The Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that first launched to the public in March of 2014. Since then, it has gone through numerous upgrades and now functions as a smart home hub instead of just a smart speaker.
All Amazon Echo devices feature the voice of Alexa, the artificial intelligence that powers Echo devices and responds to your requests and questions.
Today, we’ll be taking a look at the Amazon Echo and at Alexa. We’ll be going over what’s new with the 4th-generation Echo and the features it contains.
We’ll also go over everything Alexa is capable of doing, as well as what makes the Amazon Echo a great device to have if you have kids at home.
Overview of the Current Amazon Echo Product Lineup
The Amazon Echo isn’t just one device. The Echo lineup contains several devices, which are all pretty similar overall but differ from each other in a few ways. With all the different versions of the Echo that exist, it can be tricky to tell one apart from another.
To help you get a better grasp on which is which, let us give you a quick rundown of the main products in the Echo lineup and highlight some of their key features.
This is the baseline Amazon Echo, and it’s what we’ll be primarily reviewing today. The Echo previously came in two versions, the standard Echo and the Echo Plus, but for the 4th-generation version, there will only be one version of the Echo which will have all of the features of the outgoing Plus version and more.
Amazon Echo Studio
The Echo Studio is basically just an Echo with a bigger, beefier sound system. If you’re using your Echo primarily as a music player, then the Echo Studio might be the best version for your needs. You can also connect the Echo Studio to your TV and broadcast your TV audio that way.
Amazon Echo Dot
The Echo Dot is a more compact version of the regular Amazon Echo. Previous generations of the Echo Dot came in a hockey puck-type of shape, but the current generation of the Echo Dot has abandoned this design and now looks like a smaller version of the standard 4th-generation Echo.
You can also get a version of the Echo Dot with an integrated digital clock, which essentially turns the Echo Dot into the ultimate smart alarm clock.
There is also a version of the Echo Dot called the Kids Edition, which is the same as the regular Echo Dot but with a couple of differences. For one, instead of just a plain colored grille, the Kids Edition features a grille with a friendly cartoon tiger or panda on it.
The Kids Edition also comes with a free year’s subscription to Amazon Kids, a service that lets your child play games and do other fun activities with Alexa (we’ll talk about Amazon Kids in greater detail later on).
Amazon Echo Show
If you want your Echo device to have the ability to display things on a screen, then you should check out the Echo Show.
The 3rd-generation Echo Show, which is the newest one, will be officially released before the end of 2020. It comes with a 13-megapixel camera, allowing you to use the Echo Show for making video calls, and it has a motorized base that allows the screen and camera to swivel and follow you around the room.
Amazon Echo Flex
If you’re not very concerned with playing music or doing other things that require decent audio quality, the Echo Flex is a solid choice for you.
The Echo Flex is the smallest Echo device you can buy, with dimensions of only 2.8 inches x 2.6 inches x 2.5 inches. Instead of having a power cord, it plugs directly into your wall socket, like an air freshener.
It can do anything that any standard Echo device can do, and it also has a USB port that you can use to charge your phone or connect the Echo Flex to a device like a night light or a motion sensor.
What’s New With the 4th-Gen Echo?
Aside from the new spherical design, which is a departure from the cylindrical design that you may be more familiar with, the big difference between the 4th-generation Amazon Echo and the outgoing version is that it combines the features of the standard Echo and the Echo Plus into a single device.
The Echo and the Echo Plus were both pretty similar devices overall and had largely the same degree of functionality, but differed in a couple of key ways.
The first was that the standard Echo only had a 3.5 mm line out port, meaning that you could plug the Echo into another device and play audio through that other device.
The Echo Plus had line in and line out ports, which allowed you to either link the Echo Plus to another speaker or link a media player to the Echo Plus and use it as a speaker.
But the biggest difference between the two was that the Echo Plus had the Zigbee smart home hub built-in to it. The Zigbee hub lets your Echo device communicate with other smart devices in your home.
