Executive Editor, TechHiveDec 13, 2019 3:00 am PST
Image: Michael Brown / IDG
At a Glance
You’ll never need to say, “Alexa, what time is it?”
Display is easy to see, even in direct sunlight
Pretty industrial design
The Nest Mini is the better small smart speaker for music
Costs $10 more than the Echo Dot without a display
Can’t display indoor temperature
Is a clock worthy of a $10 bump in price compared to the third-gen Echo Dot without a display? Absolutely.
The Echo Dot with Clock is the very same third-generation device as the Echo Dot, but with one feature added: a simple LED display beneath the cloth band encircling the device that does almost nothing more than display the current time. After living with one for a couple of weeks, I can honestly say that addition easily makes it worth $10 more than the regular Echo Dot.
The Echo Dot with Clock’s display will also show the current outdoor temperature, and if you set a timer, it will flash a countdown. Those features are helpful, too, but they must be initiated with vocal commands (e.g., “Alexa, what’s the temperature?”), so they aren’t nearly as useful. Given that the most frequent question users ask Alexa is, “What time is it?” it’s a wonder that Amazon’s Echo product managers didn’t think of this earlier—and that their counterparts at Google didn’t beat them to the punch when they designed the Nest Mini.
In terms of being a high-quality music speaker, the Echo Dot with Clock comes no closer than anything else in Amazon’s arsenal—save perhaps for the Echo Studio, which I’ll be reviewing next; in fact, the Nest Mini delivers a superior sonic performance. The Echo Dot with Clock delivers decent bass response for its size, but a comparatively muddy midrange makes it difficult to distinguish one instrument from another.
But you don’t need to rely on the Echo itself for audio reproduction: You can pair it with an outboard Bluetooth speaker, or you can plug in any self-powered loudspeaker that has a 3.5mm analog aux input. Bass lovers, meanwhile, can pair one or two of these speakers (for stereo) with the Echo Sub for very good bass response. In terms of music, you won’t find those last two features on the Nest Mini, but that smart speaker’s capacitive touch pause button is vastly superior to yelling “Alexa, pause!”
This smart speaker is very easy to set up, especially if you already have other Echo devices in your home, since the Alexa app will remember your Wi-Fi credentials—you can just pick the one you want to connect to from a list. There’s a dual-band Wi-Fi adapter onboard, so you can connect it to either a 2.4GHz or 5GHz network.
Aside from the LED display, every component inside the Echo Dot with Clock is identical to the third-gen Echo Dot, so the user experience is exactly the same. It’s still not as pretty as the Nest Mini, but its physical buttons—apart from the absence of one to pause music playback—are easier to use.
You can’t use the Echo Dot with Clock for direct control of your smart home devices unless those devices have Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radios onboard. If you want a smart home hub, you’ll need to step up to either the Echo Plus or the Echo Studio, both of which have Zigbee radios onboard. That said, a smart home hub that doesn’t also have a Z-Wave radio onboard is at a disadvantage to hubs—like the Samsung SmartThings—that do.
Better than the Echo Dot?
If you already have a clock in the room where you intend to deploy an Echo smart speaker, there’s no significant advantage to be gained by spending an extra $10 to buy the Echo Dot with Clock—unless you find the temperature, timer countdown, and volume setting displays indispensable.
But if you’re putting it in a bedroom or any room that doesn’t have a clock, that display is clearly worth the extra 10-spot. I installed mine in my home theater, and I really like not having to interrupt a movie to check the time when I’m not wearing my wristwatch.
But it looks as though the masses don’t agree with my assessment. When I looked at the Amazon Best Seller list for electronics, which gets updated hourly, different colors of the plain Echo Dot (3rd Gen) held the number 1 (charcoal), 3 (heather gray), 4 (sandstone), and 13 (plum) spots. The Echo Dot with Clock (sandstone) was listed way down at position 35. C’est la vie.
Michael is TechHive's lead editor, with 30+ years of experience covering the tech industry, focusing on the smart home, home audio, and home theater. He built his own smart home in 2007 and used it as a real-world test lab for product reviews. Following a relocation to the Pacific Northwest, he is now converting his new home, an 1890 Victorian bungalow, into a modern smart home.