Ama­zon Echo 2 & Echo Plus Ama­zon’s new smart speak­ers

Now Alexa comes in var­i­ous sizes

Computer Active (UK) - - Contents -

Priced £150 when it launched last au­tumn, Ama­zon’s Echo was the first ‘smart speaker’ on the mar­ket, bring­ing Alexa – Ama­zon’s AI equiv­a­lent of Mi­crosoft’s Cor­tana or Ap­ple’s Siri – to your liv­ing room or kitchen. Like every­one else, we won­dered if there was much point to a unit that repli­cated some­thing al­ready avail­able as an app, and if it wasn’t a bit creepy to have a box in your home that con­stantly lis­tened for your voice and, when ad­dressed, up­loaded what you said to a server to gen­er­ate a re­sponse.

Well, the an­swers are in. Peo­ple are buy­ing th­ese de­vices, hav­ing de­cided that the con­ve­nience out­weighs the creepi­ness (Ama­zon in­sists your com­mu­ni­ca­tions are se­cure). The Echo seems to be here to stay, and now Ama­zon has up­dated it with a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion model, Echo 2, at a lower price, while also launch­ing the more ad­vanced Echo Plus. The smaller Echo Dot (£50) is still avail­able, and the Echo Spot, which builds Alexa into an alarm clock, is due in the New Year. Fi­nally, the Echo Show (£200), which we’ll be test­ing soon, adds a screen so you can ‘drop in’ for video chats with other Alexa users.

The new Echo is shorter than the orig­i­nal and comes in a fab­ric or wood fin­ish. Its sound qual­ity is about the same – clear, but not es­pe­cially great for mu­sic – al­though the ad­di­tion of a head­phone jack lets you add a bet­ter speaker. Vol­ume is con­trolled with but­tons rather than a twist­ing mech­a­nism at the top, which is a shame. Slash­ing £60 from the orig­i­nal price is wel­come, though.

The Echo Plus keeps the orig­i­nal’s taller, more aus­tere de­sign, with much-im­proved speak­ers for a richer sound. An­other ad­di­tion is a built-in hub for home ac­ces­sories that use the Zig­bee stan­dard, such as light­bulbs and ther­mostats. Alexa could al­ready con­trol many of th­ese if you added ‘skills’ (voice com­mands), but now you can sim­ply tell her to find your Zig­bee stuff and con­trol it. You have to man­u­ally put each prod­uct in pair­ing mode to get this work­ing, but af­ter that it’s ef­fort­less.

If you have ad­di­tional Echos, you can also cre­ate a multi-room mu­sic setup over your Wi-fi net­work. Next year, Echo Plus own­ers will be able to make phone calls over a land­line, but this will re­quire an add-on, called Echo Con­nect.

SPECIFICATIONS

Echo 2: 802.11n Wi-fi • Blue­tooth 4.0 • 7x mi­cro­phones • 2.5in woofer • 0.6in tweeter • Mains adapter • 148x88x88mm (HXWXD) • 821g • One-year war­ranty Echo Plus: 802.11n Wi-fi • Blue­tooth 4.0 • 7x mi­cro­phones • 2.5in woofer • 0.8in tweeter • Zig­bee hub • Mains adapter • 235x84x84mm (HXWXD) • 954g • One-year war­ranty

VER­DICT: Alexa is get­ting clev­erer all the time. If home au­to­ma­tion ap­peals to you, the Echo Plus is the best choice, while the cheaper Echo 2 has su­pe­rior au­dio than the ba­sic Dot

★★★★☆

AL­TER­NA­TIVE: Google Home £129 With bet­ter sound than the Echo 2, this con­trols Chrome­cast TV stream­ers and sup­ports IFTTT au­to­ma­tion, but now looks a bit pricey

The Echo is here to stay, and the lat­est mod­els are bet­ter and smarter than ever

ECHO 2

ECHO PLUS

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