Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) and Echo Dot with Clock review: cheap Alexa is better than ever

The 4th gen Echo Dot and Echo Dot with Clock excel in most areas

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review, Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (4th gen) review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

The Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) and Echo Dot with Clock build on the strengths of their predecessors while modernising the look and improving the audio of the Alexa-powered devices. As far as budget smart speakers go, they're difficult to beat.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Alexa is still excellent

  • +

    Choice of appealing colours

  • +

    Simple setup and operation

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Design isn't as compact

  • -

    Limited display customisation it the Clock version

  • -

    Biased towards Amazon services

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The Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) comes in a standard version and an Echo Dot with Clock version that – you guessed it – adds an LED display to tell the time (it can also keep you informed about temperatures and timers, though it's not going to show anything on Prime Video for you).

The Echo Dot is priced at £49.99 / $49.99, while the Clock-ified edition is an extra £10 / $10. Perhaps not completely coincidentally, that's exactly the price that you can get yourself a Google Nest Mini for.

At least, that's at official prices – most people will buy the Echo Dot when it's on sale, and there's a very good chance it will feature in the upcoming Amazon Prime Day deals

As with earlier Echo Dots, the compromise is just the same: you get a speaker that's more compact and cheaper than the bigger Amazon Echo, while sacrificing some sound quality along the way (plus the integrated Zigbee smart home hub that the Echo has inside). Be sure to check out our full Amazon Echo (4th gen) review.

With so many smart speakers to choose from now (even Apple has the HomePod mini at this point), with and without displays, is the 4th gen Echo Dot the right pick for you? Let's go into what we thought about it.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review: design

Small squat pucks are out, round balls are in with the 4th gen Echo Dot – it's the biggest design change for the smaller Echo since the Dot was first introduced in 2016. As with the larger model, the idea is that the acoustics are improved and the sound output is pushed out more evenly into the room, but we do kind of miss the old shape (we preferred the status light being on the top, too).

It's not a bad look, all fabric covered and discreetly coloured. The shades are well chosen: both the Echo Dot and the Echo Dot with Clock come in Glacier White or Twilight Blue, and the standard Echo Dot offers a Charcoal option as well (which is actually our personal favourite of the three).

There are some simple mic mute and volume controls on the top, and on the back of the speaker there are two connectors for power and a 3.5mm line out port if you want to connect another speaker. The little sphere measures 100x100x89mm (3.9x 3.9x3.5 inches), which makes it small enough to fit just about anywhere in your home (as with previous Echo Dots, that's one of the speaker's key advantages).

The LED display on the Clock version uses some fairly uninspiring numbering that you can't customise (it just comes in white), and looks like it's been imported in from the 1980s. To our eyes the numbers look a bit old-fashioned, but your mileage may vary – they are at least very easy to see from across the room. You can adjust the brightness of the LED display or turn it off altogether if you don't want it blazing away all night.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review: features

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen)

(Image credit: Amazon)

Alexa is better than ever at answering questions, playing music, reading out the news, checking your calendar, setting timers and reminders, and so on. We found the Echo Dot quick to respond and clear in its feedback, even when we were talking to it from the other side of the room.

The usual smart speaker caveats apply, in that these devices work best with the services made by the same company – in the case of Alexa, that's Amazon shopping, Amazon Music, Audible for audiobooks, and so on. Buying a smart speaker nowadays isn't just about weighing up the speaker itself, it's about weighing up all the other hardware and software you're already invested in.

Features like placing audio calls and being able to broadcast to other speakers in the home need other Echo devices, for example, so a new Echo Dot is going to be much more appealing if your siblings and parents have already got Amazon speakers set up in their own homes. If they've gone with Google or Apple instead, it makes more sense for you to follow suit – that's the way it goes when it comes to buying new gadgets in the interconnected smart home age.

