Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Small Bag for Goodies. A Tumi Alpha Bravo Monterey Sling Review

I'm normally a Pacsafe kinda guy. I like traveling and I like keeping all my gadgets locked down. But sometimes, it is overkill. As great as Pacsafe's stuff are, the extra weight for the Exomesh is sometimes unnecessary.

My Pacsafe Metrosafe 300 strap broke (which essentially was the whole point of the bag.) And the GII update of it, no longer comes with the combination lock. This means that the bag can no longer be left unattended.

I started looking around for a decent replacement for my everyday kit. Which is essentially my tablet, a P&S camera, and maybe a spare shirt. I considered Tumi prior to Pacsafe, but at the time, their designs were quite plain and didn't have any real features over a regular messenger bag. But their Alpha Bravo line caught my eye and I ended up getting the Monterey Sling in Anthracite color. I ordered it directly from Tumi's website as they offer free monogramming services that the other online sites don't.

It's quite a small bag. Unlike the Metrosafe 300 which could fit my Macbook Pro 13 and my tablet, the Tumi can only fit a tablet (and maybe a Macbook Air 11, or equivalent) in the dedicated rear compartment. The main compartment is thicker though, so I actually got to fit my DSLR with a 50mm lens, and bring along an external flash, a 35mm lens, and a Sony RX100. I'm pretty sure I could still fit an extra shirt in there too had I arranged things inside better.

There's also a dedicated pocket umbrella/water bottle pocket that's lines and has a drain hole. You could stuff a small packable raincoat in here I guess, but It would be a tight fit. The other smaller side pocket is for your keys, cards, wallet, and phone. A caveat on the umbrella pocket though, it extends inwards, so placing something in here takes up room in the main compartment. This sacrifices practicality in exchange for minimalism. At its maximum, the bag doesn't puff out or get deformed and maintains it's sleekness. Depending on your priority, this may or may not be a deal breaker.

The strap is made of quality nylon with a nice leather accent by the top. Doesn't seem to be as easy to slash as other straps. Not as good as the metal lined straps of Pacsafe, but not as easy to cut as regular nylon straps either. I wish they had padded the upper part or at least placed a rubber grip at the bottom to keep the strap from slipping off your shoulder when slinging over one arm (instead of cross body).

The zippers are worth a warning, they look cool, but they are sharp. Not enough to cut you, but they may snag on fabric if you're just yanking it out of the main compartment. Be careful when removing items (Like the nylon key loop in the side pocket) as they may snag on the zippers. Which is related to my next observation. This bag is NOT waterproof. I wouldn't even say water resistant, the issue being the large gaps between the zipper teeth. The bag's lining and nylon construction should be fine in light to moderate rain.

One of Tumi's services though is a nice free Tracer program. No, it's not an app. Nor is it a chip inside the bag. It's a simple serial number registry to the original owner. Should you lose your bag, anyone that decides to be a kind stranger can call Tumi and report the number on the bag. Tumi Worldwide will inform you that your bag has been found. Nothing fancy, but a nice value-added service to have.

All in all, I'm quite happy with this bag. I picked this over the Pacsafe Z250, which isn't a bad bag. Just not what I was looking for in a city/everyday bag. For my laptop needs, I do have a Pacsafe ScanSafe 13 (sadly discontinued) which is such a blessing at airport security checks.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Time on Hand with The Moto 360

There have already been several 'first look' reviews on the Moto 360. I've had mine for several months now and have gone through several apps and updates. I think it's time for me to give a very in-depth real-world review on owning the Moto 360.

I had gotten my Moto 360 as a surprise advanced Christmas present from my wife last October. (I had been checking out the other Android Wear watches at the time and still preferred the 360 because of its design) Although this isn't my first SmartWatch, it is my favorite. I've had both Sony's SmartWatches in the past and both were excellent for my purposes. I had gotten rid of the first one, I still have the SW2. How different is the Moto 360? Quite a jump as it is running Android Wear, vs Sony's own OS.

If you're one of those that expect to cram your entire phablet's functions on your wrist, you have missed the whole point of smartwear. Skip ALL these products and just get an armband case for your phone.

My favorite part about the Moto 360 is the over-all sleekness of the watch. It's simple, clean, and classic. No fake diver bezel, no 'luxury' aspirations (let's be honest, no smartwatch at the moment will EVER replace a Rolex). It's a great watch that I can wear with almost anything (as long as you change the strap) without it looking out of place.

