The most popular smart speaker of the Echo line-up, Amazon's Echo Dot had undergone a design makeover. Ditching the generations-old cylindrical shape, Amazon has now opted for a refreshing dome-shaped design. The front has mesh fabric with the rest made of hard plastic. LED display peeps through the fabric displays time by default and shows temperature and countdown timers when asked.
And be it night or day, the light sensor automatically adjusts the display's brightness. This subtle LED display is just perfect - especially when you are checking the time at night. While the physical controls (volume up, down, mic mute, action button) continue to be on the top, the LED ring has been moved to the bottom. It illuminates in blue when Alexa is listening, and in red when the mic is turned off. The new design makes sense only if placed at the eye-level or below, ideal for a nightstand, sideboard or study table. The four microphones on board managed to pick commands from every corner of the room, even while playing music.
Amazon's smart speaker ecosystem is powered by Alexa, the intelligent assistant software that sits in the cloud. This means, for the smart speaker to work, it has to be connected to the Wifi network all the time. For the Echo Dot to work you don't need Amazon Prime membership. Simply create your Amazon account for free, log in the Alexa app using the same credentials and you are good to go. Amazon has made it rather easy to configure the new Dot. Simply tap on the '+' sign in the Alexa app and it automatically detects the new smart speaker nearby. The setup experience is seamless, very similar to Apple's.
Once configured, Alexa adheres to all sorts of requests including fetching information, playing music, controlling compatible appliances and more. But these actions are driven by skills, which needs to be activated within the Alexa app. These can be activated by visiting the skills section within the Alexa app, or you can also ask Alexa to launch the particular skill. But for this, you need to know the exact name of the skill.
For instance, to activate/launch WikiHow. Once done, just call out Alexa and it will quickly process all the commands. The skill ecosystem is huge. It has thousands of skills across categories such as business & finance, connected car, education and reference, food and drink, games and trivia, health and fitness, kids, lifestyle, local, movies and TVs, music and audio, news, novelty and humour, productivity, shopping and smart home. Most commonly used for playing music, it supports all popular streaming services including Prime Music, Gaana, Saavn, Apple Music, Spotify, Hungama amongst others.
Unlike the premium Echo devices that come with a smart hub for connecting and controlling Zigbee smart devices, the new Echo Dot doesn't feature one. However, I was able to connect and control non-Zigbee enabled devices. For instance, I was able to pair it with smart bulbs from Xiaomi and SyskaEcho Dot with just a voice command. For pairing new devices, I had to activate the hardware skill and ask Alexa to look for compatible devices. Within 45 seconds, it recognises the gadgets and displays them in the app as well. Once done, I was able to switch on/off lights simply by asking Alexa.
For the compact size, Echo Dot houses a fairly decent speaker too. While playing Bollywood music, bhajans and even countryside music, the audio was loud and clear. It even handled lows and highs well. It is good enough for a small room. But if you are a music buff looking for a high fidelity sound, the Echo Dot isn't for you.
The new Echo Dot with Clock can be a great addition to a bedroom, living room, kids room or even study. The limited functionality of the LED display within the smart speaker eliminates the need of having yet another screen (referring to smart displays here) around, without getting too intrusive. It's great if you are buying your first smart speaker. But existing 3rd gen Echo Dot owners can easily give this one a miss.
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