People just hate it, don't they? As much as they constantly cry out for something new, the moment you give it to them the complaints flow thick and fast.
Amazon has finished the year by giving its range of Echo smart speakers a total facelift and some people have freaked out.
Not me. I'm freaking in...
While there's not a dramatic difference in performance between last year's edition of these entry-level, Alexa-enabled speakers, physically, they're a world apart - or a globe apart, anyway.
For whatever reason, Amazon has decided to make its speakers spherical and although they may take up slightly more shelf space, they do look pretty cute, available in Charcoal, Twilight Blue or Glacier White.
Instead of a can-shaped cylinder for the Echo and a flatter, wider puck for the Echo Dot, we're having a ball instead - for both speakers. Yes, they now look exactly the same, just different sizes obviously. And they're not totally round - how would you get them to stay in one place? There's a rubber-padded base which is where the status LED has been moved to, reflecting brightly off whatever surface the speakers are sitting on. If anything, this makes even more sense than the top-mounted light of previous generations, which often meant you couldn't tell if Alexa was listening if the Echo in question was placed on a shelf higher than eye-level.
I've read comments about the top-mounted buttons being hard to use. Seriously, what's wrong with people?
If anything, I've found the complete opposite to be the case. The four traditional control buttons are now rubberised and raised in their specific shapes, in my view making them easier to use than ever - again, if your speaker is up high, you can literally feel which button is which without having to see them. Not that I ever use the buttons anyway. Isn't that the point of having a smart speaker in the first place?
Especially when there's been a discernible improvement in mic sensitivity. I haven't found myself shouting across the room to be heard as I used to with older models. I know Amazon is continuing to put a lot of resource into Alexa's voice recognition abilities, with a more intuitive, follow-up skill-set due to roll out in the coming months. As it is, I'm pretty satisfied with the way she follows my instructions - over time I've learned I don't have to be quite so formal with my requests. "Alexa, louder," works just as well as, "Turn the volume up, please."
And there's still no other ecosystem that comes close to controlling IoT devices around the home. I have many lights, plugs, motion sensors and security cameras linked to my Alexa account that respond to various skills and routines - not to mention my doorbell.
As far as music appreciation goes, there's been a significant upgrade in sound quality and sheer volume - especially with the new Echo. Ask Alexa to set the volume to ten and prepare to have your eyebrows blasted off. Not bad for a $179 speaker. The three-inch woofer and dual tweeters create an impressively full soundscape across the whole frequency range and the bass response is wonderfully warm, punchy and powerful. I'm sitting here with Fat Freddy's Drop on shuffle and every track thumps along most satisfyingly.
As for the Dot - the enhancements in audio transmission here aren't quite as pronounced; yes there's more volume than before but due to its size most tracks still tend to sound a little dry and top-endy. In large rooms, the Dot is best used in conjunction with another, bigger Echo as part of a multi-speaker setup - something easily created within the Alexa app. In fact, if you have two identical Echoes you can link them as a stereo pair - quite a pair if you go for the bigger ones. There's also still the option to connect an external device via bluetooth or 3.5mm jack - very versatile.
As with the previous generation, the 2020 Echo Dot is also available as an Echo Dot with Clock - displaying an easily read LED clock from under the 100% recycled fabric. This works brilliantly as a kitchen timer or a bedside clock - it'll even show the temperature.
I remain confused as to why some reviewers seem obliged to find fault with such well-priced, great sounding devices. I've even seen complaints about the size of the power adapters which is really odd, given they're dramatically smaller than the previous square bricks we had to put up with. These plugs are easily narrow enough to nestle next to any others on your multi-board or side-by-side double outlet. Again, I guess people just love to complain.
Well, no complaints from me; The combination of build quality, design quality and sound quality make these new Echoes exceptional value, especially when you factor in Alexa's smarts... which are getting smarter every day.