Amazon recently updated its Alexa offerings with a plethora of new Echo devices. The Echo Dot, Echo and Echo Plus all got upgrades for 2018. We checked out the new Amazon Echo Plus (2018) to figure out what’s new and if it made sense for older users to upgrade.
The new Amazon Echo Plus has certainly got a design upgrade and like most of the new speakers coming out these days, this one too favours fabric. We got the white version for review and within a few hours in the polluted Delhi air it was clear this was not a great idea. Even in a relatively clean room we could see it was gathering dust. Also, if there are kids around you will need to protect the Echo from stains.
But the design, though it sticks to being cylindrical, is clearly better and more functional. It is shorter and thicker than the earlier version and panel on top gives volume, power and mute buttons. The LED ring around it gives you the status of Alexa and wakes up in blue whenever you have a query. Also, despite the threat of being soiled in Indian conditions, the Echo does look good in your living room.
A lot of what a smart speaker does depends on two things — its speaker or audio output and its microphone or audio inputs. My seven-year-old, the only real smart speaker user in the house, prefers to command Alexa wherever he is. And with the new Echo Plus, his wish is Alexa’s command, wherever he is, as the microphones seem to have a ear on everything.
Despite all the smartness built in, most people still use smart speakers to listen to a lot of music, maybe with voice commands. So the audio output is a significant factor in the smart speaker experience. The Echo now has better audio for sure, but it’s still a bit too bass-heavy for my liking. So the music ends up being a bit too rounded. So I actually figured out that there are equaliser settings in the Alexa app and pulled the bass down. The audio did improve, but I doubt this will impress audiophiles.
Amazon has not really pushed any software updates for Echo devices yet. It does pretty much what it used to do earlier, but then new skills are being added on a daily basis. I strongly recommend setting up a routine that kicks off Alexa to do a set of things one after the other. I say Alexa start my day and it started from whether, goes into top news from The Indian Express and then ends with a playlist of my choice. Then you can use it for all sorts of queries, from asking for a joke to checking the weather before stepping out. My son even uses it to cheat on homework, asking her everything from spellings to addition and subtraction.
The latest Amazon Echo Plus might not be a good upgrade for those already on the earlier version, but is a far better option for those considering it as a gift option this festival season. At Rs 11,999 this is a decent Bluetooth speaker too.