At a glance the new Echo Plus just looks like a slightly tubbier Echo but its wider waistband accommodates some extra talents that the standard speaker doesn’t have.
It has a smart home hub built in, which means it can talk directly to things like Philips’ Hue bulbs, so you no longer need an extra box plugged into your router in order for them to communicate. All you need to do is say: “Alexa, discover my devices” and it’ll scan your home for compatible Zigbee kit. It’d be nice if it supported other standards such as Z-Wave, but it’s a step in the right direction.
That slightly bulkier build also means there’s more space for bass and the Echo Plus has noticeably improved low-end performance when playing music. Alexa’s all dressed up in her brand new avatar which means we’ve got a date to catch. Let’s not keep her waiting then...
The Echo fam has been as diverse in appearance as the folk of Futurama but things are finally starting to come together with a seamless design language. The new Echo Plus, the new Dot, second-gen Echo and the Echo Sub compliment each other rather well and have caught up with the times. Unlike before, swappable shells aren’t an option so you choose between charcoal, heather grey or sandstone and then as they say, you put a ring on it.
Off with the old Plus’ rotatable volume dial. Instead you get to poke at buttons up top that include volume up, down, mute and Alexa. There’s a generous sprinkling of mics interspersed with the buttons that make the Echo more attentive than a teacher’s pet seated in the first row. In a much less annoying way, obviously.
If you’re hearing things, and it don’t sound good, who you gon’ call? Dolby, that’s who. Amazon’s cleverly called on the senseis of sound to make the new Echo Plus a master of music playback. Snooty audiophiles will crave for a better soundstage but the overall results from the Dolby tuned system will impress just about anyone else.
The Plus gets a 3in woofer, 0.8in tweeter and 360° degree sound. The drivers aren’t just bigger but better tuned. It adds up to deliver sound that packs a punch without compromising on quality. Deep rich bass, and a well-rounded sound are all present and correct. The option to add an Echo Sub and another Plus mean you don’t need to look at third parties to hook up a supreme 2.1 setup to your Alexa-enabled speaker.
Smart home skills
Google Home and Amazon Echo have been at it tooth and nail to take full control of your smart home and the new Plus has a couple more tricks to win you over. Of course it retains the platform agnostic ZigBee hub that’s home smarts aplenty and easy to work with. But its hardware hub has been boosted with a temperature sensor.
Amazon’s thinking far into the future by anticipating the need to control heaters and fans in sync with changing temperatures by adding a thermometer to the Echo’s abilities. This essentially turns your Echo into a climate control system that can execute routines in sync with the rest of your home. We’ve been switching Hue lights with the Plus and it’s a delicious taste of the possibilities that lie ahead.
Take away the Plus’ music / smart home skills and you’re still left with what we think is the most natural AI assistant available for your home today. Alexa’s constantly learning and it shows in her contextual responses and absolute attentiveness. With the Whisper update, you’ll get hushed responses when you whisper to her so you don’t wake up the entire house with your late night chats with Alexa. It’s a little bit of creepy with a lotta bit of convenience.
For quick queries, calculations, conversions and other general knowledge, it feels both prompt and convenient to call upon Alexa and shoot your questions at her. With all this AI enabled, you’re not wrong in being wary with what Alexa hears in the confines of your privacy. To address those exact concerns, there’s a mute button that physically disconnects any sort of snooping inside the speaker so you can sleep nice and sound.
The earlier Echo Plus wasn’t to everyone’s taste with its industrial design and hard-edged housing. The smaller Echo was the more friendlier of the lot and nicer to look at too. All that’s changed with the new Echo Plus. It’s wrapped in a fantastic fabric and fits right at home with its modern styling and elegant design. It’s also packed to the brim full of fantastic features and feels like it’s built to last.
There’s many reasons to bring home an Echo Plus depending on how you plan to use one. As a music player, its skills are injected with a healthy dose of Dolby making it a maverick with music. Then there’s the ZigBee hub that sets your smart home up for a Jetsons-esque future. Lastly, if all else fails, there’s an assistant inside in the form of Alexa that’s all ears and brains for every query you can think of. From what we’ve seen (and heard), she’s a keeper…