On its own, it's hard to fault the Echo Dot (with or without the clock): Alexa is almost the perfect digital assistant, with a huge range of capabilities and a knack of being able to understand what you're saying no matter how garbled it is. Alexa works with a host of third-party smart home devices these days too, so you can access your smart lights, plugs, thermostats and more through Alexa voice commands.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review: sound quality

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen)

(Image credit: Amazon)

Compared with the 3rd gen Echo Dot, the new model sounds better and crisper to our ears in terms of audio output, but the difference isn't massive – and it's not a speaker that'll match up to the bigger Echo, the Nest Audio, or anything made by Sonos. It's perfectly acceptable for podcasts and audiobooks, but it lacks depth and clarity when it comes to music, and we can't really recommend it as a jukebox unless you're using it really occasionally to play the odd tune.

There's a single 1.6-inch front-firing speaker inside, not the woofer and the tweeters combo of the bigger Echo. Maybe we're audio snobs, but we'd say definitely go for the larger model or indeed the Echo Studio if you want good audio fidelity. You can, if you want, set up two Echo Dots in a stereo pair – it only takes a couple of taps inside the app.

The Echo Dot supports voice control for numerous music streaming services, including Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and of course Amazon Music. It also accepts Bluetooth connections, so you can really stream anything you like from your phone or tablet. Despite its diminutive size, the Echo Dot can reach a room-filling level of volume, even if the audio lacks the richness you would get from a more expensive speaker.

This has always been the role of the Echo Dot though – it's not really for playing music, though it will do if needed. The acoustics of the 4th gen version improve over the 3rd gen, so it's hard to quibble with Amazon too much on this point, because you know what you're getting when you invest in it. It's the same sort of compromise you make if you buy the Nest Mini from Google rather than the Nest Audio.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review: setup and app

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen)

(Image credit: Amazon)

We're pleased to report that setting up the Echo Dot through the Alexa app for Android or iOS is a breeze, and the app is a lot more polished and reliable than it was in the early years. It's the place to connect all your favourite music streaming services, and to establish links to all the Alexa-compatible smart devices in your home, so you can control them with your voice or inside the app.

If you've got multiple smart home devices that work with Amazon's digital assistant, combining them inside the Alexa app means you can control them together, even if they're from different manufacturers. Integration isn't quite as slick as it is with the main Echo, with its built-in Zigbee hub, but it'll work fine for all but the most complex of setups.

The app also lets you set up Alexa routines, which are groups of actions carried out with a single trigger. You can say goodnight to your Alexa, for example, to have it turn down the smart thermostat, turn off the smart lights, fasten the smart lock on the front door, and start playing some low level white noise. These are cool features, but they're not exclusive to the 4th gen Echo Dot – they'll work with any Echo.

It's hard to choose between Google and Amazon when it comes to the apps controlling their smart speakers and the associated smart home devices: both bits of software are polished, slick and simple to use. The Alexa app certainly isn't a reason to avoid the Echo Dot, and it makes configuring the speaker (from audio levels to connected devices) very straightforward indeed.

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review: verdict

Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen), Amazon Echo Dot with Clock (4th gen)

(Image credit: Amazon)

Not much has changed with the Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen). The previous version was hugely popular and the new version is likely to be too – it's affordable, compact, and packed with all the power and versatility that Alexa brings. The new design won't be for everyone, but it does at least improve the audio output slightly.

There's no real need to upgrade if you already have a 3rd gen Echo Dot, though we would point out that the clock feature is a really handy extra, if you don't already have the model with that built in. If you're thinking about upgrading from an older Echo, adding to an existing home of Echos, or buying a smart speaker for the first time, then the Echo Dot (4th gen) is an excellent choice. As long as you're not expecting wonders from the audio performance, it won't disappoint at all.

For those just starting out with smart speakers, the choice between the offerings from Amazon, Google, Apple and even Sonos is an interesting one: they all have their own pros and cons, and there's no real 'best' choice for everyone. As we've said, it depends on the other gadgets and services you use every day as to which is the most suitable choice for your smart speaker.

If you care more about the intelligence of your speaker than pumping out the tunes at top volume, then the 4th gen Amazon Echo Dot and the 4th gen Amazon Echo Dot with Clock are hard to beat. Alexa keeps on getting better and better as time goes on, and this is the cheapest way to access it – just make sure it's the digital assistant that's going to be able to do everything you need it to.

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.