michigan

Review: The $299 Echo Link Amp adds Alexa to any speaker

Posted by | Amazon, Amazon Echo, audio engineering, AV, consumer electronics, Echo Link Amp, electric guitars, Gadgets, hardware, michigan, Music, musical instruments, Sound, streaming services, yamaha | No Comments

The Echo Link Amp is designed to give Echo owners options. Instead of settling for the sound from a couple of Echo speakers, this amp lets owners use a set of nice bookshelf speakers. Best yet, this replaces a large receiver generally needed to power speakers.

At $299, the Echo Link Amp lives in a curious spot. It’s less expensive and smaller than a traditional home audio system. Yet it’s more expensive than smaller desktop amps with a similar power rating.

Like its little brother, the $199 Echo Link, the $299 Echo Link Amp requires another Echo device. The Link and the Link Amp lack a microphone, which is needed to talk to the system. These two products are, if you will, the missing link between Alexa and better sound.

There are less expensive ways to replicate a lot of the Echo Link Amp’s feature set. There are a handful of small and powerful amps available for around $50 that can take audio from an Echo Dot and power a set of speakers. I use a $30 Lepai amp to power a set of Yamaha outdoor speakers on my deck. I used this system to test the Echo Link Amp.

Review

It’s finally nice outside here in Michigan. The sun is out and the leaves are budding. I’m writing this from my deck where I have two Yamaha speakers connected to a small amp and an Echo Dot, which are mounted to the floorboards. It’s the best. I can yell requests to the Dot from my fire pit. The Dot and $30 amp have survived two Michigan winters, too.

This is the perfect use case for the Echo Link Amp, though I’m sure Amazon will disapprove of the placement outside. That’s okay.

Like when I tested the Echo Link, I enlisted the help of another Echo product to make switching between the audio sources a bit easier. Using an AV switcher I was able to connect everything simultaneously and press a button to switch between the sources. I cued up some summer BBQ music and stepped back, remote in hand.

There wasn’t a difference.

The $30 amp had the same bass response, vocal reproduction and soundstage as the $300 Echo Link Amp. On paper, the Echo Link Amp has more power, but in practice, that power did not result in a difference with these outdoor speakers. I disconnected everything and plugged the speakers directly into the amps. Nothing changed. Hank Jr. sounded the same. For better or worse, of course.

I tried the system on a set of old Infinity speakers and had the same results. The sound had the same fidelity. On both systems the highs were just as high and the lows were just as low. The quality had the same, admittedly, lack of punch, but sounded good enough to blast Kenny Chesney throughout my yard.

The $299 Echo Link Amp shares a lot with the $199 Echo Link. The main difference, as the name suggests, is the amp. The Link Amp has the ability to drive a set of speakers, whereas the Link needs to be connected to an amplifier. I found the Echo Link to be a fantastic addition to a home audio setup. The $199 device provides a digital connection lacking on other Echo devices and I found it to improve the audio quality of streaming services.

The Echo Link Amp, however, is a touch disappointing, but at the same time very proficient at its job. Buyers are paying for the ease of use more than the quality of the amplifier. It’s clever too. If the connected Echo Dot is asked a question, it responds with the answer. This lets the owner turn off the amplifier and still retain access to Alexa. Only when the owner asks the Echo to play audio does it offload the task to the powered speakers.

With a series of inputs, the Echo Link Amp can easily serve several roles, including as a 2.1 channel home theater receiver.

The Echo Link Amp is a lovely device even though I find the audio quality lacking when compared to less expensive amps. It’s clever and I’m surprised Amazon is selling the device. While the rest of the Echo product line is a mass market play, the Echo Link and Echo Link Amp are designed for a smaller market. The Echo Link Amp features a set of functions unavailable on any other Echo device and the easiest way to add Alexa to a set of speakers.

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GM is smartening up its Bolt EV smartphone app

Posted by | Android, Apple, automotive, cars, ChargePoint, charging stations, chevrolet bolt, electric vehicle, electric vehicles, energy, evgo, General-Motors, Greenlots, inductive charging, michigan, smartphone, transport, Transportation | No Comments

GM is sprucing up its smartphone app for owners of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt through a collaboration with charging network companies EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots.

The idea is to take aggregate dynamic data from each of the EV charging networks so owners can have a “more seamless charging experience.” In short: GM wants to make it easier and more intuitive for Bolt EV owners to find and access charging. Removing hurdles from the charging experience can go a long way in convincing more people to buy the Bolt EV, or any EV for that matter.

The partnership with EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots is a notable start considering that collectively that means more than 31,000 charging ports.

