Category Archives: Gear

What I need to see from Windows Phone 8.1

Okay Microsoft, you knew this was coming.  Much as I love your stuff, lately you have been screwing the pooch on just about everything.  Seriously, removing Windows XP Mode/MED-V from Windows 8?  That was one of the most useful features.  The XBox One debacle?  I don’t see how you could have done much to make it look worse at announcement. 

And then there’s Windows Phone.  You were leading the pack from Windows Mobile 4 to 6.5.  There simply wasn’t anything better.  And then you went all but silent… for years.  And then in 2010 you apparently realized you managed to fall to almost last place in the smart phone race and threw out a half-finished Windows Phone 7.  It didn’t have much bluetooth support, SMS sync was removed, and IT DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A CLIPBOARD.  Seriously, we made fun of iTards for that, and then you go and do it.

You’ve had three years now, and plenty of revisions to get a few things right, but all I see you doing is making half-assed additions of new hardware technologies and dropping useful features.  I have given you a really fair chance, but I’m tired of being stuck on technology three generations behind.  I went and looked at some of Samsung’s newer Galaxy phones and was beyond impressed by what they can do (hell, I was impressed with what the old ones can do that WP8 can’t touch).

So here is the deal.  The Galaxy Note 3 should be coming out some time in September.  I want to see a Windows Phone 8.1/9 that beats it, or I’m getting it instead.  You’ve screwed this up far too long, and I’m pretty much out of patience.  If it doesn’t have all the required features and most of the optional features following, you’re going to lose me.  One of your biggest fanboys.

Required features.  Without all of these, I will not get another Windows Phone device.  These are all things that other phones have had for some time (including WM6.5 for many of them).

  • Hardware keyboard.  These on screen keyboards are useless for more than a few characters.  I don’t care how sorry you feel for the UX guys that designed the AI.  Deal with it.
  • Bluetooth 4.0 and all common profiles.  You have audio and business card exchange.  That’s about it.  How do you not have profiles for PAN, SPP, and HID?  Really, no HID profiles.  What idiot made that call?  You will have to include profiles for PAN or LAP, SPP, HDP, MAP, and especially HID.
  • Internet connection sharing.  Don’t give me this “but the driver doesn’t support it!” BS like you did with my LG Quantum.  You can suck me for that one.
  • DLNA client.
  • SMS sync to skydrive or exchange.
  • Customizable notifications, especially for SMS.
  • Third party app access to critical data like email and sms.
  • Forcing apps into landscape mode when the keyboard is opened. 
  • Storing usernames and passwords in IE (and ignoring that every idiot web developer sets the autocomplete attribute off).

Optional features.  Even if it has the required features, it has to have enough of these to make me overlook the last five years of pure crap that’s come from windows mobile.

  • A map app that isn’t stupid.  Live maps integrated with the web version and shared waypoint lists.  Then you took it out.  That was an amazing feature.  Put it back, you idiots.  If you really want to make me happy, you will have the browser version, mobile version, metro version, and desktop version (which you better make) use Skydrive to store and share GPX or KML files.
  • Sync favorites and passwords with IE on the desktop and metro.  And you better make IE store passwords for ANY site I want. 
  • Changing default file associations for all files.
  • Rotating live tiles when the keyboard is open.  The start screen sucks like that.  ,

Get on the ball, or lose one of your best customers.

Windows Phone 8 still sucks

So I’m feeling the age and suck of WP7.8 on my LG Quantum.  It’s almost three years old, can’t work as a wireless access point, and I’m starting to feel some envy for features like NFC tags.  I went looking for a replacement and I was not impressed.

First off, I’m an admitted Microsoft fanboy, so my first requirement was that it run windows phone.  I’m nominally in bed with ATT, so I looked at their phones first.  That left me with a choice between an HTC 8X and Nokia Lumia 920.  But ATT fcked the dog on both, neither are very available, and they can’t even figure out where the wirelss charger is stocked (‘cause it sure ain’t in any warehouse).

