Amazon has been refreshing and updating its line of Echo devices, giving its smart speakers friendlier, fabric-wrapped designs while tweaking and improving their performance. The new Echo Plus still stands as a more powerful version of the standard Echo, with a Zigbee home automation hub and temperature sensor built in for good measureβ€”it mostly just looks better than last year’s model. The $149.99 Alexa-powered speaker is a bit louder and offers a bit more functionality than the standard Echo, but unless you plan to start filling your home with Zigbee devices without using a separate hub, it doesn’t quite justify its $50 premium.

A New, More Attractive Design

The new Echo Plus is a bit stouter than the original, measuring 5.7 by 3.9 inches (HW) to the first generation’s 9.3-by-3.3-inch profile. Instead of a smooth-walled, sharp-angled cylinder, however, the redesigned Echo Plus is a friendlier barrel with slightly rounded edges and the same fabric grille on its sides as the Echo Show and the Echo Dot. It comes in black, gray, and white versions.

The top of the speaker is unchanged save for a gentle curve on the surface, featuring the same Alexa, mic mute, and volume up/down buttons surrounded by a translucent light ring. The light ring glows blue when listening to your commands, pointing in the direction of your voice when you use the wake word (Alexa by default, or optionally Amazon, Computer, or Echo) and pulsing gently when Alexa answers. The bottom of the Echo Plus features a small screw mount for securing the speaker on a stand and a set of charging contacts covered by a rubber door.

The grille cloth runs all over the side of the Echo Plus, broken up only by a small notch on the bottom edge of the back of the speaker. The notch holds a port for the included power adapter, and a 3.5mm port that doubles as line-in or line-out; you can plug your phone or any audio source into the port to play music through the Echo Plus, or plug another speaker in to output audio to that speaker like an Echo Dot. The line-out option seems fairly useless when the point of the Echo Plus is its ability to sound better than the Echo or Echo Dot, but it’s a nice option that doesn’t detract from the device.

The wider body of the new Echo Plus holds a 3-inch woofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter, respectively larger and smaller than the original’s 2.5-inch woofer and 2-inch tweeter.

Amazon Alexa Functionality

Like the previous Echo Plus, this is an Alexa speaker. This means you can use Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant by simply saying, “Alexa,” followed by a command. Alexa has come far since the first Echo was released, and currently features an impressive assortment of functions. At its most basic, Alexa can give you information like general trivia, unit conversion, weather reports, and sports scores. You can also ask Alexa to play music from Amazon Music, or a selection of third-party services including iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn. Alexa also lets you make voice calls to other Alexa users with Amazon’s Drop In messaging service, or even make outgoing phone calls to most North American numbers.

Alexa excels at smart home control, with support for over 20,000 home automation devices. You can use your voice to adjust smart lights, smart locks, and smart thermostats if they’re connected to your home network and the devices are enabled through the Alexa app. The Echo Plus also features a built-in Zigbee hub for using Zigbee devices without any additional equipment.

In a small and slightly surprising upgrade, Amazon added a temperature sensor to the new Echo Plus. It lets the speaker tell you what the ambient temperature is in the room, apart from any weather reports about the temperature outside. It’s a minor feature, but nice if you want to figure out if the air conditioning or heating needs to be adjusted.

From left to right: Echo Plus, Echo

You can pair the speaker with a second Echo Plus to create a stereo pair, and connect one or two speakers to the Echo Sub subwoofer for extra bass. The pairing process through the Alexa app is fast and easy. However, you can’t stream music over Bluetooth to a stereo pair or Echo Plus/Echo Sub set. These multi-speaker configurations only work with music services available through Alexa, or music you play through the Alexa app. It’s a disappointing omission, especially since we’ve seen very solid Bluetooth mesh and stereo systems in speakers like the JLab Block Party and the UE Megaboom 3.

Music Performance

The new Echo Plus puts out some decent power for its size, but it doesn’t get wildly louder or hit much lower frequency bass than the regular Echo. It’s a modest boost that can fill a small room, but doesn’t sound nearly as big as the Echo Show, or slightly pricier ($200 and up) Bluetooth speakers. The low synth notes in our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sound full and offer a slight sense of low-end vibration, as if the speaker is brushing up against sub-bass. When the kick drum starts, though, it sounds more poppy than thumping, and flirts with distortion at maximum volume.

Yes’ “Roundabout” sounds very good on the Echo Plus, with the acoustic guitar notes in the opening getting plenty of string texture thanks to some impressive high-frequency clarity for a speaker this size and price. When the electric bass kicks in, it sounds full and energetic, though again the speaker doesn’t reach particularly low to make the slaps resonate. The drums and vocals sound bright and clear in the dense mix.

The heartbeat-like drum hits in Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” sound a bit underwhelming and more like a solid tap than a prominent thump. The rest of the track comes through very well, with the rainfall-like vinyl scratch and harpsichord getting plenty of high-frequency presence, and the vocals and piano notes sounding full and balanced through the high-mids and mids. It’s a well-sculpted sound that covers all of the bases except very low frequencies, so bass fans probably will be disappointed by the speaker on its own. However, you can pair the Echo Plus with the Echo Sub subwoofer to provide the sub-bass the speaker itself lacks.

Not a Major Upgrade

The new Echo Plus’ relatively unimpressive sound is surprising, especially after testing the remarkably loud and booming Echo Show. Amazon’s redesigned smart display is $250 to the Echo Plus’ $150, but its much more powerful audio, 10-inch touch screen, and its own built-in Zigbee hub, make it a far more compelling, room-filling smart device.

If you just want a smart speaker in your room, the regular Echo is still an excellent pick, and while the Echo Dot doesn’t sound nearly as good as the other Echo devices, it’s an inexpensive way to put Alexa on any speaker you already own. There’s also the Sonos One, which supports Alexa voice control and sounds significantly better than the Echo Plus for $50 more. The Plus is by no means a bad speaker, it’s just overshadowed in value by plenty of other options.