Happy b-day!

Well said; don’t get excited.
One year closer to death

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An Android smartphone saved the day

My main smartphone is (still!) a Windows Phone: A Nokia Lumia 735 that has been through a lot but despite its promising (back then) route, it sees instead a declining future mostly due to the lack of support from Microsoft (as a part of the Windows Phones). I am used to it, so I cannot take the (hard) decision to just drop it.

I also have a backup smartphone, an Android-powered Samsung A3 (2016), which was mostly used in car, paired with my car’s Mirrorlink-enabled head unit – it was the cheapest Mirrorlink-enabled smartphone I could find some time ago. Apart from that, I also use it for Web browsing, social media etc. Both smartphones are pretty entry-level but have been exploited to the extent possible.

During my summer holidays, I found myself at Moutsouna, Naxos island. As soon as I got there, I had to make an urgent call; alas, I did not have signal – at all! I tried walking out of the house, walked even at the pier (facing the Aegean sea), moved to a higher, open spot of the village hoping for cellular connection but with no luck.

I friend of mine approached me and asked me about my carrier – he was sure I was on a specific one, whose signal was so bad in the area that all locals had switched to other carriers (and this was my case). He then advised my to switch to 2G (!!) if I wanted to make a call. I went through my Lumia’s menu, only to find that 2G-only was not supported. I tried with 3G-only but still no signal. And then I made the choice…

Got my A3 out of the backpack, quickly swapped SIM cards and went through its menu; I could switch my A3 to 2G only and I actually managed to make the call I had to! I never swapped the SIM back during my 7-day stay at the island, and made use not only of the updated apps available in Android (stuck versions behind in Windows Phone) but also its better camera.

Damn you Windows Phones, you keep disappointing me…and the same goes for my carrier!

Ταξίδι στη Νάξο με το SuperRunner

Πρόσφατα ταξιδέψαμε μετά από αρκετά χρόνια στη Νάξο. Για διάφορους λόγους αποφασίσαμε να ταξιδέψουμε από Ραφήνα και όχι από Πειραιά – και δεν το μετανοιώσαμε. Είδαμε τις διαθέσιμες επιλογές και θεωρήσαμε το SuperRunner της Golden Star Ferries ως την καλύτερη, με βάση τις ώρες αναχώρησης και άφιξης και υπολογίζοντας το κόστος για δύο ενήλικες, δύο παιδιά και ένα αυτοκίνητο (312 ευρώ σύνολο). Κάναμε την κράτηση ηλεκτρονικά από τη σελίδα της εταιρίας και τυπώσαμε τα εισιτήρια από το σπίτι.

SuperRunner

Η εμπειρία ήταν πολύ καλύτερη σε σχέση με αυτή που είχαμε από τα συμβατικά πλοία που παίρνααμε από Πειραιά. Χαρκτηριστικά επισημαίνω τα εξής:

  1. Επιτέλους τα ακτοπλοϊκά εισιτήρια βρέθηκαν στην ψηφιακή εποχή: Μπορέσαμε να κάνουμε κράτηση των θέσεων ηλεκτρονικά και εκτύπωση στο σπίτι, οπότε δεν χρειάστηκε να περάσουμε από το πρακτορείο στη Ραφήνα. Ποτέ μου δεν κατάλαβα γιατί τα ακτοπλοϊκά εισιτήρια δεν μπορούν να κλείνονται ηλεκτρονικά και να εκτυπώνονται από τους επιβάτες όπως γίνεται εδώ και πολλά χρόνια με τα αεροπορικά.
  2.  Πολύ εύκολη και γρήγορη επιβίβαση – δική μας και του αυτοκινήτου. Εξίσου μειωμένος ήταν και ο χρόνος παραμονής σε κάθε λιμάνι.
  3. Ταξιδεύοντας με αξιοπρέπεια: Μόνο αριθμημένες θέσεις (αεροπορικές με τραπεζάκια), οπότε δεν χρειάστηκε να τρέξουμε όπως παλιά για να προλάβουμε θέσεις, να τσακωθούμε με αυτούς που έχουν ξαπλώσει στους καναπέδες, έχουν καταλάβει ήδη θέσεις με τις αποσκευές τους για άτομα που υπάρχουν μόνο στη φαντασία τους κλπ. Γνωρίζαμε ότι έχουμε τη θέση μας και θα είναι διαθέσιμη ότι και να γίνει, όσο αργά και αν επιβιβαστούμε.
  4. Ταξιδεύοντας με ασφάλεια: Το κατάστρωμα είναι κλειστό κατά τη διάρκεια του ταξιδιού (ανοίγει μόνο όση ώρα δένει το πλοίο σε λιμάνι), οπότε το ταξίδι αυτόματα γίνεται πολύ ασφαλές για τα παιδιά μας που μπορούν να κυκλοφορούν ελεύθερα χωρίς να υπάρχει κίνδυνος να βγουν σε μη φυλασσόμενο χώρο.
  5. Πολύ ευγενικό προσωπικό, και πάντα διαθέσιμο.
  6. Καθαρός και φωτεινός χώρος, με σεβασμό στον επιβάτη. Επιτέλους σωστή θερμοκρασία περιβάλλοντος (βλ. πλοία-ψυγεία της γραμμής), οπότε δεν χρειάστηκαν οι ζακέτες που είχαμε πάρει μαζί μας.
  7. Μειωμένος χρόνος ταξιδιού: Πολύ σημαντικός παράγοντας, καθώς σε 5 ώρες από τον απόπλου είχαμε βγει από το λιμάνι της Νάξου! Είχα συνηθίσει ταξίδια  6+ ωρών από Πειραιά, οπότε η διαφορά ήταν σημαντική.

