Amazon Echo Dot review: Alexa on the cheap makes this a no brainer

The Amazon Echo Dot has been around the block and matured into a delicious little speaker indeed

Amazon Echo Dot review
(Image credit: Amazon)

The Amazon Echo Dot has matured over the years, and has proven itself to be an awesome little device. Whether you want to pump out some basic tunes in the kitchen, bring voice-controlled smarts into a kids' room, or you just don't want to shell out for the full-fat Amazon Echo (or its heftier brother, the Echo Studio), the Dot is there. 

It's safe to say you should probably buy one of these. The Echo Dot is cheap even at its £49.99/$49.99 RRP (or a tenner more for the version with built-in clock) but, as the Ancient Ones decreed, you should never buy an Echo Dot at full price. 

If you spot one going cheap while perusing the latest Black Friday deals, so much the better. And let's face it, you will be able to pick up a deal on one: the Dot is very frequently discounted, and the third generation model is about to be replaced by the fourth generation version, so it'll be flying out of Amazon's warehouses at a cheap clip.

The Echo Dot is perfectly acceptable, but not in any way spectacular, when it comes to pumping out those tunes. It has a small speaker, vastly improved in generation three from those that preceded it, but it's not the finest by any means, and nowhere near as good as the full-sized Echo. It also has a 3.5mm line out, so you can plug it into whatever you like if you want fuller output – though the Echo Input offers an even cheaper way to do this, if that's all you're interested in the Dot for.

Amazon Echo Dot review

(Image credit: Amazon)

Smaller is better 

The Echo Dot kind of looks like an ice hockey puck. I think. I can't say I've ever actually seen an ice hockey puck in real life, but everyone says that was the look, so I'm going to go with it. 

Amazon rounded the edges off for this third generation version and will be going almost fully spherical for the slightly bonkers fourth edition Echo Dot, which we'll be checking out very soon.

In its raw form, you could use a Dot as a supplementary Alexa portal, in addition to an Echo. You possibly wouldn't want to listen to music through it, unless perhaps you live in a monastery, and don't want the other monks to hear you listening to Cradle of Filth.

Use the 3.5mm output or – slightly more fiddly – Bluetooth to plug in a decent speaker, however, and the Dot instantly becomes "Echo But With Better Sound Quality". As such, it's able to be used anywhere in the house (so long as you have a spare speaker to plug it into handy), while Echo's natural home remains the kitchenette.

When you consider that this Echo But With Better Sound Quality deal will cost you just £50/$50 as long as you already have a second speaker going on, it becomes a must buy. Or if not a must buy, at least a "you might as well buy". 

Music Unlimited: Echo's killer app

The sheer affordability of Echo Dot (assuming you already own a speaker which, if you're reading T3, surely you do) makes it easy to overlook the fact that, other than playing music and serving as a kitchen timer and to-do list maker, Alexa doesn't excel at a hell of a lot, so far.

However, the Amazon Music Unlimited streaming app (or 'Skill' to use the official Echo terminology) is undeniably fantastic. 

Spotify might not exactly be trembling, not least because its own streaming service works very well on Echo too, but it might be a little concerned. Music Unlimited gives you 60 million tunes for a pretty decent £7.99/$7.99 per month.

The great thing about Music Unlimited on Echo is the brilliant way it uses Alexa's voice recognition and cloud database mining skills.

Tracks can be selected, favourited and skipped in all the usual ways, but thanks to the miracle of metadata you can also ask it for "happy 80s music" or "melancholic heavy metal" or even "Sad Abba tunes from the 70s".

You can also ask for "That song that goes 'blah blah blah'," with lyrics allegedly available for "70-something per cent" of the tracks on offer. I have to say, I have never got this to work, but maybe that says something about the obscurity of my musical tastes.

The Dotted Line

The Echo Dot is (mostly) functionally identical to the full sized Echo. You do miss a couple of functions, like the smart home hub of the Echo Plus (and, soon, the fourth-gen Echo), but for most people that won't be too big of an issue.

When you then add Alexa's acknowledged skills with setting timers, making lists and turning your smart bulbs on and off, it's a great deal. Alexa has definitely matured over time, like a fine wine rather than the half-eaten tin of beans at the back of my fridge.

This means AI on the cheap, with a really good music service, compatibility with a raft of smart home kit, a massively extendable range of often questionably useful skills, and a lot more besides. There's even a brightly coloured Kids Edition, if you happen to live somewhere which sells it.

If you can get one on the cheap - and you probably can, if you're watching our guide to the best Black Friday deals - then the third-generation Echo Dot is doubly valuable; while we're yet to test the fourth-gen model, we have our suspicions that it's not going to be too far advanced from the lovely Gen 3, and Amazon is going to be looking to shift those older Dots quick.