The latest iteration's chief competitor is the Google Nest Audio
The 4th generation Echo has two 0.8 inch tweeters (the previous one had one) and a 3 inch woofer
Smart speakers may have taken us a step closer to ambient computing, but adding new features to the latest iterations seem to have become a struggle for the makers. The freshest product of this toil is the 4th generation Amazon Echo, whose USP is its spherical design, though Amazon is also promising audio quality and speech recognition improvements.
Launched in 2020, the 4th generation Echo has two 0.8 inch tweeters (the previous one had one) and a 3 inch woofer. In theory, this gives the speaker better range, but what really matters this year is how it fares against the Google Nest Audio, its chief competitor. While the new Echo is better than the 3rd gen in terms of audio quality, the contest is still tough.
To my ear, the Google Nest Audio sounds better often, especially in acoustic tracks. However, the Echo can achieve better bass response in some songs. The Echo is louder though, which might matter to some users. In the end, the difference is not easy to ascertain. I found it difficult to tell the Nest Audio and Echo (4th Gen) apart when I was in a different room and the two speakers started playing music due to a misfire (false wake word recognition).
This distinction is important, though, because the two speakers are very similar in other comparative aspects. For instance, both the Nest Audio and Echo can adapt the audio quality to their surroundings and support stereo sound if you buy more than one of them. The product ecosystem that runs around them is more evolved now, and Google has been able to add support for many new smart home products, making Nest speakers as useful as Amazon’s Echos.
So, the voice ecosystem is no longer a real differentiator and some might say Google’s speaker is better in terms of audio quality. This is where the 3.5mm audio jack on the Echo might be an advantage because surveys say many users in India have been connecting these speakers to older, dumb speakers via the jack.
That said, the 4th generation Echo does have one important change. It doesn’t amount to an “upgrade" per se, but a new chip inside these devices makes voice recognition and processing noticeably faster. Noticeable to me though, because I have other older Echos running alongside this one. It’s still not snappy response — no smart speaker has that down perfectly yet.
In sum, if you’re buying a new smart speaker today, the Echo (4th Gen) is certainly one worth considering. But unlike yesteryear, it’s no longer the only choice. The Google Nest Audio (priced at Rs. 7,999) and 4th gen Echo (priced at Rs. 8,999) are well matched in terms of audio quality, while the HomePod Mini (at Rs. 9,999) surpasses them both. On the other hand, both Google and Amazon are ahead when it comes to smart home product support in India.