Lenovo Watch 9: RIP – The epilogue

To make a long story short, and to save you some of your precious money: Don’t waste your bucks on this piece of #$%^UI.

After recovering the watch from a serious issue which rendered it useless (obviously due to a problematic firmware version 0.4.0), I thought that I had a properly working smartwatch on my wrist. But I was mistaken.

Since then, the watch started “freezing” at random times, especially when trying to sync data with the app – an issue faced by numerous users. Syncing usually started working properly but then the watch froze. It would not switch off, it would not switch on. The only solution was to remove the back cover and press the reset button. But this meant that all non-synced data would be lost. And they surely were.

After repeating the process numerous times over the past days, I was fed up. I was upset by losing my data because I was not able to have a full time series. My records now are sporadically spread over the days where the watch operated normally.

I am deeply disappointed by the total lack of support by Lenovo. Even if the watch was only targeted to Chinese market, it should work properly for Chinese users. So if a firmware caused issues, I would expect a company by Lenovo to take immediate action. It is a shame for them that the only workaround for bringing the phone back to life was from users/hackers and not by Lenovo.

The Lenovo Support forum is full of complaints about issues with any Lenovo smartwatch ever published. Lousy battery life and charging issues, Bluetooth issues, functions that failed to work from start, inaccurate / missing data, watch buttons coming off etc. All tips for help and workarounds come from users themselves and not by Lenovo – and in the end, most of them prove to be inefficient.

I wonder how Lenovo has the nerve to still sell “smartwatches” without taking notice of all the bugs that plague them and without providing any support at all. I’d definitely avoid them at any cost in the future.

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Bobby Compact for a day

After yesterday’s incident with the thunderstorm, I had to use another backpack for the day today – and I only had limited time to find the alternative and make the transition.

Even though I had my RiutBag R15.3 (still in its original packaging), I decided to go for the XD Design Bobby Compact. The reason is that I wouldn’t want to rush things with the new backpack and after all, I only needed a replacement for a day.

I started by emptying my still moist HP Odyssey, and then picked all absolutely necessary stuff that would go into the Bobby. Honoring its name, the Bobby Compact is really compact so I should keep that in mind when packing it. I found a place for almost everything I needed, so I was ready for the next day.

It has been quite some time since I last used it (around last summer, if I recall well, when I got my Odyssey) and it now felt strange: Compact, light and bright (its grey and pastel blue colors compared to the absolute black of the Odyssey).

After using my Bobby Compact for a day after some time, I realized how much my packing style has changed since then

Using it was different, too. I found the main zipper hard to use and accessing stuff inside the backpack was challenging: For example, my apple was underneath my book and a plastic bag so I had to search for it. Everything was packed tight and there was no space for additional items.

At the same time, the shoulder strap slot for my metro card was extremely handy, and the same went for the three external pockets (the one at my back and two side ones) – zippers were easy to use and items in them were easily accessible.

After spending one day with the Bobby Compact, I realized (again) that there is no perfect backpack, a “one to rule them all”. The best backpack is the one that meets your needs for a given day. Sometimes you need more organization options because you go to a business meeting, the other day a casual backpack for your daily commute to work and in some cases a larger one to combine work and short trips (and this is where the Riutbag R15.3 will shine, I hope).

The same organization options that come handy when you need them (e.g. more internal pockets, pen holders) will be hindering your packing at other times. For me, the Bobby Compact will always be a nice alternative to my main backpack, when I need to commute light or in more style than the rather sporty HP Odyssey – after all, it is more water-resistant, as it has its own integrated rain cover!

A real life water resistance test for my HP Odyssey

It was about 09.20 today and I had just exited the suburban railway station, when it started raining; in fact it was not a rain, it was a thunderstorm. Which was quite strange, as I recall checking the weather forecast earlier in the morning and there was no chance of precipitation.

I had two options: Either I would wait in the already jammed station (or in an equally jammed cafe nearby) hoping that it would soon stop, or I would rush to the office (a 10 minute walk) so that I would arrive on time (and therefore leave on time in the evening).

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Critical points: I had no umbrella with me; I never carry one when commuting to work as I depend on my water-resistant jacket and backpack. On top of that, my shoes were far from being water tight.

I went for the 2nd option. And it was the wrong one:

I started rushing through pools and streams of water, up and down the wrecked and blocked by cars sidewalks. I could hardly see due to the heavy rain and my long hood but in the end I managed to reach the office. Completely soaked, from top to bottom. My shoes were so wet that I had to stuff newspaper sheets in them and replace them every hour, water has come through my water-resistant jacket and my trousers were also in bad shape.

