The Echo Plus is a worthy no-fuss smart home controller, as long as you don’t mind keeping it simple.

Smart home hubs are the gateway to the connected home. If you don’t have one operating somewhere inside your abode, you can’t use any of the vast variety of internet-connected ecosystems.

But buying a hub is confusing and overwhelming, so Amazon bundled connected capabilities into the Echo Plus, which launched a few months ago. The idea was that if you were bringing home a smart speaker, you’d want some smart home solution, too. And why invest an extra $80 in a separate hub when it’s already built into the Echo Plus?

Unfortunately, the Echo Plus is severely limited in its connected abilities. It’s equipped only with a Zigbee radio, which works with a limited number of accessories. However, this might be enough for the tech-novice who’d prefer to keep things simple and consolidated. Because let me tell you, having a bunch of hubs around the house can sometimes cause more headache than it’s worth.

Alexa as a smart home speaker

What we have here is a harsh-lined, industrial-looking smart speaker

The Amazon Echo Plus resembles the last generation of the Echo family. Granted, it offers a near similar button layout as the Echo Dot and employs the same light-alert system for notifications, but it’s hardly as preened and polished as the second-generation Echo. What we have here is a harsh-lined, industrial-looking smart speaker, likely to help encourage the idea that this is an “all-in-one” device.

If you peek at its list of features, you might certainly think this is the most utilitarian smart speaker. The Echo Plus offers easy volume controls, a line-out for connecting to an external speaker setup, and the Zigbee integration mentioned above. It’s a pretty capable music player, too, with its 2.5-inch woofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter, though I found the regular Google Home to be better at pronouncing bass. Podcasts and news radio sounds clear and sultry, too.

Easier to set up than a smart home hub

Setting up the Echo Plus as another device in your house is relatively straightforward. Plug it in, load up the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone, and presto—you have a smart speaker! It’s when you start to add on smart home capabilities that things can become a little confusing.

To keep things easy, I suggest you start with this list of compatible devices offered by Amazon. It features a comprehensive breakdown of every device that works with the Echo Plus’s connected integration, including the Philips Hue bulbs and the Samsung SmartThings outlet. I tested both of these at home and was quite pleased to see that they worked without their respective hubs. There are also some smart locks that work with the Echo Plus, though Alexa will instruct you to set those up through their third-party apps.

The whole setup process was a more relaxed experience than when I had initially set up my house with the Hue bridge and the Samsung SmartThings hub. When it came time to pair with Alexa, the app found both devices on the network in less than a minute. Alexa automatically named them “first light” and “first outlet” for me, and I was immediately able to use voice commands. It worked for the SmartThings Motion Sensor, too, which I still had set up from a previous configuration. However, I wasn’t entirely sure how to use it after setting it up, and that speaks to the fact there isn’t much guidance from the Alexa app on setting these things up. Even if you do get a connected device into Alexa, what’s next?

Through the Alexa app, you can also set up Routines, which are a relatively new part of Alexa. They let you effectively set a scene when you shout out something like “Alexa, Start my day.” I had the Echo Plus turn on the Hue light at half-brightness, as well as broadcast the weather and check up on traffic on the way to the transit station. Routines are a minor part of Alexa’s abilities, not to mention restricted in their scope, but that they exist even for the Echo Plus’s limited smart home capabilities makes it a win for even novice techies.

The no-fuss smart home controller

Sometimes it's better to keep it simple

It’s easy to discount the Amazon Echo Plus for its limited smart home connectivity, but I see it as a win for those who like the idea of the connected home but don’t want to delve fully into a headache it can be to set that all up. Not everyone requires routines or meticulously setup scenes to enjoy what home automation has to offer. And not everyone wants to delve into the complicated world of varying connected ecosystems. Sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. The Echo Plus is also for those who don’t particularly mind being tied to a restricted ecosystem of devices.

At $150 for the Echo Plus, you’re essentially paying for half a smart home hub’s capabilities. It’s not compatible with every significant smart home system out there—Z-Wave and Lutron Clear Connect devices will not work with it—but if that’s of no concern to you, then the Echo Plus is a worthy buy. Especially if all you desire is a few smart bulbs placed throughout the house.

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