Amazon Echo Plus (2nd-gen) full review

The second-generation Amazon Echo Plus is here, and it boasts a radical redesign compared to its predecessor. It’s shorter (but a little wider), features a bigger speaker and a fabric mesh body that brings the Plus in-line with the rest of the Echo family. It also the only Echo device that features a built-in home hub for controlling ZigBee-supported devices.

So, is it worth the £139 price tag? We’ve spent some time with the Alexa-powered smart speaker to see whether it’s one of the best smart speakers on the market, and here’s our review.

How much does the Amazon Echo Plus cost?

Before we delve into the features of the second-gen Echo Plus, let’s discuss pricing. The second-gen Echo Plus is available on Amazon right now for £139.99 in the UK, while those in the US can pick it up for $149.99. The good news is that Amazon is currently offering a free Philips Hue smart bulb with orders of the Echo Plus to help users kick-start their smart home, making it a little more tempting.

Those that want an upgraded audio experience have the option of buying a bundle comprised of two Echo Plus speakers and an Echo Sub for £299.99/$329.97.

The price tag puts the Echo Plus at the high-end of the Echo speaker family; it’s £90 more than the basic Echo Dot and £50 more than the standard Echo. Does it offer enough to justify the extra cash? Keep reading to find out.

An updated design

The Echo Plus has had a radical redesign that we think is a huge improvement on that of the original Echo Plus. The second-gen Plus has ditched the shiny plastic body and drilled speaker holes, opting instead for a fabric mesh coating that brings the design in-line with the rest of the Echo family. It also has to be said that it makes it look more like the Google Home Max and HomePod, Google and Apple’s high-end smart speakers.

The second-gen Echo Plus is available in three colours; Charcoal, Heather Grey and Sandstone, which is essentially white. The new design helps the Echo Plus blend into the home environment, rather than stick out like a sore thumb like the original did.

You’ll find four buttons on the lid of the Echo Plus that provide control over volume, muting the microphone array and activating Alexa. Like with the mesh fabric design, the controls are now unified across the Echo range, but this also means that Amazon has ditched the physical volume dial present on the original device.

The second-gen Echo Plus is not quite as tall as the first-den device, but it is a little wider measuring in at 148 x 99 x 99mm compared to 235 x 84 x 84mm. There is a good reason for that, as the new Echo Plus houses a larger 3in speaker and 0.8in tweeter for improved audio output – but we’ll go into that in more detail below.

Improved speakers

As mentioned, the second big upgrade in the new Echo Plus is in the audio department. The Echo Plus features a 3in speaker and 0.8in tweeter to provide an all-around improvement to audio output, with a noticeable increase in overall volume compared to the first-gen Plus. That’s not all that’s new either; thanks to Dolby Play 360 audio support, the cylindrical speaker produces room-filling audio with no noticeable ‘sweet spot’.

The audio quality, as you’d expect, is impressive for a speaker at this price. Audio is crisp and clear, vocals are warm and it has a strong bass presence, making it the ideal speaker no matter your taste in music. It’s not a perfect listening experience though, as the lack of a sub or passive bass radiator means the bass presence decreases as the volume increases.

You can get a wireless sub to connect to the Plus at an additional cost, and you’ve also got the option of pairing up two Echo Plus devices for stereo music output.  

All the Alexa smarts you’d want

One feature that makes the Echo Plus stand out from other devices in the Echo family is built-in Zigbee smart home support. This makes the Plus a good choice for those that have smart home tech (light bulbs, switches, thermostats, plug sockets, etc) that boast ZigBee support, but it is worth noting that not all smart tech supports it.

Some may opt to use Wi-Fi for communication, or simply use a different radio frequency to ZigBee, so it’s not a one-size-fits-all option. Companies that do support the standard include Honeywell, Philips, Samsung SmartThings and Belkin, but you should check your tech for ZigBee support to be sure.   

The Echo Plus can control also smart home kit that offers Alexa integration, but that’s not unique to the Plus; the entire Echo range can control Alexa-supported smart home kit. If you’ve not got any ZigBee-powered kit and don’t care about a slightly better-sounding speaker, you may want to save a bit of money and pick up the second-gen Echo.

A recent update to the Alexa app introduced Routines, allowing you to control multiple devices or trigger multiple skills with a single command. You can, for example, say “good morning Alexa” and get the smart assistant to turn on your bedroom lamp, turn the kettle on and play your morning briefing.   

Aside from controlling your smart home tech, Amazon’s smart assistant can handle a magnitude of requests. From playing music via Spotify or Amazon Music to giving you a customised morning briefing and even meowing on command (don’t ask), Alexa has smarts. It’s down to the variety of skills available for Alexa available via the Alexa app for iOS and Android that expand the functionality in impressive (and sometimes weird) ways.

For more information on getting the most out of Alexa, take a look at our guide to using Amazon Alexa.

Verdict

The second-gen Echo Plus is an all-around improvement on the original, not only in terms of design but audio quality too. The fabric mesh design is a welcome change and helps the Echo Plus blend into the home environment seamlessly.

The larger 3in speaker and 0.8in tweeter provide crisp audio with great bass presence, and thanks to a built-in smart hub, the Echo Plus can also control a host of ZigBee smart home devices (in addition to Alexa-supported smart tech).

If you’re looking for an all-in-one device that has smarts and decent room-filling audio quality, the Echo Plus is the ideal option.