Υπήρξαν όμως και κάποια σημεία που μας προβλημάτισαν / στεναχώρησαν:

  1. Το σύστημα ηλεκτρονικής κράτησης των θέσεων είναι μάλλον προβληματικό: Ενώ κλείσαμε αρκετά νωρίς τα εισιτήριά μας, και στα δύο ταξίδια οι θέσεις μας ήταν διάσπαρτες – ειδικά στην επιστροφή τα παιδιά ήταν μαζί αλλά εγώ και η σύζυγος σε διαφορετικές θέσεις, αρκετά μακριά. Την ίδια στιγμή, υπήρχαν αρκετές κενές θέσεις δίπλα σε αυτές που καθόμασταν σε όλη τη διάρκεια του ταξιδιού. Δεν μπορώ να καταλάβω με ποια λογική χωρίζονται θέσεις που κλείνονται ταυτόχρονα…
  2. Το προσωπικό που περνάει σε τακτά διαστήματα και μαζεύει τα σκουπίδια από τα τραπεζάκια δείχνει υπερβολικό ζήλο: Σε κάποια φάση που δεν ήμασταν στις θέσεις μας, πήραν και πέταξαν σακούλα που είχε μέσα σνακς για το ταξίδι μας, καθώς και ποτήρια που είχαν ακόμη καφέ. Μιλάμε για ολόκληρες τυρόπιτες, κουλούρια κλπ. και όχι για μερικά μπισκότα. Θα εκτιμούσαμε λίγη υπομονή και περισσότερη προσοχή από την πλευρά τους – εκτός αν πρέπει να θεωρούμε δεδομένο ότι πρέπει να ασφαλίζουμε τα τρόφιμά μας….
  3. Το πλοίο καθυστέρησε περίπου 35-40 λεπτά να φύγει από Νάξο (στο ταξίδι της επιστροφής), καθώς άργησε στα προηγούμενα λιμάνια (Σαντορίνη και Ίο), ενώ είχε (από ότι είπαν) και 7 μποφόρ οπότε δεν έπιασε μέγιστη ταχύτητα. Τουλάχιστον υπήρξε ενημέρωση και γνωρίζαμε τι έγινε (αφού επιβιβαστήκαμε) με ταυτόχρονη συγγνώμη για την καθυστέρηση. Προφανώς συμβαίνουν αυτά, ειδικά σε μια περίοδο με αυξημένη κίνηση.
  4. Οι τουαλέτες μύριζαν έντονα (σύνηθες φαινόμενο σε πλοία με μεγάλα δρομολόγια). Επίσης δεν είχαν σε καμία φάση χαρτί για τα χέρια και οι μικροί μας δυσκολεύονταν να χρησιμοποιήσουν το στεγνωτήριο των χεριών, καθώς αυτό ήταν αρκετά ψηλά.

Γενικά ήταν μια θετική εμπειρία και σίγουρα θα ξαναπροτιμήσουμε τα Golden Star Ferries για μελλοντικά μας ταξίδια στις Κυκλάδες – απλά την επόμενη φορά θα έχουμε πάρει τα μέτρα μας (βλέπε σνακς σε τσάντα και όχι σε σακούλα – χωρίς αυτό να δικαιολογεί το προσωπικό, χαρτί και μωρομάντηλα από το σπίτι μας κλπ.).

