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Amazon Echo Plus review
The perfect smart home hub?
Pros and cons
- Voice detection is top-notch
- Thousands of skills on offer
- Able to control smart home devices without other hubs
- Missing core functionality from overseas versions
- No support for multiple voices
- Audio quality is average for the price
- Smart home hub still has limited opportunity
As the premium offering in Amazon’s trio of smart speakers, the Echo Plus has its work cut out for itself. Not only does it need to prove its audio capabilities against the arrival of devices like the Apple HomePod, but it also touts itself as a smart home hub, leveraging the Zigbee home automation protocol.
But can the Echo Plus be that central smart device for your entire home?
Amazon customers must have been pretty happy with the Amazon Echo’s design, because the Echo Plus is an obvious sibling. With that same cylindrical shape, the Echo Plus stands taller at just over nine inches and slightly narrower with a diameter of 3.3 inches (versus the Echo’s 3.5 inches).
That extra bit of height allows for a slightly larger tweeter (0.8-inch versus the Echo’s 0.6-inch tweeter) and enhances audio quality. Although the subwoofer is the same size, mesh on the bottom half of the speaker allows for fuller audio output. Despite the boost in sound, the Echo Plus still offers a 3.5mm audio output jack and integrated Bluetooth, so you can pump music out from a more premium set of speakers.
Unlike the Echo’s customizable fabric covers, the Echo Plus is only available in black. But given the additional smart home hub functions, Amazon’s obvious goal is for a single Echo Plus to be accompanied by multiple Echos or Echo Dots around the home.
The top of the Echo Plus — the control center of the speaker — offers two simple buttons: the privacy button that mutes the microphone and an action button to use in lieu of giving the “Alexa” command.
Volume controls are also at the top of the speaker in the form of a rotating ring above the LED light. Having the LED lights makes controlling the speaker super easy, with obvious visual feedback whenever the speaker is working.
The Echo Plus incorporates the same seven-microphone array as the other Echo products and is able to pick up quiet voices from across the room. The sensitivity of the mic is easily one of the keys to the Echo family’s success. It detects the activation word almost every time, with an impressive strike rate at hearing instructions.
As the premium model in the Echo family, it’s natural to expect the Echo Plus to feature a premium audio experience. The extra size in the tweeter doesn’t make as much difference as you might hope, though.
One of the biggest challenges of the Amazon Echo’s audio playback was a lack of bass in the music, especially at higher volumes. Given that the Plus has a woofer of equal size, it’s understandable that the Plus isn’t much better on the bass front.
Crank the Echo Plus up to full volume and the sound is tinny, with the lower frequencies struggling to match the musicians’ intent. The mid-range is a bit fuller than the regular Echo, but it’s not enough to justify the purchase of a Plus over the default Echo model.
Fortunately, even Amazon’s premium speaker comes with an audio-out jack for plugging it into better speakers, and Bluetooth for the same function. But if this is how you plan to use the Echo Plus, the cheaper Echo Dot will perform much the same — minus the smart home hub functionality. For general background music, though, the Echo Plus is perfectly functional. It’s just not a premium audio experience.
Digital Assistant Performance
The major appeal of the Echo Plus – or the whole Echo family – isn’t its audio quality. It’s the integration of the Alexa smart digital assistant. At the mention of the Alexa hotword, Echo Plus springs to life, ready to do your bidding (as far as its programming allows, anyway).
Alexa’s voice detection is generally solid. It struggles from time to time, but overall, the microphone array can pick up a command from across the room in a normal voice. I found I needed to speak a bit louder if the music volume was up high, but that’s to be expected. In the US, Alexa is multi-voice-enabled, picking up on who is speaking and which controls that person has access to.
Smart Home control performance
The real reason you should consider the Echo Plus speaker is the fact that it can act as a dedicated Smart Home hub, controlling accessories using the Zigbee protocol without the need for intermediary hubs.
To help demonstrate this, Amazon sells a version of the Echo Plus with a bundled Philips Hue light globe. And in this arena, the Echo Plus does well. Pairing to a new globe is as simple as asking the Plus to search for new devices — 45 seconds later, the Hue globe was paired and controllable by simple commands.
Pairing in this way is incredibly easy, but you do lose a little bit of granular control when you partner the Hue globes to the Hue Bridge rather than the Echo Plus. And if you’ve set up a Hue Bridge previously, it won’t detect any new Hue globes connected via the Echo speaker.
The other challenge facing the Echo Plus’ dreams of smart home domination is the relative shortage of compatible devices. If you take a quick glance at Amazon’s own page of compatible Zigbee devices, you get a list of Hue light globe options. That’s not a deal breaker, but it makes the decision to opt for the more expensive speaker for the prospect of future device compatibility harder to swallow.
An intelligent digital assistant with great voice recognition, a strong ecosystem of skills and an ever-improving platform make the Amazon Echo speakers very attractive.
But as the premium offering in the lineup, Echo Plus should stand head and shoulders above the standard Echo. And it doesn’t. Audio performance is still far from premium, with a little bit more detail in the mid- to high-end, but a weak bass performance like its smaller siblings.
Not only that, smart home hub functionality is somewhat limited and easily managed by third-party devices and skills even without the Zigbee hub function. This could change over time, but the benefit for a user today doesn’t outweigh the cost.
The features that matter — sound quality, the impressive microphone array and Alexa itself — are all essentially the same on the cheaper Echo.
Pricing and availability
The Amazon Echo Plus is available for $110.
Amazon Echo Plus at a glance
What is the Amazon Echo Plus? A premium version of the Amazon Echo, the Echo Plus incorporates an integrated smart home hub and a slightly better speaker.
When did the Amazon Echo Plus come out? The original Echo Plus launched in 2017.
How much does the Amazon Echo Plus cost? $110
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