Technophile

The new Amazon Echo devices

Mala Bharghava | Updated on: Oct 24, 2018

Alexa skills remain pretty much the same, but sound quality and design sees changes

In September, Amazon had itself a big event in Seattle and launched a bunch of interesting devices. A few of those have made it to India and have been available for order at great introductory prices, though for now, they’re back to their MRPs. The previous gen devices are also available, of course at lower prices. Of the new devices, we have the Echo Plus and the Echo Dot to check out and have set them up to tell you what’s different.

The original Echo Plus sounds pretty good. It won’t compete with many speakers that are dedicated to just music, but it’s very pleasant and has good quality sound output and is just great for non-party listening. It’s main job is more than music, after all. Now for the second generation of the Echo Plus, Amazon has put in a bigger three-inch woofer inside and so there’s of course more pronounced depth and bass. I actually quite like the sound on the Echo Plus first generation but you can immediately tell the difference between the two.

Despite the enhanced internals, the Echo Plus is now actually smaller, round and squat as opposed to tall and cylindrical like the original. The idea is for it to blend in better into the home rather than stick out like a sore thumb and look obviously electronic. Now the speaker is covered with a fabric-like material in white, grey or black and has a warmer look. On top there’s still the ring that lights up when Alexa is listening to you but the volume control is no longer in that ring but is done with its own ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ buttons. I liked the ring control and miss it but then remember that I can just voice-command a volume change in any case.

Music everywhere

The Echo Plus can be paired with another of its kind to make up a little sound system for a bigger space. Again, it isn’t for audiophiles or for people who primarily want music, but it’s a great addition to what is essentially a smart speaker ready to respond to everything from requests for recipes to cricket scores to news to bedtime stories. The speaker of course has the same skill sets as ever. The Echo Plus can still control your smart devices and lights and whatever you choose to smarten up with smart plugs because of its built-in Zigbee hub.

The Echo Sub isn’t here for review yet, but the Echo Dot third gen is and that speaker is bigger than its predecessor. And a little heavier. It’s changed from having clean-cut lines to being more rounded and also has fabric coverings. The sound quality is also better than before but of course it’s overall a smaller speaker so it’s nice for the main Alexa skills and for personal listening. For instance, old Bollywood songs sound just fine on it, feeling as if they’re coming from the radios they used to play on. For bigger room-filling sound, you’ll need to connect it to bigger speakers which is possible through an aux cable or through Bluetooth. The larger Echo Plus can actually now also take in sound input, but the Dot will only take in Bluetooth, which is how it should be.

Both these devices obviously pair up or group with others from the portfolio and I actually used four Echo speakers to fill my entire house with music. I connected an Echo Dot and Echo Spot to larger sets of speakers sitting in different rooms and left two Echo Plus devices to supplement the bigger speakers in different places. The result is that walking through the house, music can be commanded from anywhere and the nearest Echo will obey playing on an Everywhere group when asked to do so. Other commands for Alexa skills work as usual, with the nearest speaker responding and not allowing a second speaker to overlap because they’re all on the same Wi-Fi network and each knows what the other is doing.

The Echo Dot doesn’t have a Zigbee Hub but has been very popular because it isn’t that expensive and customers have liked experimenting with Alexa skills and discovering what they can do. Once enabled by a hub elsewhere (either on an additional Echo Plus or with a device itself), the Dot will also control devices such as lights. The new Echo Plus costs ₹14,999 and the Dot ₹4,999 but you never know if you might find festival discounts.

Published on October 24, 2018

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