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Displaying items by tag: Nick Atlas


Travel planning is a complex business involving many variables and wildly differing requirements, but most trips have at least one thing in common: there will be walking.  If the place you’re going involves frigid temperatures, I bring you Bugothermo Techlite Boots by Columbia Sportswear to meet this need.  These high-tech, ultra-light hiking boots are designed for cold-weather use and have a very nice added feature: electric heat.

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Special Features

There are a number of features that these boots share with other high-performance hiking boots: water resistance, high-traction soles, internal cushioning and support, etc. These are important, but not what sets them apart. These are the things that make them different:


* Removable, USB-rechargeable batteries
* Built-in heating system
* Rated to -25ºF
* Lightweight at around 21 oz. each for a size 9


What’s in the box?
* A pair of boots
* 2 batteries with electronics control modules
* 2 Micro-USB cables
* 1 dual-socket USB-AC adapter
* 1 Instruction Booklet.


Initial impressions

When I pulled these boots out of the box, the first thing I noticed was how light they were. As a daily boot-wearer, I was surprised to find them so light. They were quite stiff to the touch, giving excellent support (more on that in testing) and relatively easy to lace and unlace. The soles were thick and seemed sturdy as well as flexible. Though large on the outside (I received a size 14), the boots were quite narrow inside, something destined to cause trouble as you’ll see in the testing section below.

The instructions were sparse, but complete and informative with no obvious mistakes or omissions. The batteries and the electronics modules were easy to put together and charge.

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Testing

The first step was to charge the batteries. The control modules have little LEDs on them to show that they’re plugged in and charging. When plugged in first they go through a self-test to make sure the batteries are undamaged, indicated by a blinking red light. I found the chargers temperamental at times, refusing to complete the self-test until unplugged and re-plugged in a few times; after that was done they charged just fine. However, I was a bit annoyed that the LED never changed from red to any other color to show that the batteries were fully charged.

Once I thought they were charged, I plugged them into the boots and tried to put the boots on. This is where I hit my first real snag. See, the boots are narrow. Really narrow.  I wear a size 13.5 and I had trouble getting one on my foot. When I did, it was almost painfully snug. While the proper length to be a size 14, if you’re going to wear these boots, make sure not to have wide feet or ankles while doing it.


To complete the testing, I drafted a hapless victim… I mean friend to help me out. He wears a size 10 and has the excellent qualities of always being cold and having poor circulation. I had him take off his shoes and run around outside for a while in the Boston winter. Sadly, the weather was a balmy 30º so to get his feet really cold we had to take more drastic measures. After filling the bath tub to a depth of about 6 inches with near ice-water, I had him wade around until his toes started to hurt and go numb. Then he put on the boots.


When putting them on he noted that, while they were quite long, they fit him well otherwise. He said that they felt very well padded inside and provided excellent ankle support. He indicated that they were quite comfortable and much lighter than his normal winter footwear, making them great to walk around in. Trying them outside, he noted that they gave excellent traction on snow, but not so fantastic on wet ice, but then again very few things short of actual spikes do work well on wet ice.


To measure the effectiveness of the heating system, we turned one boot on high and left the other off. He noted the heating effect in the boot that was turned on almost immediately, though it did not get terribly warm. Essentially, the warmth was a fine supplement to the insulation of the boots, but was not intense on its own. Also, peculiarly, he noted that the sole of the boot had a large cold spot; it seemed that the heating was almost all done in the upper of the boot.


Given that we had chilled his feet to the bone, it took about an hour for my assistant’s feet to be truly warm, with the heated foot getting warm around 30% faster than the one turned off. After that, his feet started to perspire lightly, but he still felt that they breathed fairly well.


The batteries are rated to operate on the high setting for up to two hours. We left them on for almost five hours. There was a slow drop-off in heat after two hours, but the heating system didn’t go entirely cold throughout the experience. One thing that we did note is that the LEDs indicating the operating mode still showed the system functioning at the high setting when the heat had dropped off. It would have been nice if the LED would show when that level of heat could no longer be provided.

