Content Nav Menu 

Author Archive for Mark Rosengarten

ABCO Tech Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker Auto FM Shower Radio review

On The Shower

I am a big fan of audiobooks and podcasts.  I am an even bigger fan of listening to them while in the shower.  In the past, I have done this by cranking up the volume on my desktop stereo system that I have hooked up to my desktop computer’s sound card.  This produces enough volume for the job but my poor kitties don’t care for it much.  So when I got the chance to review a dedicated Bluetooth shower speaker, I jumped at it.  Enter the ABCO Tech Waterproof Wireless Bluetooth Shower Speaker Auto FM Shower Radio.  It’s a mouthful but it describes what it does pretty well.

Read More →

Turn any pair of headphones into Bluetooth headphones! The Smartbean Bluetooth Wireless Receiver

1c34_smartbean_bluetooth_wireless_receiver_inuse

There seems to be a plethora of Bluetooth audio products out these days.  I had been interested in wireless headphones but the price has been a huge factor in why I don’t have them.  Battery life is also an issue…when you have a compact device, you are really limited in how long you’ll be grokking tunes.  The Smartbean Bluetooth Wireless Receiver is an excellent compromise.  It’s a 1 3/4″ X 1 1/4″ X 1/3″ block that weighs less than an ounce and can clip onto your clothing with a 3.5mm headphone port and a 6-hour battery life that will connect to your phone via Bluetooth and pump the tunes to your ears.

It has an integrated microphone so you can take calls and controls for volume, pause/play and track forward/back.  It charges via USB.  Save the audio port on your phone and get some more freedom with this very handy gadget.  Available at Thinkgeek.com for $39.99.

Now they’re just enabling you: GabbaGoods #TheSelfie Camera Remote Shutter Release

71Ej8raczoL._SL1500_

The selfie craze has swept the nation, it has been determined that some people are even addicted to taking selfies.  With smartphones having front-facing cameras, I guess this phenomenon was pretty much inevitable.  Heck, I was taking selfies with my little Olympus Stylus pocket film camera back in the 1980′s, when I’d actually have to pay for the film and wait for it to be developed.  With millions of selfies flooding the intertubes these days, it seems hard to believe there could be a gadget out there that could make the process easier.  Well, there’s a tchotchke for everything today and selfies now have their very own!  Read More →

The ultimate iPad studio? Focusrite iTrack Professional Dock for iPad

613hbxY+bUL._SL1500_

The iPad is a very powerful system for music creation, but it lacks any way to get music in or out of it.  Numerous companies have tried to create iPad docks for this purpose, docking the iPad to a platform that has the connectivity that music creators demand.  So far most of them have fallen pretty flat.  One new product, introduced at NAMM this year, promises to be the Holy Grail of iPad music production; the Focusrite iTrack Dock.  Read More →

Magnetic Holders Eye Loop eyeglass holders review

boxed

I have worn eyeglasses since I was in second grade.  My first pair was short-lived, I had not gotten used to wearing them yet and I took them off every day at lunch in the cafeteria.  For some reason, I had the habit of putting them in the brown paper bag that my mom packed my lunch in.  One day I forgot I had put them in there and threw them out.  It didn’t even hit me until I was on the bus on the way home.  My parents asked me where my glasses were and I told them I left them at school.  The next day I tried to find them, but the trash had been dumped.  In my desperation to not get into trouble, I made a pair of glasses out of paper and colored it with crayon.  I wore them home.  My parents saw right through my deception and I decided that I had not done a good enough job with the mockups.  The next day I made another pair (though in retrospect, these were even worse than Version 1.0) and was finally busted at home.

I could have avoided this unpleasantness if I had only known about Magnetic Eyeglass Holders “Eye Loop” magnetic eyeglass holders for women and men.  And then invented it myself instead of flawed mockups.

Read More →

Telescope camera adapters: attach your digicam to your telescope!

dksmall

I have been an amateur astronomer for the longest time but astrophotography has always eluded me.  I never had the proper equipment and getting a dedicated CCD camera for the purpose of photographing the sun, moon and planets is prohibitively expensive.  A while back, a company called Scopetronix made custom milled adapters that connected point and shoot digicams to a telescope eyepiece for eyepiece projection photography.  Scopetronix went out of business last year but a new company has picked up where they left off.  Just select the proper filter size and choose an adapter that includes a ring that attaches to the barrel of your smaller 1.25″ eyepiece (typically Plossls are used) and a step-up ring that connects it to your camera lens filter thread.  They also carry a line of adapters for smartphones and  T-adapters for different builds of dSLRs.   Read More →

Drive manual better: the PhotoJojo dSLR Focus Shifter!

 

dslr-focus-shifter-2053_600.0000001393822754

I love my 17-40 f/4 L Canon wide zoom.  Last year it grabbed me some tasty shots of storms and the aurora borealis!  Storms aren’t that hard to shoot… until you hit low light, then the camera struggles to find that autofocus point.  Same goes for the aurora.  So you flip the switch and enter manual mode.  What now?  Well, lenses have a rough guide for manual focus, but the manual focus point changes when you change the focal length of your lens.  Not fun to fiddle with when you have such a small scale and constantly have to peek at the top of the lens from a less-than-ideal position.  Well, the folks at PhotoJojo have given us the Focus Shifter, a new way to do manual focus.  It’s like a manual shift lever in your car with a dry-erase surface where you can make whatever markings you want.  Shooting auroras at 17mm?  In the daytime, set the camera to autofocus, and get the infinity focus you want and then mark it on the device, which clamps onto the manual focus ring of your lens.  Doing macro shots and want to get the same focus point every time, or just want finer control over your manual focus than grabbing and twisting the ring can get you?  Just nudge the Focus Shifter’s handle to where you want the manual focus point to be.  Comes with clips to allow you to come to a hard stop so you can hit that proper focus point, even in the dark!  Also comes with a storage bag.  Available now from PhotoJojo for $49.

A lighter for computer geeks – Pilot Slider USB Rechargeable Lighter

31qGSV6PKIL

So you’re out in the wilderness, Les Stroud style, and you need a fire.  Stat.  You would have bought a lighter but they didn”t allow them on the plane.  Fortunately, you remembered to pack your Pilot Slider USB Rechargeable Lighter!  Available for $19.99 at ThinkGeek, $11.99 at Amazon and reportedly (from reviews) for less than five bucks in the checkout line at Walmart, it is nothing more than a rechargeable battery connected to a heating coil.  Boasts 150 lights at a full charge and is weatherproof. But  leaping from a cliff into a pool below to escape the wildlife in your area will probably kill it.  Sure, you could keep a battery and some steel wool in two separate baggies but this is a sure-fire waA y to get that tinder lit when your chips are down.  Available at ThinkGeek and Amazon.

MindShift Gear Ultralight Camera Cover: Your camera will thank you!

ULTRALIGHT_ON_BODY_BELT_AND_STRAP-A17V9105_grande

I love cameras but a nearly equal obsession of mine is finding better ways to carry them wherever I go.  This has seriously piqued my interest:  the MindShift Gear UltraLight Camera Cover.  Available in two colors (blue or black) and three sizes to accommodate different sized camera setups.  It comes with an integrated belt and stuffs into itself for easy packing.  Unstuff it, click the belt around your waist and you have a ready repository for your camera.  Best used with your camera on a shoulder strap (I use the Blackrapid Rapidstrap Sport), it acts as a weather-resistant, lightly padded holster that will protect your camera from dings and stop it from flapping around on the end of your shoulder strap.  For hikes into the wilderness, this would seem just the ticket!  $29.99 will get you the Size 10, which will fit a smaller dSLR with kit lens, $34.99 gets you the Size 20, which will fit a pro gripped dSLR with a medium lens (their example is a 24-70 f/2.8 lens) and $39.99 will get you the Size 30, which will cradle your pro or gripped dSLR with up to a 70-200 f/2.8 lens with the hood reversed or the 24-70 f/2.8 with the hood in position.  There is a short and informative video on how to use it at their website.  I know what’s coming with me on my hikes this spring and summer!!

