When it first came out last year, Amazon's Echo Plus had a feature unique to Echo devices: a built-in smart-home hub. The second-gen Echo Plus ($149) still has the hub, but it's now wrapped in a nicer design, and has a few new tricks that build on its predecessor in a few key ways.
For one, it looks much better. I've always found the Echo Plus to be the ugliest of the Echo lineup—it's the one I kept behind my computer because its glossy black exterior and tall, thin frame looked awkward compared to the rest of my decor.
When I saw the new cloth-covered Echo Plus, I thought it was the second-generation Echo at first. It's been completely re-outfitted from its tall, thin build to look much more like a larger version of Amazon's signature speaker.
The new Echo Plus comes in Charcoal, Heather Gray, or Sandstone, all of which will blend much better into living room settings than the glossy black, white and metallic shades the previous version had. It also has a sturdy rubber bottom that makes it very difficult to budge or knock over.
Smarter Smart Home Smarts
Aside from the design, the speaker has two new features that should make it a more useful smart home hub. It has a built-in temperature sensor so with Alexa's newly expanded Routines, you'll be able to use it to control your thermostats or other smart home devices if it detects the temperature of the room it's in is too hot or too cold.
The other key feature is local control of smart-home devices, meaning you can use Alexa even when your Internet is down. We weren't able to test these features at Amazon's event, though.
The new-and-improved Echo Plus retails for $149.99. You can pre-order it now, and it will ship Oct. 11. We're looking forward to getting a unit and reviewing it for ourselves.