Amazon Echo Plus with Built-In Hub – Review 2018

Echo Plus
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I love my Echo Plus!! They are always so helpful and willing to work with me. No issues at all with my new device. I’m disabled and living on very limited funds. I received Alexa as a gift and was very worried that I didn’t have the money to replace her. 

You’d be forgiven for mistaking Echo Plus for the original Echo at a glance.

There’s little doubt about Amazon’s commitment to the enduring Echo with a broad spread of models now available including this highly capable speaker packing an inbuilt smart home hub.

Before we highlight where Echo Plus excels in more detail, take a quick glimpse at the chief advantages and drawbacks so you can see if this smart speaker makes sense for you.

What We Like

  • Integrated ZigBee hub giving you voice control over your compatible smart home devices without needing a third-party hub
  • Hands-free Alexa-enabled speaker that punches above its weight
  • Very clear midrange frequencies along with a lively and capable treble for a rich, smooth sound
  • Dolby processing gives this speaker a powerful sound with fully immersive audio
  • Strong Wi-Fi reception means you’ll enjoy uninterrupted access to your digital butler
  • Plug-and-play set-up so you can get going straight out the box
  • Combination of beamforming technology, and 7 noise-canceling mics so Echo will hear you wherever you are in the room even over the sound of music and chatter
  • Multi-room music allows you to make use of Echo devices in different rooms
  • Hands-free calling to any other Echo device including Drop-In functionality for your family and close friends
  • Get all that Alexa has to offer beyond music and admin by dipping your toes into smart home technology

What We Don’t Like

  • Difficult to recommend the Plus over second generation Echo unless you intend to benefit from the smart home functionality
  • Even if you want to use the Plus with your smart home, you won’t get full compatibility across the board
  • Although the overall soundscape is robust, bass is lacking and disappointing

Price and Overall Value

The first thing to mention about Echo Plus is the aggressive discount currently being offered bringing the price down dramatically and saving you 1/3 off list price.

When you consider you’re getting a robust and agile Alex-enabled speaker that also gives you control over a range of smart home devices, you really can’t knock Amazon when it comes to value for money.

Design and Build

At roughly 9 x 3 x 3 inches, the cylindrical Echo Plus is tough to distinguish at a glance from the older Echo.

As well as black or white you can also opt for a silver finish. The housing is plastic rather than the more tactile material used on the old Echo.

You’ll get the familiar array of controls at the top with a button to mute the mic, an all-purpose Action ring and a volume ring that’s easy to twist and tweak.

A blue ring glows when you’ve engaged Alexa and she’s listening.

An addition with Echo Plus is the 3.5mm output allowing you to harness a more powerful sound system if you want to step things up a gear.

Build quality is robust and there’s an overwhelmingly positive body of opinion from the huge number of satisfied customers who’ve already happily invested in this latest incarnation of Alexa. Few complaints come about with regard to mechanical failure.

So…

Is it a case of form over function, or does Echo Plus come up with the goods?

Sound

We’ll start in front and center with the sound since previous iterations of Echo have consistently disappointed.

Rather than kicking off by suggesting you hook up your speaker to another speaker since it doesn’t perform well as a speaker, we’ve got nothing but qualified praise for Echo Plus in terms of basic audio.

You won’t get an enormous amount of bass but you need to keep your expectations reasonable…

For a device primarily intended to help you interact with Alexa and extending this engagement into the smart home, the sound from the nimble little speaker is genuinely impressive.

Once you give the command to start your favorite music streaming, you’ll be instantly immersed with the mids and highs singing even if the bass lacks a little punch. And we should add that while it’s not going to shatter the windows, low-end frequencies are still considerably better represented than on either generation of Echo.

Make no mistake, you’re not getting a speaker fit for audiophiles here. What you will get is a much more rounded and far richer sound than the tinny original.