All play, no touch: The Moog Theremini

Theremini_Render.png

I’ve played a Moog Etherwave theremin (badly) for several years now.  Hooked up to a Korg KP3 effects processor, you can get some really great effects out of it.  However, plucking notes out of thin air in a continuous scale is maddeningly hard work.  Unlike a guitar or piano, where the notes are clearly delineated, a theremin has no defined notes.  In fact, you play it without touching it at all.  This lack of tactile feedback makes it one of the more difficult instruments to play.  Moog Music Inc. has come up with a solution that will make the theremin a more accessible instrument to the great unwashed masses, the Theremini.  Not only does it have pitch quantization and allow you to set a root note and scale type, it will even display what note you are currently playing on its LCD display.  It includes 32 wavetable-based sound patch presets so that you get more out of it and, for those theremin purists among us, allow you to play the good old-fashioned way.  The pitch antenna (the vertical one sticking on on the right in the photo above) detaches for easier portability.  The Theremini is not available yet but Moog is taking preorders for $319.  There will be one in my studio shortly after they are released!

Gadgeteer: Show us your desk series – Mark

01) Overview Of Studio

Hi, my name is Mark Rosengarten and I have a problem.  It’s a gadget problem.  It’s an addiction and has been as long as I’ve been aware that there was such a thing as a gadget.  In fact, I have been an avid follower of The Gadgeteer since it got started, it has always been the first gadget site I go to each morning when checking on what’s new in the world of gadgetry.  When Julie asked us to write a piece on “What’s On Your Desk”?  I looked at my desk that I have my computer on and realized that it would not make an interesting article.  So, here instead, are my studio desks!  Far more interesting and loaded with gadgetry.  Read More →

Microsoft Surface Power Cover finally…uh…surfaces!

en-INTl_L_Surface_2_Power_Cover_5VX-00001_mnco

Fans of Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet, your wait is over!  Boost that Haswell goodness’ battery life a further 70% with the Surface Power Cover.  This keyboard boasts touch-typable keys that folds back out of the way when you want to use your Surface Pro as a tablet, disabling the keys or can be closed up against the tablet to put it into standby mode.  No word at the product page if this new keyboard will have the same backlighting found on the second-generation Touch and Type keyboards but it does have the same trackpad with virtual buttons.  Has an advertised ship date of March 19th at the time of this posting and it will cost you $200…but will grant you three wishes…more power, more power and, even better, MORE POWER! Preorders are being taken now at the Microsoft Store.

 

 

The quest for a better Segway?

20140202223309-URB-E-Trike2

When the Segway was first announced in 2001, inventor Dean Kamen declared that it would change the way people move around in urban environments.  While its incredibly high price tag made it unapproachable for most people, a new Indiegogo campaign, URB-E seeks to be the next urban transport king.  Available in the 3-wheel Commuter model or the 2-wheel GP model, you get a 27-pound lithium-ion battery powered foldable electric bike that boasts a top speed of 15-mph and a 20-mile range.  Prices start at $799 for a model made overseas to a $1599 model made here in the United States.  As a special perk, there is a dock for inserting your smartphone for recharging using the built-in Li-Ion battery pack.  The whole thing folds up quickly into a compact wheeled-luggage type arrangement to make it easier to fit onto a bus or train.  If you want to get in on the ground floor of the next trend in urban transport, better act quick.  The campaign ends on March 21st and has raised almost all of its goal with two weeks remaining. Visit the URB-E Indiegogo campaign page for info or to pledge.

Fujifilm X-E2 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 18-55mm Lens review

01) Camera Front

I love a good bowl of cereal.  It gives me the opportunity to put my favorite beverage, milk, into it.  I also love my digital photography.  I’ve been shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III full-frame camera for the last year and a half and I have to tell you, it’s a beauty.  Takes shots that are out of this world.  It goes everywhere with me.  And therein lies the problem.  It’s a great camera but in situations where there are people about, it sticks out like a giant tumor on the front of my face.  Not very stealthy, in other words.  People tend to notice you taking a photo with that gear.  This is why I have been searching around for another kind of…well, not milk, but MILC.  Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera.  Up until recently, the only option you had was a Micro Four Thirds camera, which packs a 1.33” sensor into a compact body.  Pretty inconspicuous, sure, but you really give up a lot with that small sensor size.

Read More →

The Tamron SP 150-600mm might be the Great White Whale of lenses

tamron

Sigh.  There’s a bird out on that branch.  Boy, is it pretty.  Too bad all I’ve got here is a 70-200mm lens!  I’m gonna have to crop the heck out of this shot to get anything out of it.  SNAP!  Sigh.

Sigh no longer, fellow photographers!  The preliminary reviews are in and the still-up-for-preorder Tamron 150-600mm telephoto lens is a serious hit.  Rated as being better on a full-frame camera than the Canon 100-400 L series lens for about $600 less…with 200mm more reach!

Features include an ultrasonic focus system with full-time manual override, lens coatings designed to reduce ghosting and lens flare, three low-dispersion elements to cut down on chromatic abberation, a 9-blade diaphragm for silky smooth bokeh and a removable tripod mount.  The lens also has a locking mechanism to holds the barrel in place at 150mm to avoid lens creep while walking.  The image stabilization has been said to be so good that you can get exquisite shots fully zoomed out just holding it in your hand.  It also comes with a lens hood.  Just be aware that it has a 95mm filter thread, so your filters are going to boost the price of ownership of this lens a bit…but at $1069 from B&H Photo you can afford to accessorize your new…prrrrrecious…lens.  You’ll have to wait a while to get it, though, it’s on back order and there’s no estimated delivery date at this time.  There is, however, a limited six-year warranty on this lens so once you get it, you’ll be covered for a long, long time.

Go to B&H Photo for more info.

CamRanger Wireless Transmitter gives you control over Canon and Nikon dSLR Cameras

camranger

I own a Canon 5D Mark III dSLR full-frame camera and I adore it beyond measure but it does not have a built-in intervalometer for taking time-lapse shots.  Enter the CamRanger!  This little battery-powered gadget creates an Ad-Hoc WiFi network that connects your camera to your Android or iOS device through a free app.  Not only does it have an intervalometer feature, it also acts as a remote control (including bulb mode), does focus stacking (great for those macro shots at wide apertures) and even HDR.  This device gives you nearly complete control of your dSLR from a distance of up to 150 feet.  Some users report setting their camera to aim at their bird feeder and then sitting inside snapping photos when birds come near so as not to startle them!

The CamRanger connects to your camera through its USB port and gives you not only access to a live view of what your camera is seeing but you can even browse the memory card in the camera to see what you have already taken!  Since it’s recharged through the USB port, you can carry an external battery pack and recharge it on the go.  Not compatible with all models of Nikon or Canon cameras but a full compatibility chart can be found at the product page at B&H Photo where it retails for $299.99.

