Searching for Portable Nirvana

I love traveling light. The less I bring the happier I am generally. Easier on planes, lighter to carry, less to fuss with. Packing the technology used to be the hardest oart for me.

  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • iPad
  • lots of cables and accessories.

I would always prepare for evey possible computing solution. Over the years I have been able to pair my "stuff" down. If I am not traveling for work I can leave my laptop behind and rely on the iPhone and iPad.

On a trip to Maine I decided to go with just the iPhone 6 plus. What could I do? What would I not be able to do? The size is great and it is much easier for me to respond to emails and tweets. But would I enjoy working with it if I wanted to write something long form. I normally bring my Logitech Tablet Keyboard. It is full size and still very portable. This time I decided to try an iWerkz Universal Foladable Keyboard.

The keyboard comes with a protective case that doubles as a stand. The keyboard is hinged in the middle to open to a near full size keyboard. Opening it up for the first time I was reminded of another bluetooth keyboard made by Stow-away that I used to use with my Handspring Visor

  Compared to iPhone 6+

Compared to iPhone 6+

 Thickness of keyboard in case next to iPhone 6+

Thickness of keyboard in case next to iPhone 6+

The setup is nice. Using the keyboard case as a stand allows you to use the phone in portrait or landscape orientation. In landscape mode it did cut offf the bottom a tiny bit but not enough to disrupt working. For a travel stand it was perfectly adequate.

My first impression of the keyboard were mixed. The size was nice, light enough but the keys were very squishy with little travel movement of the keys. I figured this is something I could get used to because it was not a primary input device, just for travel packing. Using it that weekend proved otherwise. The spaceing of the keys was a little off. Not being a touch typist I also found the split spacebar to be harder to get used to then I had imagined. But there were two major issues I ran into.

The first was the keyboard functions. This is a universal keyboard. It works with Windows, Android and iOS. Figuring out the correct key combinations to use the functions was a nightmare. You can see looking at the number keys there are 3-4 functions on each. Below on the Q,W,E keys you can see the primary options for each operating system. One thing I found was that it was very easy to "knock" you out of the Operating system and end up in another one. I found this frustrating.

The second issue was within 20 minutes of typing on the keyboard I had broken two of the keys. One popped off the base altogether and the other would depress and then not pop back up. The spring was essentially stuck. I was able to pry it back up with a butter knife but the next time it was depressed the same thing happened again. Not what you woudl expect in a keyboard.

The long and short of it was this was not an adequate solution at all and was returned to Amazon. The reviews of the product seemed to indicate that you either got a good one or a bad one.

For now I will contunue to use my Origami case with the Apple blurtooth keyboard or the Logitech tablet keyboard which are both full size but a much better typing experience.

Bose SoundLink© Wireless Mobile Speaker

Since it came out I have used the AirPort Express attached to a Bose Wave to allow me to stream music from my computer to another room. In my previous living arrangements the Wave was always centrally located so I could listen to it from almost any room.

When I moved in November all that changed. My house is a single floor and quite long so there is no good central location that allows me to listen to music from several rooms.

I have been looking for a bluetooth device that provided me good sound and was portable. There are several out there that I came across during my research. The first was the Jambox by Jawbone. I have read some great reviews on the product but I was not enamored by the Lego like design and overall I thought it was too small a device. Kickstarter also had a very successful campaign for product called the Hidden Radio & BlueTooth Speaker raising 7x the goal. I almost funded this product. I liked the design but I was not sure of the quality and wanted to wait for the production reviews.

In the mean time I came across a new product from Bose that seemed to fit the bill called the SoundLink© Wireless Mobile Speaker. Right away I liked the looks so I went into my local audio-video store and used my phone to demo it and it was impressive. The unit is not inexpensive. It retails for $299 which is $100 more than the Jambox. After weighing the options I ended up purchasing the unit. [1]

Getting the unit home I immediately plugged it in to charge the unit up. The specifications called for up to eight hours of battery life on a full charge. There is not much in the box other than the charger and an additioanl 3.5mm cable.

The unit comes with an integrated cover. Additional covers are available as well for $29 but I went with the stock black nylon cover. Opening the cover provides a kickstand for the decive and tips it back ever so slightly. Closing the cover turns the unit off to save battery.

