The Amazon Echo is one of the most popular smart speakers on the market today, giving users the ability to command Alexa to browse the internet, order items from Amazon, and control smart home devices. Since releasing the original Echo, Amazon has introduced a gaggle of Echo devices. In late 2017, the tech giant released the new-and-improved Echo and last week it introduced the second generation Echo Plus, a smart-home hub that connects to smart home devices. Trying to decide whether to buy the Echo or the Echo Plus second generation? Here’s how each of the models compare in design, sound, connectivity, calling, cost, and more.
New Echo — The Echo is much shorter than the original version at 5.9 inches tall, and you have the option of choosing from different body designs. Given that our reviewer found the original to be prone to fingerprints, the additional designs are a great idea. There are six variations for the second generation Echo; three have cloth covers, while three have sleek finishes, including wood.
Echo Plus 2nd Gen — The new Echo Plus has a sleek design. It has a cylindrical shape, but it’s shorter and wider than its predecessor, standing at 5.8 inches tall and 3.9 inches wide. It has a fabric surface that comes in sandstone, heather gray, and charcoal. The design is a departure from the first generation Echo Plus, which looked like a Pringles can.
All the Echo models take things to another level with Dolby speaker technology. The Echo sports a 2.5-inch woofer for a full bass sound, while the Echo Plus 2nd generation has a larger 3-inch neodymium woofer and increased back volume, so the bass is more powerful and the mid and high tones are crisper and clearer.The second-generation Echo has a 0.6-inch tweeter for clear treble, while the Echo Plus features a 0.7 tweeter. The Echo Plus is by far the best sounding Echo device in Amazon’s fleet.
Both the Echo and Echo Plus also support multi-room audio, so you can play one track in your kitchen while someone else listens to a different track in the living room. You can also pair both devices with the new Echo Sub, a subwoofer that can help you add some bass to your listening experience.
Even if you’re not happy with the sound from either device, you can easily hook it up to a high-end set of speakers, as both the Echo and Echo Plus have a 3.5 mm audio output jack.
Improved audio is nice, but ultimately, the point of a smart speaker is to make mundane tasks easier. The original Echo allowed users to perform a huge number of tasks hands-free, whether it be launching movies or songs with simple commands or setting kitchen timers. Echo devices are compatible with many smart-home devices such as Ring. Naturally, the Echo will also work with other Amazon products, such as the Fire TV.
All Echo models feature the same Alexa capabilities, with more being added daily to the entire Echo lineup through firmware updates. Both the Echo and Echo Plus have what Amazon calls improved “far-field voice recognition,” so their microphones can hear your commands from afar, even in noisy rooms.
Unlike the Echo, though, the Echo Plus is also a smart-home hub, connecting to and interfacing with smart appliances directly. It has Zigbee built in, meaning that you can automatically connect to your compatible light bulbs and smart locks without the need for an extra smart home hub like Wink. Essentially, you’re eliminating the middle man, but you will pay more for the capability.
In addition, the Echo Plus 2nd gen has a temperature sensor. This means, you can set commands related to the temperature in your home. For instance, you can have the fan turn on when the room reaches 78 degrees. The Echo Plus also supports one of Alexa’s newest features, local voice control. If the internet is down or you have a weak connection, local voice control makes it so you can still use your voice to control your lights, plugs, and switches that are connected to an Echo device with a built-in hub. The Echo does not support local voice control, while the new Echo Show and the Echo Plus do.
The Echo allows users to make calls to other Echo devices or devices running the Alexa app. The new Echo models have the same calling feature, allowing users to call phone numbers in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Users can also send text messages to any device that has the Alexa app.
Users can also use the “drop-in” feature to instantly speak through any connected Echo device in their home, so if you want to remind your roommate to put their dirty plate in the dishwasher, you no longer need to pound on their door. Later this year, Alexa will have the ability to make Skype calls. Echo devices like the Echo and Echo Plus will be able to make voice calls, while devices like the Echo Show will be able to make video calls as well.
The second-generation Echo costs $100 for a cloth-covered model or $120 for a model with a finish (note: sometimes you can find it on sale for $85). The 2nd gen Echo Plus costs $150 (and you can get a free smart bulb with your Echo Plus 2nd gen for a limited time).
The main differences between the Echo and Echo Plus is that the Echo Plus sounds better, has a built-in smart hub and temperature sensor, and costs $50 more than the original Echo. If you’re just seeking an introductory Alexa speaker, consider either the Echo or the lower-priced Echo Dot ($50), which does just about everything the Echo does, but for cheaper. The biggest factor to consider is smart-home integration. If you don’t have an array of smart devices to manage and don’t need to the boost in sound, then the Echo should suffice. For those who want to unite everything in their home through one device and who don’t already have a smart home hub, the Echo Plus 2nd gen is a better choice.