Saddleback Leather Medium Satchel Review

As many of you who read The Gadgeteer know, I am a bit of a fanatic about gear bags and have reviewed my fair share of them.  From the Ellington Europa Field Bag (no longer manufactured) to the Duluth Trading Fire Hose Bag, I have tried many bags over the years.  All of them have, to some degree, left me a little cold.  In some cases, it wasn’t quite large enough to hold everything I really need to have with me on a daily basis, or they were a little too large for my needs.  My primary uses for a bag are for bringing my laptop and papers to school with me (a job that the SF Bags Waterfield Medium Cargo Bag has performed nicely for the last two years), taking with me when I go out for a weekend trip (including the Victorinox Horizontal Tote, the Fire Hose Field Bag, the Europa Field Bag, the Olympia tote) and to hold my gear when I take my annual storm chasing trip (the Roadwired Pod, Podzilla, Photo/Video Convertible Bag, CityWalker pack, Lowepro D-Res waistpack, among others).  After Julie’s reviews of Saddleback Leather Company products, I have been trying to justify dropping a huge chunk of change on a Satchel for some time.  I spent a whole day last week doing nothing but trying to find every single photo, video and review of the medium satchel online.  I finally called the nice people at Saddleback, had a very good conversation with the woman who answered the phone, and managed somehow to purchase the Medium Satchel in Dark Coffee Brown while talking.  Funny how that can happen!  Shipping prices got expensive in a hurry, so I went with ground shipping.  As Tom Petty said so eloquently, the waiting is the hardest part!  I figured after a couple of years of agonizing over this purchase, another week wouldn’t kill me. Read More →

Olympia Multi-Purpose Waist Pack Review

As you all know, I have been searching for the ultimate gear bag for years.  I posted a glowing review of the Duluth Traders Fire Hose Field Bag just a few weeks ago, and that was the best bag I had seen.  I bought an Asus eeePC 900HA (one of the last available 9” netbooks) a week ago, and to my dismay, it did not fit in the rear compartment.  Since this was to be the notebook computer I am bringing with me storm chasing this year, I need access to it from my seat in the van to do video and photo storage and light photo editing.  The Duluth bag, as amazing as it is, was not going to able to be the bag of choice for my trip.  It needed to be about half an inch wider to get the starring role there.  So, the search resumed. Read More →

Duluth Trading Company Fire Hose Field Bag Review

duluth-firehosebagAs many of you know from my reviews, I have been on the quest for the perfect gear bag for years now. I have used the Citywalker bag, the Victorinox Horizontal Tote, Ellington Europa Field Bag and even a prototype ballistic nylon bag from Infusion Threads (which I still own and will never sell). I have owned far more than I have ever reviewed, and while most bags had some great things to recommend them, there were always too many compromises to stop my search.

My search, at least for now, has ended. Read More →

Maxpedition Operator Tactical Attache (#0605)

I have been in the market for a new briefcase after my venerable piece of junk brief bit the dust a few months ago. Enter the Maxpedition Tactical Attache! It is designed to conceal a gun in a large pocket, but as I do not own a gun (outside a long unused Tippman paintball gun), I cannot comment on this feature.

Like all Maxpedition bags, this one is built to last through a nuclear war. Also like other Maxpedition bags, there is no soft lining in most of the pockets…but the main compartment is not only lined, but padded as well! Same goes for the rear compartment. This makes a nice departure from the usual pure, stiff, scratchy ballistic nylon I have come to expect from Maxpedition.

Looking at the front of the bag, you have four pockets and a few sleeves, all fastened with (gasp) Velcro. No stealth here…opening one of these pockets makes enough noise to rouse a whole forest of enemy combatants to your presence. I like zippered pockets, because they keep items securely in the pocket, but if the items are large enough to fill the pocket, then it should be secure enough.

There are two small pockets measuring 3 ½” wide by 3″ tall by 1″ deep. These pockets are OK for USB keys or dongles, but be careful lest they fall out from the openings in the sides at the top of each pocket. A Bluetooth GPS unit would also fit well in one of these pockets, or a stack of Post-Its. It’s one thing to protect your gadgets from slashing bayonets, rain and mud, but without significant shock protection, the outer pockets are of limited use.

Below these two pockets is a long pocket 7″ long by 4 ½ “ tall by 1.5″ deep. Inside this pocket, in the back, is an elastic band that is sewn in such a way to create four loops 1 ½” wide. These could be used for keeping batteries, USB dongles, memory cards, or any other small item you want to keep secured. The rest of the pocket is bare and unlined. The flap has a strip of loopy Velcro across the front of it.

To the left of these pockets is a large pocket, this one zippered. 9″ tall, 6″ wide by 1″ deep, it is completely open save for a slash pocket against the front side of it. Perhaps maps, notepads, calculators or other like items can go in here. I used it to store the remote presenter control and hall passes. In front of this pocket is a flat pocket, the flap has an ID window pocket sewn into it. There are so many pockets, you might have to make a map to figure out where you put what! None of these pockets is particularly useful if you want to organize things, due to the lack of internal compartments. This large pocket is difficult to open, as, when closed, the single zipper pull is right up against the side of the pocket next to it, so you have to dig for it a little.

The front panel of the bag that these pockets are sewn to is the front of the concealed weapon pocket. There is Velcro inside this pocket for putting a holster (not included). It opens up pulling a plastic D ring at the top of the pocket. It is held closed by, you guessed it, Velcro! It could be used for keeping a slim notebook, if you want to use this for less tactical purposes. It is 15″ wide by 9″ tall, and is flat in depth, but you could fit something up to an inch thick in this pocket and still have no trouble closing it.

The main compartment is padded, with a stiff and lightly padded divider that is held in place by yet more Velcro. It closes with a nice, big zipper with a nylon cord pull. One side of the divider has two slash pockets, one large enough for holding a CD in a jewel case, the other too small for a CD. The inside of this compartment is lined and padded, and fits my 14″ laptop just fine. It would fit a 15″ laptop without a problem! In order to access this compartment, though, you have to undo the grab handle, which comes apart simply by pulling on Velcro. I really think Maxpedition has a lot invested in Velcro…

The back compartment is accessible via zipper, and it offers the only real organization in this bag. There is a large rear pocket, which can be secured with a plastic clip. The clip gets in the way of letter-sized paper or folders when closing, though. The upper part of the clip tends to mush the center of the paper a little. There are three flat pockets sewn in front of this, each one too small for a CD. They look like they were designed for floppies, but I honestly can’t figure out what I am supposed to put into these pockets. The back panel is thickly padded and lined.

There are water-bottle pockets to either side of the main compartment. One is designed exactly like the one on the Jumbo Versipack, with a grommeted hole in the bottom. Both retract against the side of bag with a cord that is accessible from inside the main compartment.

The shoulder strap is a nice, 2″ wide job that is pretty comfortable. It has a wrap-around shoulder pad that is removable by, yep, more Velcro.

So, how do I like this bag? Well, I have mixed feelings about it. It is full of pockets, which is good, but they could have better organizing capability and less Velcro. It makes a nice bag for my laptop, but I stopped using it after about three weeks. Why? I switched back to my 9″ laptop that fits in my Ellington Europa Field Bag. I have had three Maxpedition bags now, and though they come close to being excellent bags (they certainly are indestructible), their general lack of real organization and heavy reliance on Velcro make them unappealing to me. If you want a bag that will get you through the toughest situations, if you are in law enforcement or are in the middle of a battlefield, I can’t think of a bag better suited than a Maxpedition bag. For a civilian gadgeteer, though, there are better options with more organization and protection for our little gadgets.

