At a surprise press event on Wednesday Amazon unveiled the Echo Plus, the newest and most premium iteration of the company's famed tabletop smart home device.
The Echo Plus looks a great deal like the original Echo — tall, slender, dark plastic shell — which is an interesting choice given that it just updated the Echo's look with interchangeable covers to better match users' interiors. Internally, however, it's definitely upgraded: not only does it have all of the improved features of the new Echo (integrated Dolby sound, better voice recognition), it also has a Zigbee smart home hub built into it to better and more easily connect to a wider range of smart home devices.
When you're ready to connect your Echo Plus to your family of smart home products, all you have to do is say, "Alexa, discover devices." The Echo Plus is compatible with everything from locks to light bulbs, and won't need apps or skills in order to function. To really emphasize that point, Amazon is is shipping every Echo Plus with a Philips Hue light bulb so you can really maximize the use of your new device directly out of the box.
Echo products aren't the only things getting an upgrade. Beginning next month, Alexa, Amazon's voice assistant, will have a few new features as well. According to the company, these include:
- Alexa routines: Routines allow users to combine multiple actions under a single voice command. For example, if you say "Alexa, good morning," Alexa could turn on your lights, start your kettle or coffee maker, and give you your daily news briefing or the weather forecast. This can even be customized so that certain responses to commands happen on certain days, so your "Good morning" command will result in a different series of actions on the weekend than it does on weekdays.
- Improved smart home groups: You now no longer need to remember specific smart home devices in order to control them. You can now place your Echo and whatever devices you desire into smart home groups, so instead of saying "Alexa, turn on the kitchen overhead light" you can just walk into the kitchen and say "Alexa, turn on the lights."
- Call anyone: Now instead of just being limited to calling others with Amazon Echo devices, you'll be able to call anyone within the U.S., Canada and Mexico. All you have to do is ask Alexa to call someone in your smartphone contacts list, and it will make the call. You can also speak a number aloud to Alexa, so even individuals or business that aren't in your contacts list will be reachable. Calls to 911, however, are not supported.
The Echo Plus is available for pre-order starting today. It will be available in white, black and silver and is priced at $149.99, which is a very good deal considering the original Echo was notably more expensive at launch.
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Tory Foulk is a writer at Mobile Nations. She lives at the intersection of technology and sorcery and enjoys radio, bees, and houses in small towns. When she isn't working on articles, you'll likely find her listening to her favorite podcasts in a carefully curated blanket nest. You can follow her on Twitter at @tsfoulk.