Another year, another Echo (or 10). Amazon’s smart speaker empire, with its displays of various sizes and speakers of ever-increasing quality, is built on an unassuming foundation: the super affordable Echo Dot. Yes, that talky-puck you can catch on sale for half-off every other month. Sure, Amazon is cultivating a strong catalogue of Echo devices available on Prime, but the Echo’s ubiquity is thanks to the fact that your mom might just buy a bundle of Dots for Christmas this year.

Last year brought us the third-gen Echo Dot, a speaker with impressive sound, tasteful design and the tried-and-true $50 price tag. A year has passed, and here we are with a brand-new Dot, though it’s not meant to replace last year’s. You can still buy that Dot, and it’s still $50 (£50, AU$59). The big upgrade on this new model? An LED clock, for which you’ll pay a premium — it costs $60 (£60, AU$99).

It’s 20% more expensive, but is it 20% better?

Before we talk price, I want to be clear: No one should buy an Echo Dot at full price. Not because $50 or even $60 is a bad deal (it’s not), but because you don’t have to. Amazon sells Dots at a hefty discount so often, there’s no reason not to wait that extra three weeks to get to Black Friday (or Prime Day or Christmas) to pick up a Dot for $25.

Discounts aside, I don’t love the $10 premium for the new Echo Dot. The price tag is part of what makes an Echo Dot an Echo Dot, and I don’t like Amazon nudging that price upward because of a quality-of-life improvement. Adding an LED clock is the sort of upgrade that should be Texture Spray Machine attributed to incrementalism, much in the way that last year’s beefed-up speakers were. To upcharge a device that’s routinely given away for promotions or sold at significant price cuts feels like it’s chipping away at the wallet-friendliness that made the Dot so special in the first place.

Plus, the clock is the only real improvement to this year’s Echo Dot.

Echo Dot 4 point… oh

No, this isn’t a Dot 4.0. The speakers on the new Echo Dot are identical to last year’s. In fact, other than the clock, all the specs are the same — including the audio cable input, the four far-field mics and the fabric-faced design. Last year’s device was a big improvement from the previous generation and Amazon seems to be thinking, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. This approach leaves the new Echo Dot feeling a little safe, particularly as Google launches its new, upgraded Nest Mini (which is still just $50, includes LED lights and a wall mount but no clock).

At the end of the day, every Echo is just a shell — some are bigger, some are smaller — for Amazon’s digital assistant, Alexa. And even in a conservative piece of hardware like the Dot with Clock, Alexa still shines.

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