OQO Model 02 Ultra Personal Computer

In October of 1993, I bought what was then my ideal computer. It fit in my pocket, had a full QWERTY keyboard with dedicated numeric keypad, had lots of built-in apps, ran all my DOS programs with ease, had a gorgeous monochrome LCD screen and ran for 20 hours on two AA batteries. It was the HP 200LX. For years I used this machine for PIM storage, keeping grades for my students, writing a diary and keeping my important text documents on hand for easy reference. I moved to a new Windows-based grading program a year and a half ago, but I had used my 200LX for all that time. It still sits in my gadget cabinet, one gadget that will never see the light of Ebay.

Since then, I have been on a quest to find the perfect replacement for my 200LX. It would preferably have a color screen, have the same form factor and easy-to-use chiclet keyboard. I found the IBM PC110 (imported from T-Zone in Japan), a 486 handheld that was not terribly stable. It was the first machine I ever had with a CF slot! I returned it after crash after crash. I embraced the Psion 5 and 5mx, but there were always connection issues with my desktop computers. I had several models of the Jornada clamshell series, the 660, 680 and 720, but all were larger than I really wanted, had a low screen resolution and the built-in web browser was worse than useless. I realized that only a fully Windows compatible system would serve. Why not the Zaurus? Because I don’t know Linux and I want a machine that will work out of the box, not one I have to tinker with to get to work. Then came the Flipstart, but after years as vaporware, I gave up on it. The Nokia 770 was nice, but it was slow and quite limited.

Then came the OQO Model 01+.

It was the ideal size, ran XP and seemed loaded enough to do the job. I bought it from Ebay and marveled at the engineering of the tiny device. My joy was short-lived, however. The screen was difficult to see, the battery life was dismal, the keyboard was unusable, the screen was mushy to the touch and not terribly accurate with the digital pen. I sold it on Ebay and the buyer apparently still enjoys its use today.

Then came January 7th, 2007.

This is the day when I opened up Engadget.com and saw that OQO had unveiled a new model at CES. There were video clips of this new wonder, and it took me days to mop the drool off my keyboard. They were available for preorder right away, and I ordered one, despite the promised 8-12 week wait time to receive it. I ordered it, and waited.

I called OQO to ask them when I would be billed for the unit, and they told me right away. I had gone with the Bill Me Later option, so I could pay off the not-inconsiderable bill over the course of a year. I promptly canceled my order on the basis of this information. No point in paying for a few months for a unit I didn’t even have yet! It turned out that this information was in error, and it was February 26th before I found out differently,. I placed a new order for the Best model (1 GB RAM, 60 GB 4200 RPM hard drive, XP Pro, no EVDO module) with the Road Warrior accessory pack (mesh cable bag, AC adapter, car/plane adapter, Stronghold metal case, extended battery, Bluetooth folding keyboard, portable USB mouse, which has still not shipped as of the time of this review), a digital pen, a spare pack of screen protectors and some spare mouse nubs. The unit shipped out after only 8 weeks and took five days to reach me due to a customs problem (the units ship from Singapore) and a weekend. I saw the Fedex truck pulling up to where I work and I ran downstairs to the main office faster than an Olympic sprinter. You should have seen the grin that cracked my face from side to side as I carried the tiny, unassuming box back up to my classroom.

The box is a small one, black, sealed in plastic. Breaking the plastic reveals a lid that opens, disclosing the slick black OQO unit, protected in a swaddling of plastic. Lift up this top compartment, and you see the middle boxlet, which contains the AC adapter, power cable and a dongle that attaches to the docking port on the bottom of the OQO, and provides Ethernet, VGA and power. This dongle is really neat, because it swivels on its cable to adjust to any workable angle you want without putting undue stress on the cable connection to the dongle. It’s a very intelligent design, and just one example of the fine engineering that went into this package.

Underneath the accessory boxlet is the documentation boxlet. This has the sparse quick-start guide with a restore DVD safely ensconced in the rear of the booklet, a Windows XP certificate of authenticity and a spare mouse nubbin in a little ziplock bag.

Now, to what you have all been waiting for, the tiny little marvel of cutting-edge design and engineering known as the OQO Model 02. It is a small, black brick, measuring 5.6″ long (curving outwards for the last third of an inch on both sides), 3.3″ wide and 1″ thick with the standard battery. The extended battery adds ¼” to the thickness. This is exactly the same as the HP 200LX, but half an inch SHORTER! It fits perfectly into the leather case that held my 200LX for 14 years. It weighs one pound, but it feels deceptively heavy for its size.

The screen bezel is made of black plastic (with metal on the back), and there is no more mush factor with the screen itself. The screen is solid. Not being a touch-screen, they really made it durable this time. The 02 comes with a screen protector installed. I had to squeeze one bubble out, and it has not returned. The protector covers the screen all the way out to the edge of the bezel, including the OQO logo on the lower left, the light sensor on the upper right and the capacitive touch scrollers on the lower right. It smudges easily, but it appears to be quite durable.

On the bottom of the unit, there is an HDMI port on the right, so you can connect it directly to an HDTV! Not MY HDTV, though. In their infinite wisdom, Samsung did not incorporate support for HD HDMI into the 24″ model I bought, despite the HDMI port.

There is also a vent for the fan, the power/docking port and a single USB 2.0 port. It will drive a USB hub, so no worries there.

The right side is bare, except for a vent. Since I did not opt for the EVDO WWAN module (I have a Treo 700p with EVDO and PDANet), a solid piece of black plastic covers where the module and pull-out antenna would have been. It would have been nice for them to engineer a slot for storing the optional pen where the antenna would have gone, but they didn’t. If you get the unit with XP Tablet installed, you get a digital pen for free. But there is nowhere on the unit to stow it. This is one of only a few design flaws I found with this unit. There is also a metal wire that appears to be a guide for the sliding screen on the top side of the unit, there is an identical one on the other side. It would be interesting to find out if these wires double as the WiFi and Bluetooth antennas. In the Model 01+, the antennas stuck out to either side of the unit. If these are doubling as antennas, they are totally out of the way when holding the unit in two hands. In the WWAN units, there is an antenna that comes out of this side and then can be swiveled into an upright position for increased reception in poor coverage areas.

The top of the unit has one vent. This is one well-ventilated unit, and it runs a LOT cooler than the 01+ did. It still gets warm, and the fan can get pretty loud, but at least you can’t fry eggs on this one.

The left side is vent-free. It has the battery release button, a Kensington lock slot and the power button. Like the 01+, the power button glows white, and pulses white when the unit is in standby mode. I appreciate the Kensington lock slot, but I never let this leave my sight or side. I work in a high school, and this thing would disappear faster than a feather in a tornado if I turned my back on it for a second.

Now, about all those vents… There is a fan inside this unit that keeps the innards cool. You can adjust the fan to be louder (higher CPU performance) or quieter (slower CPU performance). I keep it in the middle, and after I installed all of my apps, I hardly ever hear the fan. It can get quite loud, but unless you are in a dead quiet room, you would likely not notice the noise. It sounds like a small hair dryer when it really gets going. It does do the job, though. While the unit can get warm with use, it is not the scorching brick of death that the 01+ was. The AC adapter also stays relatively cool. The 01+ adapter had a tendency to get hot, so this is a nice improvement.

