The new Amazon Echo 2 is smaller and adds new features — plus it’s cheaper than the last one
- Cheaper than the original
- Smaller, with new design options
- New Alexa features
- Much the same as the original
Deal alert: Not long after its Black Friday price cut, Amazon has slashed the price of the Echo 2 again as part of its pre-Christmas sales. It’s now £70 rather than £90 – a saving of 22%.
Odd that there once was a time when smart speakers didn’t exist. If I’d have mentioned such a radical concept as shouting at a black monolith in your home a little over two years ago, you’d peg me as another daft futurist. However, the recent influx of such devices has been so great that we’re now completely spoiled for choice.
And the original Amazon Echo is what kickstarted this digital assistant revolution, first launching in the US in 2014 when it was made available only to Amazon Prime members, then going on general release in 2015, and finally coming to the UK a year after that. So it’s hardly surprising to find that Amazon has reinvented its original Echo speaker in the form of the Amazon Echo 2.
Amazon Echo 2 review: What’s new?
The online retailer’s new Amazon Echo – referred variously as the Amazon Echo 2, Amazon Echo 2nd generation and Amazon Echo 2017 – is much the same as before. It’s controlled by your voice and will play music, control smart home devices and act as a computerised personal assistant. Ask it a question, and Alexa will do her best to answer.
It’s a smaller device than the original, with a handful of new features such as Dolby Sound and improved far-field microphone technology. What’s more, Amazon’s new Echo lets you make and receive calls from your landline for free – if you still have a landline, that is. This works with another new Amazon product, the Echo Connect, although this isn’t yet available to buy in the UK.
There’s also a new Alexa ability called “Alexa routines”, which is a way of customising certain phrases to perform multiple actions at once. For instance, just say: “Alexa, good night” and your Echo 2 will turn off the lights, lock the door, and turn off the TV. Handy.
Amazon Echo 2 review: Price and competition
The Amazon Echo 2 costs £89 in the UK for the three fabric models: Charcoal, Sandstone and Heather Grey. The Oak, Silver and Walnut finishes are more expensive at £99. Depending on which you get, that’s a £50 or £60 saving over its predecessor.
If you’re lucky enough to own a big house and want to fill it with Amazon’s digital butlers, the Echo 2 is also available in a two-pack for £155 (saving £25) and a three-pack for £220 (saving £50).
The competition is cutthroat. In the opposite corner is Google Home, with the firm’s own digital assistant retailing for £130. It’s also up against Sony’s LF-S50G (£200) and Sonos’ Alexa-powered Sonos One (£200).
And the Echo 2 has to contend with Amazon’s own ever-expanding list of smart speakers, including the 2nd-generation Echo Dot (£50), the smart home-focused Echo Plus (£140) and the Echo Show (£200).
Amazon Echo 2 review: Design
The new Echo 2 is dinkier than its predecessor – 89mm shorter in fact – so it will take up less space on your shelf or kitchen counter. It also no longer quite so Blade Runner-esque, instead looking more like something you might buy from Habitat or Ikea.
Unlike Google Home you can’t switch these out, so make sure you’re happy with your choice before handing over your cash. But, the overall effect is a device blends into its surroundings much more successfully than before. Amazon has also added a 3.5mm headphone jack output next to the power input so, just like the Dot, you can plug in an external speaker if you’re after better sound quality.
It’s all good stuff, however if I do have one small moan it’s over the loss of the twisty top from the original, used to manually adjust the volume. Here, you have to make do with + and – buttons for volume control, which are arranged in the same way as the Echo Dot.
Amazon Echo 2 review: Performance
Despite the new features, there’s little separating the new Echo 2 from its predecessor. In fact, the differences are so slim you could go and read my review of the original from last year and you be mostly clued up.
However that would be to ignore the amount of progress Alexa – Amazon’s own AI assistant – has made in recent times, in particular the new ability to group together commands and make calls between Echo devices and apps. This feature, called Drop In, has been available in the US for some time now, but was only recently introduced in the UK and is an invaluable tool for calling the kids down for dinner or making a call to the kitchen on your way home from work. The call quality, even over the internet, is superb, too.
Alexa is, of course, just as good as ever, picking up voice commands quickly and answering questions swiftly and with mostly sensible responses. Alexa might not have the might of Google at her beck and call, but she’s just as adept as Google Assistant at providing in-depth answers to the most pointless of questions.
Sound quality, on the other, despite the talked about improvements, is also much the same and that’s disappointing. But that’s not to say it’s bad – in fact, I prefer the sound profile to the slightly more bass-heavy Google Home speaker.
The only real difference, if I was to really pick it to pieces, is that the mids are slightly thinner and harsher-sounding than the original’s effort. But this is such a marginal negative, that you’ll only notice the difference if you’re switching between the two speakers with both stood next to each other.
Amazon Echo 2: Verdict
The key to the Echo 2’s appeal, though, isn’t better hardware, it’s that it offers much the same experience as the original at a significantly more wallet-pleasing price.
Of course, the Echo 2 isn’t the only smart speaker doing the rounds, so again it all boils down to your preference of ecosystem. If you’re heavily invested in Amazon’s suite of services, the Echo 2 is a no-brainer, but if your Google account is filled to the brim with movies, TV shows and podcasts, Home should be the way forward.
Regardless, if you’ve been hesitant in the past about plonking an always-listening device in your home, the Echo 2 is proof that these devices do indeed have a future, and they keep getting better and better. Amazon’s Echo 2 is definitely worthy of that extra star over its predecessor.