Battery life with the latest firmware (5.0.1) is 'ok'. It improved over the original one, but only by a few hours. However, this is also due to the increased usage. I have gotten as much as 2 days with minimal use. Prior to the update, my watch barely lasted 24 hours. But playing with your watch a lot will kill your battery in about 12 hours, regardless of firmware version. Hehehe.

There are a few things I would like to emphasize to potential smartwatch buyers. This will NOT replace your phone, nor will it duplicate all its functions. Try and minimize the use of any smartwatch to urgent notifications only. Not because it can't handle it, but this defeats its purpose completely if you're glancing at your watch every 5 mins.

I've had 3 generations of smartwatches, and 4 months with the Moto 360, and I fully appreciate how a smartwatch can augment (not replace) your phone.

The following features are common to Android Wear and can be downloaded to any Android Wear watch. These are not exclusive to the Moto 360, but these reflect how I use my Moto 360 on a daily basis.

First: Calls/SMS. This is probably the most important thing your watch can do. Notify you of a call, and the ability to reject it. This allows very discreet call screening without looking like a hunchback fiddling with your phone at all times. This holds true for SMS as well, some messages aren't worth replying to, and some aren't worth whipping out your phone for. I'll get to my favorite SMS app for Android Wear in a future article.

Second: Email. Aside from Gmails filters, my phone also has notification filters that read out incoming email so I'll know if its important enough to open right away. My Moto 360 even filters that out further by allowing me to delete email as they come in.

Third: Reminders. Some things aren't 'calendar' important. Android Wear syncs with Google Keep for little reminders. Very handy for grocery lists, weekly reminders, or location reminders (location reminders on Google Keep are already quite useful, made even better on Android Wear)

Fourth: Health tracking. Great side benefit. Works even when not connected to the phone, then syncs when in range. Takes heart rate samples throughout the day and charts your overall health profile. Google Fit works quite well, and even tracks your steps without the watch (it functions on both phone and watch together or independently)

Fifth: Device locating. Although not an über-fancy feature, it is probably one of the more practical functions of having a smartwatch. Being able to buzz your phone without having to have someone call it, or have your watch buzz you if you forget your phone, is one of the handiest apps you can have on your smartwatch.

All in all, the Moto 360 is a great smartwatch. Google Now's voice functions work really well with it, and makes setting timers, simple searching, and texting quite convenient. I do, however, have a several 'wishlist' items:

One, glove mode. So far, no smartwatch has the capability to function with winter gloves on. Sony's current Xperia line has a glove-mode that allows use of the phone without having to remove gloves, or buy 'touch capable' gloves.

Two, much better battery life. I don't mean 2-3 days, I mean 1 solid week. 2-3 days can probably be done with current tech and updated firmware, but 1 week would mean different screen (transreflective or more efficient LED backlighting) or better battery tech. Hoping that this will be possible within the next 2 generations. Another alternative is a solar panel built into the touchscreen, or a mechanical generator similar to Seiko's Kinetic.

Three, better environmental protection. IP67/68 ratings may be good enough for smartphones, but wristwatches are exposed to greater environmental conditions. The Moto 360 is IP67 rated, but it can only handle temperatures down to -10ºC/14ºF and no shock/mechanical IP rating. Considering that smartwatches are not 'formalwear', they should have basic 1m drop protection and operating temperature down to -20ºC/-4ºF. I've had to leave mine at home several times this past winter because I didn't want to risk damaging the screen in the cold.

Four, a speaker or some kind of audio feedback. Even a beep or chirp capability would be quite helpful if a full range speaker wouldn't be possible without taxing the battery or increasing the size of the watch. I don't really want to be able to take calls on my wrist, but alarms and notifications would be nice to hear.

I'm really happy with the Moto 360. Although Android Wear (and wearable tech in general) is still in its infancy, I feel it's steadily improving over time. Motorola has been quite good at maintaining the firmware and the abundance of great apps has made the 360 exceed my initial expectations for a current generation Smartwatch.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Port side! Anker 5-Port USB Desktop Charger Review

As convenient as USB charging is, traveling a lot gives me the problem of available outlets for all my devices. I've had some success with some dual port ones that can handle my Xperia Tablet Z and my Xperia Z1 Compact... but nowadays, even phones need 2.1A of power. So those just won't do anymore.

A quick Google search led me to Anker and their 5-port USB desktop charger. It's quite simple. 5 intelligent USB ports. 2.1A on ALL ports... ALL THE TIME! Sweet! The intelligent chip inside the charger regulates the amount of power. Handles tablets, phones, phones in use, etc. Charges all devices at full speed.

