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Smart Home

Amazon's third Echo Dot gets a softer look and better sound

Amazon's most popular smart speaker gets a fabric makeover and a boost in sound quality for the same price.

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Ry Crist/CNET

The third generation of the Amazon Echo Dot looks better than ever, but it also bears a striking resemblance to its main competitor, the Google Home Mini ($49 at Google Store). Amazon unveiled the newest version of its petite smart speaker at the company's surprise hardware event in Seattle on Thursday.

The newest Dot will feature 70 percent louder sound thanks to a larger driver. It's a little bigger and has a fabric exterior available in three color options: charcoal, heather gray and sandstone. And it'll keep the Dot's attractive $50 price (£50, AU$79). You can preorder the latest Dot on Amazon now. The current estimated delivery date is Oct. 11.

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Both the first and second versions of the Echo Dot helped to revolutionize the smart home by making voice controls affordable. They fit all of the same smarts of an ordinary Echo into a smaller package with most of the speaker chopped off, but they also brought the price down and included a line-out jack so you could attach a Dot to your own stereo setup. 

The new Dot will still have a line-out jack. You'll also be able to connect to your own speakers through Bluetooth, and they'll be able to pair with the new Echo Sub for a stereo sound setup with deep bass.

The new colors of the third-gen Echo Dot and the fabric exterior should help it look less industrial. The edges are now more rounded to the same effect. Otherwise, expect many of the same features as you get on the current second-gen Dot. You'll be able to command your device with your voice thanks to Amazon's assistant Alexa.

Give a command to Alexa and you can control a large roster of smart home devices, search the web, check the weather, play music and more. Alexa's list of features is constantly growing, and Amazon does a good job of keeping all of its products up to date. At Thursday's event, the company showed off new features such as location-based routines to unlock your door and play your favorite song when you get home, as well as kid-specific routines for bedtime.

Even though you can easily hook up the new Dot to your own sound system, hopefully the larger driver and louder sound will make a noticeable difference, as sound quality was one of the key ways the Dot trailed the Google Home Mini. Google's most affordable smart speaker hit stores well after the second-gen Dot, and was meant to capitalize on the popularity of Amazon's mini smart speaker. Better sound quality and colorful fabric finishes helped Google close the gap in smart speaker sales -- the Mini actually outsold the Dot in the second quarter of 2018.

The third-gen Dot looks like a clear rebuttal to the Mini. The fabric finish in particular is reminiscent of the Mini's design. It's odd to see Amazon playing catch-up in a category they practically invented, but if the third-gen Dot looks and sounds better in practice, it could beat the Mini at its own game. 

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