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Hands-On With Amazon's New Echo Dot Speakers: Should You Upgrade?

Amazon pulls out some new tricks for the new Echo Dot with Clock and the Echo Dot Kids. Find out if they're worth preordering.

The 5th-gen Amazon Echo Dot and Amazon Echo Dot with Clock sitting on a bedside nightstand.
Amazon

There wasn't a new Amazon Echo smart speaker on display at the online megaretailer's yearly hardware and services event last month, but Amazon did reveal a brand-new lineup of smaller-sized Echo Dot speakers, as well as a new Echo Dot with Clock and new Echo Dot Kids speakers, too. Though still available only for preorder, I got to test out the new speakers to see how they perform compared to the previous generations, and if they live up to Amazon's promises. 

"This is our most powerful lineup yet," said Nedim Fresko, Amazon's vice president of Alexa devices and developer technologies. "We've redesigned the audio architecture with a full range driver and the highest excursion speaker of any Echo Dot."

Price: Echo Dot, $50; Echo Dot with Clock, $60
Release date: Oct. 21, preorder now

The newest entry-level Amazon smart speaker has much better bass output, retaining the same design and color lineup (charcoal, glacier white or deep sea blue). The Echo Dot with Clock tacks $10 onto the $50 Echo Dot price for the timekeeping and for the Echo Dot Kids, redesigned with new purple dragon and turquoise owl-themed designs.

$28 at Amazon
You're receiving price alerts for All-New Echo Dot (5th Gen, 2022 release) | Smart speaker with Alexa | Charcoal

According to Fresko, that high-excursion design means that the new Echo Dot speakers put out up to twice as much bass as previous generations, all from within the same spherical design and a familiar choice of colors (charcoal, glacier white or deep sea blue). Available for preorder now and expected to ship out in October, the prices are the same, too -- $50 for the new, fifth-gen Echo Dot, or $60 for the new Echo Dot with Clock or the new Echo Dot Kids.

A mockup shows the inner workings of the 5th-gen Echo Dot smart speaker, which features better bass thanks to a new, high-excursion design.

The new Echo Dot speakers feature high-excursion designs, which basically means that the speaker's cone can move and vibrate more than before to produce up to twice as much bass as previous generations.

Amazon

Along with the better sound quality, the new Echo Dot devices include new sensors that enable tap gestures for the top of the device, which might make for a quicker means of shutting off that morning alarm or cooking timer. The new Echo Dot with Clock, available in cloud blue or glacier white, comes with some slight refinements to the clock readout, too -- namely, the ability to display upcoming calendar events, artists and song titles during music playback, or weather info with icons whenever you ask Alexa for the day's forecast.

Price: $60
Release date: Oct. 21, preorder now

The Echo Dot Kids has been redesigned with new purple dragon and turquoise owl-themed designs with matching Alexa voices for Amazon Kids Plus subscribers, plus the usual kid- and parent-friendly features.

$28 at Amazon
You're receiving price alerts for All-New Echo Dot (5th Gen, 2022 release) | Smart speaker with Alexa | Charcoal

Meanwhile, the Echo Dot Kids got a makeover, with new purple dragon and turquoise owl-themed designs. Each device offers parental controls in the Alexa app, a two-year warranty and a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids Plus for kid-friendly content options. Soon, the speakers will also offer Kids Plus subscribers exclusive owl- and dragon-themed custom Alexa voices, too.

"Ambient intelligence has been our North Star since the early days of Echo and Alexa, and a true ambient experience is personalized, proactive and intuitive enough to adapt to you and your environment," Fresko told CNET. "All of our Echo devices and services are designed to drive this idea forward for our customers whether they are at home or on the go."

All three of the new Echo Dot speakers are available for preorder now and expected to ship out by the end of October.

The 5th-gen Amazon Echo Dot with Clock sitting against a blue background. The pixelated clockface displays the time, 12:23.

The 5th-gen Echo Dot with Clock sports a new, pixelated clockface that can display things like song titles and weather forecasts in addition to the time.

Ry Crist/CNET

First impressions of the new Echo Dots

The new Echo Dots aren't expected to ship out to customers until the end of October, but in the meantime, Amazon sent us the new Echo Dot with Clock to try out. At a glance, it's nearly identical to the previous model, save for the redesigned, pixelated LED clockface.

As soon as you plug it in and begin setup, you'll see that clockface in action with a friendly "Hello" that scrolls by as Alexa offers setup instructions (followed by "Hola," and "Bonjour," as Alexa repeats those instructions in Spanish and French). Apart from that, the setup experience is the same as before -- just open the Alexa app, pair with the new device and let it onto your Wi-Fi network.

The 4th- and 5th-gen Amazon Echo Dot with Clock smart speakers sitting side by side against a blue background.
Ry Crist/CNET

From there, you'll be able to use Alexa like you normally would. You can ask the speaker to stream music or control your smart home devices, you can ask for the evening's weather forecast, you can ask it to set a timer; you name it. Amazon has a steady habit of rolling out new Alexa features, but there's nothing inherently new about the Alexa experience as far as the new Dots are concerned.

The device does have a few new tricks up its sleeve, though. For starters, you can tap the top to pause or resume music playback, or to stop a timer. The feature worked well enough when I tried it out, but it seemed a bit finicky -- light taps often wouldn't work when I tried to pause my music, and even harder whacks would sometimes fail me. I wonder if Amazon might need to tweak the sensitivity a bit.

Speaking of music, the Echo Dot with Clock got the same bass upgrade as the standard Echo Dot, so I made sure to give some bass-heavy tunes a good listen. Overall, the speaker definitely feels noticeably louder than before at max settings, and the bass was slightly more prominent among the mix. It isn't a game-changing upgrade, though. The Echo Dot has always had surprisingly decent sound quality for such a small speaker, but it's still just that -- a small speaker that's better suited for podcasts and casual listening than it is for pumping up the jam at your next living room dance party.

An Eero Pro 6E router sits beside the 5th-gen Amazon Echo Dot with Clock against a blue background. The new Echo Dots can double as Wi-Fi extenders for Eero's mesh networks.

Amazon's new Echo Dots can double as Wi-Fi extenders for Eero's mesh routers.

Ry Crist/CNET

The other new trick of note is that, like the new Echo Dot, the new Echo Dot with Clock can double as a makeshift Wi-Fi extender for Eero's mesh routers.

"Lots of customers are going to have a camera outside of their house, or a streamer behind the TV that struggles to stay connected," Eero co-founder and CEO Nick Weaver told me on a recent call. Wi-Fi-repeating Echo Dot devices could help fill in those gaps, which seems like a pretty smart pitch to me.

Amazon is launching the feature with the new Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock, as well as the full-size Amazon Echo released in 2020. In the coming months, it'll work with the previous-gen Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock, too, which is a nice touch. Testing that feature out is one of the next items on my agenda, so I'll update this space once I have some data to share about how well it works.

All in all, Amazon seems pretty satisfied with its spherical smart speakers, and probably didn't see a need to fix what wasn't broken. That means that the new Echo Dots are just as likable as before, but there's very little reason, if any, for existing Dot owners to rush out and upgrade.

For more, check out our coverage of everything else Amazon announced last month, including the Halo Rise, Kindle Scribe and new Ring Spotlight cameras.

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