Amazon announced the Echo Plus at an intimate event in its Seattle headquarters today, evolving the successful voice-controlled speaker into something that's quite different. 

The Echo Plus is described as a more advanced device and while it looks like the original Echo speaker that launched in 2015, it hides something more potent inside: a ZigBee controller.

Looking at the evolution of the Echo over the past few years, it's gone from being a speaker that will give you voice control into something more significant. Third-party compatibility has seen the Echo evolve into one of the most important smart home devices we've seen so far. 

Amazon's launch of the Echo Plus realises this position with new hardware, effectively providing a way to cut out those third-party companies and work directly with their compatible products. You'll no longer have to use Alexa skills and importantly, you wouldn't necessarily need the hub or bridge for that product. 

That's the case for Philips Hue - probably the best smart lighting platform available - and to prove the point, while stocks last you'll get a Hue bulb with your new Echo Plus.

What you won't need is the Hue Bridge (£50) and you won't need to buy the Philips Hue starter kit which is normally how you'd get into the system.


Philips has spoken out on the unveiling of the Amazon Echo Plus, saying that it welcomes this device:

"We welcome initiatives to help people get started with their smart home," said Sridhar Kumaraswamy, business leader home systems, Philips Lighting. 

"Connected lighting is a simple but powerful way to transform any space in the home, and voice command is an intuitive way to control it. Offering the two together makes it easier than ever before to switch on to smarter living." 

However, the experience you get from the Echo Plus isn't the full experience that Philips Hue offers, which the company is quick to point out. Adding the Hue Bridge will unlock the full potential that the system offers, including compatibility with many more sensors, the ability to automate and set scenes, as well as get system updates over the air and future features. 

So while the new Echo Plus is going to give you a lot more direct control over your smart home devices (along with the skills that Alexa offered before), it's not going to be an absolute solution, meaning you should always look at what you're missing out on. As with the case of Philips Hue, it's likely that there's more fun to be had.