Summary


A fun, reliable and accessible way to stream internet radio and music, and access spoken news headlines and weather

Our rating


four stars out of five

Solid build quality, fantastic live radio streaming, alarm clock functionality; great range of feature 'skills', but accessing on-demand (catch-up) programmes is difficult at present, and selecting stations through RadioPlayer (rather than the default TuneIn) is fiddly. At this price, though, excellent value and simplicity reign.

Where to buy


You can buy the Echo Dot (2nd Gen), reviewed here, in white and black finishes from Amazon UK at £49.99. A larger version, the full-size Amazon Echo, with bigger speaker, is also available for £149.99

If you'd prefer to reserve and collect in-store, without waiting in for delivery at home, search for Echo Dot (black) item #634/9693 or Echo Dot (white) item #622/8439 at Argos online.





Amazon Echo Dot (2nd generation - Sept 2016) review, photos and hands-on - fist of fun for £49.99; larger version £149.99
Monday, 24th October 2016

The Echo Dot [second generation] is a brilliant way of streaming internet radio, hearing the latest news headlines and getting a spoken weather forecast on-demand.

Taking the pain out of peering at small smartphone screens, or twiddling dials to scroll through numerous station lists, the Echo Dot offers a world of internet radio, alongside access to your Amazon Music locker, letting you stream your music from your collection held on the cloud. Audible audio books you own can also be played through the Echo, plus if you have a Spotify Premium account, you can stream music from this service. Mains-powered, the Echo Dot features Bluetooth audio, a 3.5mm audio socket and wireless internet connectivity.

This may be a second generation Echo - losing the volume ring of the first gen in favour of buttons - but thanks to a snappy internet connection and virtually no lag from the device, you're just seconds away from listening to a wealth of radio stations.

The small cylinder, measuring about 8cm in diameter and 3cm tall, features a light-up halo around its top edge, which illuminates blue when you call out its voice-activated digital assistant, Alexa, ready for your spoken request. There's a mute button (to stop your human friend called Alexa and the round device dividing your attention), up/down volume controls and another button for quick requests without having to speak Alexa's name first. Software (firmware) updates are handled automatically, the device glowing orange while it grabs the latest software from the internet.

The Echo Dot is a voice-activated digital assistant with a host of cool features up its sleeve - all activated simply by speaking to the device. Your voice is picked up by no fewer than seven incredibly sensitive microphones located around the top of the unit, meaning the device will pick out your voice from the next room. The Dot has a small but growing number of skills, but it is its radio and audio playback skills that are most impressive, all controlled by Alexa, the 'assistant within the box'.
Amazon Echo Dot (second generation) setup with separate speaker
Amazon Echo Dot review - radio's calling from £49.99

The Echo Dot works great as an internet radio streamer - simply command Alexa (whom you can rename to Echo or Amazon) to play a station; the Echo uses TuneIn as the default database and website for streaming radio and podcasts. For example, you can say "Alexa. Play Triple M Sydney" or "Echo. Play Radio X" and within a matter of seconds the audio starts playing, either through the built-in speaker (which goes pretty loud and offers fairly decent sound quality for such a small driver) or via Bluetooth ("connect Bluetooth") to your preferred speaker system. Alexa repeats back to you the station you requested, and may ask for yes/no confirmation if unsure. You can even change the speaker volume in steps from 1 to 10 using brief voice commands, or turn down the volume by saying "Alexa. Softer".

You can add a UK Radioplayer skill to the Echo Dot via the app. When you use the skill for the first time ("start RadioPlayer"), the Dot requests your location to make sure it streams your local Heart or Capital station, for example. The next time you use RadioPlayer, you'll find the Echo dot automatically starts playing the station you were previously 'tuned' to. Somewhat disappointingly, the Echo Dot defaults to TuneIn streams unless you specifically ask it to "play LBC on RadioPlayer", the latter streams of which are often at a higher audio quality.

You'll note that radio stations are streamed over the internet; the Echo Dot doesn't feature a DAB/DAB+ tuner and telescopic aerial, so you'll need a decent speed internet connection to ensure hassle-free listening. It doesn't receive stations through a telescopic aerial, but over your wi-fi internet connection instead.

That doesn't mean of course it can't stream radio stations that you usually get on a DAB digital radio through an aerial. The Echo Dot (2nd Gen) can stream all manner of stations: Heart Extra, Smooth, Planet Rock, Absolute Radio 80s - indeed all those local and national DAB stations you'd find on your station list, plus thousands and thousands more from the UK and around the world - Australia, USA, New Zealand - you name it, if it's on TuneIn or Radioplayer, the Echo Dot stands a fighting chance of finding it.

