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Amazon Echo Dot with Clock vs. the Google Home Mini

Do the new timing features swing things in Amazon's favor?

Google and Amazon have seesawed in the affordable smart speaker market. While the original Echo Dot ($53 at Walmart) jumpstarted Alexa's early adoption rates, Google's Mini smart speaker soon outpaced it in terms of sound quality -- a huge feature, considering one of the most common uses for smart speakers is listening to music. But last year, with the 3rd Generation Echo Dot, Amazon reclaimed ground, achieving parity with the Google Home Mini ($339 at Amazon). Now at its September event, Amazon has gone back on the offensive, announcing a new Dot featuring a digital clock on its face and a $10 price bump to a total of $60.

So the question is: which is the ultimate affordable smart speaker?

James Martin/CNET

A digital clock might seem like a small addition to a smart speaker like the Echo Dot, but Amazon is clearly crafting an affordable speaker for everyday use: one that answers the most common questions and solves the most common problems -- all in the most efficient package.

As Amazon's Senior VP of Amazon Devices and Services Dave Limp explained during the event, users asked Alexa for the time of day over a billion times per year. A digital display makes answering such a basic question as simple as a glance, and importantly for Amazon, keeps users turning to its smart speaker for basic daily tasks. Throw in timers -- no more asking Alexa how much time is left -- and alarm clock functions, and you have a simple device that packs more day-to-day usefulness into its small profile than any other on the market.

The one sticking point for the new Echo Dot is that $60 price tag. Ten bucks might not seem like much, but these small margins are exactly what affordable speakers like the Dot and the Google Home Mini have going for them. But since these gadgets go on sale so often -- and this Dot will likely be no different -- the few dollars separating on-sale speakers probably won't stop too many users from picking up the Dot with Clock, if only to save a few minutes of asking-time per year. Read more analysis of Amazon's latest Dot.

Chris Monroe/CNET

It speaks to how close these devices really are to one another that most people will choose which affordable smart speaker to buy based on brand. If you already use Google Assistant around the house, on your phone or in the car, why not keep your system unified?

The Google Home Mini sounds just about as good as the Echo Dot with Clock, and it controls smart home gadgets as well. While the device, which came out in 2017, might feel a little light on those extra features that sweeten Amazon's newest wallet-friendly speakers, Google's small speaker can certainly stand against any other out there.

At the end of the day, what will likely make most users' decisions is the digital assistant they already use. Read CNET's Review.

Or maybe just ... wait?

Better for smart-speaker newcomers

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

As holiday season approaches, there's no rush to jump into buying the newest small speaker from Google or Amazon. A new speaker is rumored to drop from Google in the coming months -- potentially upping sound quality and adding hardware features like an auxiliary cord input and a wall mount.

Once we hit Black Friday and other holiday sales, these new smart speakers will likely see temporary price dips, and the fuller picture of the year's affordable speaker offerings will become clear. So if you're still on the fence about smart speakers, maybe press "pause" for the next month or so, until you have the best options available for the best price.