Should you upgrade to Echo 2? Amazon Echo vs Echo 2

Three years since its launch in 2014, the Amazon Echo has finally received an upgrade.

Originally designed as a smart speaker controlled by voice, Echo products have transformed into a hub for managing more than 12,000 home appliances and products.

Though smart devices have been around long before the Amazon Echo, they lacked a unifying feature that linked users directly to their products without the need for a third-party app or external remote. Amazon’s launch of the Echo sparked large-scale consumer demand for integrated technology-home appliances that a growing number of consumers depend on every day.

Alexa, the virtual assistant that powers Echo products, was the technology consumers were searching for in that its long-range microphone and voice recognition properties allow you to easily control a variety of smart home equipment - all by simply speaking to the device.

While it stole a march on Apple and Google, Google's Home and Home Mini are arguably better than the Echo: see our comparison review for more details.

Amazon recently cut the price of the Echo from £149.99 to £99.99 before discontinuing it and releasing the Echo 2. You can still pick it up from places like Currys and Tesco, but stocks won't last forever.

So now we have the Amazon Echo 2, which costs less at £89.99 - with a temporary price cut to £69.99 for Black Friday. The Echo 2, reviewed, has a new design, better wake-word processing and a Dolby-tuned audio system, which Amazon reckons gives better sound.

If you already have an Amazon Echo, is it worth upgrading to the Echo 2? What if you have a choice of buying both? See below for a comparison of both generations.

Design

Though it contains the same cylindrical shape, the Echo 2 is smaller than the original speaker. You may find the newer model less obtrusive and easier to tuck away. At 187 x 187 x 90mm, the Echo 2 is shorter than the first-generation, which measures around 235mm.

Unlike the original model, there is no volume dial on the top of the Echo 2 speaker. The Echo 2 does, however, maintain all of the same buttons and ports as the Echo Dot, such as mute and volume buttons on the top, micro USB power and audio ports in the rear.

It also has a minijack aux output (missing from the first-gen Echo) which lets you connect an external speaker. Originally the first-gen Echo couldn't pair with Bluetooth speakers, but a software update earlier this year changed that: both Echos can be paired with most Bluetooth speakers now.

Amazon introduced a variety of new shell fabrics and colours that allow users to easily incorporate their Echo 2 products into their home aesthetics. In the UK, you can choose from charcoal, sandstone and heather grey fabric, though Amazon additionally offers an oak, walnut or silver finish.

You can also get non-fabric versions in oak, walnut and silver.

The original Echo didn't have shells, and came in rather industrial-looking white or black.

Performance

With a new speaker architecture, Amazon claims that the sound is louder and clearer than ever. There's a dedicated tweeter, 2.5in woofer and new Dolby audio processing.

Similar to the Echo 1, the cylindrical design of the second-generation model enables a 360° projection of audio.

However, in practice the Echo 2 sounds worse than the original. The first-gen also has a 2.5in speaker and a separate tweeter, and a bigger body which could be one reason why it has better bass. Amazon issued a firmware update to try to sort out the criticism, but it certainly doesn't make the new Echo sound better than the old.

Of course, with both models you can enjoy a range of music streaming services, such as Spotify, Amazon Music, TuneIn and more.

The Echo 2 lets you play music simultaneously across multiple Echo devices with multi-room music - a familiar feature also available with Echo 1. 

Voice Recognition

Amazon has updated its far-field technology for better wake word processing, improved beam-forming technology and enhanced noise cancellation.

Currently the Echo 1 is not always accurate in detecting a user’s voice in a noisy environment.

Things are a bit better with the Echo 2, but Alexa still often mishears what you say and starts playing a "station you might like" when you asked it to turn off the lights.

It also still randomly responds to questions it thinks you asked when it mishears the wake word, which no-one actually said. 

Frankly, Alexa is fine if the room is quiet and you know how to phrase a question or command, but it still feels a lot less than intelligent.

New Features

Alexa, to Amazon's credit, is at least getting smarter as time goes on as it automatically updates through the cloud and continually learns new ‘skills.’

Echo 1 currently can answer questions, read audiobooks, report news, provide weather and traffic reports, offers information on sport matches and others using Alexa Voice Service. The first-gen also controls lights, switches, thermostats and a variety of smart home appliances with compatible software.

The Echo 2 does exactly the same.

Alexa recently got a new feature called ‘Routines’ that allows her to perform multiple tasks at the issue of a single command. If you’d like to turn off the lights, close the blinds and activate an alarm, you could say “Alexa, good night,” triggering the series of commands. This works on all Echos.

Another new feature is the ability to call and text, hands-free, from your Echo. However, the person you are messaging must also have an Echo or the Alexa app. Here's how to set up Alexa calling and messaging.

Lastly, if you want to use your Echo to control smart devices, you no longer have to command the specific name of the device. Instead, you can place smart home devices into groups and interact with them more naturally. Again, this works on all Echos as it's just a software update.

Price and where to buy

You can buy the Echo 2 from Amazon for £89.99 ($99.99 in the US) - temporarily discounted to £69.99 in the UK for Black Friday.

As we mentioned at the top of this article, the original Echo is still available from selected retailers such as Currys and Tesco if you'd prefer the slightly better-sounding speaker.

SHOULD I BUY AMAZON ECHO 2?

The Echo 2 has a smaller, softer design which looks nicer than the original. It's cheaper, too, and is better value even if the new speaker and Dolby processing don't really deliver on the promise of better sound quality.

There are a couple of noteworthy features: swappable shells and an aux output for connecting a wired speaker - though the even cheaper Echo Dot offers one too.

If you're not already an Echo owner then the cheaper price of the new model makes it better value than the original (where it is still available). But if you're going to connect your own speaker then you may as well buy an Echo Dot.