Tech Air TAN3711 15.6-inch backpack review

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was in the hunt for yet another backpack, as I got bored/tired of the one I’ve been using almost exclusively for the last years, during my daily commutes to work and back. And when I was about to get a brand new one for me, I recalled a backpack I was given several months ago, now resting at my storage room. And I decided to give it a try.

The backpack is a Tech Air 15.6 Inch Backpack TAN3711, with the following dimensions:

Width 34.5 cm
Height 13.5 cm
Depth 46.5 cm
Weight 1.1 kg

I have been using the backpack for a couple of weeks now and here are my impressions:

What I like:

  • The bottom is rugged, with heavy duty rubber/plastic. This means that even if it sits on water, water will not soak the internal of the backpack.
  • The laptop compartment is reinforced, in a way patented by the company; it’s like having a sleeve for it, which is securely integrated in the bag.
  • There is a dedicated pocket for documents, folders etc. behind the laptop sleeve; this ensures that documents will not wrinkle etc.
  • There are 4-5 internal small pockets, open top, which allow the storage of e.g. a mouse, a phone charger, a wallet, a pocket notepad, wrapped cables etc. Keep in mind that all of them are open (see later on)

What I don’t like:

  • Both external pockets are badly designed: They only have one zipper (not the typical couple available nowadays) and it starts from pretty low point; this means that if you put small items inside they will likely fall when you try to open the pocket. For example, I have plenty of USB sticks with me and some of them were always about to fall when I opened the top pocket for storing my keys.
  • There are not internal zipped pockets: This means that all these small things that may end up in your backpack (and in case you decide to avoid using the external pockets for the aforementioned reasons) will spread inside the bag if it turns around. Securely storing coins, paperclips, rubber bands, USB sticks etc. is not possible with this bag.
  • There is no external side pocket/mesh for water bottles, umbrellas etc. This makes the backpack look less wide (it is already significantly wide) but I miss this feature. After all, I wouldn’t put my wet umbrella inside the backpack.
  • A deep and wide mesh pocket exists in the main compartment, which can be used for various items but with no organization. This also occupies space from the main compartment.
  • The main compartment will not fit a typical lunch box, as it is narrow and on top of that blocked by the internal pockets, all of which face inwards.
  • The material doesn’t look waterproof – let alone weatherproof.

All in all, it seems like a backpack aiming at professionals and not the typical city commuters, who carry their water bottles, umbrellas etc. with them, along with lots of small things that need to be securely stored in zipped pockets. I like its shape and it seems to hold its weight well-balanced (not carrying a laptop with me, though) but I really miss some features that I consider essential.

Despite that, I plan to keep using the backpack and will try to adapt to its features and limitations for the next weeks, too, but I will keep my eyes open for any alternatives.

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In search for a new backpack

In search for a new backpack

I have been using my Sentio Sporty backpack almost daily since I got it, two years ago; I never expected it to last that long. I even used it as my main backpack during business trips lately, as I tried to travel light – lighter than in the past. In the meantime, I had some short breaks, using my Swiss messenger bag and even an old Trust backpack, trying to break this daily routine of using the same bag to and from work. After using it so intensively I can be a pretty subjective reviewer of it.

Sentio_Sporty_2048310

What I like:

  • It is really light;
  • It is compact: a 15.6-inch laptop hardly fits in its main compartment (no way to fit it in the laptop sleeve). I don’t have to carry my laptop so my tablet fits fine there when needed and I can easily store the bag virtually anywhere;
  • It is spacious: Its main compartment can fit my lunch box, along with chargers, cables, a hard disk, etc. – the main compartment expands a lot compared to the bag’s total volume;
  • It is practical: it has two external side mesh pockets for my water bottle and umbrella. It also has a three zippered pockets in the front, one of which with some basic organizational options (for pens, business cards and a small zippered part for coins and other small items. All zippers have their own loops, and are double, which makes them easy to use;
  • It is easy to carry around: It has soft shoulder straps and combined with its low weight you can hardly feel it.

What I don’t like:

  • Its material is so soft that it hardly holds its own weight; in most cases, the bag sits like a sack of potatoes…
  • The material is so thin that wears off when sharp or heavy objects are packed in the bag;
  • The bag is not well-balanced; since all additional pockets are located at the front side, the additional weight makes the bag lean forward, which is awkward when backpack is on my shoulders;
  • The top handle is not well-placed; for some reason it is located more towards the back of the bag.

