By Don Reisinger
October 30, 2017

In the land of smart home appliances, Amazon has been tops for years. And after spending time with the company’s new Amazon Echo, I have no reason to believe that’s changing anytime soon.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been using the new Amazon Echo (2nd generation), an update to the company’s wildly popular smart home appliance. And after putting it through its paces, adding skills, testing its microphone, and seeing how well its speaker could blast music around the house, I’m more convinced than ever that Amazon (AMZN) knows how to build a smart home device.

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And when the second-generation Echo launches on Tuesday for an affordable $100, I think many shoppers will discover the same. Here’s an in-depth look at my time with the new Echo:

Design

The first thing that struck me about the Echo (2nd generation) is its size. Compared to my first-generation Echo, the new model is substantially shorter and a bit squatter.

That streamlined design, coupled with the Sandstone fabric finish Amazon sent me, actually made it far more attractive in my room than the black Echo.

The new Echo also comes with the familiar ring at the top that tells you when the built-in Alexa virtual assistant is thinking and listening. Buttons at the top of the device will let you turn volume up and down. A mute button will stop Alexa from listening to you.

Amazon’s new Echo isn’t the most attractive device I own, but in the smart home appliance world, it’s among the best looking.

Set-Up & Features

Upon breaking it out of the box, I plugged in the second-generation Echo, attached it to my Wi-Fi network, and I was off. And since it came linked to my Amazon account, it had all my information ready to go.

But since there’s no battery, you’re stuck tethering the Echo 2 to the wall. I’d love to see a future Echo version with a battery, so I can use it anywhere I go.

Aside from that, the device offers the same Alexa-powered experience in other Amazon devices. Simply say, “Alexa” followed by a command, and you can listen to music, set an alarm, get calendar updates, and more. The Echo also works with “skills,” the term Amazon uses to add functionality to the device.

With skills, you can do everything from play Jeopardy! with the family to listen to shows on SiriusXM satellite radio. Skills are also used to attach to smart home products, like Philips Hue light bulbs or smart thermostats that help you control your smart home. And in my experience, they all work exceptionally well.

If you’re a long-time Amazon Echo user, you should feel right at home with the Echo. It’s clear that Amazon felt its services were already appealing to users and it didn’t need a big update. It was right.

Sound

Amazon’s new Echo comes with a new speaker that does a far better job than the previous version of pumping out sound. The audio quality isn’t great, but it’s good enough for those who just want to listen to a podcast or songs and don’t want to have a full-on dance party in the house.

The device’s microphone, however, is outstanding, and was able to hear my queries both nearby and far away.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the second-generation Echo is a major step up in smart home audio, but it’s a nice improvement that current Echo owners will probably enjoy.

Value

At $100, it’s hard not to see value in the Echo 2.

For that price, you’re getting access to what is the best smart home platform right now, and using a device that comes with several outstanding features. There are cheaper smart home appliances, for sure, but the cost-to-feature balance in the Echo 2 is second to none.

Final Thoughts

Amazon’s second-generation Echo is one of the best smart home appliances I’ve used. Whether you’re a smart home veteran or just jumping into the fray, the Echo 2 is a worthy addition to your home.

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