The battery attaches to the bottom of the unit. It is the entire bottom of the unit, and is released by the battery release button on the left side of the 02. There is a built-in battery gauge, a series of four rectangular white LEDs, While not as elegant as the tiny LED’s on the 01+’s battery, it gets the job done. When recharging, the lights go on, cycling up through the number of LED’s corresponding to the current charge. When the battery is full, it shows four LED’s, and then it shuts off. When in use, pushing the long rectangular button that houses the LED’s lights them up so you can see how much power is left. I love this feature on my Sony Handycam’s battery, and I don’t love it any less on the OQO. The standard battery is good for about 2.5 hours of real-world use, some browsing with Wifi on, keyboard backlight on, work in productivity apps. I recommend letting the battery charge overnight the first day you get it for optimum results. The extended battery should get you about five hours of continuous use, on average, and adds only 1/4″ to the thickness of the Model 02. As my extended battery has not yet arrived, I cannot give you real-world results on this.

OK, now for the real fun. Slide open that screen. Push upwards with your thumbs on either side on the bottom. Feel the initial resistance and then it slides upwards smoothly and clicks into position. With the 01+, the screen would sometimes threaten to slide closed. No problem with that here. When it’s up, it stays up. There is no wiggle in the screen when the unit is shaken.

Oooh, look! A keyboard! And not a silly membrane job, but a real keyboard with real individual keys! They press easily, as they have slightly rounded tops, and they have tactile feedback!!! Just like the keyboard on my HP200LX, even a similar feel. The keys are a little wider top to bottom, and are closer together than on the 200LX, but look, there’s the dedicated numeric keypad! The layout is opposite of what you would find on a calculator or a desktop keyboard’s keypad, which is, in my opinion, design flaw number two. The number keys double as function keys F1-F12 with the help of the Fn button. There are -/_ and =/+ keys flanking the 0 key.

The mouse nubbin lies between the QWERTY pad and the numeric pad. Above it is the Backspace/Delete key and below it is the ENTER/Insert key. This keyboard will take a little getting used to, but it doesn’t take long! The mouse is very responsive and its action is tight. The cursor can tend to wander after you let the nubbin go, but no more than any other notebook with this style of mouse control. Just let the cursor slide until it’s done and happy, and then it’s no problem! The mouse buttons are on the left side and are large and the whole mouse control feels natural and easy.

There are no Windows or Menu keys on this keyboard, but there are several specialty keys that help to make up for it. Fn+DESK takes the place of Windows + D in bringing up the desktop. While in DESK mode, there is a green rectangle in the upper right corner of the screen. Clicking on this will restore your open windows.

Fn+KEY brings up the Ctrl-Alt-Del Task Manager! Fn+((i)) brings up the OQO Wireless Control Panel. From here, you can power on or off your WiFi (a.b and g), Bluetooth or WWAN (if installed). You can also hit the little airplane icon to put the unit into flight mode!

I am used to using Windows+E to bring up Windows Explorer, and you cannot do that on this model. I simply made a shortcut from C:/Windows/explorer.exe and pasted it into RocketDock. More about that nifty app later.

The Shift, Ctrl, Fn and Alt keys are all sticky. Press them once and a little green light lights up on the key’s lower right corner. You can then press the next button without having to hold down the previous button. There is no Caps Lock, so what you do is press SHIFT twice in rapid succession, and that locks the Caps.

Speaking of the keyboard, turn down the lights, and the keyboard backlighting comes on! The light sensor in the upper right corner detects when the light falls below a certain level (adjustable from the control panel) and turns the blue backlight on. The keys are labeled with letters that are nice and wide, so reading the backlit keys is VERY easy. Beats the heck out of my Treo 700p’s backlit keyboard. The Treo’s might be brighter, but the OQO’s delineates each character clearly, even the Fn-activated characters and functions! You can also turn the backlight on and off manually using Fn+KBD. This is one area where OQO really came through over the 01+. They took the keyboard from useless to perfect in one model iteration.

Now, push that power button on the lower left side and watch the machine boot up. The first thing you see is “OQO” on the screen and it doesn’t look real. It is so crisp and clear that you might think you are looking at a silkscreened logo instead of a tiny LCD screen. The 02 boots up quite fast. Much faster than my Fujitsu P1510D! Before long, you are greeted by your typical XP screen. But MUCH smaller! I customized my screen to use a theme I put together a few years ago, based on the Classic Windows theme. No matter what you decide to make your theme, it will look great on this bright, clear and crisp display. Bright? BLINDING. The 01+ was dull, dim and dismal. The 02′s screen is brighter than my P1510D’s screen, which is pretty bright! It has the best screen I have ever seen on a laptop. At first, one of the pixels was stuck (visible in gray areas as I installed software), but the pixel unstuck and now the screen is perfect all the way across. There is a brightness control on the keyboard using an Fn key combination. Even turned down to half brightness, it is still more brilliant than the 01+ screen. It is a transflective screen, so it is visible in bright areas, but washes out in direct sunlight. I blame this mostly on the glossy screen protector they use. Perhaps someone can make a matte screen protector for the 02?

Compared to the Fujitsu P1510D at full brightness for both machines:

Compared to the Palm Treo 700p, both at full brightness:

Compared to the Dell Axim x51v, both at full brightness:

Compared to my Dell desktop 19″ LCD monitor:

OK, now it’s time to load up on apps. I used an external DVD drive, which the OQO recognized instantly. I installed all of the apps I wanted to use, and then came the moment of truth. How long would it take to start a program? Actually, programs start right up. The 1.5 GHz VIA processor may be rated as being slower than the 1.2 GHz Pentium D on my P1510D, but the OQO is actually more responsive in opening programs. Powerpoint opened immediately. Word opened quickly. The slowest apps to open were Paint Shop Pro and Firefox, and even they opened up faster than they did on my P1510D.

I keep a repository of hundreds of multimedia files that I put together for my chemistry classes, and organized them into an HTML file for easy browsing. I installed RealPlayer Alternative and Quicktime Alternative, both of which open their respective files in Media Player Classic. Since this program has a lot less memory overhead than the players it was designed to replace, video clips open very quickly and play stutter-free. In Powerpoint, embedded video plays smoothly. I used my 02 to give a presentation to an educational conference, and it played the video and music files stutter-free.

How about internet? I am running Firefox with the Littlefox theme. This makes the menus and toolbars smaller, increasing your browsing real estate. The scroll bars work well to go up and down your web page, although there is the occasional lag. This does not significantly impact your browsing experience. To further enhance the speed of this unit, I installed RealPlayer Alternative and Quicktime Alternative, which use Media Player Classic to play video clips and avoid the overhead of Quicktime and Real Player. Video clips open almost instantly and play very smoothly. I have over a hundred clips I culled from online sources to show my chemistry students, and the OQO 02 handles them all with no trouble at all! I connect using my 802.11.g router at home, and the speed is just as fast as with my Fujitsu P1510D on the same router. On the road, I connect to the web using PDANet with my Treo 700p on a USB cable connection. It is very fast!

The battery attaches to the bottom of the unit. It is the entire bottom of the unit, and is released by the battery release button on the left side of the 02. I cannot speak to the double-capacity battery, as OQO is not shipping the accessory packs yet, as of the writing of this review (despite an email that it had already shipped).

Other applications that make using the OQO 02 a joy:

1) RocketDock: places a app launcher bar anywhere on the screen, it is highly customizable and designed to emulate the Mac OS X launcher bar. I do not use the Start button at all!

2) Google Earth: Actually works on the 02! Best results when zoomed out to 1000X600 resolution. Very responsive using OpenGL rendering. ActiveX rendering gives flickering images. Not pretty! That’s my house!