Operating the unit is extremely easy. The control panel has only 6 buttons:

  • Power On/Off
  • AUX: to be used with a device that may not have bluetooth via the 3.5 mm cable
  • Bluetooth On/Off or pairing mode
  • Mute control
  • Volume down
  • Volume up

Pairing the unit was incredibly easy. Just activate the pairing option on the Soundlink and then activate Bluetooth on the phone in this case. A few seconds later you heard a little beep confirming the paring was successful. I tried the device with iTunes Music, Pandora and Instacast all without issue. I immediately then tried to pair it with my MacBook Air and no issue. The manual say it has the ability to pair and remember up to 6 devices which is great as well.

With the cover open the unit is very solid. When the close is closed it is a little less stable since the bottom of the device has an angled foot.

Closed View

I am very happy with the sound of the SoundLink and allows me the portability to listen to music anywhere in the house I need to.

Pros: Great battery life. Very portable. Excellent for music or podcasts.
Cons: A little more expensive than other options on the market. In closed mode due to the angle of the device it is a little unstable and can easly knocked over. 


  1. It also did not hurt that while I was in the store another guy came in and bought three for gifts. He said he had several himself and he thought this was the best one. I tried to get him to buy one for me as a gift … but I failed.  ↩

Finding an iPhone case

I truly believe the best iPhone case is no case at all. Adding a case to me seems to hide some the the beautiful industrial, simple design. I am very careful with my phone. My phone is with me all the time. It is my computer away from the computer. That being said in the past it has taken some unfortunate spills. Lucky with no damage but nerve racking none the less. Recognizing my luck was probably ending I decided to get a case.

Defining my case needs
1. The case must have a hole in the back so I can shoot photos and videos without removing the case.
2. I wanted full access to the charging port and the headphone port without hassles.
3. I wanted it to be as slim as possible and preferrable withouth a sticky texture on it so if I put it in my pocket a ton of lint does not come out.
4. I want direct access to the volume and ring silence switch.

It seems like during the lifespan of a phone, if you use a case you end up going through several because you can’t find the perfect one. To try and minimize these purchase I thought about what I would really want if I had to have any case at all.

Cases I considered:
1. Apple Bumper I have had two or three of these and while I think they provide some very basic protection to the edges of the devices I think they do not last very long and not worth the $29.
2. BookBook. I really liked this idea for a case. From a minimalist point of view I liked the idea of using the phone case as a wallet. Combining the two would be great. After checking out a friends I found that it was a little thicker than I liked and there was not camera hole so I ruled that out.
3. Hex Solo. This case seemed to fit all my basic needs. Again there is an option to “use” this like a wallet. There are 2 cards slots which could be used to hold a drivers licensce and a credit or debit card.
4. 4. Hex Code Wallet for iPhone. This case is very much like the BookBook case. It has a closed structure and allows you to carry a few cards. It also does not have a hole for the camera like the book book. To keep it closed there is an elaastic strap much like a Moleskine notebook.
5. Incipio iPhone 4/4S feather Ultralight Hard Shell Case. I liked the “shape” of this case . It mimimics the Hex Solo design. The thing that really put me off on this plastic case were the images that users uploaded from Amazon. There are several images of the case peeling after normal wear and tear. 6. elago S4 Handmade Genuine Leather for iPhone 4/4S. I actually did receive this case as a gift. The leather was very high quality. The phone initially went into the case well but very quickly stretched and tipping the case over allowed the phone to slide halfway out. There are covers over the volume buttons but they did not interfere with the usability.
7. Vaja iVoution Grip. Two things which disuaded me from making the purchase. One the price is very high for a case it is $75. The second thing is there is no protection on the top of this case. It is almost like a sleeve for the bottom only.

About two weeks ago I bought the Hex Solo. So far I am very happy with case. I will not be using it as a wallet or a card case. The leather that covers the shell is very thin but high quality. The two card slots on the back of the phone look very nice but I was afraid that they would completely stretch out I just opted to ignore them. It also met all the design concerns I had hoped for. Time will tell if it will wear well but so far I am very happy.

Opportunity lost or no appetite for paid services?