For these reasons, I lately started looking for alternatives. What I wanted was a spacious yet compact backpack, comfortable for everyday use, with dedicated pockets for organizing all the small things I carry along, lightweight and durable, and even water-resistant if possible.

My short but in-depth online research came up with two potential candidates: Targus Seoul (a long time favorite of mine) and HP Odyssey. The former was a bit more expensive (about €45) than the latter (€25) but money was not an issue, as a backpack is a long-term investment.

Targus_Seoul

I spent hours checking out video and text reviews on Amazon, blog posts and images from manufacturers and users, trying to figure out how I would fit my stuff in their pockets and slots, which were their strong and weak points etc. I even had the opportunity to check the Odyssey at the office, as a colleague of mine had a couple of them in different colors. Seoul seemed more refined, with well-thought features (see the trolley and tablet sleeve, and maybe a bit more spacious) while the Odyssey seemed more rugged and less-refined but still practical. The Odyssey even got a reddot award / honorable mention in 2015.

»The HP Odyssey scores high for its well-thought-out functionality, which focuses particularly on the safe and comfortable transport of sensitive electronic equipment.«

And when I was about to get one of these for me, I recalled a backpack given to me several months ago, resting at my storage room. And I decided to give it a try…

(to be continued).

Packing light for summer holidays

Packing less is great, but you always have to carry the essentials with you; especially when you spend some time away from home. You need to carefully plan your stay, think about the items that you will definitely need, add some of those that you may need and then start packing. The easiest way is packing more, but this is not really convenient – especially during summer holidays.

During the first part of our summer holidays, I packed my stuff in my compact messenger bag: My 10.1-inch tablet with its charger and the Logitech K480 keyboard, a couple of smartphones with their chargers, HDMI cable for plugging the tablet to the hotel room’s TV (it was the first time the TV was unlocked and the cable proved useful for keeping kids busy watching cartoons), a notepad & pencils, wallet, my sunglasses etc. However, I hardly had the opportunity to use the bulky keyboard and instead I used mostly my smartphones for consuming content (e.g. checking out social media, looking for information on places to visit, GPS navigation etc.) and producing as well (taking and editing photos, updating social media). I also found the bag heavy to carry around.

As a result, during the second part of our holidays, I decided to get rid of some stuff and be even more portable. I challenged myself to fit all my essentials in a really compact mens shoulder bag that was given to me as a gift some time ago but never had the opportunity to use it. It may sound impossible, but this little bag held the following during my holidays:

  • My Magic Wallet
  • A pocket notepad and a couple of pens
  • A pocket book (one of the biographies of Black Sabbath 😃 )
  • Home keys, car keys and hotel room keys with keyrings
  • Two smartphones and one charger
  • My sunglasses in their pouch
  • A compact flashlight (it always comes handy when away from home)
  • A nail clipper
  • Coins
  • Fresheners & gums
  • All the receipts collected during the vacations and a couple of folded A4 pages with map of the area and other notes.

It was so compact and light that I could easily carry it around by the pool, the beach and our evening walks – virtually all the time. Of course I did not have my 10.1-inch tablet nor its keyboard with me, but I would hardly have the opportunity to use them anyway, based on my experience and daily schedule. This meant that I stayed a little bit behind with blogging, reviewing the places we visited etc. but this would happen anyway, due to lack of time for that (and not due to the lack of the items themselves).

Test drive of Hare Kohu beach shader: Part 1

I recently got myself a Hare Kohu beach shader by Terra Nation, after our cheap beach umbrella broke. I went for a shader, as I liked the fact that our staff would be half-protected while we are swimming and that kids would find it fun to sit under the shade and play (compared to a typical beach umbrella).

The specific shader is easy to setup, provides plenty of space, is said to be of high quality and is lightweight. What more could I ask? I purchased one and spent some time at home, opening and closing it and I was amazed by its simplicity. Its material was thinner than I expected (more or less like a rain umbrella) so I don’t expect it to last for a long time; however, it may make up for it thanks to the fun of using it.