“GM believes in an all-electric future, and this is a significant step to make charging easier for our customers,” said Doug Parks, General Motors vice president of Autonomous and Electric Vehicle Programs. “By collaborating with these three companies, we expect to reduce barriers to create a stronger EV infrastructure for the future. This is an important step toward achieving GM’s vision of a world with zero emissions.”

GM plans to take the aggregate charging data from EVgo, ChargePoint and Greenlots and use it to improve the myChevrolet app. For instance, owners will be able to see if a charging station is available and compatible with the Bolt EV. It also will provide real-time data on charge stations to report if a charging station is working.

GM plans to create an app interface that will streamline the enrollment process for each of these networks. The automaker wants owners to be able to activate a charging session using the app instead of a membership card, but didn’t say when that feature would be rolled out.

GM recently made a few updates to the myChevrolet app that lets owners project the energy assist to the vehicle’s infotainment system via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for drivers with model year 2017 or newer Bolt EVs.

This means Bolt EV drivers can access information through their infotainment system, like vehicle range, charging station locations and search, as well as route planning that takes into consideration charging stops along the way if the destination is out of range.

Original purchasers of new Bolt EVs will have access to these features at no additional cost for five years from the vehicle delivery date, according to GM.

GM doesn’t provide updates about the Bolt EV, and more broadly its electric vehicle program, at the same pace and frequency as say Tesla. But the company is still ramping up and expanding. GM recently expanded a battery lab, and a new LG Electronics plant in Michigan has come online.

The LG Electronics facility in Hazel Park started making battery packs this fall to supply GM’s Orion Assembly Plant, where the automaker builds the all-electric Chevrolet  Bolt.

GM’s plan to launch 20 new all-electric vehicles globally by 2023 and increase production of the Chevy Bolt.

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Review: 2018 Lincoln Navigator

Posted by | Android, Ann Arbor, Apple, applink, automotive, automotive industry, detroit, Disney, Ford, land rover, Lincoln Navigator, michigan, navigator, radio disney, smartphone, TC, Uber, waze | No Comments

Michigan saw a historic amount of snowfall in 2018. And it’s not done. It’s snowing as I write this and it snowed nearly every day since I took delivery of this burgundy 2018 Lincoln Navigator. Excuse the dirty car shown in the photos. That’s life in the Midwest: half the year it’s impossible to keep cars clean of salt and grime and, to me, that’s the best time to review a vehicle. I’m happy to report the new Navigator is a comfortable refuge from the snowy winter.

I spent a week in the 2018 Navigator running from Flint, Michigan to Ann Arbor to Detroit. I filled up the 23-gallon tank enough to know to take it easy on the lively 3.5L EcoBoost V6. The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is luxurious and confident — but thirsty.

This is a luxury SUV. It’s not a sport truck and it’s not high-tech paradise, though it can play the part of both. The new Navigator was clearly built to be as comfortable as possible, and along the way Lincoln constructed one of the best luxury SUVs on the market.

Review

Winter hit Michigan hard this year and I found the ditch in my 2012 Dodge Durango R/T several times. It started snowing in December and didn’t stop until halfway through March. I grew up in Michigan and still live in the state. Driving in snow doesn’t bother me, though jumping into an unfamiliar vehicle and navigating snow-covered roads can be challenging. But not in this Navigator. I found it handles snow and slush and ice without an issue.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is a full-size SUV. It sits as high as a Ford F-150 and tends to lumber about as such. The ride is confident and stable. There’s little sway on tight expressway ramps and the automatic four-wheel drive quickly activates when a tire starts to spin.

This Navigator isn’t a sport truck, but it gets up and goes thanks to Ford’s fantastic 3.5L EcoBoost V6. This six-cylinder twin-turbo kit has found its way into nearly every full-size platform Ford offers. The Navigator is gifted with an updated version of the engine and it offers ample power across its range. The 3.5L surprises in this massive luxury SUV. It’s lively and powerful and more than enough to make the ride comfortable. During my time with the truck, I never felt at a loss of power, though I tried.

The engine is key to the Navigator’s appeal on several levels. First, 3.5L V6 offers decent fuel economy if driven conservatively while offering a decent bit of excitement if driven with that intent. Second, it allows Lincoln to say the Navigator is able to tow 600 lbs more than the Cadillac Escalade, which features a massive 6.2L V8. While both vehicles can ably pull a pontoon, the Lincoln does so with 510 lb.-ft of torque over Cadillac’s 460 — though without a boat of my own, I’m unable to confirm if the difference is felt in the real world.