Εύχομαι μόνο να διατηρήσουν το ίδιο υψηλό επίπεδο και τα επόμενα χρόνια για να μη χρειαστεί να κοιτάξουμε για εναλλακτικές. 😊

Using my Bobby Compact under real life conditions

I felt I had enough with constantly heavy traffic, numerous hours lost behind the wheel feeling bored and helpless so I decided to start commuting to work by public means of transportation: The suburban railway of Athens started a new, direct route from Airport to Piraeus (no change of trains required) and it looked like the perfect alternative. The route takes about 1 hour, and I make good use of this time: I usually plan my day at the office by organizing tasks, reviewing documents and going through work-related material. I also have the option to relax and read my favorite books or even do nothing when I am tired.

proastiakos-porta

I almost instantly switched my backpack back to the XD Design Bobby Compact, as it was the perfect gear for a crowded commuting mean like the suburban railway. Indeed, this is the environment where the backpack shined and showed its advantages over traditional ones. I was never afraid to wear it on my shoulders with other passengers behind my back thanks to its anti-theft design, the monthly pass card slot now proved useful and handy (compared to when using the same backpack when driving to work), and since the backpack holds its shape even when half-empty, I could easily let it on the floor without it falling to the side.

It felt light and comfortable on my back while walking from the station to the office (a 10-15 min walk), I had easy access to its contents even while on the road and its integrated rain cover proved useful during a couple of thunderstorms. On top of that, it forced me to pack light and be really selective about what to pack (and how to efficiently pack it).

However, after three months of daily use, I had to give up again…the reason? Its limited capacity.

I spend about 12 hours on a daily basis away from home (including commuting and working hours), so my lunch box and a couple of snacks (e.g. fruits, crackers etc.) are essential items for me. No matter how many different alternatives I tried, I couldn’t find a decent lunch box that would fit standing straight in the backpack. I wouldn’t want to risk putting it on the side, as any liquid inside it (e.g. oil, sauce etc.) might leak – and no matter how well I would protect it (e.g. inside plastic bags), any leak would affect not only the backpack itself but my work material inside it as well. I had the same problem with my Tech Air backpack, which was also relatively slim to fit such items.

lunch box office

On top of that, its limited capacity did not allow me to carry the occasional unexpected items with me (e.g. a couple of grocery items, a thick book etc.) on my way home from the office. I felt restricted and I had to find an alternative. I temporarily went back to my trustworthy Sentio backpack, which has a great capacity but suffers from its thin material and lack to hold its shape. And it is annoying (and looks awful) when at the office or during business meetings.

What I needed was a more spacious backpack that would fit not only my lunch box but also some additional (and bulky items) when needed, with some (at least) antitheft design elements and organizational options.

It was a matter of days before a brand new backpack joined the rest of my collection 😉

The perils of carry-on luggage

(I apologize in advance for the frequent use of the word luggage in the text below)

I am a pretty frequent flyer and I have been flying various trips, ranging from 1 day to 1 week. I was always an advocate of traveling light, and in order to make my life easier I have spent quite some time in learning how to pack efficiently and making the most out of both my available storage space and the clothes I pack in the end. My typical trip luggage consists of a medium-sized laptop backpack with all electronics, gadgets and valuables loaded and a suitcase (cabin size or larger, depending on the trip).

Over the last years I have been witnessing a serious issue with carry-on luggage: I often see obviously oversized suitcases, multiple smaller bags (which in total are of larger size and volume compared to the typical cabin luggage) and people carrying so many bags from the airport’s duty-free shops that it equals to an additional one or even two cabin-sized suitcases. This makes me wonder if carry-on luggage is actually checked at some point and if the related restrictions are applied.

Cabin lugage

(image source: https://qz.com/quartzy/1289295/the-basic-economy-era-heavier-carry-on-luggage-has-increased-risks-on-board/)

Of course it is obvious that the stricter the rules (and the fees) become regarding checked luggage, the more travelers tend to bring as (free) cabin luggage. On top of that, may of us had bad experiences regarding lost or destroyed checked luggage, or even had specific items “removed” by the ground staff handling the luggage at the airports. These two reasons alone lead many passengers to avoid checking in their luggage and take on board as much as possible.

Even though lost luggage is less of a problem, many passengers still don’t trust an airline with their belongings, and they don’t want to pay more for their bags.

