The $6,999 Lynx SmartGrill has voice-control capabilities and companion Android and iOS apps, but is it clever enough to justify its high price?
Lynx makes high-end gas grills as well as an assortment of other outdoor-rated appliances like pizza ovens and compact refrigerators. The brand's least expensive freestanding grill -- the 24-inch Sedona -- will set you back $2,399 and the website promotes a "Lynx Outdoor Kitchen Design team" if you want help outfitting your custom backyard oasis. We're talking about a level of premium that essentially negates any true discussion of value unless Lynx grills can also do your shopping, prep your food and cook your entire meal flawlessly and by themselves.
Exceptionally costly products like this can be tricky to review. Still, Lynx piqued our interest at this year's Consumer Electronics Show with its new line of Wi-Fi-enabled SmartGrills, complete with companion Android and iOS apps and voice-control capabilities. So, they sent us one to test -- a $6,999 30-inch model, the least expensive option in the freestanding SmartGrill lineup. (While expected to be sold in the UK in the future, there is no word on Australian availability or international pricing; directly converted, it would be about £4,550 or AU$9,700.)
It's a beautiful product, it cooks great food fast and the iOS app really did help me, a grilling novice, track the status of my meals, including exactly when to flip a nicely charred ear of corn or when to remove a whole chicken from the grill. But, its voice-control feature was unreliable and often asked me to repeat myself even when I was making every effort to speak clearly. Also, it didn't produce significantly better food than the $159 Brinkmann we used for comparison and Lynx's model costs, oh, about 44 times more.
If you have a ton of money to spend on a grill and appreciate innovative applications for emerging technology like voice control (even if they don't work perfectly), the 30-inch freestanding Lynx SmartGrill might be worth your consideration. For the rest of us, we can sleep well knowing we're not missing out on some rarefied tier of grilling nirvana by shopping in a more down-to-earth price range.
The 30-inch freestanding Lynx SmartGrill is a true design standout. In fact, everything about this grill was designed with luxury in mind. It's wrapped in generous amounts of stainless steel, including stainless steel grates -- it even has a spring that you attach to the inside of the grill to make its hefty stainless steel hood much easier to lift.
It also has an easy-to-remove front-loading drip tray, two folding side shelves if you need to save on storage space, a dedicated storage compartment below so you can hide the propane tank and all of the appliance's smart circuitry as well as keep grilling utensils handy, but out of sight until they're needed next, and a carbon-fiber vinyl cover for keeping it free from dirt and grime when it isn't in use.
It features two main 23,000-BTU gas burners (46,000 BTUs in total), a rotisserie with a dedicated 14,000-BTU burner and motor that can be adjusted to low, medium and high settings and built-in probes that monitor the surface temperature of the grates. You can either directly hook this grill to your home's gas line or enlist a standalone propane tank to power it. (We went with a tank so we could more closely compare its performance to our $159 propane-powered Brinkmann grill, which has three main 12,000-BTU burners -- 36,000 BTUs total -- and a separate side burner, also with 12,000 BTUs).
Unlike traditional grills, the SmartGrill's knobs don't display low, medium, high or any other settings. So, if you just want to cook (without using the app or any of the other connected features), you'll need to turn the burner knob two full rotations for the grill to enter "manual mode." Even then, you'll have to rely on the app to see what your adjustments translate to in terms of temperature settings (since there are no indicators on the grill itself). Over time, you'd likely get used to the sensitivity of the knob so you instinctively know how much to turn it for low, medium and high settings. It does make things a bit more complicated for manual cooks in general, though.
Beyond the SmartGrill's basic specs, it's also equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity, 64GB of storage and a 1.5GHz Intel processor for accessing the app and voice-control features. After the grill is installed, download the SmartGrill app on your Android or iOS device and follow the instructions to connect it to your local Wi-Fi network.
Similar to setting up a connected camera or even a Wi-Fi-enabled robot vacuum , the Lynx app prompts you to select the brand's dedicated SmartGrill network in your phone's list of available Wi-Fi signals and then enter in the details for your own local network to compete the set-up process.
I would like to say that this was straightforward, but the app keeps its explanations to a minimum, which makes certain steps more confusing than necessary.