Today I had the opportunity to test it under real conditions, at a remote beach we visited during our summer holidays. It was really windy though, and the wind’s direction was opposite to the sun’s one, so the shader had to face the wind like the sails of a boat if we wanted to get some shade…

I  needed some help from my wife to open it; in fact, she needed to make sure that it will not fly with the wind when opened! After that, I used five of the pegs provided with the shader and had both windows opened, in order to allow the wind’s flow, and put all our stuff inside. Using one of the available cords with an additional peg did not improve things. We soon realized that the shader would not stay at its position unless an adult sat inside, so we had to swim in turns! In the end, we got so frustrated by the wind that we had to pack our things and go. I closed the shader by myself and it was easier than I expected, taking into consideration the strong wind.

Despite that, my first impressions from Hare Kohu were positive:

  • It was easy to set up, even under windy conditions;
  • It gave us plenty of space and shade for three persons – even 4, if squeezed;
  • Our stuff were protected (at least partially);
  • We appreciated the roof pockets, which allowed the easy storage of our e.g. sunglasses and smartphones, among others.
  • The shader was easy to carry around (thanks to its practical carry bag) and lightweight, equal to a beach umbrella (but more compact).

On the other hand, it was obvious that strong wind was an issue and I would also appreciate a slightly thicker material (the current one looks prone to tearing at some point soon, even when packed with all these parts of the shader’s skeleton pressing the fabric).

Overall, I find it a nice investment and I can only hope that it will be a durable one.

Timex Expedition Fullsize Camper Black Face Watch – T425714E

Well, it finally arrived – with an initial shipment date between the end of August and end of October (I wasn’t in a hurry to receive it, as I already had a wrist watch to wear during this time) and an update for shorter shipment between August 6th and 8th, it arrived even earlier (5/8). It was purchased from Amazon UK for about 21 GBP including shipping costs.

The watch arrived in a really nice packaging (carton box from Amazon) with additional paper balls inside, in order to ensure a safe shipment.  The watch was in its original packaging, as you would buy it from a watch store and included the manual and the receipt from Amazon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It is really light (you cannot notice that you are actually wearing it), and looks nice and sturdy. It says that it is water resistant up to 50 meters so it must be ok for swimming in sea and pools. Indiglo functionality looks also really cool, by illuminating the whole watch plate with a single button press!

It will replace my Darch wrist watch which was apparently really nice but too small for my wrist. It will also replace my AK wirst watch, which collapsed a couple of months after purchase – I’ll try to avoid cheap, low quality items (especially ones which i plan to use daily and for a long time) in the future. It surely didn’t worth it…

Living on the cheap

Times are hard, especially regarding financial aspects. However, small gifts are always more than welcome especially when we are talking about practical items and useful gadgets. In this context I just purchased the following:

  1. Philips Sounddot 2GB mp3 player: Bought it for just 19,00 euros from a local store in Athens. I just needed a portable MP3 player to replace my broken Sweex MP-303 (whose battery was completely worn and exhausted). I just needed a long-lasting battery for this one and I hope that Philips will prove to be continuing its nice tradition in this area (I still remember its mobile phones, holding a charge for about a week with medium usage!). It is small and supports fast charging and shuffle mode (which my ill-fated Sweex did not…).
  2. Timex Expedition Fullsize Camper Black Face Watch – T425714E: Bought it for a little bit less than 22 GBP  including postage (15 GBP the watch alone; it is usually for sale at about 30 GBP minimum, not including postage), from Amazon.co.uk. I needed a durable watch to replace my unfortunate cheap Chinese purchase from Ebay. This time I went for a well-known brand and I avoided metal bracelets. I wanted something cheap but good, withstanding swimming (but not diving) and showing the date (because I tend to lose track of time lately…). I expect it to arrive in the next week.

My brand-new AK wrist watch

It just arrived from China, bought through ebay. I went for another one but the seller was not delivering to Greece for some reason… so I went for this one. What draw my attention? The AK (Alias Kim) brand reminds me of the company that I am currently working for, so it was also a teaser for my colleagues!