At the same time, there is no actual inspection on the luggage that flyers bring on board. The whole process seems to have some “holes”, as anyone who does not pass through the check-in counters (e.g. for printing their boarding passes) can go through the security controls with their multiple bags and/or oversized ones. These checkpoints are mostly concerned with the security aspect of luggage (e.g. prevent flyers from carrying any of the prohibited items) and not as much with the luggage size limitations posed by each airline. Indeed, I have never seen any security officer at these controls pointing out anything related to the number or the size of luggage that each passenger carries on board.

This situation is taken for granted, and in this context, I frequently witness passengers refusing to hand over their 2nd and/or 3rd bag when asked to do so before boarding on a fully-booked flight – they usually claim that they have things inside that they will need during the flight or valuables that they are afraid that might be stolen. The concept of the “laptop bag”, which is allowed as an additional onboard item on top of the cabin luggage, is usually abused by flyers who make use of their over-sized and over-stuffed backpacks and refer to them as the “laptop bag”.

This situation affects all passengers on board and raises three important issues:

  1. Boarding (and leaving the aircraft) becomes painfully slow, and leads to a consequent delay of the flight (and offloading). Everyone needs time to store their luggage in the overhead lockers, pushing and pulling the luggage of others in order to make some room; multiply this by the number of those with oversized cabin luggage and you see the real dimension of the problem;
  2. Passengers who checked in their luggage have a hard time finding space for their (usually smaller) cabin luggage, as most space is already occupied by the oversized and numerous cabin bags of the rest of the passengers. Plus, they feel like jerks, as in the end they realize that they could have also avoided checking in their luggage.
  3. Last but not least, oversized and heavy cabin luggage can pose safety issues (e.g. falling on the heads of passengers).

The solution is simple: Airlines need to enforce the rules that they apply regarding cabin luggage. They have their nice metal boxes with the dimensions of allowed luggage so anything that doesn’t fit in there should be taken away and checked in (even without charging for it). Alternatively, flyers with over-sized cabin luggage should pay a fee for getting it onboard. The same should go for those who carry their cabin luggage, a huge laptop bag and other bags with them – not more than one item per passenger with no exceptions – ok, maybe apart from some light duty-free shopping.

New Ryanair Hand Luggage Rules

Everyone should comply with he regulations and restrictions, no matter if we find them fair or unfair. These are the rules of the game and we should play fair. Why am I saying this? Because I am fed up of seeing passengers misusing the cabin baggage allowance and having to wait for them to store and get their baggage until I get to my seat or get off the plane.

At the same time, I have to admit that checked in baggage fees are currently quite high (especially for non-business travelers) and should be better adjusted to the real cost of the service. For example, having to pay EUR 40-50 for a EUR 90 one-way ticket can hardly make sense. From one hand I understand flyers trying to “cheat” airlines by bringing onboard more than they are allowed to, but I cannot agree on doing this against fellow travelers, making their trip inconvenient.

P.S. I feel I have to mention the great work done in this context by various backpack and luggage designers and manufacturers (mostly individual ones) such as Cabin Max and Riut (their RiutBag X25 is a great example) in making the most out of the maximum allowed carry-on size; their work respects the restrictions posed by the airlines and at the same time benefits the flyers and travelers in general, who want to pack more with less.

My worst business trip ever (Part II: Heading back to Athens)

A new day – Tuesday – had started and I had a nice feeling about it. I woke up early, had a nice breakfast at the hotel, took a warm shower and check out, heading back to the meeting place. This time the elevator was working. I had already checked in for both my Lufthansa flights from Berlin to Munich and from there to Athens in the previous afternoon, and I was supposed to leave the meeting at about 16.00 to head to the airport and catch my flight.

For some reason I did not have a good cellular signal at the meeting building and at some point after the lunch break, I received a call. It was a colleague of mine, who said that they have been trying to contact me for quite a long time to inform me that my Lufthansa flight was cancelled (WTF!!). The good news was that I was rebooked to a Swiss flight to Zurich and from there to Athens. The bad news was that the Swiss flight was one hour earlier than my Lufthansa one, so I had to rush to the airport – now!

(Lufthansa only informed me by SMS (not via email, which I checked regularly), but I had no signal at the time, so I received it rather late).

I quickly picked up all my stuff and rushed to the bus stop to take the airport bus so quickly that I did not have time to greet my colleagues at the meeting. In the meantime, I was on the phone with my agent, who offered to check me in as well, so that I would save some time – and I was glad she did. She also emailed me the boarding pass, just to be on the safe side.

