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Smart Home

Amazon Echo Plus is the smart home hub of the future

Small changes could make a big difference for Amazon's smart home-focused speaker.

Three Echo Plus devices sit on a wood table
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

At first glance, the new Amazon Echo Plus looks like it's mostly a cosmetic upgrade to the original Echo Plus smart speaker. It will still cost $150 in the US when it comes out next month. Like the original, it's powered by Amazon's Alexa voice assistant, and it has a Zigbee hub built-in so it can talk to smart home sensors.

Beyond the new fabric finish, the new Echo Plus sports an added temperature sensor, localized voice controls and setup assistance that could make the Amazon Echo Plus an ideal smart home control center.

First announced at Amazon's surprise event in Seattle last week, you can preorder the second-generation Amazon Echo Plus now. The fabric exterior and rounded edges match the look of the other revamped Echo devices like the third-gen Amazon Echo Dot. The second-gen Plus costs £140 in the UK and AU$229 in Australia. Right now, the expected ship date is Oct. 11 in all three countries.

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Better sound quality

Given that you can get an Amazon Echo ($100 at Crutchfield) for $100 and an Echo Dot for $50, the $150 price for the Plus will still be a tough sell. Thanks to Alexa, you can issue a voice command and control your smart home, add an event to your calendar, search the web, play music and more. Alexa's an impressive and robust digital assistant, but you get those same capabilities on all of Amazon's smart speakers. We didn't feel the Zigbee hub was enough to justify the extra cost in our review of the first Echo Plus.

The new Echo Plus ups the ante. A 3-inch neodymium woofer and increased back volume will give more depth and bass to its sound quality. Amazon doesn't have its own premium smart speaker like the Google Home Max ($299 at Walmart) or the Apple HomePod ($299 at Walmart). The second-gen Echo Plus might scratch that itch to an extent, and if it truly does sound great when playing music, that'll make the $150 price much more palatable.

Added smart home prowess

The extra sound quality will broaden its appeal, but the Echo Plus is still a smart speaker aimed primarily at smart home enthusiasts. Like the old version, the Zigbee hub will allow the Plus to communicate with small smart home sensors. Motion sensors, temperature sensors and the like typically don't communicate over Wi-Fi, but use lower-frequency signals such as Zigbee to save battery power. They rely on a hub such as the popular $70 SmartThings hub to receive the Zigbee signal and send it to the cloud. The Plus can stand in as that hub for Zigbee devices.

Beyond what the first Echo Plus can do, the new Plus has a temperature sensor built-in, so it can act as one of your smart home's sensors itself. If your temp drops or rises beyond certain thresholds, the Plus can trigger routines to flash your smart lights as a warning or adjust the thermostat accordingly.

The Plus also saves compressed controls for your smart gadgets locally, so if your Wi-Fi goes down, you'll still be able to control your connected gadgets with a voice command. That upgrade might not seem like a big deal, but it could be handy in an emergency and will make controlling your smart home much easier if you have spotty Wi-Fi.

Finally, the Plus and all Echo devices are getting an upgrade that'll make setting up your smart home simpler. Amazon's new "frustration free setup" will let your smart speaker talk to devices like a new Zigbee door sensor or a new Wi-Fi enabled smart bulb, and will go through the setup process in the background. Your Echo will share the necessary Wi-Fi info via encrypted channels when necessary, so in theory, you can just plug in your new smart gadget and Amazon will get it ready to use for you.

A positive outlook

The price of the $150 Echo Plus didn't make much sense since it only added a Zigbee hub to standard Alexa assistance. The new Plus boosts the sound quality, and offers a bunch of little extras to make your smart home more seamless. If it works as promised, the price looks pretty reasonable. 

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