But even if I could get around that, there are still dealbreakers.  Neither phone has a built in keyboard.  That’s been a requirement since day one.  I don’t care if the phone is thicker (in fact, I would strongly prefer that if it had a better battery life – this barely 22 hours of run time thing doesn’t cut it).  Friends told me to get with the decade and just use the on screen keyboard.  I figured I would consider it, then use a tiny bluetooth keyboard for serious typing… then research showed that Windows Phone 8, the shiny new version that they just rebuilt from the ground up DOESN’T SUPPORT BLUETOOTH HID PROFILES.  Seriously.  Basic functionality, removed in the previous version, STILL isn’t there.

It also doesn’t support opening WAV profiles.  Apparently the built in audio app is crippled and only supports an archaic (and almost completely unused) style of PCM codec in WAV files, and you can’t change what app opens them.  So you won’t be listening to anything you’re sent through MMS, or your voicemail, or anything else except music you sync.

There are all sorts of other less important failures too.  But yeah, there are just too many dealbreakers here.  What kills me is that they have been major issues for three or four years now, and they either haven’t been addressed, or they are critical features that have been dropped since the last version.

Onward to Android?

Basic Bug Out Bag list

This is a list of some of the basics of a bug out bag.  It’s definitely not exclusive, but I’m not going to try to tell you what kind of gun or holster to get, for example.  But you better have one or two, and some loaded mags.  Any way, you’ll probably want most of these and more gear on top of it.  I’d carry a couple of MREs and water bladders in addition to the stuff here – most of the weight you carry will likely be water.  Don’t forget a change of clothes and extra socks!

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Rubbermaid 20-Ounce Filtration Personal Bottle, Black – 7.99
Clean water is critical. To extend filter life, fill through a sock or other fabric if it’s dirty. I picked this over others because it can be turned upside down to drip-filter.

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Banana Boat Sport Performance Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30: 1 OZ – 5.00 (get it at your local store)
Sunburn bites. You don’t need much of this, but it’s pretty critical.

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4 Panel Large Bill Flap Hat W15S48B (One Size Fits Most/Khaki) – 19.50
Head cover is probably the most important thing after water.
Priority: highest

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MOLLE 3 Day Military Assault Pack Backpack – Black – 85.99
Priority: highest

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AAA 53 Piece Tune Up First Aid Kit – 10.10
Keep a FAK in the bag. Your injuries will be amplified and you might not be able to keep them clean otherwise.
Priority: highest

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Gerber 22-41576 Gator Machete with Sheath – 22.84
A machete is an incredible tool. You can use it for a lever, to clear a path, cutting large pieces of meat, and for protection. Make sure you keep it sharp!
Priority: highest

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Rothco Type III Commercial Paracord (Black, 550-Pound/50-Fe​et) – 5.91
Paracord is absurdly useful. It’s hard to have too much.
Priority: highest

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5 in 1 Survival Whistle, Emergency Zone® Brand – 4.99
It’s in the crappy add-on program, but it’s a useful device. Keep matches, a strike strip, and tinder in it.
Priority: highest

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Cree 7W 300LM Mini LED Flashlight – 8.88
Little flashlights are great. Note that you only get the full light output if you use one of the 3.7 V special batteries. You might consider starting with one in it and moving to rechargeable AA if you need.
Priority: high

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Energizer Headlight, Yellow/Blue, 1AA – 25.48
Light is pretty important. This model is light, uses a single AA battery, and has white and red LEDs with separate buttons.
Priority: high

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Mainstay Emergency Food Rations – Case of 10 Packs – 66.81
Basic food to keep you going. Won’t win any awards, but it will keep you up and running. One case is enough for two or three people for BOBs.
Priority: high

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Cold Steel Recon Tanto Kraton Handle with Black Blade (Secure-Ex Sheath) – 78.71
A quality blade is very important. I’d get a machete and multitool before a dedicated medium blade though.
Priority: high

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55GAL 2M DRUM LINER – 13.57
Heavy large bags are really versatile. You can section your pack with them, use them for simple waterproofing, make them into a rain jacket or shelter, nice!
Priority: high

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Rayovac Rechargeable NiMH Batteries, AA-size, 4-count Carded Pack – 11.95
The base of the power system used in this kit. All electronics use AA batteries.
Priority: high

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Leatherman 830850 Skeletool CX Multitool – 60.00
You need a high quality multitool. Check a lot out and find what meets your needs. This is just an example.
Priority: high

