The newest Echo Dot with Clock ($59.99, fifth-gen) shows more info on its brighter, bigger (but still small) display, has more helpful smart home features thanks to a new temperature sensor, and has a new accelerometer that makes tap to snooze actually work. Add in better sound and a speedier Alexa on board, and this is more than just a minor upgrade.
The Echo Dot with Clock has long been my favorite small smart speaker, and with these improvements, it’s now my go-to smart alarm clock. As someone who spends most of her day surrounded by screens, the glanceable LED grid display on the Dot with Clock is a welcome respite at nighttime, providing just enough information at my bedside to be helpful without being distracting. My other preferred bedside table smart speaker is the second-gen Google Nest Hub (the one without a camera). While the Nest does a good job of blending into the background at night thanks to its matte display, the smaller footprint and lack of screen make the Dot with Clock a less intrusive bedside companion.
New stuff, same small package
Amazon’s Echo Dots are the most feature-rich smart speakers you can get for the price. Cheap and easy to stick anywhere, they’re Amazon’s attempt to add its voice assistant to every room of your house. Powered by Alexa, the Dot can do most everything its bigger siblings can, including stream music, set timers, run Alexa Routines, control smart home devices, play games, tell jokes, and work as a home intercom and telephone.
For 2022, Amazon has upgraded the entire Echo Dot range — the Echo Dot, Echo Dot Kids Edition, and Echo Dot with Clock — with more sensors, faster processors, better sound, and the ability to act as Wi-Fi extenders on an Eero network. For most people, the changes aren’t compelling enough to upgrade from a fourth-gen model. But those models are currently out of stock on Amazon, so if you are looking for the best Echo experience in the smallest package, you will be happy with any of the new ones.
The biggest improvement to the range is in the Echo Dot with Clock (which is the third version with a clock but with the fifth-gen speaker). This is the model I tested for this review, and while the overall design is identical to the prior version, Amazon has replaced the four-digit, seven-segment LED display with a brighter, more functional LED dot-matrix display.
Now, in addition to displaying the time, volume level, alarms, and timers, the Dot can show a scrolling weather forecast, song title, and other text responses to queries. The scrolling feature is a tad gimmicky. It can only show a few characters at a time, so you have to stand there for 30 seconds to read a song title and artist when you could simply ask Alexa to name the song. But it’s also kind of fun. The weather forecast readout, with the temperature and a little cloud, sun, or rain icon, is more useful and slightly faster than listening to Alexa say the forecast.
The small footprint and lack of a screen make the Dot with Clock a better bedside companion
One feature we got a lot of use out of in my household was asking Alexa to do a math calculation. It now shows the result on the Dot as well as saying it aloud. (When I say “we,” I mean my 11-year-old daughter.) It also scrolls a word when “I” ask it to spell something, which is helpful I hear.
The new Dots also got two new sensors: a temperature sensor and an accelerometer. The accelerometer improves the tap-to-snooze gesture and adds more gestures. These include tap to pause or resume music and tap to end a call. And the tapping works much better. I was never able to get tap to snooze to work on the earlier Dot, and here, it’s an easier process. It still requires a somewhat hefty tap, but you can tap mostly anywhere on the speaker to get the response you want. (Before, you had to target the very top, which was fiddly and didn’t work).
The new Dots are the first Echo speakers with Amazon’s AZ2 neural edge processor
Finally, if you use the Amazon-owned Eero mesh Wi-Fi system, the new Dot can act as a Wi-Fi extender. That feature just arrived as an update on the fourth-gen Echo and is also coming to the fourth-gen Dot later this year, so it’s not really a reason to upgrade to the fifth-gen Dot on its own. One reason to upgrade is if your kid (or you) really likes owls and dragons. The two new Echo Dot Kids Editions cost $59.99 and include a two-year warranty and a year’s subscription to Amazon Kids Plus.
The only major disappointment overall with the new Dots is that, for some reason, Amazon has removed the 3.5mm audio jack from the Dot. The jack let you hook up the Dot to a more powerful speaker and was an easy way to turn a better nonconnected speaker into a smart one. The fourth-gen and third-gen Dots have the audio jack, so you’re not out of luck if you want this feature. You can also use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect to other speakers.