Image

The watch (model AK-W063A) costed about 20 euros (GBP 12 + GBP 2,99 shipping costs) and it arrived in about three weeks from China. It looks solid and fits nicely to my wrist. All three dials are functioning (which is not common for such cheap watches and can be set up with the corresponding buttons). The watch is not water-proof but water-resistant (according to the seller; this is not mentioned in the back of the watch). It is automatic/mechanical and looks pretty nice – surely not as cheap as it is.

I am not sure for how long it will last, but it seems to be a good catch for the money!

::Edit 6/8/2013:: The watch started collapsing a few weeks after purchasing: The upper button just fell off with no reason and I managed to put it in place. However, it fell-off again and this time it was lost for good. Even though I followed the advice of the seller for adjusting time at specific times only (due to the possibility of damaging the small indicators) a couple of them just stopped responding. I just use it occasionally these days. It proved to be a bad purchase – low quality and not cheap, as for the same amount of money I managed to purchase a Timex Expedition wrist watch on sale…

My gear

I am currently using two laptops, one netbook and one tablet, apart from the mobile phone… let’s take them one by one:

Office laptop: HP Pavillion tx 1110us, an old but still functioning workhorse. It features an AMD Turion 64 X2 Dual Core Mobile Technology @ 1.60GHz, 2GB DDR2 SDRAM, 12.1″ WXGA High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Convertible Display (1280×800) (swiveling like a tablet but not touch-sensitive…), 120GB (5400 RPM) SATA Hard Drive and a Nvidia GeForce Go 6150 graphics card. With Windows 7 Ultimate 64bit installed, it works like a charm despite its age. In addition, it has been through a series of motherboard changes, as the infamous issue with the Nvidia GPU appeared and could not be serviced despite the replacement (twice!) of the motherboard. Finally, a colleague of mine decided to take the situation in his hands and managed to fix the laptop for good with only some thermal CPU paste and a 5-cent coin!

Now the laptop is stable and used daily for my office tasks (mostly emails, document processing and a lot of web browsing). Its three USB ports are always occupied by a two-button, optical HP mouse, a USB cradlewhich is used to sync my HTC Blackstone (Touch HD) and at the same time charge the 2nd battery, and finally a Western Digital My Passport Essential USB 3.0 500GB (Red), in which Portable Thunderbird and all my emails are stored. The inbox is backed up every 2nd day in my company’s data server (manually – I have to remember that!).

Next to my laptop sits the newest member of the gadget family, a pearl-white Lenovo Ideapad A1 tablet: 7-inch capacitive screen (1024X600), 1GHz CPU, 1 GB RAM and 16 GB of storage. It is my companion during my daily trips to office and back, so I keep some of its apps updated (e.g. Lifehacker, Popsci.com, mails etc.) to keep me busy during my commuting.

Home laptop: Back at home I mainly use a Lenovo G550, which is a no-thrill, basic laptop: 15.6” screen (1366×768) driven by an Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD and powered by a Intel Celeron Dual-Core T3100 (1.90GHz, 1MB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB) combined with 2GB of DDR3 400MHz RAM. The OS is Windows 7 Home Premium (the favorite OS of low-end laptops), but it is ok, as this laptop sits on the arm of my couch just for web surfing/checking emails (and watching movies when nothing interesting is on the TV!).

Netbook: Another machine usually sitting in a drawer at home is an Acer Aspire One 751h netbook: It was initially purchased as a lighter alternative of my broken HP Pavillion tx-1110us, as I needed something smaller and lighter due to the fact that I kept commuting with my Dahon Boardwalk folding bike. Fortunately my laptop was fixed, as the 751h proved to be much weaker than I expected. It seems that in order to keep the battery life as high as possible, and taking into consideration the relatively large (for a netbook) 11,6” 1366×768 screen (HD resolution), they decided to combine it with a low-power Intel Atom Z520 CPU @ 1.33-GHz  and 1 GB of RAM, along with an Intel GMA500 GPU, which despite its decent specs, it always suffered from bad driver support… In most cases the 160GB HD at 5,400rpm keeps reading and reading and reading and the whole system (Windows 7 Pro) is usually so slow that I can hardly do any multitasking.  the bad thing is that due to the proprietary drivers of GMA500, it is only partially supported by a number of Linux distros, so I am stuck with Windows. Maybe a format and the use of Windows 7 Home Premium would be a solution to this issue.