My last photo before leaving Berlin; yes, it was snowing in the morning.

Thankfully, I arrived to the airport on time and went through the security checks pretty fast. I was one time and the flight of Swiss only had a slight delay so we made it on time in Zurich. However, the flight from Zurich to Athens was also delayed (by about 45 mins) and this only got worse by the fact that Swiss staff at the gate started asking passengers to hand over their oversized of second cabin item. As expected, no one was willing to hand over a luggage that they planned to take on board and this led to a confusion and contributed to the delay of the flight.

As a result of all this mess, I reached Athens more than 1 hour later than I expected, at about 01.45. I was on time in all occasions, but none of the airlines was. I reached home at about 02.30, went to bed at about 03.00. Next morning, I woke up at 06.30 to get to the office as usual 🙂

My worst business trip ever (Part I: Heading to Berlin)

(Alternative title: A 150 Euro taxi ride to nowhere)

(Alternative title #2: Oh Lufthansa, where art thou?)

I have been traveling all over the world for business for the last 10 years – I even managed to get a Gold status with Aegean Airlines at some point, as a frequent flyer. In these 10 years I only once missed a flight (it was due to long security/passport controls in the U.S. but I was lucky enough to be rebooked to the next flight). I was lucky enough but also did my best to be always on time for my flights.

Last Sunday, I had to fly to Berlin through Frankfurt for business purposes with Lufthansa. I had the option of taking an earlier direct flight to Berlin, but I opted to spend some more time with my family on Sunday, who wouldn’t?

I arrived on time at the Athens airport but the flight was delayed by more than 1 hour minutes (I cannot recall exactly) “due to the plane arriving delayed in Athens”. To make a long story short (and this is a really long story!) we reached Frankfurt airport only to find out that the last flight to Berlin had just taken off on time, leaving the remaining passengers waiting at the airport. A helpful lady at the gate informed me about the good news and the bad news:

The good news were that I would get a hotel voucher, a couple of vouchers for the taxi (from and to the airport) and a 10EUR voucher for a snack, as the hotel kitchen would be closed by the time I reached it. I would also be re-booked on the early morning Lufthansa flight to Berlin – but I would have to be at the airport no later than 06.15.

The bad news: The hotel was about 90 km from the airport (!!), so something about 50 mins by taxi… and this is where all hell breaks loose:

  1. I couldn’t find where to use my snack voucher and wasted precious time (as I realized later on); in the end I found a place, where I got a couple of sandwiches just before it closed for the night.
  2. I went out in the freezing cold (-1 oC) waiting for a taxi – there was no queue, and taxi drivers came out of nowhere, picked up customers randomly and left
  3. I got myself a taxi but the taxi driver hardly spoke English and he did not know where the hotel was; his bloody GPS could not pick up a signal and I was trying to explain to him that since we had stopped under a bridge it would be hard to get a signal. After spending about 15 mins waiting for the GPS, he brought a second one from the trunk and it actually worked.
  4. In the meantime, I tried using my smartphones for the same purpose (actually, the taxi driver insisted on it); however, my Lumia was running out of battery (and later I realized that I had only downloaded the Berlin offline maps before leaving home) while my backup smartphone did not have any offline German maps at all.
  5. On the way to the hotel, the driver explained to me that there were no rooms in Frankfurt due to a large exhibition taking place during these days – lucky me!
  6. I had to be at the airport at 06.15 – the driver told me to get a taxi earlier than 05.00 from the hotel, as there could be heavy Monday traffic later on…
  7. When I finally reached the hotel, I realized that there were dozens of passengers facing the same issue as me; everyone had a pack of vouchers and they were all directed to the same hotel from the airport…a long queue before I could get my key for the room. At least I managed to book a taxi for 04.30 next morning.
  8. I only had about 4 hours available for sleep; however, I had to take a shower, eat my snacks, send a couple of urgent emails (e.g. informing the hotel at Berlin for my absence and let them know when I would check in) and re-arrange my stuff in my small wheeled backpack (the issues of traveling packed)
  9. I was so worried that I would not hear the alarm in the morning that I kept checking the clock every 15 mins. In the meantime, I could hear people leaving their rooms so I gave up and woke up at 03.50.
  10. I picked up my phones which I left charging overnight, only to realize that my main phone was not plugged properly, so charging had stopped at about 60% – not good enough for the long day ahead of me.
  11. There was no traffic, no long security queues, no nothing – so I found myself waiting at the gate at about 05.30; 45 mins before expected. On top of that the Lufthansa flight was for once more delayed (something like 30 minutes). This time it was the ground team to blame, as they did not start preparing the plane early enough…enough with pathetic excuses!
At first I thought I was hallucinating due to lack of sleep; however, it was just the interesting decoration of the hotel 🙂

