Amazon’s “Echo Plus” A Smart Home Hub

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It’s a day of Echo speakers: Amazon just announced a new Echo Plus speaker, in addition to a second-generation Echo and Echo Connect speaker phone.

The new Echo Plus is set apart, though: its abilities double as a smart home hub, one that connects to various wireless protocols to set up and control connected home gadgets and appliances.

The Echo Plus was built with Amazon’s “second-generation far-field microphones,” said Dave Limp, Amazon’s senior vice president of devices. It has the same 360-degree sound as previous Echo speakers, but with one key addition: it supports Dolby sound.

In a demonstration of the Echo Plus’ smart home capabilities, Limp used Alexa, Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant, to tell the Echo Plus to “discover devices” around a mock-up kitchen and living room Amazon had set up at its headquarters. The Echo Plus went into a spinning blue circle while it searched across various wireless protocols. Eventually, it connected to Zigbee smart light bulbs, and began the setup process.

Limp made a point to say that “no apps and no skills” were needed to set up the light bulbs, and that the Echo Plus “works out of the box” as a smart home hub. “In the cloud and locally, synchronization is going on,” Limp said.

The Echo Plus will start shipping for less than the price of the original Echo, which launched three years ago: $149 in the US. It’s also available in the UK and Germany. Each box comes with an included Philips Hue smart bulb.

The Echo Plus solidifies the Echo not just as a connected speaker or housing for Alexa, but as a legitimate smart home device, pitting it directly against companies like Samsung’s SmartThings, Nest, and Apple in creating a platform for connected home devices.

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