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Off! Deep Woods for Sportsmen Insect Repellent I, Pump Spray – 95% DEET – 1 fl oz – 5.60
Keeps the bugs off.
Priority: high

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Quake Kare Emergency Thermal Blankets (4 Pack) – 6.00
These are light and can be used for shelter, warmth, cooking, and signaling. There’s little reason to not carry two in a BOB.
Priority: high

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Emergency Zone Folding Shovel with Pick and Compass, Multifunction Survival Tool – 12.99
I would have liked to add one of the tool kits that has a shovel, pick, saw, and axe. But I couldn’t find any that were of good quality.
Priority: medium

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SanDisk Cruzer Switch CZ52 16 GB USB Flash Drive (SDCZ52-016G-B3​5) – 15.82
Several things to do with these. Keep medical and financial data on it, encrypt it (use bitlocker to go, most computers can read it), or install windows to go on it and bitlocker it.
Priority: medium

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Goal Zero 19010 Guide 10 Plus Small Adventure Kit – 119.95
Just upgraded to the Guide 10 Plus, which has a full amp of output.
Priority: medium

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Midland GXT1000VP4 36-Mile 50-Channel FRS/GMRS Two-Way Radio (Pair) (Black/Silver) – 58.56
A good solid GRMS radio that uses internal NiMH charge packs but can take AA batteries instead. They also function as chargers if you have a 12 v power source.
Priority: medium

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Suisse Sport Adult Adventurer Mummy Ultra-Compactab​le Sleeping Bag (Right Zipper) Blue – 40.52
Depending on the area, you may not want this in your bag in the summer. But you’re really going to miss it if you need it and don’t have it.
Priority: medium

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 407 BLACK TACTICAL MARCHING COMPASS – 5.89
Priority: medium

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Tinder-Quik 10 pack (1 packet) – 3.95
Tinder is good, but it’s easier to get dryer lint and mix some lard or petroleum jelly in. Keep it in an altoids tin.
Priority: medium

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Spiderwire Stealth Braid 300-Yard Spool (Moss Green, Pound/Diameter 6/1) – 24.24
Goes with the fishing line.
Priority: medium

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Energizer-Evere​ady 01793 – AA 1.5 Volt Ultimate Lithium Battery (4 pack) (L91BP-4) – 1.97
I prefer to stick with rechargeable batteries generally, but these are very light and hold much more power per size and weight. I would seriously consider them for a kit that I expect to not have after 72 hours.
Priority: medium

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Gerber 01471 Suspension Butterfly Opening Multi-Plier with Sheath – 29.89
This is an alternate multitool.
Priority: medium

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12 Hour Green Lightsticks (4 Pack) – 7.70
Chemlights have plenty of great uses. If you’re not hiding, you can stick them on a shoulder to mark members if your group.
Priority: medium

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Tool Logic T1BCC Series Business Card, Ultra-Slim Tool Card with Twelve Features, Translucent Black – 21.42
Never know what little things you’ll need to fix. This packs well, even if it is a little expensive.
Priority: low

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Light My Fire MealKit Harness – Grey – 7.37
Goes with the meal kit, very optional.
Priority: low

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Light My Fire Outdoor MealKit – Black – 19.61
Won’t really be needed if you stick with the meal bars and MREs. I’d really like to carry stainless instead.
Priority: low

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South Bend Catfish Hook Assortment (Assorted) – 4.49
Fish hooks and line can be great. Keep some around if you can. There are catfish in almost all water in America.
Priority: low

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Gerber 22-41420 Gator Combo Axe II – 36.99
An axe and saw can be fairly useful, but your machete will probably serve you better, especially in the south. These might not be worth the weight.
Priority: low

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3M Peltor MT15H69FB-09 Com-Tac II Headset – 324.49
This is an example of an amp headset that uses AA batteries. I wouldn’t spend anywhere near its list price of $300 though.
Priority: lowest

This Bear Grylls branded stuff is getting out of hand.

So there’s this Bear Grylls Survival Series Ultimate Kit on amazon that has a bunch of apparent no-name generic survival stuff.  Then there’s the Bear Grylls Ultimate Survival Pack with Multitool, Flashlight, and Fire Starter with a multitool and flashlight.  His name is also on Bear Grylls Survival Series Ultimate Knife, Serrated Edge, some knife.