I finally reached Berlin, found my way to the TXL bus and reached my hotel, which was almost next to the meeting place. I paid a visit to make sure that I still had a room (got no response to my email so far) and leave some of my stuff in the room. At the reception, I was informed that they did not receive my email and I should have called them instead to let them know of the situation! Bloody hell…

In the end they found me a room and also allowed me to use their fast WiFi connection at no cost (which I never did, as costs may incur out of nowhere in hotels). Went upstairs, left my stuff (clothes and wash bag) and headed to the meeting place. It took me 10 mins to find the entrance, as Google maps showed the main entrance of the building while the organizers had used a side door instead. Relieved, I entered the building, heading to the 5th floor, where the meeting was taking place (and I was already 1 hour late); lucky me – the elevator was out of order so I had to use the stairs, packed with my (still heavy) wheeled backpack!

I spent so much time at the airports that in the end I felt like Tom Hanks!

My presentation was the last one in the agenda, and by that time I could hardly keep  my eyes open – let alone delivering a decent presentation. Supported by several cups of coffee in the meantime, I managed to do a good job (as my friends in the audience told me later). However, I had to decline the offer for drinks and dinner right after the meeting, as I was really exhausted. I just went back to the hotel to get some decent sleep.

A hard day was over; but not the hellish trip… (to be continued)

Traveling light with my wheeled backpack: first impressions

It has been quite a long time since I last travelled abroad for business purposes. In the meantime, I made quite an extensive research on backpacks that can be used for short trips and I also did my research on how to pack (more) efficiently.

For a recent 2,5 days trip from Athens to Berlin (flying from Athens on Sunday afternoon and getting back home on Tuesday midnight), I decided to skip my typical cabin luggage and I instead opted for a more compact and wheeled backpack. It was a backpack that I “inherited” from my sister – I am still not sure how and when. On top of that, I am not sure about its brand and model, as it seems to be a “Turnip“-branded backpack (Highlander Continental 30), probably meant for company employees or as a gift to customers; who knows? I could not find any information on the Web about it.

Turnip_Highlander_backpack_closed

 

Main features

The specific backpack is not the most spacious cabin luggage available on the market, nor a really practical one: It has a main compartment with a padded pocket for laptops and a small, shallow zippered pocket in front of it, suitable for securely storing your wallet, passport/ID or anything valuable but small. In addition, it has three pretty small & shallow (apart from one) external pockets on its front (e.g. for cables, chargers and stationary), along with two side mesh pockets for e.g. a water bottle and an umbrella.

Turnip_Highlander_backpack_open

 

Due to its design, the backpack hardly stands on its own when fully packed, as it tends to lean in the front and fall. Its strong point though are its wheels; it is the only wheeled backpack I have, so I went for it, even though my aging Trust laptop backpack seems to be able to hold much more volume.

Capacity

All in all, I managed to pack my essentials for this business trip, which were:

1. An 11.6-inch tablet with a detachable keyboard
2. A pair of trousers
3. Two shirts, really carefully folded
4. 3 pairs of socks & underwear
5. My pajamas
6. The typical transparent plastic bag with all my liquids (toothpaste, perfume, foot balm, hand sanitizer) as this was a cabin luggage, and my electric toothbrush
7. Packs of gum, medicine, refreshing tissues
8. 2 chargers (for the tablet & the smartphone)
9. 10 x company leaflets of 10 pages each, about 20 pages of A4 sheets with printed material, as well as my thick paper notebook with pens, markers etc.
10. An external hard disk & a powerbank with their cables
11. A pair of gloves and my wooly cap (Berlin was expected to be chilly, -5 to 5 Celsius during my stay)

There was still some space to fit e.g. my slippers or a small bag, but since the backpack was already heavy enough (about 8 Kg, as weighted at the airport counter), I opted to keep it light. There is also the possibility of having to carry some additional stuff on the trip back home, so this space could prove valuable.

As soon as I reached my hotel room, I removed anything not related to the meeting, so that I would look professional enough 🙂 In any case, it was great being able to walk around without having to carry all this weight on my back & shoulders.

