Amazon's brand-new $150 Echo Plus is an easier way to make your home smart

Avery Hartmans/Business InsiderAmazon’s second generation Amazon Echo Plus device was unveiled in Seattle on Thursday.
  • Amazon announced a range of new products and product updates to its Alexa-powered hardware line-up on Thursday.
  • Among them, Amazon unveiled an updated Echo Plus – the largest, most premium version of its smart speakers.
  • The new Echo Plus costs the same $US150 as the previous version, and is available for pre-order today.

Amazon just introduced a brand-new Echo Plus. It costs $US149.99, and is available to preorder starting Thursday.

The new device, which is an update to the device that debuted last year, was unveiled at an event at its headquarters in Seattle on Thursday. It sports a new, fabric-covered design that makes it look somewhat similar to Apple’s competing HomePod.

The Echo Plus – like Amazon’s many other Echo devices – is an Alexa-enabled smart speaker. It responds to voice commands and questions using Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, and can even control your home.

The new Echo Plus serves as a smart home hub, just like last year’s version. But a new feature, called local voice control, enables the device to keep functioning when the internet goes down. That’s a major addition given that it means you won’t lose control of your connected light switches and appliances in the event of an internet outage.

Here’s how Amazon describes local voice control:

“No Wi Fi? No problems. What happens when the internet goes out? Your light switches still work and so too should a hub. So, we’ve taken the best of our cloud-based NLU and ASR, and we’ve made it local to the Echo Plus. So, you can still turn on your lights when the internet is down. We’ve started with some of the most-used controls like lights, and over time, we’ll expand to more.”

All of which is to say, at launch, local voice control will only work with “the most-used” stuff, such as the ability to turn your lights on/off. It may not be able to control your smart thermostat, or close your smart garage door, just yet.

The sales pitch behind the original Echo Plus was that it removed the need to have a separate hub for certain smart-home products. Phillips’ popular Hue bulbs, for instance, normally require a separate hub gadget on your home network just to make it all work.

The Echo Plus removed the need for that extra hardware, as does the new model.

Of note, the original Echo Plus didn’t offer sound that was materially better than the original-variety Amazon Echo speaker – the smart-home features were the main sales pitch. It’s unclear if that’s still the case with the new model, or if the audio is a step up over the standard Amazon Echo device.

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