A Dot for every room
While this is a firm favorite for me as a bedside smart speaker, I also tested the Echo Dot with Clock in the kitchen and the bathroom. In both places, its glanceable display proved more useful than the regular Dot; the clock is especially handy on busy mornings when we’re trying to get out the door on time.
The new temperature sensor can tell you the temperature in the room (and show you on the display) as well as trigger Alexa Routines. I set it to turn up the AC when it gets too warm in the kitchen, and it worked reliably without me having to ask Alexa to adjust the Ecobee thermostat while I toiled over a hot stove.
The onboard ultrasound motion sensor, which is also in the fourth-gen Dot, is handy for turning lights on when you walk into the room. It’s not quite as fast as a dedicated motion sensor, like the Philips Hue one I normally use in both my kitchen and bathroom, but it’s only a beat or so behind, and it’s nice not to need a second device in the room.
All Echo speakers also can trigger Routines when they detect certain types of sounds. These include running water, a dog barking, an appliance beeping, snoring, a baby crying, and coughing. I tested the beep detection in the kitchen and got Alexa notifications on my phone when my toast popped up, when my microwave lunch was ready, and again when my dishwasher was done. I had to guess which alert was for which appliance; the notifications just told me “beeping detected.”
I really, really, really hope Amazon has a new app in the works — anything, please
I also set up a Routine that played my favorite radio station from Apple Music whenever I turned on the tap in the kitchen. Who doesn’t like some tunes playing when they’re washing up? However, the running water sound trigger is a bit sensitive: it would start blasting the music whenever there was any sound in the kitchen. This also happened in the bathroom. The idea was to run a Routine that reads the weather and my calendar and then plays NPR in the morning when the shower starts, but the Routine would start playing at the smallest tinkle of running water (if you know what I mean).
Before I move on, I do need to complain about the Alexa app once again. You need it in order to set up Alexa Routines, such as those described above. It’s a mess. Hard to navigate, excruciatingly slow, not enough organization options, and just generally unpleasant to use as a smart home controller, the Alexa app is ripe for a makeover.
Apple, Google, and Samsung have all made major updates and refreshes to their smart home apps now that Matter, the new smart home standard that will work across all these platforms, is rolling out. And I really, really, really hope Amazon has a new app in the works. Anything, please.
Souped-up sound and speed
Amazon’s big selling point for the Dot lineup is better sound. The company claims it has completely redesigned the audio architecture to deliver two times the bass of the prior model. This includes a bigger driver — up to 1.73 inches from 1.6 inches. That’s not a big jump, and this is still a small speaker. But it did better at filling a room with good sound than the fourth-gen Dot. The audio is also a touch crisper and clearer at louder volumes and on bassier tracks.
If you are looking for a small speaker with good sound, Apple’s HomePod Mini is still superior. But it’s almost twice the price. The Dot will do a decent job of filling a bedroom, office, or dorm room with sound. The other option for a diminutive smart speaker — the Nest Mini — doesn’t come close in terms of sound quality. (Although, being able to mount it to a wall, which neither of the other speakers can do without clumsy accessories, adds a little more dimension to the otherwise tinny sound.) All three brands offer a stereo pairing feature for fuller sound.
The new Dots are the first Echo speakers with Amazon’s AZ2 neural edge processor. First launched in the Echo Show 15 smart display last year, the AZ2 allows Echo devices to process more actions locally, resulting in faster responses to simple prompts. When I asked for the weather or to set a timer, the Dot usually responded in less than two seconds, compared to just over three seconds on the fourth-gen device. The new processor also helps speed up motion detection, according to Amazon, and the fifth-gen Dot did turn on my lights faster than the fourth-gen model.
More Wi-Fi for me
The most intriguing new feature is that the new Dots can act as Wi-Fi extenders for an Eero mesh system. I just had to link my Amazon and Eero accounts in the Eero app to enable this. Eero says each Dot can add up to 1,000 square feet of coverage and support speeds of up to 100Mbps and up to 10 devices. It uses Eero’s TrueMesh software technology, tapping into the dual-band Wi-Fi radios in the speakers to find the strongest connection and then extend it.
Based on my testing, it’s not going to give you the same performance as if you were connected to an Eero node, but it could be helpful to extend coverage to, say, a video doorbell or security camera outside your home.
