Welcome to LME’s 10/27/17 Alexa Fast Tips Friday. Early reviews are out so for those trying to decide which to pre-order, it’s now possible to make some comparisons between Echo 2 vs Echo Plus. Note that Amazon’s official name for the Echo 2 is Echo 2nd Generation.
Full disclosure: I do not have these devices in my possession, what you’re about to read is based on reviews posted at tech sites by authors who did have access to the devices for testing.
Echo Plus: Smart Home Support Is Built In
Echo Plus (UK readers, click here; currently available for pre-order at $140, with a release date of 10/31/17 in both the US and UK) is a next-generation Echo with a built in Zigbee smart home hub, and it comes bundled with a HUE smart bulb to help the buyer get started with smart home.
Per Amazon the built-in hub supports native Alexa voice commands for 100 different smart home bulbs, switches, speakers and other devices, and support for additional smart devices is planned. This means that for the supported devices, from such companies as Zigbee, Philips Hue, GE and Kwikset, you don’t need to buy, install and set up a separate smart home hub, or run a separate app or skill to control those devices. Alexa support is built right into the Plus.
The built-in hub and included Philips HUE smart bulb make the Plus a good choice for anyone who’s considering getting started with smart home, or for purchase as a gift for someone who isn’t very tech-savvy and will appreciate the out-of-the-box smart home capabilities.
Sound Quality: Which Is Better?
Reviewers seem to agree the Plus offers a slight improvement in sound quality versus the original Echo, but most say it won’t be noticeable to the typical user. Regarding the Echo 2nd Generation (UK readers click here; currently available for pre-order at $99.99 with a release date of 10/31/17 in both the US and UK), the Verge‘s tester had this to say:
The new Echo’s sound is sharper, with more treble than the first model. That’s good for hearing Alexa speak back to you, or for cutting through the din of a running faucet if you’re using the Echo in a kitchen. But for music, the sound is thin and flat, with even less bass than before. The old model had a softer sound with just a little bit more bass that’s much more pleasant to listen to.
Of course music tuning and equalization is always a matter of personal preference but based on the Verge’s review and those on other tech sites, it doesn’t seem as if the Echo 2 will be an improvement over an original Echo, nor offer superior sound when compared to the Plus. The current hierarchy of sound quality in the Echo device family seems to be (in order from best quality to lowest):
1. Echo Plus
2. Original Echo
3. Echo 2nd Generation
However, both the Plus and the 2nd Generation have added an AUX OUT port and both support Bluetooth connectivity to external speakers as well, so if you already have a high quality speaker you intend to use with the new device you might want to get the 2nd Generation simply because it’s priced $40 lower than the Plus. The decision may ultimately depend on whether or not you have smart home plans for your Echo.
Multi-Step Routines: Supported On Both Devices, and Probably Existing Ones Too
The other big news that came with the announcement of the new devices is that multi-step routines are coming. Users will soon be able to pre-program a series of Alexa commands and kick each routine off with a single voice command. For example, you could set up a morning routine that turns on some smart lights, starts the coffee maker (that’s plugged into a smart plug, UK readers click here), runs your Flash Briefing, plays the traffic report, then starts a specific music playlist.
This feature is set to be added via a software update, so while it’s only being promoted in conjunction with the new devices there’s no reason to think it won’t be added for existing devices too. There are not significant hardware differences between the Echo 2nd Generation and the existing Echo—mainly it’s just that the new version is smaller and has a different, Dolby-enabled speaker inside—, so if routines can run on the 2nd Generation they should be able to run on existing Echos. If they can run on existing Echos, they should be able to run on existing Dots, too.
Hopefully this article can help those who are on the fence decide which new device to order. I have pre-ordered the 2nd Generation in order to test and write about it. Watch for my post comparing the 2nd Gen to the existing Echo in early November.