While Amazon has flagged improvements with the far-field mics, we have to say this has always been always been a strong point of Echo devices. With Echo Plus, as always, Alexa will hear your commands even if there’s music blaring or lots of people chattering away.

If you do want to hook up your Echo Plus to a more heavyweight sound system, there’s a simple jack on the back, a feature rolled out with the newest Echo and Echo Dot.

Performance and Features

Alexa is becoming ubiquitous and more and more people are relying on their favorite digital assistant to help with everything from basic to-do lists through food delivery.

As we mentioned, Alexa will hear what you’re saying even if there’s a lot of background chatter.

Set-up couldn’t be easier. Grab yourself the Alexa app for your smartphone of choice and you’ll be guided through hooking up to Wi-Fi. Previous issues with signal dropping out have been addressed and the uprated chipset gives you a stronger and more dependable signal than you’ll get with any other Echo device.

Drop-In allows you to make quick video calls just like on Skype or FaceTime and with your favorite contacts you can use Echo almost like an intercom and you can drop into their day digitally. An initial blur-out prevents you from being caught unawares.

If you’re thinking you’d like the convenience of a digital assistant but you don’t want to be barking out commands every 10 seconds, you’ll love Alexa’s Routines. You can set up simple phrases to trigger a series of commonplace tasks. “Morning” might hit the lights, set your music going at a nice low volume and get the kettle fired up for your morning shot of espresso.

Using Alexa to navigate your music lets you relax more fully without needing to constantly hunt down the remote control.

You’ll be able to access the full spread of streaming services from Spotify through SiriusXM.

And don’t worry…

If you’re slouched back in your favorite chair with the volume cranked right up, Alexa can still hear what you’re asking due to intelligent technology harnessing far-field mics and noise-cancelation.

Beyond this, imagination is your only limitation with Alexa. Skills, the equivalent of apps, number in the tens of thousands and they’re growing all the time. Whether you want help with your shopping list or you want to call in a pizza, dive into Alexa’s many Skills and you’ll be hooked.

Smart Home Integration

Undoubtedly the key selling point of Echo Plus, how well does this device really enable you to control your smart home?

You’re certainly getting great value since smart home hubs are not particularly cheap and you’re getting a ZigBee hub thrown in for not much of a premium over the standard Echo.

We will say straight off the bat that you’re only looking at more basic integration here. If your smart home is complex and you’ve got strings of colored lights and heavy requirements in general, this won’t be man enough for the job.

If you’re still interested, the ZigBee hub works well with appliances from all major players from Honeywell and Samsung SmartThings through to Belkin and Panasonic.

While there are also plenty of smart home kit that uses different protocols and does not support ZigBee, Amazon is always quick on the ball with product iterations so we fully expect lots of omissions ironed out over the coming year.

One of the advantages of the multi-purpose Echo Plus is that if you buy it with the intention of experimenting with smart home automation but you don’t end up converted, you won’t have lost out completely. You’ll still be left with a capable and nimble speaker along with access to all that Alexa offers aside from driving the mechanics of your smart home.

We should point out that other Echo devices are capable of performing all that Echo Plus does with the exception of being able to directly communicate with ZigBee devices.

Essentially, you’re getting rid of the need for a Philips Hue bridge but in return you won’t get quite the same functionality. So you’re talking about compromise in return for convenience and saving a few bucks. It’s down to you how you feel about this, we’re not here to sell you on a device you might not really need.

If you’ve accumulated a bunch of smart home appliances from different manufacturers, the Alexa app is a neat way to streamline your processes under one umbrella. Making tiny tweaks to your lighting by voice control can be quite gratifying!

Verdict

The bottom line is that Echo Plus is absolutely not a product for everyone…

If you have compatible smart home products already in place and you like the idea of eliminating multiple hubs, Echo Plus is a smart move.

As an entry-level way to dip your toes into the smart home waters, it’s also well worth considering.

Depending on your needs, this could be the best Benjamin you spend all year.

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