Conclusions

These are some nice boots if you can get the right fit. They’re comfortable, warm, and light with good insulation. They provide excellent support and decent traction.  While the charging is temperamental and the LED displays could be more informative, overall, these are great boots with a fantastic add-on in the heating system that will make you more comfortable on your cold weather journeys.

Bugothermo Techlite Boots, $350

©Nick Atlas

Published in ingenious
Friday, 31 December 2010

Android’s Free Travel Apps

A few months back I gave you the rundown on what’s new in the smartphone world for travelers. So, supposing you went right out and picked up a shiny new Android phone. You got home, opened up the box, turned it on, and found that your new toy didn’t do all you thought it would be able to while on the road. This is not due to any hardware limitations of the little machine; it’s just lacking the proper set of applications to make it jump through the desired hoops. Hopefully this article will get you started in finding the right apps for the job. As you’ll see, with the proper apps, a good smartphone doesn’t just jump through hoops, it’ll do backflips and whistle the Star-Spangled Banner at the same time.

I’ve purposely stuck with free applications. If you want any of them, just search for their names in the Android Market. Without further ado, here are the programs:

Augmented Reality – Wikitude World Browser

Augmented reality is a big buzz word these days. What is it? To sum it up, its technology that uses the viewing device of your phone’s camera and overlays extra information about what’s around you. The field is still in its infancy, but Wikitude is one of the best out there. It allows you find any type of site you might want to find and allows you to select such sites either by key word search or by selecting what it calls a “world” or a selection of sites provided by a content provider. For example if you wanted to find the nearest Starbuck’s, you could add the Starbuck’s world from the menu. When you wave the phone around, stores will show on the screen when the camera is facing the direction of that store; distance and details are available with a tap on the location.

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How does it work? The software determines where you are with its GPS, Wi-Fi, and Cell data. Which direction the camera is facing is determined using the internal compass and accelerometer. The technical details are pretty tricky and involve integrating a lot of different data. The end result is that this software can help you find pretty much whatever you’re looking for in your vicinity. Coffee, hiking trails, skate parks, department stores, social network gatherings, you name it, and it’s there.

Finding things – Where

Picture2The app from where.com, Where for Android is another option for finding local things to see, do, eat, etc. Like the website, the app will determine your location and find things to recommend that are local to you. Aside from that, it will also tell you the local weather, gas prices, traffic information, and even some basic links for news. Wikitude is great when you know where you’re going or what you’re looking for. Where is for the times when you want suggestions.

Getting around cities – Transport Maps

Picture3Have you ever been in a new city with no idea where the buses or trains can be found or what their routes are? Then this app is for you. It’s a no-frills downloader and viewer for mass transit maps from all over the world. Just select your city to add the map, and off you go.

Real-time GPS tracking – GPS Compass Map

Picture4While the included Google Maps is great, sometimes you don’t have solid network connectivity or you just want the raw latitude and longitude data that comes from your GPS. GPS Compass Map is dead simple. All it does is follow your location on the screen as you move. When you can’t download maps because you don’t have a data connection, it just shows the GPS info with a black screen. That’s all it does. Deceptively simple, yet terrifically useful when hiking in the hinterlands.

 

 

 

Converting units of everything into other similar units – ConvertPad

Picture5Have you ever needed to know the conversion rate of Swiss Francs to Estonian Kroon? How about how many grams in a stone? Maybe foot-pounds to joules? ConvertPad does it all. It has pretty much every currency and unit of every kind of measurement available for easy conversion; even some bizarre scientific and antiquated measures you may not have heard of before. ConvertPad updates its currency data whenever it is started, so if you don’t have data your conversion information may not be entirely up to the minute, but hey, it’s free.

Tracking your travel – Trip Journal Lite

Trip Journal is pretty detailed piece of software. It keeps track of where you go, allows you to attach photos, videos, and text to waypoints on your trip and tags them with your location. It’s a fantastic program for making a shareable trip diary. When you’re done, you can use it to export that diary to Facebook, Youtube, Flickr, and a bunch of other places. The only things the lite version doesn’t do that the $2.99 version does are background tracking and saving/restoring from SD card.