In the recent weeks there have been a number of people (read tech nerds) seem to be moving away from Google services. This is happening for a plethora of reasons from personal preference, perceived or real violated trust or the creepy nature in which Google appears to be moving. There have been articles and podcasts all over the place about this vary topic. One of issues that seems to be the hardest to move away from is Google Reader. Even if you are not using Google Reader on the web, almost[1] all of the RSS application readers regardless of platform require you to have a Google Reader account. The primary reason for this is to be able to sync already read items from one device to the other. From the research I have done the only exception to this is Fever. Fever is a self hosted RSS account that allows you to bypass Google altogether. But I think the vast majority of people reading in RSS readers do not have the resources in order to pull this off. Better put this is not a consumer ready product this is more for the tech savvy user with their own hardware to pull this off.

Opportunity

The Google Reader service has created a very simple way to sign up, store your OPML file, and watch what items you have read so that you can grab another device and pickup where you left off.

I am sure it is not an easy feat to accomplish. I am sure it requires tremendous resources to do this but I can’t help but feel like there is a huge opportunity here for some company to take advantage of. There is a model in place now works and could still be improved on. Something things that I would love to see or would be willing to handle to move off the platform.

Mandatory 

  • Simple and easy sign up process
  • The ability to import your existing OPML file
  • Cross device / Platform support
  • Support from popular reading clients. (Reeder, Flipboard, Pulse etc.)

In my mind a simple and easy signup process does not mean just creating a sign-up process that asks me for my Facebook or Twitter credentials login credentials. I actually hate sites like these that hand over your information to others. I am looking for basic account sign up, username, emails address perhaps a preference question about my preferred reading device. End of story.

Since OPML files are very common don’t make me re-subscribe to every site I read to get it into your system, allow me to just import my list.

I live in the Apple world but not everyone does. As the sync provider perhaps you don't have to worry as much about the client device as much as the developer support. RSS has been around long enough that it should not matter. Providing developers with a good API so that you are able to get great platform support from the variants of RSS readers out there.

Things I would be willing to give up

  • A web version
  • A limit on the number of syncs a day (or a regularly updated sync schedule- every hour)

Perhaps I am in the minority here but I rarely use the web version of Google Reader. I have in desperation but I usually have a device with me to allow me access to my feeds if I really needed them. Worse case scenario is I could visit the 4–5 must read sites via the web in a pinch. I think if you build a rich enough system the web becomes a nice to have not a mandatory like in the past. Look at Instagram. There is no web site - only a link to render one particular page if something is shared with me. The site continues to grow.

If bandwidth is an issue perhaps capping the number of syncs you can do a day would be a way to initially limit the a user. I know this would not work for everyone but it could be a start. I find with work and other activities I am generally refreshing my devices 3–4 times a day and then sitting down to sift through the information.

Things I be willing to would do

  • Pay for this service ! In a membership or subscription model for the application.

I wonder if the biggest reason an alternative service like this does not exist is because of cost? In a world of free, freemium and other advertising models no one wants to pay for anything.

If your service is completely free you are probably going the VC route to get huge and tell everyone you have 1 billion users! (oh and by the way those users are costing me a fortune and I am not sure how to recoup my money so I would like some of yours). The next logical step for most of these providers is the second oldest occupation in the world – sell ads[2], sell your data etc. Ruin the experience. We dont have to look far to see examples of this. Facebook, Twitter promoted ads, Gmail and the list goes on.

I admit at one point I was probably one of your clients. But the more you disrupt my user expereince and take me away/distract me from your core goods or service, the sooner I am likely to leave your service. I also have recognized where there is huge value in paying for the service. I admit that my preference many times is to a demo and make sure it fits in my workflow before I commit to it but I am more than willing to pay for the service.

One one of my favorite applications that I use daily is Instapaper. Instapaper is a paid application. It sells in the App store for $4.99. Done. No issue. I am very happy to support independent developers who make beautiful and wonderful functioning applications. I think Marco Arment (@marcoarment) has done just this. Not to long ago Instapaper added the ability to search your archives. This was not a service that Marco could take on and eat the cost of for his X number of users. So he instituted a paid add-on. So for $1 a month you have that ability to search all your saved pieces if you need it. I paid for the application initially and now I needed the other service so I was willing to pay for it. It means that much to me. I don't want to see the application go away and I want to support independent work.