There was also some machete set in a folding case that I can’t find now.

Any way, my point is to wonder if these blades are worth crap.  They’re putting so much effort into making them pretty and branded that I can’t imagine much is left for quality.

Gear: Goal0 Sherpa 120 Battery

Goal0 Sherpa 120 Battery

Background

After I got and reviewed a Goal0 Guide 10 4AA Battery Recharger a couple of weeks earlier, I decided to jump in and get the big battery.  I fly on Southwest and Air Tran a lot, and it’s apparently magically impossible for them to have power outlets on their planes, even though every other 737 operator in creation has them.  So it’s either deal with 90 minutes of movie-playing time, or go without.  Well, it was.  This thing is a hoss, it weighs about three pounds, takes arbitrary power in, and provides power out from a standard USB-B female socket at 5 vdc, and some arbitrary coaxial plug at 12 vdc.  It comes with a near-proprietary charger and a converter from the output socket to a standard car lighter socket.

2011-09-06 Goal0 Sherpa 120 005

There’s also Sherpa 50 Battery, which I haven’t tested, which seems to be almost exactly the same thing, but with a smaller battery set.

Construction

The construction is, again, rock solid. This thing is, for all intents and purposes, a brick.  There’s a slight chance of damage to the status indicator and power button, but after a month of heavy travel I haven’t even come close to hurting them.

The thing weighs about three pounds.  It’s got a lithium-iron phosphate (LiFe) battery instead of the more common  lithium-ion/lithium-polymer batteries that most laptops and phones have.  This gives it about 15% less energy density per mass, but the battery will hold a charge longer and not degrade as fast (yeah, that 1-2 year laptop battery lifespan should not apply to this one).

Specifications

From the specs, it looks like the “120″ is a reference to 120 watt-hours of power storage – the 30 watt solar panel charges it in a minimum of 4 hours. That means it would keep my cell phone running for a month (assuming I use about half of its battery’s 5.55 watt-hour capacity a day). Or my laptop running for about six hours (depending on how hard I ran her – it’s a “full sized” laptop, so netbooks and tablets will run longer).

2011-09-06 Goal0 Sherpa 120 006

There isn’t much to it.  On the front face, it has a coax charging port, power indicator, battery meter, power button, usb output port, and coax output port.  On the back, it has a coax plug and socket for daisy-chaining.

2011-09-06 Goal0 Sherpa 120 008

  • The power button switches the unit into charge/chain mode or off.
  • The power indicator is solid green when it’s in charge/chain mode, and dark when it’s off.
  • The charge socket is an uncommon coaxial socket that fits the included proprietary charger and accepts 15.3 v.
  • One output is a USB-B female dumb (doesn’t negotiate) socket with the regular 0.5 A at 5 vdc.
  • The other output is an uncommon coaxial socket that fits the included proprietary adapter to a standard cigarette lighter, and puts out 10 A at 12 vdc.
  • The daisy chaining plugs/ports on the back are uncommon coaxial and appear to accept only 12 vdc, but that’s just going by what it says.

Observations

The pack only charges from the proprietary charger (or perhaps from another of these units connected to a proprietary charger), or from a Goal0 solar-panel like the Nomad 13.5M.  That means that for any significant use, I have to carry a bulky solar panel or a bulky single-purpose charger.  I tried using my iGo Travel Charger to charge it (and the standard tips fit all of the unit’s uncommon ports), but the charge sensed an input mismatch and turned off.

I’m puzzled as to why Goal0 did not use the 12 vdc input port for charging by default, and have it use a standard cigarette lighter adapter – that would allow an option for charging in a plane or car too.  I suppose the 12 volt output has a coax port to save space, but I have to carry the coax-to-lighter dongle any way, so there’s no real savings.

It also should have been easy to tie a voltage regulator into the primary charge port, to allow it to accept a wider range of inputs.

Several of these points lead to interesting experiments (what happens if I run my 19.1 vdc laptop charger through a voltage regulator and into the 15.3 vdc charge port?  Or do the same into the daisy-chaining port?  That’s for a later post.

It also seems more bulky than necessary.  I’m sure some is ruggedization, but it takes up a lot more space in my travel pack than I’d normally want to dedicate.  I’m sure some of the flashy case could be removed.

