The Amazon Echo 2 didn’t have to do a great deal to stay on top because as the saying goes "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." And given the Echo has already transformed the way we interact with our smart home, it hasn't fiddled too much with its latest smart speaker.
The second generation Echo is cheaper at $99.99 (the first, more expensive, Echo is no longer on sale), smaller and with a much nicer design, comes with some sound improvements (that we think don’t go quite far enough) and an audio output nicked from the Echo Dot.
And that’s about it. This is the same smart speaker at its core, but more affordable, smaller and better looking. It helps get Alexa into your home in a full-sized speaker that’s designed to chat to you and play music and not be hidden and hooked up to other speakers. It’s the best standalone Echo since well the Echo despite the fact that we reckon most households would be better off getting a couple of Echo Dots. Let’s dig in.
Amazon Echo 2: Design
Aside from the money you’re saving on the price of the actual speaker, the main selling point here if you’ve encountered the original Echo, is the smaller, more stylish design. The original Echo has a bit of an odd design to be honest, it’s bigger and taller in person than you might think having seen pictures online. It's quite attention seeking in a room.
The Echo 2 is more demure, with its squatter dimensions (3.5-inch x 5.9-inch) and fabric covers called Echo Shells - you have six to choose from when you buy: charcoal, sandstone, heather grey, oak, walnut, silver. If you have a modern flat, this will slot right in but if you’ve got a more traditional aesthetic, the Google Home might still be a better bet. No-one will turn their nose up at this entering the house, put it that way - now you just need to figure out where to plug it in.
Up top, you get volume up and down buttons, an action button and a microphone off button to stop Alexa listening in for the wake word - usually ‘Alexa’ but you can change it to alternatives like ‘Computer’. And the blue-green light ring that shows you when Alexa is listening.
Amazon Echo 2: Alexa and features
It’s official, in eyes (and ears) of The Ambient editorial team - Alexa is best. The voice assistant experience is exactly the same across Echo speakers, somewhat inferior in third party options so far, but Alexa is constantly evolving.
New, recent features include making calls, ‘drop in’, and Routines - Amazon’s version of smart home scenes (though these are quite limited right now unless you have lots of Echo speakers) and we expect a whole bunch more in 2018.
For news, weather, calendar updates; reading out recipes, controlling music and smart home gadgets and everything in between Alexa is the most accurate and helpful of the bunch. Note: Google does have the edge for web/knowledge based queries unsurprisingly and Cortana has the whole Microsoft Office suite going for it.
The Echo 2’s seven microphone array means you can be heard way across the room, even in slightly noisy environments and still be picked up. Now that doesn’t mean it’s perfect but in 2018, no voice assistant is, you’re not missing out on another speaker that doesn’t sometimes require an ‘Alexa, stop’ and start over.
Alexa works with just about everything where smart home gadgets are concerned, it’s had a real headstart when compared with Apple HomeKit which still has a fair few gaps. Likewise Alexa Skills - you can interact with a whole bunch of big name apps (Uber, Domino’s etc) with your voice and Google Assistant’s Actions are still catching up.
There is of course an Alexa app for set up, adding smart home devices and looking back through your history. We know the whole point of Echo is to go full voice control but we wish this could be given a more intuitive overhaul - sometimes we just want to scroll through and sort things out on our smartphones. It's not difficult to use the app, there's no QR codes at least, but it could be easier.
Amazon Echo 2: Sound and connections
The improvement that Amazon is giving top billing is the tweaks to the sound of the Echo, one of the only real complaints you can make against the whole smart speaker line-up. There is a new speaker (0.6-inch tweeter; 2.5-inch woofer) with Dolby processing which aims for “crisp vocals”, “dynamic bass response” and “360 degree omnidirectional audio”.
Now, the Echo 2 does sound slightly punchier than the first Echo which you might prefer but it’s not the kind of overhaul the Echo family needs if it is going to keep shifting units manufactured by Amazon and not all its lovely, new partners. In other words, don’t believe this particular hype, the Echo 2 can’t match the richness and clarity of the Sonos One and Harman Kardon Invoke. (Though, of course it is half the price so why would it?)
Don’t worry, though, because round the back of the device you’ll find that the Echo 2 borrows a neat feature from the cheaper Echo Dot - the 3.5mm audio output. That means that you always have the option to grab a cable and connect this to your speakers. Though in that case, you could also just get an Echo Dot... decisions, decisions.
Apart from this, connectivity is much the same - Wi-Fi, Bluetooth - with no extra smart home protocols supported as on the more expensive Echo Plus. Here’s the thing, though, you probably don’t need it.
- Affordable all-rounder
- You want Alexa right?
- Design is less offensive..
- Rival’s sound quality is better
- An Echo Dot might also suit
- .. Still not stylish though