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Amazon Echo Plus review: Alexa! It’s nice being with you

Echo Plus is a voice-controlled smart digital speaker that lets you perform various smart things. Let’s find out more about the device in our detailed review.

tech Updated: Nov 13, 2017 17:03 IST
Kul Bhushan
Living with Alexa.
Living with Alexa. (Amazon)

“Alexa, play Kishor Kumar songs on Saavn!” I say aloud when I got back home after an exhausting day at work and driving through peak hour Delhi traffic. Kishore Kumar’s songs are magic and big stress busters, at least for me. A bright blue circular light appears on the Amazon Echo Plus, a typical robotic female voice confirms the command and starts playing the songs I wanted. I move on to do other chores as “Dilbar Mere” echoes in the backdrop.

Living with Amazon Echo Plus has been a unique experience. For starters who don’t know what Echo Plus is – it’s essentially a voice-controlled speaker that has “smart” elements. Running on Amazon’s cloud-based voice service Alexa, Echo Plus is a digital assistant that lets you perform various things, ranging from placing an order on the e-commerce platform to basic tasks like setting up a reminder. Think of Amazon Echo Plus as your butler with a few restrictions. It’s not an Alfred to Bruce Wayne, but who knows, we might get there too.

Amazon Echo Plus has been in our home for over last two weeks, taking a small corner in the living room. It has also become our favourite pass time toy as we ask it to tell us some jokes or ask some general trivia. Priced at Rs 10,499 (introductory price), there’s barely any ‘smart’ speaker you can compare it with. Google Home and Apple HomePod are not available in India as yet.

Echo Plus sitting next to Fire TV Interface. (HT Photo)

Amazon Echo Plus: Design, Setting it up
At first glance you know, Echo Plus is no run-of-the-mill speaker. Featuring a cylindrical body, the device is quite tall at 9.3-inch and weighs less than 1kg (954 grams to be precise).

In terms of size, Echo Plus measures 235 x 84 x 84 mm. The top circular panel houses an action button, microphone off button and light ring. The top panel sits on a volume ring, which can be rotated to manually adjust the volume levels. At the bottom, there’s power port and 3.5mm audio jack.

Amazon Echo Plus is controlled by the Alexa app, which is available for both Android and iOS. Getting started is quite easy. Just download the app, enter your Amazon credentials to sign in. Then follow the instructions on the screen which involves connecting the Echo Plus on the same Wi-Fi network.

The app is a universal dashboard for your activities on Alexa. It stores all of your voice searches and even suggests voice commands to try to help you get the best out of the Echo Plus. While the app is pretty much easy to use, it’s quite slow when navigating from one section to another.

Amazon Echo Plus: Smart things
Before we hold forth about other smart things it is capable of, you should know that the device comes bundled with Amazon Prime Music, a new streaming service by the company that is exclusive to Amazon Prime subscribers. The final version of service will be available in India soon.

Amazon’s biggest strength, in our opinion, is compatibility with third-party applications. Users can also stream music on Saavn. For that, you’ll have to give voice command like – “Alexa, play AR Rehman songs on Saavn.”

The thing is Amazon Prime Music is still in process of increasing catalogue for Indian users. There are plenty of songs, especially old Hindi songs from 60s and 50s, which Alexa failed to deliver. But then switching to Saavn makes it easier for uninterrupted streaming sessions.

While you can ask Alexa to play a song, you can also ask it to play next one or skip one-minute to get to the good part of the song. On several occasions, I simply asked Alexa to increase the volume by saying “louder.”

Amazon Echo Plus delivers a pretty decent sound experience for its price. Though vocal-based songs sound much better on the device than treble-based ones.

Inside the Amazon Echo Plus (Amazon)

But music is just one of the things that Amazon Echo Plus can deliver. Users can ask Alexa to get the latest news updates. You can get information from media publishing houses such as NDTV, Times of India, AajTak and Hindustan Times.

Amazon Echo Plus can also be used to control your smart IoT devices in your house. The Echo Plus automatically syncs these devices and becomes a hub for master control. The device supports smart bulbs such as Philips Hue, which is sold separately.

Smart hub is a good feature to have, but the thing is not all of us have smart bulbs in our houses or see a point in investing into one. Unlike West, not all of the urban houses have smart fridges or smart thermostats. Though a device like Amazon Echo Plus can help build a more mainstream ecosystem of IoT products in India.

Amazon Echo Plus: Should you buy?
From technology point of view, Alexa’s Indian version is quite impressive. It understands your accent very well and also the context at times. The company is extensively investing in amplifying Alexa’s skill set for the Indian audience, and I’d like to trust that Alexa will get better and more refined in the near future.

You should consider buying the Amazon Echo Plus for primarily one reason – if you believe in a smart living. If you don’t see a point in using a smart digital assistant, you’re better off it. But if you have faith in technology and that it can help increase your productivity, Echo Plus is a device you’d like to invest in.

If budget is a constraint, you may consider the more affordable, Amazon Echo, which is available for Rs 6,999 along with one year Prime membership.