Impressions

What I liked:

  • Wheels: Grateful for being able to push and pull my luggage instead of having to carry it on my shoulders;
  • Enough capacity for a two-days business trip; if this was a casual weekend, I could squeeze even more stuff (or have more free space)
  • Various organizational options – not the best ones for organizing stuff my way, but still I appreciated the pockets available.
  • The main compartment opens quite wide, so I could easily organize my stuff inside (not exactly 180 degrees, but I could do the work)
  • Shoulder straps are well-padded and totally invisible when stored in their pocket at the back of the backpack.
  • The storage pocket of the straps can be used for storing thin items, too; I used this space mostly for storing the leaflets and my notepad.

What I did not like:

  • Hard to keep the backpack standing straight; it usually tends to lean to the front.
  • I would like a different layout; e.g. a way to keep things more organized in the main pocket and probably to keep personal items in a different compartment than the work/professional ones. In this trip, I was forced to use bags for separating clothes from other stuff;
  • It is rather narrow at the top, missing some extra storage space that could be used if needed;
  • When using the shoulder straps, their storage pocket stays open – which doesn’t look good;
  • It looks bulky and rather ugly, due to its external pockets which extend.

Conclusions

To sum up, it was a great way to put the weight down to the ground and pull it instead of carrying on my shoulders; at the same time, I would appreciate some more storage and a better organization of the available space. It may be more sporty than I would like so I would not want to be unfair – maybe I was not exactly using it the way it was meant to be used (i.e. not for business trips or for thorough organization of items)

I would definitely use the backpack again in the future, for similar short trips but I would also keep my eye on any alternatives I have.

Tech Air backpack: Getting along with it

I started using my Tech Air TAN-3711 backpack daily since January, after I realized that I should store my XD Design Bobby Compact for future use, when it would become more necessary. I decided to give the Tech Air another try, in order to better understand its features and see if I could live with it – and if so, for how long. In these two months, including a 4-days business trip, during which it was my daily gear for a 12-hour per day schedule, I admit that I started finding it closer to my needs and more practical than I initially thought:

 

Air Tech backpack full
The Tech Air backpack has more storage space than I initially thought.

 

Positive points

  • The internal organization of stuff is convenient; I found good use for the 5 pockets of the main compartment (picture with pockets), and since I do not always carry a laptop with me, I use the padded pocket (the backpack’s strong selling point) for storing my external hard disk, chargers and cereal bars while the last compartment is used for A4 papers and other printed material;
  • Depending on the use, its main compartment may be expanded to fit a water bottle and even a change of clothes (not too much though) or even a small-to-medium-size lunch box on the top (close to the zippers);
  • The backpack features a waterproof, durable material at its bottom (externally), so there is no way to get this soaked if left on wet surface;
  • The zippers work flawlessly, even though they do not seem to be the typical high-quality YKK;
  • Shoulder straps are comfortable and well-padded;
  • The backpack has an almost square form and it had pretty large dimensions (especially width) but it is still lean, thanks to lack of external pockets for water bottles and umbrellas. Two sets of compression straps minimize the width of the backpack when needed;
  • Overall it is a well-built backpack with sturdy material; it keeps its shape even when empty and looks like it is built to last.

 

I initially underestimated the internal organization options of the backpack; found these pockets really useful now.

 

Negative points

  • As mentioned in my review, there are no small zippered pockets for smaller items like USB sticks, memory cards, paperclips etc. I still find this annoying and a big drawback
  • The back side is comfortable but does not feature a breathable design; haven’t used the backpack during a typical Greek hot summer yet, but I would expect an unpleasant experience (and lots of sweat stains) on the back;
  • Lack of side water bottles: A leak-proof water bottle could be stored in the main compartment, but this would minimize available space;
  • The backpack seems to be a bit on the heavy side; this is due to its relatively thick material and padding. However, taking into consideration the materials used, it is lighter than I would expect by looking at it.

The more I use the Airtech backpack, the more I understand that in contrast with the current all-purpose backpacks, it was made for business / professional use. Not for commuters (e.g. lack of water bottle pocket), nor for school (no way to fit all these school books or organize your stationary), or for casual weekends away from home (e.g. hardly fits a couple of t-shirts). It is a streamlined business backpack, with interesting (but not always practical) organization options.

A small experiment – going back to my Sentio?