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Google Apps – A good bet for lots of stuff

Aside from making the Android operating system, Google also makes a whole lot of cool tools for it. How about a free phone number and free or low-cost calls from Google voice? Others that are good bets for travel are Google Translate, Google Earth, Google Maps, and Google Navigation. Still developing, but in the great idea category is Google Goggles. Check them out. You won’t be sorry.

Conclusion

What I’ve given you here is a few top picks for applications. Depending on what you need and how you travel, many more of the over 200,000 apps on the Android Market may be right for you, and with that number growing at stunning speed, this just scratches the surface of what’s out there.

©Nick Atlas

Published in ingenious
Tuesday, 02 November 2010

The Corsair Survivor GTR Flash Drive

Travel provides many wondrous opportunities to see sights and hear sounds that one might want to record with digital photo, video, or audio recording. While most devices come with some internal storage, there is the possibility that one might want to offload them to external storage for safekeeping. For this purpose, I bring you the Corsair Survivor GTR. This USB flash drive promises both near-indestructibility and extremely high performance. Corsair was kind enough to provide me with the 32GB version of the drive for testing purposes.

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Features

Included with the drive is a USB cable and a metal chain long enough to allow the drive to be worn around the neck. The chain also comes with a rubber-edged aluminum dog tag with the Corsair logo on it, though I’m not really sure why that particular item was included beyond branding. Here are the specs:

Weight: 1.6oz.

Dimensions: 3.3” long 0.9” in diameter

USB 2.0

Waterproof to 200m

Shock and vibration resistant

Limited 10-year warranty

Casing made of anodized aircraft-grade aluminum

Up to 34MB/s read and 28MB/s write speed

Capacity: 32GB or 64GB

The cylinder you see above is the outer casing of this extraordinarily rugged item. The actual flash drive is revealed when one end of the cylinder is unscrewed. In the hand, the closed drive feels incredibly solid, very much like some of the high-end flashlights I’ve reviewed. The screw cap works smoothly and the rubber parts are all fitted nicely to the aluminum body. The drive itself (inside the shell) is made of plastic and affixed to the inside of the end cap of the shell.

One downside is that the drive is secured into the cap by plastic pins and comes a bit loose after use causing it to rattle when closed. Another minor flaw is that the Survivor GTR does not include hardware encryption, so if you want your data to be secure, you’re going to have to get a software solution of some sort.

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Testing

Before I started stress testing, I decided to test the data speeds and found the performance of the Survivor GTR to be quite satisfactory with actual sustained write operations coming in at 22-24MB/s and read operations considerably faster at 32MB/s. This makes it one of the faster flash drives available.

In regards to stress testing, the Survivor GTR is a pretty tough item so I showed no sympathy. I soaked it in water for 24 hours and observed no leakage. I ran it over multiple times with an SUV, and even parked on top of it. It just sat there. I threw it off of a three story building onto concrete. Five times. It just bounced. I even froze it in a block of ice, cracked the ice on a sidewalk, and then used it. It worked just fine. To put it simply, the thing would not die. Of course, this all was done with it safely sealed inside its hard candy shell. Once out of that shell, the Survivor GTR is just another plastic-covered flash drive, so if you’re going to stomp on it or use it as a deadly weapon, be sure it’s fully sealed first.


Conclusion

This is the most indestructible data storage device I’ve ever seen. If you need someplace to store your data while on the road, diving, jumping off of tall things, or doing otherwise potentially destructive activities, this is the flash drive for you. It’s fast, it’s indestructible and it’s small. Just keep in mind its indestructibility does not translate to security.

32GB $89.99

64GB $159.99

http://www.corsair.com/products/survivor/default.aspx

© Nick Atlas

Published in ingenious

For those of you who have been reading my reviews since the beginning, you'll know that I've done smartphone reviews before. Since the last one, the Smartphone world has changed enormously. Last time, I asserted that carrying a smart phone can be a viable alternative to carrying a bulky laptop on your trip, which is even more true today. People have finally started treating their phones like little computers and manufacturers are adapting to the needs of consumers. The new generation phones are more like full-featured computers than their predecessors and sport features such as large screens, integrated mapping solutions, high-speed data connections, excellent browsers, and multi-touch controls. Today, I will look at the Android operating system by Google and phones from three of the four major US carriers to give you a feel for what's out there and what to expect in a modern smartphone.