The 4th-generation Echo now comes with a 3.5 mm line in/out port and the Zigbee home hub as standard. It also features a new speaker with improved audio quality.
4th-Gen Echo Design
Like we mentioned, the biggest difference in appearance between the 2020 Amazon Echo and the previous model is the adoption of a unique spherical design. In a sea of other smart speakers that usually tend to look like pucks or cylinders, the 4th-generation Echo has a pretty distinctive look.
The other major difference in appearance is that the Alexa light ring is now located at the base of the speaker, instead of around the top. The ring lights up blue whenever you talk to the Echo, as an indication that Alexa is listening.
The 4th-generation Echo is 5.2 inches tall, making it slightly shorter than the old 5.8-inch tall Echo, but because of its spherical design, it’s a bit wider than the old version, at 5.7 inches versus 3.4 inches.
However, the new Echo is still recognizable as a product of the Echo lineup. It features the same fabric grille that wraps around the exterior of the device, as you would find on Echoes from previous years. You can have your new Echo in one of three different colors: Charcoal, Glacier, and Twilight Blue.
The physical appearance of the new Echo is really slick and features no immediately visible buttons or audio ports. However, looks can be deceiving, and the Echo does contain a few physical buttons located on the top of the device.
These include the Action button, which is a multi-functional button that you can use to talk to Alexa, answer or reject an incoming phone call, instantly call your top contact, and power off the device. You also get volume buttons and a button that turns off the Echo’s microphone, in case you’re talking about something that you don’t particularly want Alexa to listen to.
4th-Gen Echo Features
The 4th-generation Echo has all the same features as previous versions of the Echo, with a few new ones. Chief among these new features is the inclusion of the Zigbee smart home hub, which was previously only available with the Echo Plus.
The Zigbee smart home hub is essentially the middleman between your Echo and other smart devices in your home. Smart devices don’t have the inherent ability to communicate with each other; they often require you to have a “hub” that serves to connect the functions of two or more devices.
Luckily, there are tons of smart home devices out there that are compatible with Zigbee technology, meaning that you can now use your Echo device as a hub to control most of the smart devices in your home.
The new Echo also features Amazon Sidewalk technology. If you haven’t heard of it before, Amazon Sidewalk is designed to greatly extend the range at which smart devices within your home can receive signals.
It’s designed specifically to work with low-power, low-bandwidth smart devices like lights and motion sensors that don’t work as well in areas where the wi-fi/Bluetooth reception is limited.
The new Echo also features Amazon’s AZ1 Neural Edge processor, which Amazon claims can process your speech twice as fast as the previous processor in the Echo. This will allows Alexa to answer your questions even faster after you ask them, and in theory, will result in an Alexa that sounds more natural and conversational than before.
4th-Gen Echo Audio Quality
Another improvement that the new Echo has over previous versions is in the audio quality. The speaker in the Echo isn’t the absolute greatest compared to other portable speaker devices, but it’s definitely a comparative step up.
The audio system in the new Echo uses a 3-inch woofer, along with two 0.8-inch tweeters (the previous generation of the Echo only featured a single tweeter). Despite only having a single woofer to work with, Amazon claims that the Echo will still be able to deliver stereo sound.
The new Echo can also sense the acoustics of whatever space it’s in and adjust its audio output to sound as good as possible within that space. This is a feature that was carried over from the Echo Studio model.
Amazon Alexa: What Can She Do?
Alexa has been the voice of Echo devices since they were new, and in that time, Alexa’s capabilities have been expanded considerably.
Currently, Alexa is capable of answering almost any question you might have to ask. Alexa can tell you the weather forecast, driving conditions and provide you with the latest news. Alexa can also play songs for you and give you general information about many topics.
To play music, Alexa can connect to a variety of streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, TuneIn, and Deezer.
Alexa can also perform tasks like set an alarm, order things online for you, and even read you an audiobook if you have any downloaded. You can customize the things that Alexa is capable of within the Alexa app.