Starting a business with no clear way to make money still confounds me. Clearly it works, but it is not the type of business I personally would want to start. Once you start offering everything for free, to get the user base to move to the paid model is disruptive at best. Some customers will feel like it is a bait and switch tactic.

I wish someone would created an alternative to Google Reader account. If you do please let me know as I will be one of the first customers to sign up.


  1. Net Newswire is an example of an RSS reader that can work independently as a stand alone reader or with Google services. I think you just do not get the benefit of the read articles across various devices without using Google.  ↩

  2. I don't classify Ads via the Deck in the same group as everyone else. Their model is more specialized and by invite only. Only one small add will appear on the website and they are well designed and generally pertaintnent to the user.  ↩

Wallet Issues

I admit it.  I have a thing when it comes to computer bags and wallets.  So I am so happy when I can finally find one that meets the needs I have and temporarily set aside looking for new ones.  For some unknown reason I am hard on wallets. They seem to typical last me only 4-6 months at best before they are falling apart. For a while now I have been trying reduce some of the friction in my life my minimizing some of my belongings. Whether that is a wallet, software on my Mac or iPhone or possessions I own.  I would not say I am totally minimal but I do value a few nice pieces more than a ton of clutter.

A few years ago I bought some no name leather wallet off of eBay and was amazed how well it lasted.  I might have gotten 4 years out of it before I had to go back on the hunt for a new one.  Of course I was not able to get a duplicate of my previous one. When I purchased that wallet from eBay the one thing that struck me was that the credit card slots were vertical rather than the traditional horizontal. It made the wallet feel smaller and more compact.  Ever since then this has been a primary requirement when looking at replacements.

My girlfriend is constantly teasing me about my collection of "carry-things".  I have spent nights looking through lists of wallets as well ask reading blog posts about them as well. For example I was very intrigued by the Dosh wallet and was going to buy one and see if it would work for me.  Luckily Ben Brooks's review of the product saved me a few dollars.

My first foray into post perfect wallet brought me to a Tumi Alpha Accessories Multii-Window Card Case. This is again a smaller wallet,  measuring 3"W x 4 1/2"H.  The exterior  was a woven mesh fabric, similar to a carbon fiber but was ballistic nylon trimmed in leather. The interior leather seemed to be very high quality.

One of the things I initially liked about the wallet was the two quick Id pockets. Both clear and with a void in the center to slide your thumb there to push the card out.  I used one for my drivers license and the interior one for my ATM card.  Above the interior Id card holder was another slot for a credit card.  Beneath those was a side loading slot that could easily handle several additional cards.  On the right side were 3 card slots and another slide pocket similar to the one on the left.  There is no traditional slit to hold your bills so you had to fold your money and slip it into one of the side slots.  This did not pose a problem unless you were carrying a lot of bills.

I used this wallet for about 4 months prior to starting the process all over again.  As the wallet broke in the cards on the inside pockets shifted and caused a bulge on the exterior that I did not like both visibly and when it came to sitting on it in my back pocket. As a result when you closed the wallet the two sides were longer meeting. I also discovered that the visual ID card slots were not ideal. Over time the cards would begin to "stick" to the clear plastic preventing them from easily sliding out as expected.  More than one time I had to pull out of the ATM line because of the cars behind me were lining up and I was not able to get access to my card quickly enough.  The wallet was able to carry quite a few card in it as well which is a blessing and a curse as I have been trying to minimize my wallet items. Perhaps some of the shape deformity was of my own use.  I still have the wallet but overall I was a little disappointed overall that it did not last longer.