This netbook is my companion in my business trips or during holidays, where only minimum usage is expected (e.g. web browsing, checking emails and storing the photos from my digital camera). The good thing is its battery life, which may be close to 5 hours of working.

During my daily commuting to office and back, I usually carry my staff in my dA PRO Digital Artist Backpack, a b-day gift from my colleagues. It is really slim and it took me quite a while to get used to it, as I used to carry much bigger backpacks with me. However, it looks really nice, it has some really nice pockets, a waterproof cover and I can stuff my tablet, calendar/notepad, a small umbrella (for the rainy days), some snack in a food container and a number of pens/markers, cables, chargers etc.

Olympus E-PM1: How will it stand up against my E-300?

So after the sudden death of my Olympus E-300, I ended up with an Olympus E-PM1 double zoom kit (M.ZUIKO Digital 14-42mm f3.5-5.6 II R and M.ZUIKO Digital ED 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 R). It came in white color (body), with silver lenses, a combination that I don’t find really attractive; however, I didn’t have the choice since it was the only available model…

I have only spent about a week with the E-PM1 and I get to like it. It was not easy to compare it with E-300, as the latter was bulkier and had the style of a dSLR; on the other hand, the Pen Mini looks like a compact with interchangeable lenses! I tried to compile a list of things I like in Pen Mini and things I miss, compared to the E-300:

What I like:

  • It is more portable, so I suppose I will start taking it with me in my business trips (it has been a long time since the last time I took E-300 with me, due to the weight and volume needed)
  • It looks more fun to use, due to the interesting “artistic” effects and small size; I don’t look like a professional photographer now!
  • These filters will minimize the time for post-processing; I used to do the same with my mobile phone (shoot and then process photos with filters and effects), now I will do it in a higher-quality manner. With my mobile phone I used to shoot first and apply the filters later; with E-PM1 I can shoot using the filters in advance!
  • It shoots HD video, which is really appreciated. I already have a cheap but good HD camcorder but using one camera for both photos and videos is a plus.
  • It uses the widely used SD memory cards and not the obsolete CF ones.

What I miss:

  • Optical viewfinder: After almost 10 years of shooting through an optical viewfinder, I find it hard to get used to frame photos through the LCD screen.
  • Menu dial on top: Even though I usually do not mess with settings (Aperture/Shutter etc), I was using the top menu dial switch for changing between different functions. I find that doing that through the menu is more time consuming and confusing
  • The commands assigned to the dial on the back of the camera are not adjustable, so I am stuck with the predefined ones, which are not really convenient to me. I would like e.g. to have either a dedicated ISO button or at least a way to program one of the existing buttons to do so
  • There is no hand grip on the body of the camera (front/back), which makes it rather awkward to hold with my fat fingers. E-300 had an excellent grip which was really convenient for holding the camera either way.
  • Flash is not built-in, so I found myself looking for it in some cases (e.g. strong back light), when it was left in my camera bag.

That’s all for now. I guess that I will get used to it with time and I may get for once more into digital photography, a hobby that I have almost given up for many years now…

E-300: Dead for good

It must have been 2005 when I got my Olympus E-300, my first dSLR. I was an amateur photographer back then (well, I still am!), with previous experience only with small compact cameras.

E-300 was bulky but sturdy; it felt like a rock in my hands. Excellent construction and finishing, excellent quality of photos, wealth of settings and options. It came as a kit with the ZD 14-45mm f3.5-5.6, which was paired with a Sigma 55-200mm f4-5.6; however, I hardly used the latter, as I was shooting mostly landscapes. E-300 was a trusty companion in several trips, both inside and outside Greece and had been through some difficult situations but never showed up any sign of wear.

It was only during an event organized by the company I am working for back in December 2012, that was misused by a colleague and then stopped functioning properly; everything was working fine with no CF card in the slot but when a card was used, the camera would not even turn on… a visit to the official service in Greece proved that the camera could not be repaired, due to the lack of spare parts.

Even though I got a nice offer from the service (and I feel grateful for that), I have to admit that I am going to miss E-300. It was a workhorse which one was not afraid to use under hard conditions and in any case. I have thousands of photos taken with my E-300, kept as a legacy and proof of the quality images that were captured with my poor skills.

So long, E-300 and thank you for being here for me during all these years!