Recently Amazon launched a whole host of new Alexa powered devices just in time for Christmas 2018. In a previous article we looked at the full suite of next gen gear and we even had a closer look at the brand new Echo Show. Now it’s time to get a closer look at the latest Echo Plus, a voice assistant that is the pinnacle of the Alexa offering.

The latest model is probably one of the only times I will say that the “Plus” moniker is not only worth the extra money but is well and truly deserved. With an all new design, meatier sound quality and some extra features, if you’re in the market for an Alexa smart speaker that will be the focal point of a smart home – this could be the one for you.

Now that we have whetted your appetite a bit, let’s see how it stacks up. Here’s everything you need to know about the new Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Generation:

Pricing

It’s not bad, not bad at all. Coming in at €160, which is about the same as the older models it’s pretty decent value for money given the improvements made and the pricing of competition.

When you look at the likes of the Apple HomePod or the Sonos One which would be considered the main competition, the Echo Plus is vastly cheaper. Some might say the Sonos One is the leader when it comes to audio quality and that’s kind of fair but with about €100 of a price difference you can just buy a secondary speaker, still spend less money and have audio that will blow your mind.

Simple Setup

Setting up the Echo Plus is an absolute breeze. Literally plug in the device, download the Alexa app and that’s pretty much it in terms of set up.

Once you’ve plugged in you will see this orange swirling light across the LED ring at the top of the device and Alexa will tell you she is ready to be setup. All you do then is open the app, select the WI-FI network and enter the password. After all this tough hard work is done you get a quick video tutorial on the app to give you the low down to get you started.

If you have any other smart home devices you can push the button on the bottom right off the app and it will scan and attach to each of them, again this is fair handy as in just a couple clicks your full smart home system is up and running. As with anything though, if this is your first device you will need to connect your music streaming accounts but that takes a couple of seconds. Oh and before I forget at this point you can change the device wake word from Alexa if that’s something that tickles your fancy.

Design

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I mean just look at it, the Echo Plus is a gorgeous looking bit of kit that. I tried it in the kitchen, bedroom and my living room and genuinely within an hour or two it just becomes part of the furniture. The previous model of the Echo Plus was a tall industrial looking product with visible speaker grilles. Not anymore. This year Amazon completed a full redesign of their full Alexa range and the Echo Plus got in on the action. Now the first thing you notice is the attractive fabric mesh that helps the Plus to blend into any room in the house.

Interestingly the Amazon Echo Plus is shorter and fatter than its previous model, the new model stands at 148 x 99 x 99mm compared to the previous 235 x 84 x 84 mm. This size change, coupled with the modifications to the facade leaves you with this really pretty looking speaker and with it being available in Charcoal, Gray and Sandstone it means that no matter how your home is styled, there is an Echo Plus to suit.

As with the rest of the range you, the Echo Plus has dropped the physical volume dial and replaced it with a number of buttons on the top of the speaker. Two for volume control, one for mute and another “action button” to get Alexa’s attention.

I really like the new styling, my personal favourite touch is the little LED ring that flashes blue when Alexa talks or when you make a command. I know it’s only a small thing but it’s really nice to know you are being listened too.
It’s the small things that make the biggest differences, the upper and bottom rims moulding into the main body, the fabric meshing and the colour choices mean this years Echo Plus is a much friendlier looking device.

Connecting The Home

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In the first generation of the Echo Plus the biggest selling point was most definitely the ZigBee integration. ZigBee is the smart home interface that connects the speaker to the range of smart home devices that would otherwise be capable of pairing with an Alexa powered device.

So why is the Echo Plus’ Zigbee hub such a big deal??? Well, Zigbee is a protocol that talks to smart home devices – connecting and controlling them. A common language if you like. It means that you don’t need hubs plugged into the back of your router, the speaker is doing all the heavy lifting.

Let’s us the Phillips Hue light as an example, once the bulb is plugged in the ZigBee hub will discover it and you can add it into the Alexa app. No need to download the Hue app or any other dedicated software for each individual smart home device. ZigBee is all you need. Cue shopping for smart switches, cameras, thermostats and bulbs galore. To help you get started creating your smart home I would recommend getting the bundle that comes with a Phillips Hue Bulb.

As Alexa is now the Voice Assistant of choice for most people more and more manufacturers are choosing to just build Alexa functionality as standard. This means that any Echo device in the range will work, not just those with ZigBee.

Sound Quality

Image result for amazon echo plus 2 sound

The main reason someone went for the Echo Plus over the rest of the range was simply down to the improved audio in comparison to the rest of the range. Now to be fair to Amazon all of their devices this year have vastly improved audio so smaller devices like the Dot will probably do a job, but premium is premium for a reason.

The Echo Plus 2nd Gen is an absolute monster, put it like this don’t ask Alexa to go to full volume unless you are fully prepared (trust me on this one).So the Plus kept the omnidirectional Dolby Audio and 0.8-inch tweeter,with a lightly bigger 3″ subwoofer. This means there’s a proper kick to the a bass and the audio is always clean, crisp and generally just very impressive. This was most apparent when listening to podcasts and audiobooks, this new boosted audio made voices seem more clear and natural, almost like they were in the room with you.

If you want top quality audio and you are looking at an Alexa powered device go for this over the standard Echo, the difference in the audio alone is worth the difference in the price.

The Goosed Verdict

Simply put, if you want a proper smart home experience without any headaches, the Echo Plus is exactly what you need to get started. Pretty much all smart home accessories are Alexa enabled, so pick up a couple smart plugs, some smart bulbs and let Alexa take care of the heavy lifting.

(yes the Gif is actually me – created by Morphin)

The Echo Plus 2nd Gen is a beautiful bit of kit that is designed to be a lifestyle product rather than a big speaker, thanks to Amazon’s design overhaul. To be fair it means there is very little to choose between the Echo and Echo Plus so we may see the former vanish over the next few years. That’s not really a problem. With the ZigBee smart home hub, quality speakers and all the new little tricks the Echo Plus has up it’s sleeve, I reckon this has well and truly set the standard for voice assistants going forward.

Personally, I think if you want to get up and running with a smart home, go for the Echo Plus but if size is a consideration and you want something a bit smaller then the Dot will do ya just fine.

Summary:

Pros

  • Great Audio
  • Nice volume buttons
  • Simple setup
  • Temperature sensor
  • Stereo pairing and multi-room features
  • Price vs the competition

Cons

  • Weird looking mute button
  • Could do better with audio depth on mid tones
  • Lighting animations aren’t as visible as the previous model

Whoa there! While We have you…