Conclusion

This is an attempt at getting the best of the worlds of rechargeable lithium battery technology and lead-acid/acid-mat batteries. As far as that goes, it’s not a bad shot. It approaches the lower weights of rechargeable lithium batteries and has the life span of a lead-acid battery.

Unfortunately, the designers missed several important design points that cost this unit a lot of practicality.  The requirement of a proprietary charger and the complete inability to charge from a DC power source significantly reduce the utility of this device, especially considering the cost.  Given that practically every laptop provides USB power any time a battery or power adapter is connected (even when sleeping or powered off), I’d be MUCH better served by getting two spare batteries for my laptop instead.  And it’s big enough that it doesn’t feel “electronics-heavy”, but like there’s dead air inside – a huge detriment for anything used in travel.

Sorry, Goal0, this gets one and a half out of five stars.

Mini to Micro USB adapter

Has a USB Mini-B female socket on one end, and a USB Micro-B male plug on the other.  Plus a little tether so you can connect it to a cable.  With my mix of devices that have mini (battery charger, camera) and micro sockets (phone, nook), I’d have to carry around twice the number of cables.  Now I carry two cables, each with one of these adapters on it.  I also keep one on the car charger.

Gear: Goal0 Guide 10 4AA Battery Recharger

Goal0 Guide 10 4AA Battery Recharger

Background

I saw this on the shelf at Target one day and thought it might be a good contender for a travel battery charger.  I’d been using some crappy ones, and couldn’t find an all in one device.  Basically, I wanted something that would store two or four AA batteries, provide 5 VCD out, optionally have a flashlight, and preferably charge them from a 5 VCD standard USB port.

This one does all of the above.  And does it well.

Construction

The construction is rock solid.  The door doesn’t come open without some effort, and the body is sturdy.  After a month of heavy travel,mine has some scratches, but no cracks or damage.

It stores four AA batteries, and has a removable tray that lets it hold AAA batteries instead.  One gripe is that the tray comes out – I’d prefer they have some sort of flip-down spacer that changes the fit.  If it can be removed, it will get lost. I’ve standardized on AA batteries, so that’s not a huge deal for me, but it’s still annoying.

Unit overview

Specifications

The front face has a switch, a status indicator, a bright white LED light, a USB A Female port, what appears to be an EIAJ-01 coaxial power plug, and a USB Mini-B Female port.

Front face

  • The switch changes the function from off to power out to light.  It will recharge itself in any position, but will not power the output port and the light at the same time.
  • The indicator uses an intuitive red/orange/green system, and a key is on the back. 
  • The bright white LED appears to be a standard 1 W white LED.  It functions great as a convenient flashlight, and should last for about fifteen hours on a full charge (assuming you have 2500 mAh batteries). 
  • The USB A Female port (the kind most computers have for inserting devices, for people who haven’t bothered to learn what the types are in the past fifteen years) functions as an output port.  It spits out 2.5 W (5 V at 0.5 A, exactly to USB spec) when the switch is in the middle position.
  • The coaxial port is for charging.  It didn’t come with an external charger, but other goal zero products use 6.5 v with these connectors for the low power interconnections.  They make several solar charging mats like the Nomad 7M Solar Panel that use that connector and voltage.
  • The USB Mini-B Female port (like you have on your camera or phone, unless it uses the new thin Micro-B standard) is for charging from a USB power source.  They lose some points because it’s not standards-compliant – the device is supposed to negotiate before it draws more than 50 mA or so.  So if it doesn’t charge from your device, it’s not necessarily your device’s fault.  But it’s not like anyone else follows the standards.

Observations

It’s a trickle charger, made to work on 2.5 watts input.  It will take several hours to charge batteries.  That’s inherent to working with low power levels like this.  If you want something faster, get a high current quick charger.  The auto-off works fine, so you can leave it connected to a charging source.

Hook

Oh and it has a neat hook on the back… I have no idea what that’s for.

Conclusion

This meets my criteria for a travel device: compact, uses standard batteries, accepts standard power in, provides standard power out.  It’s not fancy, not expensive, and does its thing reliably.  If you need power or recharging in a portable platform, this might just be the best option out there.