My next attempt was with the Saddleback ID Wallet. This case uses the traditional horizontal card slots but since it was no a bi-fold I would give it a shot.  This looked to be ideal for a front
pocket wallet - or a small rear pocket wallet.  The leather was an extremely durable pigskin and the quality was exceptional. The dimensions for this wallet were 4 1/8"W x 2 7/8"H x 3/16" D. This wallet does not fold but does have slots on both sides.  There are 3 card slots, an Id slot without plastic and pouch in the middle which could hold additional cards or cash or receipts.  I took the items out of my Tumi and put them directly in the the Id wallet. Due to size limitations I could not fit everything. From the videos on the site1. and on Youtube it is clear that it will break in over time to allow for more.  I took out things I thought I did not need and carried this for a couple of weeks.  Very slowly it began to break in but I found during this period I was carrying a money clip with the extra cards I needed. This was more my issue than the wallet but it

still created that additional friction.  This wallet I think is geared more for cards than cash. While you certainly can keep a few bills in the center pouch it did create a bulge in the exterior if I stuffed it - small bills will not be your friend in this case.  One of the things I did start to think about was as I added cards and the wallet took shape would removing a card then in the future cause all the remaining ones to be loose and fall out?  I am not giving up on this wallet, I do like the aesthetics and design but this will be more of a weekend carry until I can get it a little more broken in.  One thing I am not concerned about is that the Saddleback ID Wallet comes with a 100 year warranty so I am confident it will wear and last longer than me.  

My latest wallet is from a company called Bellroy.  It is the Slim Sleeve Wallet (folded bills model) and they also offer a similar model in the flat bills style.  I think I originally found this one night searching for wallets here.  I saved the link to my Fancy account and forgot about it. A few weeks later we was out at dinner with my friend and his wife and he pulls it out. I fell in love with it then.  Having the opportunity to see and feel the quality and overall size make it much easier to decide.  I ordered that night.  

Bellroy Slim Sleeve WalletBellroy Slim Sleeve open

The package arrived three days later and in a bubble pack envelope. Opening it up was surprised to see a cool cardbpard pacakge with item wrapped in tissue paper. Discarding the tissue revealed a really well made wallet. It was very small and the leather was soft like a broken in baseball mitt. The stiching is very high quality and in my case it is an orange which contrasts with the leather nicely.  There are two quick access pockets and I have 2 cards in each. On the left hand side is where I slide the folded bills and receipts. If you fold the bills in half they stick out a little but but it does not interfere with the fold at all.  I actually like seeing the edge of the money because it lets me know there is actually some in it.  

The right side pocket has room for the extra cards that you do not use all the time, AAA, healthcare cards etc.  At the moment I have 4 cards in there as well as 4 business cards as well. The nice thing about this side of the wallet is the little pull tab.  There is a piece of fabric with a tab on the top and when you pull on it all the contents of this side of the wallet slide out for easy access or viewing. Its suck a simple idea I am not sure why others have not done it before.  The wallet measures 10 X 7.3cm (3.9in x 2.9in) and fits very comfortably in the back pocket as well as the front pocket.  I have alsways used the rear pocket but this is so small it can feel like you do not have your wallet with you so you end of checking your back pocket way to much.  For the past week I have used it in the front pocket and its perfect. The leather is also breaking in very nicely.  Even though it was soft to begin with it has a more wore in feel to it that is very comfortbale in the hand.  It comes in 4 colors, black, tan, cocoa and russet.  The version above is the cocoa.

Overall all three wallets are similar in size with the Tumi being the largest of the three and the Saddleback the smallest. I really dont believe you can go wrong with any of them, most it will come down to personal preference and actually how many items you actually have to carry with you.  If you think the Bellry is too small, the website says you can hold 15+ cards in it.  All tolled I have eight hard plastic and 4 business cards in mine and it can easily hold more.

 

 

 

 

1. There is a very interesting sales pitch with the owner showing off this wallet while looking at Gorillas right in front of him.  This is the link to the Youtube version.

In Search of: A better computer bag (Part 2)

RistrettoSo after a lot of thought, too much thought , I plunked down my money and ordered the Tom Bihn Ristretto.  Of course as soon as I ordered it they were back ordered for a few weeks.  But I figured that was due to the large amount of press they had received from bloggers and fans.  I was fine as the site told me right up front. I had to travel in about 2.5 weeks so there should be plenty of time.

As my trip approached I got a phone call from the Eliam in the shipping department telling me that the order was complete but one of the little organizer pouches was not available in the color I wanted.  He asked me if I wanted to wait for that color and get it later or swap it out for something else now.  He left me a very detailed message and number to call back.  I can not rememember when I got a proactive call like that telling me about an issue and offering to help correct it.  And it was a phone call ! not an email.

