Amazon has launched an all-new Amazon Echo Plus - fresh for 2018. The second generation Echo Plus retains its Zigbee hub and beefier sound, but offers a fresh new look more in keeping with the rest of the Amazon Echo range.
If you're looking at buying an Alexa smart speaker then the Echo Plus has the power to be at the centre of your connected home β let's see how it stacks up.
Echo Plus (2018): Design
Amazon last year debuted a new design language with the second-generation Echo, using fabric materials to line the outside of the device rather than plastic or metal. Even though the Echo Plus debuted at the same time, it sported an older design.
The 2018 Echo Plus is shorter and stouter than the original. It sports a slightly evolved version of the design the 2017 Echo sports. There's the same fabric lining on the outside, yes, but on the top of the device you'll notice a subtle curve from the top control panel to Alexa's iconic blueish-green ring to the fabric on the side.
The new design comes in three colors: charcoal, sandstone and heather grey. They're all basically tones of grey, going from light to almost-black. The idea with the new Echo Plus design, as is the idea with the new Echo Dot and Echo, is to more seamlessly blend into your home. It looks more like a feature of your home rather than a tech-y speaker you placed on a coffee table.
Echo Plus (2018): What's new?
For the most part, the 2018 Echo Plus is the same Echo Plus you know and love. It comes with a built-in Zigbee hub (more on that below) so that you can easily start up your smart home. All you have to do is say "Alexa, discover my devices" and the Echo Plus will scan your Wi-Fi network for new smart devices to add.
There are two major upgrades to the internals of the Echo Plus though. The first, and more important, is premium sound. There's now a 3-inch neodynium woofer, upgraded from the previous Plus' 2.5-inch woofer. That's partnered with the 0.8-inch tweeter.
But that's not all that's at work to give you better sound. There's also Dolby Audio tech built into the speakers to power 360-degree sound from the device. Sound is also crisper and comes with more bass, thanks to increased back sound. You can even adjust the equalizer settings with Alexa.
In our hands-on, the 2018 Echo Plus certainly did sound louder with more full sound than the 2017 Plus. You can also partner two of them up with the new Echo Sub to create a 2.1 stereo configuration for room-filling sound.
The original Amazon Echo Plus was designed to act as a smart home hub thanks to Zigbee support, and the new 2018 version takes this aspect to a new level. There's a new temperature sensor that can be used to customize your smart home a bit more. You can ask Alexa directly for the temperature in the current room, but you can also use that sensor to create all new routines β which could theoretically expand your heating into a multi-zone system.
For example, you can arrange it so that if the room you're in hits 80 degrees then you can get a notification telling you to turn on the fan.
It's unclear if third parties can access the Plus' temperature sensor, however. Like having your Ecobee thermostat automatically adjust the temperature based on the Plus' reading, rather than Ecobee's own room sensors.
Echo Plus (2018): Zigbee explained
So why is the Echo Plus' Zigbee hub such a key feature? Well, Zigbee is a protocol that talks to smart home devices β connecting and controlling them. A common language if you like.
Your Echo speaker speaking this language means that you can reduce the number of boxy hubs plugged into the back of your router β because your smart speaker is doing that job.
A key example is Philips Hue. Using the Echo Plus has a Zigbee hub meant that once the bulbs were screwed in, they could be discovered and added within the Alexa app. No need for the Hue Bridge or the Hue app whatsoever. Yes, that means a loss of proprietary Hue features β but they key stuff (on/off/brightness/color) is all catered for via Alexa. It's simpler and neater.
But Zigbee only counts for a fraction of the market. Z-Wave is the other language used by smart home products, but that still isn't a part of the Echo Plus 2018. Also, some systems are walled gardens β which means even though they run on Zigbee, they're not deferring control to third parties. The long and short is that while the Echo Plus is starting to make your life easier, it's a long way from being the only hub you need.
Echo Plus (2018): Wi-Fi Simple Setup and local voice controls
The Echo Plus is also gaining some new powers that make it easier to manage and use your smart home and the devices inside. The first is Wi-Fi Simple Setup, which is the first step on Amazon's larger journey to make setting up smart devices as simple as possible.
Wi-Fi Simple Setup starts working once you connect your device to power and connect it to your Alexa companion app. From there, the device pulls your Wi-Fi's password from your Wi-Fi Locker in the Alexa app. Then it automatically sets everything up. The Echo Plus is one of the debut devices for Wi-Fi Simple Setup, alongside the 2018 Echo Dot and Smart Plug.
The other big new smart home feature is local voice controls. If your internet cuts out for whatever reason, controlling your smart home can be a real pain with Alexa. That's because Alexa needs to shoot its queries up to Amazon's servers and bring down a response. That's impossible without the internet.
Local voice control solves that, allowing Alexa to maintain control of your smart home without an internet connection. Alexa will process all of the smart home control right on the Plus, and be able to turn your lights on or off or set your temperature without interference.
Echo Plus (2018): Release date and price
The 2018 Echo Plus is available for pre-order on Amazon now, and will release on 11 October. Like the 2017 Echo Plus, it comes bundled with a single Philips Hue bulb. This year, you can also buy it in a new configuration though: two of them with an Echo Sub.
The 2018 Echo Plus is $149.99 while the two-pack with a Sub is $329.97.