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.

Friday, February 20, 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.

Past Tech Gospels

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