3) Candy: The 02 comes with an icon labeled “Candy”. Double-click it and you are brought to a partner’s page with special offers for 15% off the price of any Slingbox or accessory, special accessories for those who ordered with Vista, 50% off the price of any Popcap game (I have Chuzzle installed), free Ereader Pro for Windows, and some other special offers! A nice bonus from OQO!

4) Nvu: an open-source WYSIWYG HTML editor that I use to maintain my website. Very simple and not a lot of overhead to bog the system down.

5) Starry Night: What a great portable night-time reference guide for amateur astronomers! The OQO 02 would make an excellent accessory for anyone who does digital photography with their telescope, or wants to do computer control of a telescope with that capability.

6) Media Player Classic: A nice, small open-source audio and video player. It works great in XP! I recommend downloading the XP Codec Pack to make sure you are covered. It plays my AVI video clips with aplomb!

7) Thunderbird: a great complement to Firefox, I use this instead of Outlook for my email.

8) GSAK: Geocaching Swiss Army Knife. It allows me to collect geocache waypoints from geocaching.com and upload them to my handheld GPS! Perfect for geocaching while on vacation!

Don’t like the cramped screen real estate? Change it! You can use the (+) and (-) magnification buttons to change the resolution from 800X480 to 1000X600 or 1200 X 800. These higher resolutions are interpolated. The characters have some artifacting at these higher resolutions, but at 1000X600, text is still very readable.

Zoomed in, you can use the mouse and the screen will move to where you want it to, so you have use of the whole screen. I never use it in this mode, but someone who is having trouble seeing tiny characters might find this useful.

At normal 800X400 resolution:

At 1000X600 interpolated resolution:

At 1200X 800 interpolated resolution:

I was going to review the unit with accessories, such as the double capacity battery, Bluetooth keyboard and car adapter, but OQO has dropped the ball pretty badly with their communicating delays to customers. They have also had some quality control issues with their manufacturers. There has been a lot of talk about defective docking stations, batteries that don’t fit properly, scuffed and scratched units right out of the box. My own unit had a couple of tiny scuffs on one side when I first got it. I believe that OQO should not have released this machine for order until they were sure they could actually deliver a product in a timely fashion. They have been good about taking care of problems, but they have not been terribly forthcoming about expected ship dates for units running Vista or for the accessory kit packages. This has been the one down side of this unit. I hope that it will not remain so for long, or OQO will lose their customer base on an already niche product despite their innovative and exceptional handtops.

So what am I using this OQO Model 02 for? Well, while it is possible to do document creation with this unit, especially if you have a Bluetooth keyboard, it is primarily an information storage and retrieval device. I can keep my lessons on hand at all times, the multimedia files I show my students, copies of every Regents exam in PDF format, MSDS data for hundreds of chemicals, web browsing, email, basic photo editing and storage while on the road, basic video editing and storage while on the road, storing audiobooks, maps, backing up my Treo phone, uploading waypoints to my GPS, reading a book, playing a simple puzzle game, as an astronomy reference, a geocaching tool…and the list goes on. The vast majority of my time on the computer is not spent in document creation. The OQO is perfect for making changes to existing documents and as a repository for your entire information library, on the go, at all times. The fact that it goes into and comes out of standby almost instantly and uses almost no battery power while in standby mode makes it every bit as useful as a PDA for on-the-spur-of-the-moment use. I would recommend getting the extended battery to stretch your use of this highly portable device.

The OQO Model 02 can be many different things to many different people. To me, it fits the purpose I bought it for perfectly. I rate this tiny marvel a 9.8 out of 10. How you like it will depend on your preconceptions of what it is. It is not a desktop replacement. It is not really a laptop replacement, though I will be using it in place of my P1510D for my school work. It is a solid, zippy, pocketable way to take your computer with you anywhere you might want to go.

Size comparison: OQO 02 (5″ screen), Fujitsu P1510D (8.9″ screen) and Toshiba M115 (14.1″ screen)

Price: $1499 (XP Home, 512 MB RAM, 30 GB HD, 1.2 GHz VIA processor)
$1699 (XP Pro, 512 MB RAM, 60 GB HD, 1.5 GHz VIA processor)
$1849 (XP Pro or Vista Business, 1 GB RAM, 60 GB HD, 1.5 GHz VIA processor), as reviewed.

Maxpedition Proteus Versipack

I have eyed this bag with great interest for the last year or so, and I got one to review from Maxpedition. It is a durable bag with ENORMOUS zippers and not a stitch of Velcro in the whole bag. It can be carried in two ways… by the carry handle on the top or with a waist belt that tucks into a pocket in the back of the bag. The waist belt is difficult to adjust (or maybe because the material is still very stiff from newness), but it’s two inches wide and reasonably comfortable. There is no padding anywhere to be found, and the material is a very stiff, thick-weave ballistic nylon which appears indestructible. I would not put electronics into this bag without putting it into a padded case first. This bag seems best suited for gear to be used in the field… first aid kit, flashlights, multi-tool, or it could make a good pack for someone looking for a toolkit belt-pack. I would not use it for my travel gadget bag due to the lack of padding, but as a geocaching or hiking bag, it would serve quite nicely, as long as you are not carrying too much with you.

The first compartment is the large main compartment, accessible through the top by a single zipper with a nylon pull. The main compartment has a flat mesh pocket behind, made of a wide-gauge durable mesh. This pocket is great for storing papers, though they have to be folded. The main compartment measures 8″ long, 6.5″ high and 2.5″ deep. This would be a good compartment for a first aid kit and travel documents.

The front compartment is a wide-mouthed, mostly flat pocket, accessible with a single zipper. Upon opening this pocket, you will see a flat pocket along the back, with two flat pockets stitched onto it in front. The front side of the compartment is bare. This compartment measures 7″ long by 4.5″ high and 1″ deep. If it were .5 inch taller, it would be practical for digital cameras, but it is not quite tall enough to make it practical.

The front of the front compartment has thick nylon bands that are used as attachment points for Maxpedition’s accessory clips, and there are two snap clips that go up through the bottom band that are used to attach the top handle. You must undo these clips to gain access to the front pocket. The clips can be loosened or tightened, depending on how much you decide to bulk up the front compartment.

To either side of the bag are two more pockets. They measure 5″ tall by 2.5″ wide by 1.25″ deep. These would be good for small walkie-talkies, tool kits, short flashlights, small GPS units, radios…but not tall enough for my Garmin 60Cs and not side enough for my Treo 700p. They each close with a single zipper and the outside of each pocket has more nylon bands for Maxpedition accessory clips.

So, did this bag meet my lofty expectations? Well, if my goal is a super durable bag that can store my survival supplies while trekking through the most forbidding landscape, then it certainly does work on that level. As a travel bag for my gadgets? I cannot recommend it for that use. My Victorinox Travel Bag has the same dimensions, and makes much more effective use of the available space. I don’t think it could take the punishment that the Proteus takes, but unless you are on an adventure with ruggedized gadgets, I’d stick with a bag like the Victorinox bag or the CityWalker gear bag.

Oh, and that’s my cat Murphy in the background. He likes to insert himself into photos.

Victorinox Travel Companion 2-Way Carry Horizontal Tote

Ah… bags. Yes, it’s an addiction. Got a million of them in the attic, many gathering dust. I buy them, use them, find something better and then move on. My requirements for a gadget bag are simple: lots of pockets and/or compartments, have rough dimensions of 10-12 inches long, 7-8 inches tall and 4-6 inches deep. The CityWalker and Europa Field bags are both excellent examples of the kind of bag I love. I use the Europa to tote my Fujitsu P1510D laptop to work every day, but for my travels this year I decided on a new bag. A beautiful, black and compartmentalized bag from Victorinox called the Travel Companion Horizontal Tote.

