Amazon Echo 2 review: Amazon’s smaller Echo gets cheaper

Price when reviewed

It’s been just over a year since the original Echo landed on UK doormats from Amazon warehouses around the country. If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, then Jeff Bezos must be blushing right now. In the intervening 13 months, we’ve seen the release of two Google Home devices and the likes of Apple and Sony announcing their own answers to the question that nobody seemed to be asking 18 months ago.

Time waits for no massive business conglomerate, though, and Amazon is not resting on its laurels. At a recent launch event, the company revealed a boatload of new Echo devices, some with screens and some designed to replace your long-forgotten landline. The influx of devices was so great that the main man – the Echo 2 – was easy to miss in the mix.

Now it’s sat on my desk in front of me, it’s obvious that it wasn’t just the fanfare that was smaller. The Echo 2 is dinkier in every way and, brilliantly, that includes a massive price cut, as Amazon seeks to aggressively place a smart speaker in every home.

Amazon Echo 2: Ec-what?

Sorry, I’m perhaps getting ahead of myself. If you know what the Amazon Echo is, then skip ahead to the next section, but I’ll try to be brief.

The Echo is a smart speaker. What that means is that as well as playing your music, audiobooks and podcasts, it can be controlled by the voice and act as a digital assistant. You can talk to the speaker and it will do its best to help you, whether that’s in the form of running through your itinerary, letting you know the weather forecast, getting the latest news briefings or telling you jokes.[gallery:1]

Being an Amazon product, you can also use it to order products and play music through the company’s streaming services. But you’re not obliged to if you don’t want to, or if you’re worried you or some stranger on the TV might accidentally order an expensive doll house.

Amazon Echo 2: Design

The original Amazon Echo was a tall cylinder, somewhat futuristic looking in a way that will likely feel really dated in a decade. This time, Amazon has given buyers more options, allowing them to pick one of five finishes. Three of these are fabric covered, making it blend in a bit more like Google’s Home smart speaker.

Unlike Google Home, these can’t be switched out – so do make sure you’re happy with your pick before splashing the cash. Our review model is a charcoal fabric number, although you can still get a silver finish if you want it to look a little more RoboCop.[gallery:2]

Speaking of little, the Echo has lost some weight. Or, more accurately, some height. It comes in at just under 15cm tall – the original Echo was 23cm. Some of the bulk is regained because it’s slightly wider but if you picture a slightly stretched out tin of baked beans, you’re not too far off.

The overall effect is a speaker that seems more keen to blend into its surroundings this time around and that’s fine, except it actually extends to how you interact with it too. The original Echo had a twistable top segment that acted as a manual volume control and it worked beautifully. This time around, you’ve got ugly + and – buttons on the top panel, like the Echo Dot. Ho hum.

There’s a curious new addition to the Echo – one borrowed from the £50 Echo Dot – you can now plug it into an external speaker through a 3.5mm cable. I guess that’s useful, but it’s a bit weird – if you’re going to plug it into a better sound system anyway then why wouldn’t you save £40 and buy an Echo Dot? Hopefully, it’ll make Google realise that it really needs to give that option with its Home devices, though.

Amazon Echo 2: Performance

Performance is pretty much identical between the two generations of Echos. So identical that this section may end up being comically short, but here goes.

Alexa, the AI assistant that lives inside the Echo, is quick and responsive to voice commands. And, although it isn’t quite as smart as Google at answering general questions, it’s still a bit like stepping into the future, even after a year of living with the first-generation Echo.[gallery:5]

Sound quality, despite its stumpier frame, is also similar to the original Echo, which is to say that it’s perfectly decent, but not quite as hot as other speakers in its price range. Of course, speakers at a similar price to the Echo 2 don’t have the virtual assistant, so it’s something of a moot point.

If we were being hypercritical, we’d say that the mids are slightly thinner and harsher-sounding than the original Echo, but there are two reasons why you shouldn’t make a big deal about this:

  1. It really is a minor difference that most people won’t notice or care about (and if you do, just buy a Dot and link it to a UE Wonderboom) 
  2. It’s 40% cheaper than the original Echo.

Amazon Echo 2: Verdict

And that’s really all there is to the Echo 2. The original Echo was a five-star product – this is a smaller version with all of the original benefits and a £60 price cut. With that 40% discount, Amazon could have butchered the sound quality or made it a total eyesore and we’d still reluctantly have to give it a recommendation – it’s a testament to Amazon’s engineers that it’s done neither.[gallery:6]

Of course, this is the Amazon way: make an awesome prototype, then cut the price and force it into every home. It did it with the Kindle, and with the Fire tablet, and now the firm is doing it with the Echo. At £90, if you can get past the creepiness of having a device listening to your every move, this is the ideal time to see if Alexa can help you today.

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