The steering is light and responsive, though it’s impossible to forget this is a massive vehicle. It drives like a truck — though not your grandfather’s work truck. The driver sits in a commanding position that makes for good visibility. The vehicle’s suspension lets it cruise over rough roads and most bumps are absorbed. It’s a big SUV and there’s a fair amount of body roll on on-ramps. Parking isn’t an issue. There are plenty of cameras positioned around the vehicle to help maneuver this land yacht.

The interior of the new Navigator stuns. Wood, leather and chrome adorn the surfaces and walks close to the line of bling. It begs the confirmation that it ultimately comes from an American automaker. Take the badging off the interior and it could easily be mistaken as a luxury European SUV — though this Navigator is bigger than anything offered across the pond.

It’s roomy inside. Storage is abundant but cleverly hidden so as not to look like a minivan. There’s plenty of leg room for second-row passengers while the third row is surprisingly roomy.

The seats are something special. Sure, they’re comfortable and supportive like any found in high-end SUVs. It’s their design that sets them apart. The cushions jet out from a large back support making them look more like an Eames lounger than an overstuffed leather recliner. The design is a stark departure from most automotive seats, and I’m a fan.

The back seats are not nearly as comfortable. They’re supportive and offer several seating positions. In this tester, the rear seat is equipped with a center console that sports a small LCD screen that displays the media currently playing. The kids love it and I’m sure Uber passengers would too. As a parent to two kids, I found it annoying to cede control of the radio to the backseat. Thankfully there’s a button above the climate controls that disables the backseat controls, because I can only listen to Radio Disney for so long.

Tech

There’s an LCD screen mounted in the center of the dash. It’s large enough to be usable though not distracting. The best part? The screen doesn’t show fingerprints. There’s clearly a coating over the screen that somehow, magically, makes fingerprints invisible. Glare doesn’t seem to be an issue, though, as previously mentioned, it’s been snowing for a week and I haven’t seen the sun at all during my testing.

The 2018 Lincoln Navigator is equipped with a Lincoln-badged version of the Ford Sync 3 infotainment system. The automaker rolled out this system with 2016 models and it’s a massive improvement over previous Sync versions. It’s not the best infotainment system available, but it’s good enough. Vehicle functions and controls are in logical places and Ford’s AppLink system offers support for some third-party apps now, including Waze .

Android Auto and CarPlay are also available when used with compatible devices. I’ve grown to avoid these systems and prefer to stick with most systems developed by automakers. I was initially a fan of CarPlay, but Apple has yet to advance the platform, and now several years after its launch, it feels dated and unusable.

The Navigator’s smartphone app is clever. Need to put in navigation info? With the Lincoln Way app, drivers can input a destination on their smartphone app before they get into the vehicle and send those directions to the Navigator. It’s much easier than entering the destination through the in-vehicle system. The app also lets drivers start the car, order roadside assistance or service and locate the car.

Competition

This new Navigator is in a class of its own. The Cadillac Escalade’s interior is vastly inferior, the Mercedes-Benz GLS is dated and much less roomy. The Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser have better off-road chops, but the platform is over 10 years old and it shows. Land Rover’s SUVs are more expensive and its three-row models are much smaller and less powerful than the Navigator, though new models are coming out soon.

There simply isn’t a more luxurious, roomy six- or seven-passenger vehicle available than the new Navigator.

I’m in the market for a new vehicle and recently test drove several used 2017 Lincoln Navigators. It’s a nice truck, but lacks the wow factor of the 2018 Navigator. Where past models were clearly a rebadged Ford, complete with similar plastic trim and equipment, the new Navigator is a fresh departure from its Ford counterpart, the Expedition. Similarities between the two models still exist, though they’re less pronounced, with the Lincoln clearly getting the nod toward luxury.

The Navigator of today is much better than the Navigator of yesterday. Lincoln improved the Navigator in nearly every way. The ride, the comfort, the technology. Everything is better, and that’s impressive and must be noted.

The Navigator is 25 years old this year. It was one of the first American-made luxury SUVs, but it has nearly always been overshadowed by the Escalade — and for good reason. The Escalade has always offered more everything than the Navigator. But not anymore.

The new Navigator sets the bar. It’s luxurious. It’s powerful. The Navigator is wonderful.

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A Flint, MI university turned vacant land into autonomous vehicle proving grounds

Posted by | automotive, autonomous vehicles, flint, Gadgets, General-Motors, michigan, TC | No Comments

14543654_10154465968426147_5141914273202570275_o Kettering University unveiled this week an automotive proving grounds in a bid to lure companies and students to the Flint, MI area. The test track is on the school’s grounds, housed on land that once contained a massive General Motors’ manufacturing facility that was torn down and left abandoned. The Kettering University GM Mobility Research Center (or MRC) features outdoor lab… Read More

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