The same sound quality as the Echo Plus for £50 less
- Unbeatable sound quality in this price bracket
- Alexa sounds a bit more human
- Great price
- Alexa is still dimmer than Google Assistant
Another year, another range of Amazon Echo devices. The Echo is the original smart speaker, which for those unaware, not only can play music and radio but also lets you control things with the power of your voice. Simply say “Alexa” and then add another command: hear the news, listen to music of your choice, hear a joke, find what’s on your calendar… and the Echo will do its best to fulfil your request.
For those who have been following the smart speaker revolution, the third-generation Echo looks remarkably familiar. But it’s not because Amazon has retained the shell from the second-generation Echo. Instead, it takes its design cues and innards from the second-generation Echo Plus, only without the smart home connectivity.
Amazon Echo 3rd gen (2019) review: What you need to know
Amazon’s smart speaker is back again for a third generation but while it’s a big improvement on the second-generation Echo you’ve actually been able to buy something very similar for a year: the Echo Plus.
Sound-quality wise, they’re identical with the Echo 3 inheriting the same 3in neodymium woofer and 0.8in tweeter from the second-generation Echo Plus. That’s a decent upgrade over the 2.5in woofer and 0.6in tweeter in old second-generation Echo.
The two are identical physically. I mean that in the literal sense: I had the two side by side earlier for testing and they’re simply indistinguishable, barring the thin layer of dust on top of my Plus. The only thing the Echo 3 is missing from last year’s Plus is the ability to be a smart home hub – there’s no native ZigBee support here.
Amazon Echo 3rd gen (2019) review: Price and competition
The price remains the same: the third-generation Echo is £90, which is precisely the same as the second-generation version was at launch and, crucially, £50 cheaper than the £140 Echo Plus, which you’ve already heard it isn’t much different from. You can pair either (or one of each) with the £119 Echo Sub for deeper bass, if you like.
That also makes it cheaper than its main rival, the £89 Google Home, which still hasn’t seen an update since 2017 when it debuted at £129. If you have a decent sound system already, and want better sound from your smart speaker, you’re better off getting the £50 Echo Dot and plugging it via a 3.5mm cable.
Amazon Echo 3rd gen (2019) review: Design
As I said earlier, the third-generation Amazon Echo is identical to the 2018 Echo Plus. That means it’s larger than the second-generation Echo but only slightly. Specifically, it’s 11mm wider and deeper. Unless you have both side by side, though, you’re unlikely to notice, and the effect overall is of an extra-large tin of beans wrapped in fabric. Said fabric comes in charcoal (pictured), heather grey, sandstone or twilight blue colours. The cover can’t be replaced like it can on the Google Home, so the shade you pick is what you’re stuck with.
There’s a slightly rounded top which houses the physical buttons: volume up and down, mic disconnect and a physical button to get Alexa’s attention if you’re playing music too loudly to be heard. I slightly miss the twisting top for volume from the very first Echo, but that’s clearly never coming back, and this is, ultimately, a more compact design, aesthetically pleasing design overall.
Finally, there’s a 3.5mm jack, which both supports output of audio to a beefier sound system, or input from a smartphone, tablet or music player.
Amazon Echo 3rd gen (2019) review: Performance
The first thing you’ll notice when you come to play with the third-generation Echo is that Alexa has had a voice lift. The speech on both this and the brand new Echo Dot with Clock sounds far more natural and closer to the tones of Google Assistant. Wandering around my house to test older models showed they have so far been unchanged, and it’s not clear if Amazon will ever bother even if it is just a software update.
Oddly, there seems to be something going on beyond just the voice change. My Xiaomi smart bulb in the bedroom stopped working on Echos with the new voice, but continues to work on devices with the old one, despite them being on the same Alexa app. Very peculiar.
In any case, a new voice isn’t in itself a reason to upgrade, but what about the sound quality in more general terms? Well, the 2.5in woofer and 0.6in tweeter have been upgraded to 3in and 0.8in respectively to match the specs of the Echo Plus and the difference in sound quality is night and day. The overall sound profile is both richer and warmer and the thin bass performance of the previous model has been replaced with something far more robust.
That sounds remarkably similar to what I wrote about the Echo Plus last year and there’s a very good reason for that. They’re not just identical on paper, they’re indistinguishable to the ears, too. Placing the new Echo 3 next to the Echo Plus 2, I alternated between the same track on both speakers and couldn’t tell the two apart. They’re identical, which is quite something as it essentially means you’re getting a £50 price cut.
Well, not quite, because the Echo Plus does still has a couple of things the Echo 3 lacks: a built-in smart home hub with ZigBee support, which allows it to talk directly to smart home devices such as Philips Hue bulbs without needing a separate hub; the Plus also has a built in thermometer to measure the temperature of the room it’s in.
That’s all very nice but is it worth £50? Well, not to me, no and I say that as someone with a couple of smart bulbs, a Nest thermostat and a Ring doorbell, so I’m well on the way to the kind of house the Jetsons might have given you dreams about in the 1980s. It’s not just the extra cost either: if you’re the kind of person who already has this stuff, then you’ll have set it all up already, hubs and all.
On the subject of Alexa, Amazon’s smart assistant still isn’t the brightest (smart) bulb in the box. Asked simple questions, Google Assistant has always managed to come up with more complete or relevant answers, and the same is true here. Alexa is fine for controlling smart homes, playing music and telling jokes, but more advanced queries are often met by confusion or something wholly unrelated.
That may not be an issue for you. Personally, if I want to find something out, then smart speakers aren’t the easiest way to get answers anyway, and the Echo range of speakers still has far better third-party hardware and software support than Google Home as far as I can tell. Where would I be without being able to play Pointless before bed? Well, asleep five minutes earlier, but you know what I mean.
Amazon Echo 3rd gen (2019) review: Verdict
The first Amazon Echo launched at £149, and the second managed to knock £60 off the price tag. This year’s Echo maintains the price, but matches the sound quality of the £139 Echo Plus: that feels like a good compromise to me.
In short, this remains the best all-round smart speaker you can buy with the added bonus of sound quality that’s nigh-on impossible to match in the price bracket. Yes, Alexa isn’t as smart as Google Assistant but, in terms of hardware, it’s now streets ahead of the Google Home. That makes it an easy recommendation at £89.