Tech Guide

This is Amazon's new Echo, and it's surprisingly nice for the price

The all-new Echo is compact
Todd Haselton | CNBC
Key Points
  • The all-new Echo is really nice, especially for $99.
  • It can be customized with different shells to fit your decor.
  • It's one of the most powerful Echos yet.

The all-new Amazon Echo just landed on my desk, and it's way nicer than I thought it would be, especially for $99.

As an owner of several Amazon Echo products — including the smaller Echo Dot, original Echo and the screen-toting Echo Show — I didn't think I was going to buy any more.

Now, I think maybe I need just one more in the house.

A compact design

I wish there was a battery in here!
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Echo is really compact. It's much smaller than a Sonos (I assumed it might be about the same size) and is much more stout than the original and tall Amazon Echo. Since it's bigger than the Echo Dot, it's able to pack a more powerful speaker but still isn't too big to clog up space on a bookshelf or side table.

It's customizable

Hey, who took my clothes?!
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The new Echo is being sold with a variety of shells. You can buy it directly from Amazon in black, with a gray fabric finish, with an oak wood shell or in sandstone, silver or walnut. Amazon sent me an oak shell.

Press this button on the bottom to change shells
Todd Haselton | CNBC

You just push a button on the bottom of the Echo, the current shell slides off, and you can pop the new one on. I like the way this looks — it'll match my old house's decor better than my other Echos.

It's familiar and powerful

The controls up top are familiar; the small holes are microphones
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The all-new Echo will be familiar to those who already own one. Amazon didn't change the controls on the top much — you'll still see volume, a mute button and the Alexa button. It has 7 microphones so that it can more accurately pick up voice commands. On the back, Amazon kept the 3.5 mm headphone jack in case you want to plug it in to other speakers. It also can double as a Bluetooth speaker.

And if you're not familiar with Echo at all, they're more powerful than ever. You can use Amazon Alexa to ask questions (the weather or a recent sports score, maybe) or play content on your Amazon Fire TV, play music on multiple Echos around the house, call friends and more.

I wish it had a battery

Hey, who took my clothes?!
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I love the compact design so much that I can't help but think this would be perfect to toss into a backpack and take to the park. Amazon has a product for this called the Amazon Tap, but it's not as good. If the all-new Echo just had a small built-in battery for a few hours of playback unplugged, I'd like it even more.

Should you buy it?

One of the customizable shells
Todd Haselton | CNBC

I think so. This is probably the Echo you want to buy now instead of the older original Echo, which costs $179. It's also better sounding than the Echo Dot. If you're just getting started with a smart home, however, you might want to consider buying the Echo Plus, which is bigger and costs $150. The Echo Plus includes a smart home hub, which means it should be a compelling product for folks who don't already have one. It'll automatically detect smart products with ZigBee and from brands including Kwikset, GE and Philips.

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