however. You can make it part of your routines, so the Echo can automatically turn on your thermostat or fans if it gets too hot or cold. I’m not sure it’s worth an upgrade in and of itself, but it’s a welcome new addition nonetheless.
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Amazon Echo Dot 5th generation (2022) review: Verdict
And that’s ultimately the problem with the 5th-generation Echo Dot. The upgrades are all welcome, but quite small even when taken together. The improvement to sound quality is noticeable, but only if you have it and the previous-gen model next to one another. The temperature sensor is also handy, but I’d conservatively guess that it won’t be used by about 90% of buyers.
The 3.5mm jack, meanwhile, was once present, easy to use and practical – but it’s been completely ripped out. That’s not a swap I’d have made personally as it’s far more flexible for most people than a temperature sensor.
Don’t get me wrong, the 2022 Echo Dot is still the best small smart speaker you can buy for the money. But is it much better than the 2020 model? Not so much. If you’re new to smart speakers, I doubt you’ll regret buying the 5th-generation Echo Dot. But if you’re coming from the 2020 model, I wouldn’t be half so confident in that prediction.