The Echo is not going to give you the same performance as if you were connected to an Eero node
After a few setup hiccups (the Dot needed a software upgrade, then the Eero network needed one, too), I could see the Dot in my Eero app with an option to use it to extend Wi-Fi. I toggled it on and initially got a warning that the Dot was too close to an Eero and would not extend anything. Once I moved it farther away, it started to work.
When my laptop connected to the Dot, I got speeds of 25Mbps up and 12 down in an area of my house where I would usually get 70 / 26 from my 1.3Gbps Xfinity service. My colleague Dan Seifert also saw similar speed drops when testing a fifth-gen Dot in his house on an Eero network.
If I could choose which devices connected to the Dot — and, say, just put my smart lights on it — this would be more helpful to me. But it wasn’t a great experience when my laptop connected as it cut my speeds in half. During testing, I had three Eero Pro 6E routers running in a 2,300-square-foot brick home, so my network didn’t really need this.
But if you have a single Eero and a couple of dead spots, this will work well as a less expensive solution than adding another Eero node (especially if you already have an Echo Dot or were going to buy one anyway). Just expect to see less than half the speeds you would with another Eero. (I plan to test this again with a different network configuration when more Echo devices have the feature).
As I’ve said, the Echo Dot with Clock is my favorite small smart speaker. It bridges the gap between voice-only smart speakers and Amazon’s more helpful but more intrusive smart displays (which all have cameras and overly bright screens).
The fifth-gen Dots sound better, respond faster, and can do more with your smart home than the earlier models. But at $60, the Dot with Clock with its glanceable display is expensive compared to the regular Dot. Also, the fourth-gen Dot would often see price drops or be given away for free with other products. It’s rare to see a sale on a Dot with Clock.
At $60, the Dot with Clock with its glanceable display is expensive
For me, the perfect Echo smart speaker is the big boy fourth-gen Echo, which is currently on sale for $50 (down from $100). Get that and not this if you are looking for a smart speaker with really good sound. It has all the other features of the new Echo Dot, too, including the temperature sensors and the ability to act as a Wi-Fi extender for Eero networks, plus a Zigbee radio. But it doesn’t have the AZ2 processor.
The larger Echo will be a Thread border router, too, which is key for the Matter smart home standard. (Amazon has said all its Echo smart speakers will be Matter controllers, able to control Matter devices, but that only the Echo fourth-gen will be upgraded to be a Thread border router.) The only thing missing from the Echo is that LED display. I wish Amazon would add one; then, it would be my perfect smart speaker. In the meantime, if you want the fun and somewhat helpful features of the LED display, the fifth-gen Echo Dot with Clock is the Alexa smart speaker to get.
Photos by Jennifer Pattison Tuohy / The Verge
Smart Home Data Privacy: Echo Dot with Clock
Bringing connected devices into your home also brings with it concerns about how the data they collect is protected. The Verge asks each company whose smart home products we review about safeguards it has in place for your data.
The primary data collected by the Echo Dot with Clock are voice and smart home device interactions with Alexa. The speaker’s microphones are always listening for the wake word or trigger sounds unless you mute the device using the physical mute button or by telling Alexa to mute.
All voice interactions are encrypted in transit to the cloud and throughout the cloud verification process. Voice recordings and transcripts from requests are securely stored in Amazon’s cloud. You can review and choose to delete this information at any time through the app or Amazon’s Alexa Privacy Hub. You can also opt out of allowing Amazon to use your recordings to improve Alexa.
AGREE TO CONTINUE: AMAZON ECHO DOT WITH CLOCK
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we’re going to start counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
In order to use the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, you’ll need to download the Alexa app for iOS and Android. An Amazon account is required to sign in. By signing up for one of those, you must agree to its conditions of use.
When you set up the device in the app, “you agree to Amazon’s conditions of use and all of the terms found here.” You can explore the documentation at that link, but below, we’ve listed the 12 terms that you must agree to:
- Amazon Conditions of Use
- Amazon Privacy Notice
- Children’s Privacy Disclosure
- Interest-Based Ads
- Amazon Prime Terms
- Audible Service Conditions of Use
- Amazon Kids Plus Terms & Conditions (F/K/A FreeTime Unlimited)
Final tally: 13 mandatory agreements.