Measuring 10″ x 7″ x 4″ and made of 210 x 640D Nylon w/PU Backing (specs from eBags, where I got this beaut), it has the perfect dimensions for everyday gadget detail. There is a nylon strap that is permanently attached to the bag, via a rotary racheting system that can adjust for shoulder carry or for use as a waistpack. The six inches of the strap closest to the pack are padded very nicely for maximum comfort. I keep it in the shoulder-bag position, where it is extremely comfortable. The back of this padding is pretty attractive to cat hair, so beware of that! The strap itself can be detached from itself via a snap-click mechanism typical of lumbar-pack belts, the connection point being right at the start of the padded section on the left side of the strap. This strap is adjustable for use as a waist pack, but I have found it a little difficult to adjust the length of the strap to fit my waist and then try to readjust it for use as a shoulder pack. The strap does not have a shoulder pad to it, but I have not found that to be all that detrimental to the comfort of carrying the bag.

There are three main compartments in this bag. I will start with the front zippered pocket. The zipper crosses the front of the bag two-thirds of the way up the height of the bag, and opens a fairly large flat pocket. It does pouch out a little, so you can fit quite a bit in this pocket. I keep my two-day pill case, Dramamine, a retractable USB cable, retractable headphones and retractable Treo 650 USB cable in here, as well as a USB SD card adapter and my iPod (either the Nano or the Shuffle, depending on my needs).

The middle pocket is amazing. It is loaded with pockets of varying sizes to accommodate your gear. The front side of this compartment has a 6″ long by 3″ deep pocket that is lined with soft, loopy nylon and is meant for sunglasses. It is open at the top with a fabric tab that closes over it with a Velcro fastener. It is the only place on this bag where Velcro can be found. I keep my Sanyo C6 digital camcorder in this pocket for easy access. Next to this pocket is a 5″ deep, 2″ wide loose pouch that I keep my Kestrel 4000 weather meter in. Perfect fit!

The rear side of this compartment has an organizer panel on the front and a slash pocket behind. The slash pocket goes the entire width of the bag and is perfect for keeping papers secure. I keep my passport in here, but it would be great for keeping tickets, maps and coupons secure. In front of the slash pocket a 3″ tall, 3 1/2″ wide loose pocket where I keep my Canon SD700IS digital camera. This pocket is loose enough to fit a camera a little larger than that. Next comes a panel of three stacked pockets, perfect in size for storing two SD cards, in protective cases, in each, side by side. I keep three SD cards in here, with spare batteries for the C6 camcorder and my Dell Axim x51V. Next to that are two pen silos, with a very nice keychain dangling between. The keychain is metal, with a metal spring clasp that is attached to the bag with a swivel mechanism. Just another nice touch in an extraordinary bag! Oh… and this compartment is gusseted, so you can open it wide to get your gear without worrying that your things will spill out!

The last compartment is an open compartment the length and width of the bag, and an inch deep. The front of it is home to a large zippered mesh pocket, perfect for keeping papers secure. The main pocket holds my Treo 650 in a flip case, Garmin 60CS GPSr and Dell Axim x51v in a metal case. The Axim will be replaced in another month or two by an OQO Model 02 with an extended battery and metal Stronghold case. I have already made a mockup to check that it will fit, and it will be a perfect complement to this bag! This compartment is also gusseted… what a deal!

This is an outstanding bag that I see myself using for a long time to come. It is a little larger than the Citywalker bag I raved about two years ago, but not uncomfortably so. It is also a lot less restrictive in the way you can organize your gear. The zipper pulls are attached directly to the bag, instead of being on cords attached to the zippers, so they will be very durable. This will be my gear bag of choice until something else comes along. Boy, am I finicky!

Ellington Leather Europa Field Bag

Women seem to be able to wear men’s clothing without catching any flak about it, but men…just try on that blouse and see what happens. Ouch. This is true as well of bags…women can walk around with a briefcase, and kiss other women, and nothing could be seen as further from normal. Let a man walk around with a women’s purse, though…and we won’t even continue the parallel metaphor, and you could wind up being beaten up and left to die on the pavement.

Men have lots of stuff, especially nowadays. Though cargo pants have come a way in helping men organize their stuff, it just doesn’t look quite right to have bulging pockets everywhere from the waist down. “Are those gadgets in your pockets, or are you just…loaded with tumors on your leg?” For some reason, men in the United States have been reluctant to follow the lead of men in Europe, and just carry a bag, for crying out loud. Nothing with bangles, frills or fancy designs, just a nice, solid bag for carrying your stuff.


My gear

In the country where the term “girly-man” was invented (likely by men who were a little insecure, wouldn’t you think?), some men have braved the social kibosh on carrying a bag. Messenger bags are more popular than ever, though men who will carry them in public are still rare. Walking through the mall a few days ago, I kept my eye out for men who were wearing a bag of some sort, and though there were a few, most went bagless. Men handed their girlfriends/wives their stuff to carry, and the woman had to bear the burden of lugging her honey’s goods around so he could feel more secure in his masculinity. Ah, the delicate ego of the American Male.

But that does not need to be true! Men, you can carry your stuff around with you, and in style, with the Ellington Leather Goods’ classic Europa Field Bag. Call it a gadget bag, man bag, European carry-all, satchel, male purse or murse…this bag is small (10 X 8.5 X 4.5 inches), understated and is perfect for carrying whatever James Bond stuff you want to bring with you. Chewbacca knew the value of carrying a bag, so men, give your fragile egos a rest and just do it!

I had hemmed and hawed over the purchase of this bag for the last year. It looked like just the ticket, but I bought other, less expensive models instead. None of them really did the trick. I could have saved my money and just bought this outright. It’s not cheap, at nearly $160 (though you can sometimes find it on sale at Ebags.com for less than $130), but it is durable, easy to access all pockets, and brother, it has pockets galore!

The Europa Field Bag is made from “vintage, full-grain, rugged pebbled cowhide”, which comes in brown or black. It measures 10.5” from top to bottom, 8” across and 4.25” front to back. It weights a pound and a half, and sits very nicely on the shoulder. The adjustable shoulder strap is made from a thick fabric weave, and it is permanently attached to the body of the bag. It has a nice, lightly padded adjustable leather shoulder pad, the top of which is the same material as the bag itself. There is also a robust loop of leather at the top back of the bag, for carrying the bag without the strap. Carrying the bag by holding the loop causes the bag to tilt forwards at the top and backwards at the bottom. I don’t use it very frequently, because OH, that shoulder strap is comfortable!

And now it’s time to investigate the plethora of pockets and compartments this wonderful bag has to offer. You will be glad to know that there isn’t a scrap of Velcro ANYWHERE on this bag. The compartments that do not close with a zipper use a magnetic closure to secure…and the magnets are quite up to the task.

First, let’s look at the front of the bag. The very front has a lift-up front flap that does not cover the main compartment of the bag. There are two pockets in this flap. The one in front is a slip-pocket, secured by a pretty strong magnet at the top. It’s here I keep my iPod nano and earbuds, though more could fit in there. Underneath is a small, flat zip-pocket, good for carrying ID or a passport. The zipper is oriented vertically, rather than horizontally. The underside is made of a double layer of very tough fabric. The front flap secures to the main body of the bag with a magnet. The effectiveness of this magnet is dependent on how much stuff you have packed into the front pockets.