I immediately called back and spoke to Katy and made the adjustment to my order and they told me it would ship out later that day.  I inquired when they thought I would receive it and they told me on Tuesday.  "Damn I will be on travel" I thought to myself.  I politely asked is there was a was to expedite the shipping so I could get it on Saturday before I went away.  I figured this would be a great time to try the bag out.  Katy to said Sure I can help you with that !  (again I expected to have my head bit off by changing an existing order). We made the shipping changes and they shipped it out for me and it arrived the next day.

There are so many picture on the web of people unboxing their products, so I will spare you that, but it was a great feeling. Everything was there, a few little extras and on time.

Immediatley I emptied out my other bag and looked at all the crap I had accumulated and thought to myself - I think the bag is too small.  I sorted through the odds and ends and grouped them into the things I really needed.  I proceeded to load the bag up with all my computer needs, paying close attention to what I need - and resist the urge to through everything and the kitchen sink in the bag.  13" MBA went in, iPad2, Moleskine, pens, cleaning cloth, mints, business cards, lens pen sidekick, wireless keyboard, magazines, keys etc.  Now loaded up I lifted the bag and realized how light it really was.  The absolute strap with the neoprene on the shoulder was amazing.

Now I had to face my biggest fear.  Did it look like a Murse? While there is nothing wrong with a European Man Purse I was not a fan overall of most of the styles.  I have always had bags with a horizontal orientation so this was a HUGE change for me.  Before I looked I actually did not care because this bag was exactly what I was looking for.  A well organized system bag that allowed me to swap pouches in and out without concern.   Glancing in the mirror I reviewed it and it was great - no issue !

The bag is great - quality is amazing - the customer service was incredible - the company stands behind its products.  I am  fan now for life.  Now how to see how well it travels.

In Search of: A better computer bag (Part 1)

I have owned more computer bags and cases then I care to admit. Many times I created a story in my head that would allow me to purchase (read justify to myself) a bag for a particular need. But then I end up being let down.

Before I purchased another bag I wanted to make sure I was clear what my needs were.

Why did I need another bag?
What worked with the old bags?
What did not work?
What is my goal?
Do I like the design aesthetics?
Will this solve my problem or end up in the closet?

I wanted to be able to carry my MBA and an iPad, a moelskine notebook, a magazine or two - some small accessories and power supplies. I wanted to lighten up - work for the 80/20 rule instead of trying to pack for every scenario when I travel or go tot a friends house to collaborate on a project. Basically I was and am tired of carrying everything I own everywhere I go.

I looked at many many bag makers. I started with companies I had used before - as well as bags I had seen others use. Manufacturers like - Targus, Booq or Waterfield bags were on the top of the list. Each time I looked at a design I went back to what my needs were and what I was going to use it for and made sure it was a fit. Most times I felt like I was back at that talking myself into a bag point wehre I had been so many times before.

As I was reading The Brooks Review blog I came across a post that Ben had written on purchasing a new bag. He did an excellent review of fit and finish as well as functionality of a new bag he had recently purchased from Tom Bihn. I knew of Tom Bihn products but I had never owned any products or knew anyone who did.

I read the post over and over looking to poke holes in his story - or the story that I had created in my head about the bag. he was also paring down his needs and wanted to be what I like to call functionally minimal. When I got to the end of the review I realized it was for a Tom Bihn 13" Ristretto. Immediately I went to the site to take a look for myself at the products and others options that existed. But I kept coming back to that one bag. It was a little unconventional for me - ok a lot. With is vertical orientation compared to the more common horizontal orientation I was concerned that it bordered on "murse like" qualities.

Then a funny thing happened I started searching for reviews of this bag and was blown away on how many there were. Blog posts, editorial reviews and user generated videos on you tube and vimeo. I found myself watching lots of videos about all their products.

It was clear that Tom Bihn created very high quality products and in doing so also created a huge network of customer evangelists that were happy to talk about the products. All aspects, the quality, the nice touches, how they use them, recommendations for add-ons and more. Many times when you see a product it is hard to gauge what you can get in the bag; no issues there. There were at least a dozen videos of customers packing and unpacking their various bags to give you a real world demos of what can actually fit. I was actually surprised because it reminded me very muck of Apple "p0rn" (sic) of unboxing new items.

So I ordered my Ristretto.