It's about the size of the Apple Macbook power adapter so it's easy enough to carry around and won't add any significant weight or bulk to your bag.

So far, so good. Most of the time, I use up about 4 ports. Leaving one free for a friend or any new gadget I may buy in the future. I'm quite happy with it and their customer support was quite quick to send an email asking if I was happy with my purchase.

If you have more than 3 USB devices that are taking up outlet space, this is a definite must-have in your kit!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ok Google!

Yay! Google Now "hot word" detection from any screen is now active on my account!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Big things come in Compact packages. A Sony Xperia Z1 Compact Review

I'm not a fan of the current trend of ever-growing smartphone screen sizes, aka "Phablets". Mainly because I feel they are a compromise from both sides. They are neither small enough to be convenient to carry around, nor are their screens large enough to enjoy surfing or media properly. I don't think manufacturers should stop making phones bigger, I just wish they'd offer smaller options that aren't based on ancient technology. Thankfully, Sony did just that with the Xperia Z1 Compact.

At 4.3", the Z1 Compact is not small. Unlike the older Xperia Mini or Mini Pro, the Z1 Compact is just that, a compact version of it's larger 5" sibling, the Z1. Both sport a 2.2GHz Quad-core CPU, 20 Megapixel Sony Exmor RS camera, 2GB RAM, 16GB on-board memory, LTE, and IP rating. The only difference being screen size. The Z1 has a Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen, while the Z1 Compact has an HD (1280 x 720) screen. In actual use, the slightly lower pixel density of the Z1 Compact is not noticeable and offers very good color rendition and media performance. For those that may be wondering, the back of the Compact is plastic. The Japanese version however, is glass. I'm not fond of cases at all. So to protect my phone, I immediately got matte protectors for the front and back. The matte screen protector does degrade screen quality slightly, but it also keep it fingerprint free, and reduces glare. The benefits, for me, outweighed the slight color degradation.

Performance of the Z1 Compact is quite exceptional. I've been told that it's even better than the Z1 due to the fact that both the CPU and GPU have fewer pixels to power. As nice as the stock Sony Home app is, I find the common Android layout quite cluttered, hence I use Smart Launcher 2 which allows me to clean up my home screen and significantly boost performance. This launcher has worked on my old X10 Mini Pro til my current Z1 Compact and makes it so much easier to navigate with one hand. On the Compact, it uses such little resources, the phone really blazes through everything even faster than stock.

Battery life on the Compact is great. Coming from the much older Xperia P, which gave me about 7-10 hours of use, the Compact gives me well over 24 hours under similar settings. I used to always have to charge my phone at least 2x a day with my normal use, the Compact leaves me with about 25% charge by the time I'm about to sleep. This is using Sony's Stamina Mode which I leave on all the time. Without it, my Xperia P would last about 5-6 hours, and the Compact would last about 18-20 hours. Disabling data (or switching to 2G only) increases standby time significantly on both my phones. So glad I no longer have to lug around my charger or a power bank!

Audio performance is great too. My preferred audio app is Power Amp primarily because it can crossfade tracks. But other than that, the built-in Walkman app is great. Very sleek and refined. The Clear Audio feature in the Settings really makes a difference in audio quality/clarity when using Bluetooth headsets. But if you're plugged in via the headphone jack into a stereo system, you may want to disable this for a purer sound experience. The speaker is located at the bottom of the phone. Which I think is brilliant. Although the grille makes it look like the speaker occupies the whole bottom of the phone, the actual speaker is only about a third of the grille on the left side. Why I prefer this position is because it allows you to place your phone in your pocket with the speaker facing up and keeps it unobstructed for calls and notifications. You will appreciate this when you keep your phone in your back pocket since it rings pretty loud in a crowded street or mall. I wouldn't really rate any built-in speaker for proper media playback but it has decent volume specially when xLoud and Clear Phase are used. Other than that, I always use external speakers or a headset.

The camera is fantastic. Low light performance is excellent and Superior Auto is getting better. It may be a 20 megapixel camera but this is only available in Manual mode with HDR disabled. HDR, Superior Auto, and the other features drop resolution down to 8MP which is more than decent but kinda disappointing. 3rd party plug-ins like 360 Panorama and the Augmented Reality apps (quite fun) are accessible directly from the camera app or as individual apps on your home screen. Quick-lauch (holding the camera button down to launch the camera) will only launch in Superior Auto mode.

So far so good. Although I wish they had made the Xperia Z1 Compact a bit narrower, I think this is an excellent choice for those that don't want to sacrifice performance for the sake of a more pocketable Android device.

Past Tech Gospels

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