As part of a gaggle of new Alexa devices, Amazon recently delivered an updated Echo speaker with better audio and a smart hub assembled inside. The idea behind including the smart hub is to make installing and setting up smart home devices, like light bulbs, door locks, cameras, etc. much, much easier – without having to buy a separate, third-party hub. The Echo Plus hub works with ZigBee devices. ZigBee is a proposed industry standard for short range and stable Wi-Fi connected devices. There are other standard proposals out there, but the ZigBee implementation is a bit more stable and reliable. And, Amazon choosing one implementation over another – to me – is about the company testing the waters to see if its industry heft can be used to drive standards. If, because of Amazon’s integration, ZigBee launches as the modern IoT/Smart home platform, Amazon will have reached yet another milestone in its march to dominance across a wide range of markets. Google, Microsoft, Apple and others would have to follow suit if Amazon is able to steer industry standards on its own.
But, does Amazon’s implementation do what it intends? Does it make it easier to install, manage, and control smart home devices?
From my testing and perspective from this last weekend, I have to say unequivocally, ‘yes.’
The latest Echo Plus deal includes a Philips Hue Bulb. The Hue is a top-tier smart bulb and the company clearly touts its compatibility with the Echo Plus. That was too easy for me. If the test were to be truly successful, the Echo Plus should be able to discover and install any ZigBee compatible device. So, I snagged the Classic A19 Smart Bulbs from Sengled. The bulbs from Sengled are great, because a 4-pack is less than $40, making them $10 cheaper than the Hue.
The Echo Plus came through with flying colors. With the Echo Plus install and setup on my home Wi-Fi network, I issued a single voice command: “Alexa, discover new devices.” All four bulbs were discovered and registered in the Alexa app’s Smart Home section in less than minute. It took me another 30 seconds to rename each bulb so I could have Alexa turn each one on and off separately, and then another 30 seconds to setup a grouping so I could tell Alexa to turn all of them on and off at once. I’ll definitely be buying the Sengled bulbs again. They work wonderfully and they are also rated very similarly to the Philips Hue.
I installed all four Sengled bulbs in our basement, which is an area where some family members constantly forget to turn off the lights when they’re no longer needed. I can use the Alexa app to check to see if any of the lights are on, and quickly turn them off. And, suffice to say this has made the wife extremely happy. Its successful implementations like this spur my wife to support my gadget habit. I’m now looking forward to adding more bulbs, a front door smart lock, and some smart cameras over the holiday season.
The Echo Plus is available from Amazon for $149: Echo Plus with built-in Hub – Silver + Philips Hue Bulb included
There are a number of people who are opting for the new Echo, instead of the Echo Plus, right now and I don’t quite understand that one – except for the smaller price. The new Echo is essentially the replacement for the Echo Dot. But, to take full advantage of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem, you’ll want at least one (1) Echo Plus somewhere in the house. Word is, though, that the Echo Plus will drop to almost $120 on Black Friday, so you may want to wait just a bit.
- Echo Plus is a simple way to start your smart home. It has a built-in ZigBee smart home hub, which allows for simple and direct setup of compatible ZigBee lights, locks, plugs, and in-wall switches from brands like Philips Hue, GE, and Yale. No additional hub required.
- Echo Plus connects to Alexa—a cloud-based voice service—to play music, make calls, set timers and alarms, ask questions, check traffic and weather, and more—instantly.
- Just ask for a song, artist, or genre from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, and more. With multi-room music, you can play music on your Echo devices in different rooms. Echo Plus can also play audiobooks, radio stations, news briefs, and more.
- Call or message anyone hands-free with your Echo device. Also, instantly connect to other Echo devices in your home using just your voice.
- Improved speakers with Dolby processing deliver crisp vocals and extended bass to fill the room with immersive, 360° audio
- With seven microphones, beamforming technology, and noise cancellation, Echo hears you from any direction—even while music is playing
- Alexa is always getting smarter and adding new features and skills. Just ask Alexa to control your TV, request an Uber, order a pizza, and more.
(Tap or click each photo for a larger view)
Follow me on Twitter
Add me to your Google+ circles
Connect with me on LinkedIn
Looking for an awesome, no-nonsense technical conference for IT Pros, Developers, and DevOps? IT/Dev Connections kicks off in Dallas, Texas in 2018!