I did an experiment the other day: I tried migrating all the stuff I have in my Tech Air to my old favorite Sentio Sporty. There were many items accumulated in the backpack since then, so this was a challenge. Since the Sentio has all its pockets in the front side (thus the unbalancing issue), I tried to put several heavy items (e.g. hard disk, powerbank, documents etc.) in the internal laptop sleeve and some others in the large main compartment. However, when I finished loading it with all my stuff, it still looked like a sack of potatoes, having a hard time balancing the weight… I had no other choice but to transfer all my stuff back to the Tech Air, which seems to be a champion in holding its shape despite the load; and this is something I really love.

To sum up: Even though I planned to start using my (lighter) Sentio backpack, I will have to stick with the Air Tech for the time being. I may switch to the Bobby Compact in the future, which is a great alternative, too, thanks to its excellent weight balance.

Canon Selphy CP1200: First impressions

Canon Selphy CP1200: First impressions

I have been in search for a photo printer for quite a long time, as I wanted to make prints out of selected photos – mostly for sharing with my parents and parents-in-law who appreciate prints more than digital versions. Printing at a dedicated photo store was usually expensive, time consuming and required preparation of photos, copies to digital media etc.

At first, I was looking for a Fujifilm Instax Mini camera (which supports Polaroid-like instant printing) but I was put-off by the lack of LCD screen, the small size of the printing paper and large size of the camera (making it hard to carry around with me).

Then I was attracted by the Canon Selphy CP1200, a compact photo printer with good reviews and relatively low cost of prints (about €0,30/print). Maximum print size is approximately 10x15cm and its consumables come in packs (photo paper and cartridge) which are supposed to last for the same amount of prints (so no wasted paper or ink – in fact there’s no ink as it is dye sublimation technology). After several months of price-watching, I found the printer at a discount, bundled with a pack of consumables for 108 prints; it was an offer that I could not resist. I considered it as a belated Christmas gift to myself (and family, who kept asking for prints for quite a long time!)

Canon_Selphy_CP1200

Connection

Printing from an Android phone was easy; I just had to download the dedicated Canon PRINT Inkjet/SELPHY app, connect the printer to the home wireless network and connect the smartphone to the same network. Then, it was only up to adjusting some basic settings and prints were on their way.

Canon Selphy CP1200_specs

Then I tried connecting it to my Windows 10 laptop wirelessly; this was not possible as the laptop could not initialize connection with the printer. I had to manually download the drivers from Canon’s website, connect the printer through USB cable first and this also allowed the installation of the wireless drivers. Then I was able to print wirelessly from my laptop.

Printing from my Lumia 735 Windows phone was not possible at all; this is an issue, as most of my photos are taken by my Lumia and stored in its microSD card.

Printing takes about 1 min, which is totally fine with me, and I didn’t notice major differences between wireless and wired printing.

Photo input

Apart from WiFi and USB printing, Selphy CP1200 also supports printing from USB sticks and SD cards. Navigation is made easy through the printer’s tilt-up 2.7-inch LCD screen. The printer does not support printing via Bluetooth.

Print quality

I am not an expert and surely not a detail-freak. To me, the prints are equally nice to the one I got from the photo store. In most cases, I believe that the quality bottleneck is the image quality (e.g. dirty lens of the camera, low light conditions) and not the print itself. There are various options for glossy or semi-glossy finish of the photos.

I had some issues with cropping (tops cropped) when printing directly from the smartphone, an issue I didn’t notice when printing from the laptop.

Tips

  1. I was quickly informed that each time the printer is switched on or off, the cartridge is slightly “consumed”. If this cycle was completed a number of times, then the number of prints was reduced, as papers lasted longer than the dye so users ended up with piles of unused photo papers (note: you cannot purchase photo papers or cartridges individually; they are only available as a pack). The trick is to insert the cartridge after switching the printer on and remove it before you switched it off. I have done so, just in case.
  2. I was looking for a cable to connect the printer to my laptop – the cable was not included in the pack. After some unsuccessful online attempts for getting more info on the cable type, I realized that it is a standard mini-USB one (like the one available in the first version of smartphones). I just used one from a USB charger and it worked like a charm!

Conclusions

So far I have printed about 50 photos (still on my 1st cartridge) and I am pretty pleased with my selection. I have the opportunity to print the photos I want, when I want them and share them on the fly (e.g. during gatherings with family and friends). The cost is relatively low and the quality is more than decent. I have the flexibility to use my smartphone (Android only), laptop or tablet as a source for the printer and make the necessary adjustments to bring the prints closer to my taste.

In the meantime, I bought a couple of 108-photo packs as an offer (2nd one 50% off), so print cost is down to about €0,27/print. I just hope that the printer will prove to be reliable and last longer than its consumables!