Lifting the flap reveals a square, padded compartment, with a flat pocket on top. This pocket is more spacious than one might realize. I keep spare batteries, memory cards and a vial with spare medication in there, with plenty of room to fit more.

The padded electronics compartment has a metal grommet on the back of it for threading a set of headphones through. This compartment has two small pockets on the back (I keep my Treo in one and my digital camera in the other) and one long pocket on the front (I keep my Kestrel weather meter, pocket monocular and pocket voice recorder in this).

Behind the electronics compartment is an open pocket with two pen loops. I keep a pen, a mechanical pencil and a pad of paper in here.

The main compartment is wide open, with a small zip pocket on the back side of the compartment that is perfect for keeping change. There is also a very high-quality metal key clip on the back of the compartment as well. I keep a journal in the main compartment, and I keep my Garmin GPSr and maps in here when I go geocaching. It’s a good catchall pocket. I keep a tie in here if I suspect one might be needed sometime during the day, and any random papers I collect over the day get folded up and put in here. When I need to bring my Fujitsu P1510D laptop anywhere, I put a thick mouse pad in the back of the compartment (to prevent the key clip from scratching my precious laptop) and put the laptop in front of it. It is pretty much a perfect fit!

In back of the main compartment in an open slash pocket. This pocket is good for putting letters to be mailed and things of that size.

Overall, the Ellington Europa Field Bag is a nice choice for anyone with a few gadgets to haul around. It costs about the same as a piece of clothing from Scott E Vest, and it goes with anything. The bag is durable, compact, balances nicely on the shoulder, and it looks sufficiently butch that most insecure men won’t question your manliness or beat you up for toting it around. Oh, yeah…and, like men’s clothing, women can use it too.

Lowepro D-Res 240AW Gear Bag

Yeah, yeah, another gear bag review. Well, every gadgeteer must also be a bagateer as well! How else do we carry those wondrous bits of technology around with us on a daily basis?

I have gone through an amazing number of bags in the search for the perfect bag to take my gadgets storm-chasing with me. My requirements are that it must not be too large, it must have adequate padding and it must be adaptable to both waist-pack and shoulder-pack use. Standing outside the van watching a mesocyclone spin up is an outstanding experience, and being able to do that with my gear right in front of me, at the ready, is an absolute must.

The essential pieces of equipment I bring storm-chasing include my Sony DCR-TRV22 digital camcorder with 8-hour battery pack installed, my Canon S400 digital camera, Kestrel 4000 weather meter, Treo 650 omniphone, Pentax 7X20 pocket monocular, spare battery for each camera, spare DV tapes and a pen for labeling purposes. I also like to carry a pocket cassette recorder for making notes and this year I will be bringing along a Gameboy SP for those long rides back to the hotel after a late-day chase. I have tried a combination of my Pod and CityWalker pack, but two packs is not as efficient as one. I tried the Maxpedition Jumbo and it was a total flop. I tried the RoadWired Photo-Video Convertible Bag, but it was way too bulky for use as a convenient waist-carried pack. I even tried a shoulder bag from Infusion Threads, but it won’t fit the camcorder. I do use the IT bag as my daily bag for work, it’s amazing. By the way, in the picture below, I am including a scale sized mockup of the OQO Model 01+, just in case I end up buying one to take on this trip.

Then I came upon the Lowepro D-Res 240AW.

It was touted as being a bag that could fit all of your camera stuff in the front padded section and a mini-notebook (like my Fujitsu P-1120) in the rear padded section. While my Fujitsu fits great in the back section, I need the extra space for a little more gear. I keep the Fujitsu in a separate bag with all the cords and adapters, and both bags fit into a “personal item” sized Eddie Bauer bag that will give me more room in my carryon bag for clothing. I do not check luggage!!!!! This Lowepro bag has been tested, accepted, rejected, accepted again, rejected again and then finally, decisively accepted as THE gadget bag for this summer’s storm-chasing expedition. Anyone want a Maxpedition Jumbo?

This bag has a main front compartment with a semicircular zipper covering it. This flap does not contain any pockets or pouches, but it is padded. Flip it up to reveal several sections. The three velcroed padded dividers can be rearranged into any number of configurations. On the left side (looking at the bag from the front) has a little loop pouch for two pens. Next to that I keep my Sony camcorder. Next to that goes the Treo. Next to that goes the Canon camera (not pictured, for obvious reasons). Finally, on the right side, is my Kestrel 4000. There are also three pockets in front of the padded compartments. The leftmost one contains the spare battery for my camcorder (in case eight hours is not enough). The center one contains (for now) four Gameboy Advance cartridges. The rightmost one holds my Pentax monocular. There is further room in front of those pockets to shove AA or AAA sized batteries!!!!

The rear compartment of the bag has a flat pocket along the front of the compartment, and I store my spare DV tapes here, as well as the spare battery for the camera. Behind this is my Gameboy DS and my two sets of earbuds. I find I still have room to fit stuff in this compartment, which is why I am considering the purchase of an OQO Model 01+. It would fit perfectly in the rear compartment, as demonstrated by the cardboard mockup I made to test this out. Like I said earlier, my Fujitsu P-1120 fits perfectly in here, so this might be an ideal bag if you have this tiny laptop, or one of similar size. My P-1120 would not allow room for the other accessories, so into a separate bag it goes!

The shoulder strap that came with the bag I immediately discarded with the rest of my ineffectual straps, and replaced it with my Roadwired strap. It is, bar none, absolutely the best strap I have ever used. It attaches to two metal loops on the top of the bag, between the front and rear compartments.

The waist-pack is adequately thick and comfortable, with one “Sliplock” loop on either side to attach other small pouches to that have a snap or Velcro belt-loop. I intend to hold my pocket tripod through one of these loops. I might get another pouch to attach to the other loop, but I am not sure yet. The buckle is connected through a typical pinch-clamp, nothing particularly special about it. I think more companies should adopt the locking pinch-clamp design featured on the Maxpedition Jumbo front flap buckle, but it serves. The top seems to flop forwards a little when I strap it on, but that could just be my gut. The belt strap tucks into a rear open compartment when you want to use it as a shoulder bag only.

If all that wasn’t enough, it even comes with an integrated raincoat! Stashed in the bottom of the bag, between the front and rear compartments, this “All Weather Cover” can be pulled out and snugly fit over the bag! When it gets nice and dry, it stashes back between the compartments.

According to the Lowepro site, the case is made of water-resistant 420D nylon/TXP™ crossweave and 1200D ballistic TXP™. It feels nice and durable, and should hold up in the long run. I would have liked two small side pockets as well, but the fact that you can attach extra pouches via the SlipLock system should help make up for that. The Lowepro D-Res 240AW measures 10” long by 7” high by 5.5” deep when stuffed with gear. I have given it many, many dry runs, and I have determined that THIS is the bag that I want strapped to my waist as I ride along through the High Plains in search of supercell thunderstorms. This is the bag I want in front of me as I grab my weather meter to measure the wind speed of rear-flank-downdrafts or cold outflows, take incredible stills of beautiful shelf clouds and videos of twisting and turning mesocyclones and lightning. This is the bag that I will dip into to look up the latest radar on the Treo. May any tornado that forms (haven’t seen one yet) be out in the open country, damage no one’s property, threaten no one’s life and be gorgeous to behold! The Lowepro D-Res 240AW will be there with me all the way!

For more information about storm-chasing, check out a Silver Lining Tours. They are the group I have been chasing with since 2003. I am not in any way affiliated with Lowepro or SLT, Inc, I just like what they have to offer!