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If Alexa taught us something, it is the significance of excellent software program. In Alexa’s case, it is what made the unique Amazon Echo sensible speaker so compelling. By itself, the Echo itself was simply your common Bluetooth speaker — it was Alexa, Amazon’s cloud-connected, voice-activated AI assistant, that made the Echo a game-changer.

That brings us to the brand new Echo Plus. At $150, it seems identical to the unique Echo, however the “plus” half is that it provides in a radio for Zigbee, a wi-fi customary utilized by sure sensible residence devices, together with Philips Hue sensible bulbs, SmartThings plugs, and related locks from Kwikset and Yale. Due to that Zigbee radio, the Echo Plus can speak on to these devices and inform them what to do. You need not plug an additional bridge or hub into your router to translate the Zigbee indicators, as a result of the Echo Plus is already fluent. It’s the hub.

That, coupled with an incremental uptick in sound high quality, makes the Echo Plus a great piece of . The software program, nonetheless, leaves quite a bit to be desired with clunky, underdeveloped sensible residence controls within the Alexa app that do not do as a lot as they actually ought to. The Echo Plus has different strengths, like an aux out jack and a brand new potential to launch multi-faceted “routines” with a single voice command — however they’re the identical strengths that you’re going to get with the brand new, second-gen Echo, which prices $50 much less.

With the proper app updates the Echo Plus might enhance over time, and that is most likely what’s going to occur. Till it does, although, I would not construct a wise residence round it.

The brand new Echo Plus (left, in silver) is sort of indistinguishable from the unique Echo.

Chris Monroe/Proinertech

Seems to be the identical, sounds the identical

Just like the Echo Dot and the brand new, second-gen Echo, the Echo Plus options an aux out jack within the again to allow you to join it along with your current audio system.

Chris Monroe/Proinertech

The Echo Plus is available in your selection of three colours: black, white, or a brand new silver possibility. Get it in black or white, and you will have a really onerous time distinguishing it from the unique.

The best way to inform is within the again — the Echo Plus added in an aux out jack, identical to the second-gen Echo did. That’ll allow you to connect with exterior audio system utilizing a three.5mm cable (it’s also possible to join wirelessly by way of Bluetooth). That is a pleasant contact, however in case you’re simply on the lookout for an Alexa gadget to attach along with your high-end speaker setup, you are higher off simply getting an Echo Dot and saving $100.

One different notice: With the previous design making an encore, the Echo Plus is now the one Alexa gadget presently on sale that provides a quantity ring up high. The second-gen Echo ditched that quantity ring in favor of the Echo Dot’s quantity buttons to assist get the associated fee down. I favor the ring — it feels classier, and it is simpler to make use of in a darkish room.

Talking of sound high quality, the Echo Plus does certainly sound a bit bit higher than the unique Echo, not less than to my ear. Each are nearly equally as highly effective, however I observed higher steadiness between highs and lows and barely much less distortion at excessive volumes with the Echo Plus. It is a very refined distinction, and never one that you simply’re more likely to discover until, like me, you spend a great chunk of your day listening for it. 

That places the Echo Plus’ sound high quality a lot nearer to the Echo than to rivals that put extra of an emphasis on pristine audio. Just like the Echo, it is completely able to filling a room with good-sounding music, however in case you’re hoping for a high-fidelity audio expertise, you would possibly come away upset. 

A extra noticeable uptick in sound high quality would have gone a good distance in direction of serving to the Plus reside as much as its identify, however the addition of an aux out jack renders that time largely moot — audiophiles most likely have already got a setup they’re proud of, and typically, the Echo Plus can pipe music by means of it.

Zigbee smarts

Ry Crist/Proinertech

The addition of a Zigbee radio signifies that the Echo Plus can join straight with Zigbee devices, of which there are lots of. Probably the most notable identify in that blend is Philips Hue — with the Echo Plus, you’ll be able to join with any of the quite a few Hue-branded lamps, mild bulbs and light-weight strips accessible for buy and management them proper from the Alexa app, no Hue Bridge mandatory. That is a tempting solution to check out a single bulb earlier than committing to a complete Philips Hue starter package.

To that finish, Amazon is presently providing a free Hue White LED with each Echo Plus, a $15 worth. Good contact.

Nonetheless, there is a obtrusive drawback with that integration with Hue, and that is that the Alexa app cannot change the colour of color-changing bulbs. Alexa can by way of voice command, however the app itself solely permits you to flip lights on and off or alter their brightness. That clearly is not superb — voice instructions are nice for fast modifications, however generally, you are going to wish to use an app’s color-selector to dial in on a selected shade.

You might achieve this simply utilizing the Philips Hue app — however the app cannot join with the bulbs until you’ve got obtained the Hue Bridge plugged into your router. Form of undercuts the entire level of getting an Echo Plus, does not it?

That limitation extends to different Zigbee bulbs with a number of shade settings, too. For example, I used to be capable of pair the Echo Plus with a “Tradfri” sensible bulb from Ikea that provides completely different shade temperature settings starting from heat white to chill daylight. I might alter the tint of the sunshine utilizing voice instructions, however not utilizing the Alexa app. Alexa, add shade management to your to-do record.

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