The first-gen Amazon Echo was the first smart speaker available in the UK, but a year on the choice is much broader. Google now has a range of Home speakers which covers just about all budgets (and matches the Echo Dot at £49) while Apple is about to launch the high-end HomePod.
The Echo 2 is essentially a shrunk-down version of the original with softer, less industrial styling at a lower price. It has interchangeable shells which allow you to change your mind about its colour or finish: there are fabric, metal-effect and wooden options. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s exactly what you can do with the Google Home.
What is the price of the Echo 2?
The original (now discontinued) cost £149.99, so £89.99 for the second-generation model seems like a very good deal indeed. You can buy an Echo 2 from Amazon, of course.
There are differences, and not all of them good, which we’ll get into in a moment.
Don’t forget there are other Echos to choose between, including the new Echo Plus (£139.99) and Echo Show (£199.99).
How is the Echo 2 different from the original?
Although similar in features, the second-gen Echo has been completely redesigned. It’s still a cylinder – a little bigger than a pint glass – but it’s a much nicer-looking gadget to put on a bedside table or shelf.
Gone is the volume ring at the top, replaced by volume buttons, a la Echo Dot. There are seven little holes at the top for the array of microphones, plus a mic-mute button and an action button, which can be used for silencing alarms among other things.
The mics have been improved for better voice recognition, and they work better when music is playing at higher volumes. Amazon says they’re better at beamforming (working out where your voice is coming from) and noise cancelling, to better hear what you’re saying when there’s other noise in the room.
Speakers are also new: there’s a 2.5in woofer as before, but a new, smaller tweeter. You can see these when you pop the shell off, a simple process of grasping the body and pushing in the centre underneath.
The power connector is on the side rather than underneath, but a bigger change is the addition of a 3.5mm minijack aux input. This means you can plug in an audio device which doesn’t have Bluetooth, for example.
The Echo 2 still works as a Bluetooth speaker like the original, too.
Alexa’s capabilities have improved somewhat since last year, and the Echo 2 benefits from these as well as all the features added throughout the year, such as multi-room audio and voice calling and messaging.
What this means is that the Echo 2 is no more or less capable than the original – or the £49.99 Echo Dot. They can all do the same things.
Other Echo models have extra features and you can read about them in our comparison of every Amazon Echo.
The good news first: the microphones do seem to work better than on the original Echo and Echo Dot, specifically when there are other people talking or the Echo 2 is already playing music loudly.
I couldn’t really notice any difference in how well it recognised the ‘Alexa’ wake word, although it could be that there are less ‘false positives’. First-gen devices often respond when they hear something that sounds like Alexa, but isn’t.
The bad news is that rather than improved sound quality as Amazon promises, it’s actually a step down. I use the first-gen Echo every day, so it was immediately obvious that the new model sounded worse.
The overall effect is that it’s not nearly as crisp (perhaps due to that smaller tweeter) and lacks the bass of the original.
It’s great if you’re listening to a podcast or your Flash Briefing, but when you start streaming music from your phone, Spotify or Amazon Music, the differences are all too obvious.
Relatively simple tracks, such as Diana Krall’s Peel me a grape, sound ok, although lacking in bass, but in much busier songs – Poets of the Fall’s Dreaming Wide Awake, say – instruments sound as though they’re tripping over each other, and vocals aren’t as defined.
Anything with a rhythmic bass kick – like trance and house music – lacks punch, which is kind of disappointing given that a £40 Bluetooth speaker such as the Aukey Eclipse can produce a much more rounded sound with more bass.