The new Amazon Echo ($100) is smaller, features new microphone technology, and boasts better sound. The old Echo form factor has been redesigned into the Echo Plus ($150), which comes with a built-in SmartHome hub. It’s not very good.
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Don’t get me wrong, it’s a smart idea to combine two SmartHome devices into one device, especially if your SmartHome is piling up as is. But the SmartHome’s built-in Echo Plus hub just doesn’t do the job. Let’s talk about why.
There is no Z-Wave support
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For starters, it’s more like half a smart home. There are two main open SmartHome protocols that are used by most devices: Zigbee and Z-Wave. Any SmartHome Center is worth its salt supports both. Echo Plus only supports Zigbee. Are you kidding, Amazon?
The fact that Amazon put a SmartHome hub in the Echo Plus but didn’t include support for the entire protocol — when almost every other hub does — would be laughable if it weren’t so annoying.
Of course, you you can find the ZigBee equivalent of a given smart switch or Z-Wave sensor. But you’ll have less choice about which SmartHome products you buy, especially given the prevalence of Zigbee. It doesn’t make sense for the Echo Plus SmartHome hub to only support Zigbee. This, in my opinion, makes the Echo Plus not a starter.
Alexa’s control on the app sucks
One of the great benefits of the SmartHome Center is the ability to control everything from one central app. When it comes to the Echo Plus, that means using the Alexa app, which… isn’t very good at it.
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Of course, since you have Alexa, you will most likely use your voice to control your smart home a lot, but for those times when you want to control devices from your phone, you will have to rely on the Smart Home section of the Alexa app, which for this goal seems unfinished.
First, you have to jump over the menu to get to it, and once you get there, nothing is really in order or organized. Once you finally find the device you want to control, it will be quite sloppy and slow. For example, Hue’s backlight doesn’t update in real time when you change brightness until you take your finger off the slider, making it harder to quickly find a brightness setting that suits you. And sorry, you can’t use the Hue app instead, since all of this assumes you’re using the Echo Plus as a hub, not the Hue Bridge.
Let’s use my Ecobee3 smart thermostat as another example. I connected it to Wink Hub and also to Echo Plus. In the Wink app, I can change the temperature setting, turn off the thermostat (or switch to heating/cooling), control the fan, and turn Home and Away modes on or off.
In the Alexa app, however, I can only change the temperature setting… and nothing else. Helpful, huh?
In general, the Alexa app is simply not meant to be used for smart home control — it should be a companion for Alexa voice control. So if you’re planning on getting an Echo Plus, you’d better make sure you’re ok by strictly using your voice to control everything.
Functionality is extremely limited
Never mind that the control in the app is pretty bad — the functionality is generally very limited from the start. For starters, it doesn’t support nearly as many devices as other SmartHome hubs. Indeed, take a look at what everything Echo Plus supports and you’ll notice that it’s just a small handful of light bulbs, switches, sockets and locks — forget about motion sensors, open/close sensors and more.
In addition, Echo Plus does not allow you to configure, program, or automate any SmartHome devices connected to it. With any other hub, you can, for example, turn off the thermostat if no movement is detected after 30 minutes. This is one of the most useful parts. availability hub. but with Echo Plus, you can only turn devices on and off, change the brightness of the lights, and adjust the thermostat.
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Amazon marketing will lead you to believe that it is replacing other hubs, but it really isn’t. Amazon heavily touts the ability to bypass the Hue bridge altogether and connect Hue lights directly to the Echo Plus, but you lose a lot of functionality, including the ability to use the Hue app. Using your voice or the built-in control in the Alexa app, you can only turn Hue lights on and off and change their brightness—you can’t create scenes, treatments, or use geolocation to automatically control your lights. Philips even mentions on their own website that you get a lot more functionality out of your lights if you use the Hue Bridge.
What annoys me the most is that Amazon says Hue colored light bulbs can be directly connected to the Echo Plus, but you can’t even change the color of the lamp from the Alexa app . And since you can’t use the Hue app in this scenario, you can only use your voice to change the colors. Way, Amazon.
Of course, not every smarthome device connected to the Echo Plus is this limited, but it’s disappointing that you won’t be able to get the full functionality of the product if you’re using the built-in smartchome Echo Plus hub.
You save very little money
The Echo Plus comes with a built-in SmartHome hub, on top of what you already get from the regular Echo, so you’re definitely saving money by not buying a separate SmartHome hub, right? Well, not quite.
For starters, the built-in SmartHome Hub functionality will set you back $50 compared to the regular Echo (which you can buy for $99). Sure, buying a SmartHome hub on its own can cost up to $100, but you can easily get a SmartThings or Wink hub using it on eBay for a lot less. At this point, you are not saving money by consolidating your Echo Center and SmartHome.
Also, even if you save some money, you are giving up the functionality I talked about in the previous section. The fact that you save cash, you add to some headaches.
You are better with a dedicated SmartHome hub
I’ll be honest here: if you’re slowly dipping your fingers into the smart home and don’t want to get all the bells and whistles just yet, then the Echo Plus might work just fine. This can be a good way to explore the smart home landscape.
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But if you’re serious about SmartHome at all, or plan to go beyond a couple of devices, you’re better off using the dedicated SmartHome hub from SmartThings or Wink. Not only will you get more functionality from your connected devices, but in-app control will much better. Plus, you can still connect these SmartHome centers to any Amazon Echo and use voice commands to control them. It’s a win-win situation.