Some other smart home devices can also be connected to Alexa, allowing you to interact with your home via voice commands.
Amazon Kids and Amazon Kids+
Formerly known as Amazon FreeTime and Amazon FreeTime Unlimited, this service provides kids with a huge selection of family-friendly books, movies, shows, games, and other features that kids will enjoy. Amazon Kids is best suited for use on tablets, but any Amazon device will also support this service.
Amazon Kids gives parents the ability to customize various aspects of the Alexa experience and make it suitable for young children. For example, you have the ability to set a time limit for your child so that they’ll be unable to access Alexa past a certain time (like bedtime).
You can also use Amazon Kids to turn on an explicit language filter that works with several music streaming services so that you don’t have to worry about an inappropriate song accidentally popping up in your shuffle.
With Amazon Kids, your child can also play games and engage in other activities with Alexa. Some of these games include a basic version of hide-and-seek, where Alexa will ask your child to pick a hiding spot and then guess three locations at random once your child has hidden themselves.
There are also more educational games like Master Swords, a pirate-themed game where your child has to spell words correctly in order to land successful sword hits.
There are also plenty of audiobooks suitable for kids, including many choose-your-own-adventure books, where your child can make decisions themselves about how they want the story to go.
The difference between Amazon Kids and Kids+ is that while basic Kids is always free, Kids+ will cost you a monthly fee. With Kids+, however, you get an expanded catalog of different audiobooks, games, and other content to explore.
Price and Availability
The 4th-generation Amazon Echo hasn’t actually been released yet, but luckily there’s not too much longer to wait. The new Amazon Echo officially comes out on the 22nd of October, although if you want to secure one in advance, you have the option of preordering one.
Unfortunately, the release of the new Echo happens a week after Prime Day ends this year, so you won’t be able to take advantage of any discounts if you’re buying a new Echo.
You can check the current price by clicking the button below:
Bonus Resource: Children Learning Reading
As you can see, the Amazon Echo can be a pretty great device to have if you have a kid at home, especially if you’re also subscribed to the Amazon Kids service.
Right now, however, we’d like to take a second to tell you about an additional resource not related to the Amazon Echo that you might find potentially useful if you’re a parent.
It’s important to provide your child with resources to help them developmentally when they’re young, and if you want to help develop your child’s reading skills in particular, then you may want to consider taking a look at the Children Learning Reading program.
The Children Learning Reading program targets kids between the ages of 2 and 7, and its focus is on helping children improve their reading skills early on in their lives. This program is only suitable for children who already know how to speak, however, so it’s not meant for your child if they’re extremely young and still non-verbal.
The Children Learning Reading program helps your child increase their phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding of how phonemes work together to form words with different meanings.
If you’re not familiar with the term “phonemes,” these are the most basic units of sound that make up parts of a word (for example, the word “cat” contains the phonemes “k,” “ah,” and “t”).
The program is made up of two different stages. The first stage gives your child the means to develop basic reading skills, and the second stage contains slightly more challenging material to help your child improve their skills even further.
With each stage, you get an assortment of lessons for your child to follow along with, as well as an instructional handbook for you, the parent. The lessons are designed to be completed quickly and easily, and even the longest one shouldn’t take more than about 10 minutes for your child to complete.
If you think your child could benefit from using the Children Learning Reading program, you can find out everything about this program right here:
If you’re in the market for a new smart speaker and a smart home hub, then keep an eye on the 2020 Amazon Echo. The new version of the Echo adds a few features that make it a clear improvement over the outgoing model and compared to a lot of other smart speakers out there, and it’s pretty reasonably priced for what it offers.
And if you have a subscription to Amazon Kids, the new Echo is a great device that can keep your kids occupied with plenty of wholesome, fun, and educational content. On the whole, the new Amazon Echo is an extremely capable device that has a lot to offer for both kids and their parents.