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Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) Review: The Best Echo on a Budget

The latest Echo Dot is an excellent smart speaker, with a suite of useful features and decent sound from a compact unit.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
5 min read

We all tend to think of our lives in terms of epochs -- and usually these correspond to "our 20s" or "high school" -- but technology can also have an influence. When I think of the time before smart speakers, I wonder how I ever got out of bed to turn off a light. If it wasn't for the original Amazon Echo, the notion of an affordable smart home -- which can do things such as operate the lights for $60 all-up -- wouldn't even exist. And when it comes to affordability, the most recent Amazon Echo Dot, now in its fifth generation, pumps up the features while keeping the price low. 

If you're an Amazon household, the Echo Dot is the best value of the brand's current crop. Despite the all-new Amazon Echo Pop smart speaker entering the lineup, the current Echo Dot 5th Gen sounds better, offers more features and is only an extra $10.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

What's so smart about it?

The Echo Dot is a smart speaker that offers music, news and weather through voice interaction, plus compatibility with over 140,000 connected devices. The Dot joins a family of speakers and smart displays, plus devices from third parties such as Sonos and Yamaha. The wake word, which enables you to interact with the speaker, is set to "Alexa" by default, but you can also change it to "Ziggy," "Echo," "Amazon" or even "Computer."

The appeal of the Dot, and other speakers like the Nest Mini, is their compactness. The Dot is almost a sphere -- a small orange with its end cut off, perhaps -- and measures 3.9 inches wide and deep and 3.5 inches high. The controls sit at the top: an "action button" for summoning Alexa, volume up and down, and a microphone toggle switch. At the bottom of the speaker is the familiar light ring, which activates when you interact with the speaker. It also lights up yellow when you have a system notification, though it's easy to turn this off in Settings.


Bop it!

Ty Pendlebury/CNET

In addition to its usual Echo capabilities, the latest Dot comes with a handful of new features that make it even more useful, as you might hope. The first is something every smart speaker should have: a temperature sensor. If you live in an apartment, you probably don't have a fancy split system, but an old-fashioned window AC. Being able to check the temperature can help you keep your home at a more reasonable level -- especially in the midst of a heat wave.

If you do have an Alexa household, it's possible you also went all-in with Nest doorbells and Eero routers. The Echo Dot can help in the latter case by offering an Eero extender feature, which saves you $80 on a dedicated add-on.

The latest Dot also enables tap gestures for the top of the device. Though tapping it makes more sense if you upgrade to the Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) with clock ($60), it's still a useful feature for the normal model.    

The last upgrade, according to the company, is to the sonics, with "clearer vocals, deeper bass and vibrant sound." The very first Echo was a pretty dreary-sounding tube, but successive iterations have improved the sound somewhat. The Dot now includes a 1.7-inch driver at the front of the unit.

Unlike most companies, Amazon can sell multiple generations of its devices simultaneously. Though I was disappointed to see that the new Dot doesn't have a 3.5mm output, you can still buy the fourth-gen model, which does include one. If you're really serious about your networked music, though, the WiiM Pro is an excellent streamer, for $150.


From left: The $50 Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen), $40 Amazon Echo Pop and the $50 Google Nest Mini.

Ty Pendlebury/CNET


I began my testing of the Dot with the various ways to control it, including voice and touch. One of the most remarkable things about the best smart speakers is their ability to discern what you're saying -- even if music is blaring and even when it's from another speaker altogether. Whispering to Alexa while music is playing is a great party trick, and that worked flawlessly on this Dot. I could also speak to Alexa while listening to my Q Acoustics reference system at a reasonable level. Alexa's responses were zippy, and I didn't experience a time when it simply didn't hear me. 

Meanwhile, in his preview of the Gen 5 speaker, CNET's Ry Crist said he found the tap feature to be a bit finicky and that it didn't respond to some taps. It's possible Amazon has tweaked this feature in the meantime, as I had no issue with light taps or harder thunks being translated to stop/start music or silence alarms. 

At my own home, I use Google Assistant because I've found it responds better to Australian accents, but if I based my choice on sound quality alone, I'd pick Alexa. I haven't tested Nest Audio yet, but I've never been that impressed with the audio performance of Google's speakers -- from the first Google Home to the Home Max to the newest Nest Mini. They've always been digital assistants first, speakers second. This isn't something I can say about the latest Echos, as the Echo Studio, Echo (4th Gen) and, to a much lesser extent, the Dot (5th Gen) are all quite capable as music speakers.

When side by side, I found the Echo Dot was more enjoyable with music than both the Nest Mini and the Echo Pop. The Dot generated more bass and sounded better with modern rock or pop. Though it was possible to get it louder than the other two, that was only by introducing distortion as well. The Mini sounded the weediest of the three, and I wouldn't recommend listening to music on it, though many people insist on doing it anyway. Meanwhile, the Pop was better when listening to voices -- with clearer vocals and better enunciation in podcasts or even just with Alexa's voice.

If you really want a speaker that can do both music and voice, then it's best to trade up to the full-fat Echo (Gen 4), as it can easily fill a room with sound, and with much lower distortion.

Should you buy it?

The Echo Dot 5th Gen is one of the most popular smart speakers for several reasons: It's compact, it sounds decent, and it's affordable. While the Pop is much prettier, and more useful in a teen bedroom maybe, the Dot offers almost every feature I could think of that you'd need to help run a smart home. If you're an Alexa user, you should consider adding a few to your home, and it's especially worth ponying up for the clock version for the bedside. In 100 years, if this was held up as an example of the smart speakers of this era, I don't know of anyone right now who'd complain.