Published in ingenious
Monday, 03 May 2010

The Cold Steel City Stick

A couple of issues ago, I reviewed the The LuxuryLite “Carbon Big Stik." While it was a marvel of modern carbon fiber awesomeness, it had a single down-side: the length. While hiking through the wilderness, a walking staff of 50" or more is an ideal tool, but when making your way through a more urban environment you’ll look out of place. If you also consider my personal fetish for things that are as near to indestructible as possible and you'll understand why I felt the need to review the Cold Steel City Stick.

Published in ingenious
Monday, 22 March 2010

MRE's and Shelf-Stable Trail Food

When hiking hither and yon across the countryside and your pack is loaded with all the high-tech gear you've read about in previous reviews, there might come a point where you begin to feel an emptiness inside your stomach and your thoughts turn toward food. That is what I'm going to talk about today: portable nourishment. Many hikers favor canned foods, breads, cheeses, etc. These are perfectly adequate low tech solutions for those who don't mind products that are a bit bulkier, heavier, or require more preparation than their space-age cousins. If you're on a longer trip and need things that will last, but won't weigh you down quite so much, you can turn to the wonders of modern science. In recent years, many modern marvels of food science have been created, packaged, and made available for your convenient joyous consumption. To examine the best of the low-weight, low-prep options, I have once again turned down the dark path of military tech.

Published in ingenious

A major part of traveling is walking and hiking long distances over varied terrain. Traveling by foot is often essential to visit the most interesting sites; in such cases, a walking stick is often useful to increase balance and support. You could choose trekking poles or an old-school style wooden staff. However, the new Big Stik by Luxury Lite might just be the best option on the market today. The concept behind the Big Stik is to have all of the advantages of a full staff such as adjustable length and durability with added functionality including a camera mount on top for use as a monopod, a section with a sharp bit that can turn it into a spear for defense against an unruly animal, and a top bit for use as a shelter pole. For handling multiple terrains you are given two options, either a rubber tip or a snow-basket tip with a sharp metal point.

Published in ingenious
Friday, 20 November 2009

The YoGen Mobile Charger

As all of you who read these reviews know, I am a serious geek for gadgets. If it's small and does something cool, it will make me salivate like one of Pavlov's dogs hearing a bell ring. Still, as much as I love them all, I have to admit that a good half of the devices I've reviewed are nothing more than high-priced paperweights when deprived of a power outlet. To solve this problem, I've examined a number of options such as the Brunton solaris and Solo.

Published in ingenious
Tuesday, 01 September 2009

Sony Reader Touch Edition

When traveling, one challenge is keeping reading and reference materials at hand without weighing oneself down with books. Still, I never like to be without my guides, references, or things to read to keep me entertained during slow moments. In recent years, a technological solution has presented itself: the e-book reader.

Published in ingenious
Friday, 03 July 2009

Quark Flashlights by 4Sevens

A while ago, I wrote a review of a pair of Fenix Pocket Flashlights. At the time, these were being distributed in the United States by a small company called 4Sevens, run by David Chow. Recently, I got back in touch with David to see if there were any new developments in the field of portable photonic generation. He told me that in response to all the customer feedback they’d received, as well as their own thoughts on how to improve the product,. 4Sevens decided to design their own series of flashlights. The result of this design effort is the Quark line of LED flashlights. David was kind enough to provide four flashlights (the entire Quark line) for review. These are the AA, the AA2, the 123, and the 1232, all named for the type and number of batteries they use. After experimenting with these lights over a couple of weeks, I found that these extremely bright, durable, and flexible flashlights are as far from your simple Maglite as a blowtorch is from a book of paper matches.

Published in ingenious
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