For instance, the first step required to connect your grill to your Wi-Fi network (pictured above, left) says simply, "To begin, press and hold the SmartGrill power button for 15 seconds." It seemed logical that you'd need to turn on the SmartGrill first and then press and hold the same power button again for 15 seconds. But, this only caused the grill to power down. Instead, you have to press and hold the power button when the grill is off. It seems odd, but that's the only way I got it to work.
Once the grill is connected to Wi-Fi, you can start cooking using voice control and/or the app. The app has a recipe database with dozens of pre-programmed meals, ranging from a 1.5-inch seared Ahi tuna steak to grilled donuts, but you can also tweak existing recipes and add your own.
To start cooking from the app, find a recipe you want to try and hit "Cook Now." It will send the cooking instructions to the grill, including automatically turning the burner to the ideal recipe temperature and alerting you when it's done preheating so you can add the food. It will also alert you to any other instructions during the cooking process -- like flipping or rotating your food so it cooks as evenly as possible -- and finally when it should be removed from the grill.
Push alerts on your phone and verbal cues from the grill will continue to update you along the way, but you also have to "Confirm" that you've completed each step (see above screenshot) or the in-app timer it relies on won't know when you've advanced to the next step. This could prove problematic if you flip an ear of corn after hearing the verbal prompt from the grill, but don't confirm that you've completed that step in the app.
You can also use voice commands to interact with the grill. Keep in mind this isn't a function that operates through Siri or Google Now -- it's a built-in speaker and microphone on the grill itself, so you have to be standing near the grill to interact with it this way.
The phrase "SmartGrill" lets the grill know to listen to what you're about to say, but it isn't smart enough to pick up on anything more than a select number of preloaded phrases. In other words, you could say, "SmartGrill, cook corn on the cob," but not "SmartGrill, please cook corn." Any minor deviations from the prescribed phrasing will return, "I'm sorry, can you please repeat that?"
The problem is that you need to know all of the exact phrases throughout the process and if you don't, you're kind of stuck. Here's how an ideal voice control exchange goes with the SmartGrill.
Me: "SmartGrill, cook corn on the cob."
Grill: "There are two burners available. How many burners would you like to use?"
Me: "SmartGrill, use one burner."
Grill: "Cook time 16 minutes. Would you like to add or subtract time?"
Me: "SmartGrill, same as last time." (You can also say add or subtract 30 seconds.)
Grill: "Preparing corn on the cob on burner one for the next 16 minutes."
It didn't always work that well, though and the voice-control feature was especially hit-or-miss.
With what I'd consider "regular" ambient noise -- the faint sound of a leaf blower in the distance, a neighbor's music playing softly while he worked in his yard, a plane passing overhead or wind -- all made it tough for the grill to hear me. That was often the case even when I was standing right next to the microphone speaking as clearly as I could. When that happened, it would return the phrase, "I'm sorry, can you please repeat that?"
In those cases, voice control didn't make the cooking process any easier. In fact, it makes it more frustrating than it needed to be.
I also noticed that the built-in temperature probes weren't sending accurate temperature readings to the app (see screenshot).
Even when the grill had already reached its target temperature, according to the push alerts and the voice-control updates I received, the app always said that the probe was reading a current temperature of 25 degrees Fahrenheit. Given that it was in the 70s and 80s during most of my testing, there's clearly a performance issue with this feature.
The grill itself performed extremely well, though -- I cooked beer-can chicken, corn on the cob and filet mignon using the recipe database in the app. All of the food turned out very well and the app was responsive and reliable.
I also cooked burgers on the Brinkmann grill and on the Lynx using the manual cooking mode to medium doneness (145 degrees). It took the Lynx about 8 minutes to cook both burgers to temperature -- and it took the Brinkmann grill another 4 minutes for both burgers to hit the 145-degree target. While the Lynx grill's burgers had more of a char, they weren't significantly better than the $159 grill.
Lynx's $6,999 SmartGrill is pretty impressive. Not only does it boast a premium design and make great food, it's also equipped with more connected features than most cooking gadgets we've come across. With Android and iOS apps and voice control capabilities, it's hard to say that this grill isn't smart. But that doesn't mean that it's a smart buy.
The SmartGrill's voice control performance just isn't evolved enough to actually make it easier -- or more fun -- to cook a meal and that makes this pricey grill's value particularly dubious. If you have the money and enjoy experimenting with fresh applications for voice control tech, this might appeal to you. Otherwise, I'd suggest looking elsewhere.