The Echo Dot plays top-of-the-hour Sky News when you request the latest news, in the form of a "flash briefing". Alexa follows the news with a short, spoken localised weather forecast

You can set alarms, setting the preferred wake-up sound through the app. Unfortunately, you can't set a radio station to wake to, but you could set a custom-recorded alarm on your smartphone to announce "Alexa. Play Classic FM", sitting the 'phone near to the device so that you can wake up to some soothing classical music in the morning. These alarm settings can be viewed on the app when you login from any browser.
Amazon Echo Dot hands-on review with radio and audio
Amazon Echo Dot features a glossy side with four buttons on top

But it's the live radio capability that the Echo Dot really excels; as long as you know which station you'd like to hear, or its rough name and a city ("The River, Boston"), Alexa does a pretty good job of figuring out which one you mean, and connection on a fast internet connection is instantaneous and reliable - buffering and breakup were nonexistent during our listening tests. Podcasts seem to be limited to those available on TuneIn; we haven't figured out how to listen to BBC catchup programmes as yet, but Alexa's 'skills' are being developed all the time, so we may see this capability in the near future.



The Echo Dot responds well to voice commands out-of-the-box, talking and responding in a British English female voice (Alexa). Setup is extremely easy, using your Amazon account username and password to login, which provides the Echo Dot with access to your cloud-based Amazon Music account, playlists, tracks and albums, from where the Echo Dot streams your music, together with your address for some location-based services. You don't need an Amazon Fire tablet or Android 'phone for setup - the Dot settings can be accessed through an internet browser and appears as a wireless device which then connects to your wi-fi router

You can also set up a series of Bluetooth audio speakers that the Echo dot will connect to. You can switch Bluetooth speakers on and off to reconnect one and disconnet the other, but you can't have more than one Bluetooth audio device paired with the Dot at any one time; you could connect a separate Bluetooth transmitter to the Dot's audio jack to transmit audio to more than one speaker set at a time, or use a standard 3.5mm audio splitter and some long cable runs to your audio equipment. You can, however, keep one set of speakers plugged into the Dot's audio jack, and connect and disconnect a Bluetooth speaker in another room, for example.

Alexa recognises playlists created within the Amazon Music app; you can also request individual songs, artists or just hear music from preset genres defined in the app. Speak clearly, and Alexa understands what you mean nine times out of ten. Follow your request with "radio", and Alexa can distinguish between tracks and stations where there's any doubt.
Amazon Echo Dot 2nd Gen top view
Amazon Echo Dot features an LED halo, which lights up letting you know Alexa is ready for a request

The Echo Dot makes listening to internet radio a joy - an absolute cinch - it's so simple, at first, you end up channel changing more often than if you were armed with the TV remote. You do have to have a good idea of which station you want to listen to, but there's at least one directory we know of that might give you some ideas. Some stations are noticeably absent from the RadioPlayer database (we had trouble finding newcomer Encore Radio at the time of writing), but popular, established stations are all there.

As a bedside radio, you can plug in headphones and set a tinkling alarm to wake you in the morning. You can request a radio station to listen to on hearing the alarm. The Echo dot will speak the time to you when you ask it. You could also set the volume of your wake-up call before you snooze off.

Choosing Echo Dot as an easy-to-use internet radio receiver is a no-brainer; for those with poor eyesight it's a revelation. Using it to access the BBC's high-quality internet radio streams gives new life to Radio 3. Popular stations are available in fantastic stereo; you can listen in stereo through headphones or powered stereo speakers. The Echo Dot does, however, need a fast internet stream to prevent bottlenecking, buffering and stuttering on very high quality streams, particularly if you're trying to stream a film on your TV at the same time. As a means to get Planet Rock and digital stations outside of their broadcast area, and from around the world, Echo Dot should be given serious consideration.

The Amazon Echo Dot is available now in white or black for £49.99. The Dot has a built-in single speaker and is mains powered. You can also buy the Amazon full-size Echo with bigger speaker for £149.99.

If you'd prefer to click and collect on the highstreet, search for Echo Dot (black) item #634/9693 or Echo Dot (white) item #622/8439 at Argos online.

More information and related links:
other ways to get streaming internet radio
recommended wi-fi and wired internet radio suggestions
see our DAB Buyers' Guide for more advice and suggestions

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Amazon Echo Dot second generation is mains powered
Amazon Echo Dot features a 3.5mm audio socket and is mains powered