I was curious to see how my HP Odyssey backpack did with so much water falling directly on it, from all sides. First impressions were great: I opened the top (main) compartment and there was just some slight moisture. The same went for the bag’s front top zippered pocket (it is covered by heave plastic, so there was some moisture trapped inside. The laptop panel at the back also seemed pretty dry. I was surprised by the overall performance of this EUR 20 backpack. But then I realized…

Seems pretty hard for rain water to go through the thick material of the backpack; but apparently there are some weak points

When I tried to reach my smartphone charger, lying at the bottom of the main compartment, I felt that everything was pretty wet. I have the habit of stuffing plastic bags at the bottom (for extra padding, storing stuff etc.) and they were all wet. I soon realized that for some strange reason, and while the rest of the backpack was in good condition, its bottom was soaked – and the same went for the external laptop pocket. All papers stored inside the bag (e.g. its internal mesh pocket) and in the laptop compartment were soaked, and other items were obviously wet (including my power bank, USB sticks and pens).

I was busy so I could not spend time investigating where this water came from, but I suspect the two side pockets (the secure one behind the water bottle mesh and the other zippered one (the top cover was almost dry though). I had to take everything out, stuff all pockets with newspaper sheets (which are abundant in the office) and dry the whole backpack to the extend possible.

When I reached home, I emptied the backpack for once more, replaced the newspaper sheets to keep them dry and had to look for an alternative backpack for Friday.

I was sorry to realize that the Odyssey did not pass the test but on the other hand, the amount of rain was excessive so I guess I’ll have to live with that (or start carrying an umbrella with me).

Very first impressions of the Riutbag R15.3

It was back in late 2017; I was the lucky winner of an online competition held by Vice.com and soon I found myself with an XD Design Bobby Compact backpack. Shortly after that, a friend of mine (damn you Theo!) pointed out an alternative anti-theft backpack – the RiutBag.

I still recall being confused by the numbering of the RiutBags (R15.2 vs R15.3 vs R10.3 etc.) and the differences between them, but being impressed by the innovative anti-theft design, the yellow interior of the backpacks and their capacity (holding more than the rest of the same-volume backpacks). However, they were pretty expensive (at least for me), so they seemed out of reach. On top of that, after using my Bobby Compact for quite a while, I soon realized that it was a bit too small for my daily commuting gear so I switched to a brand-new HP Odyssey backpack.

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It was about time 😉

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To make a long story short, despite the fact that I was (and still am) pretty pleased with my Odyssey, I was still watching hours of video reviews of innovative backpacks, read numerous online reviews and always kept on eye on Riutbags and the updates from Sarah (Giblin, the designer of the RiutBags). In fact I wanted really bad to get my hands on one of them!

There was a real struggle over the past months: I resisted by the 33% off the Riut R15.3 price, even a 50% off at some point (it must have been Black Friday sales); however, time was mature when it went back on a 50% sale a few days ago: I ordered it late Tuesday 21/1 and it arrived on Thursday 23/1 – blazing fast delivery! It seemed like a dream coming true, having one of these backpacks that I’ve read a lot about, watched virtually every video review (thank you James Chia for the thorough reviews of the R15.2!) and desired so much.

Strange thing is that it’s been a week and I still have the R15.3 in its original packaging (WTF??). I inspected every single zip (to make sure there are no issues), checked seams, straps, pockets, everything I could to make sure that my backpack is flawless – and it was. I even planned the way that my stuff would be organized in my R15.3. But have not made the move in the past 7 days (will reveal the reason in an upcoming blog post).

My very first impressions of the RiutBag R15.3 are the following – could not help but comparing it to my €25 HP Odyssey as it’s my current carrying gear:

  1. Quality is great: It is a really well-made backpack, made with quality material. Stitches look ok,
  2. Fabric is stiff: It is stiffer than I expected. It surely holds its shape (and weight, even when empty). I wouldn’t worry having my R15.3 slashed with a knife (a strong selling point of the XD Design backpacks), as the fabric is too thick. At the same time, I am sure it is rain-proof (or at least pretty resistant to rain).
  3. Shoulder straps are stiff: They are thicker and stiffer than I would like. Being used to the thin but still extremely comfortable shoulder straps of my Odyssey backpack, I wish the R15.3 had the same straps.
  4. Zips are stiff, too: I admit I was not impressed by the zips used in the R15.3. They seem too thin, maybe weak and move pretty slow; I am not an expert but they seem one of the weakest points of the backpack. In comparison, the zips of my Odyssey feel much better and operate better. I hope that after a break-in period, the R15.3 zips will also move more smoothly.
  5. Organization features are great: A safe back-bottom pocket for valuables (e.g. wallet, passport), a quick access pocket at the top for most frequently used items (e.g. sunglasses, smartphone chargers, pens and a small notebook, gums), two internal mesh pockets for various items (cables/cords, USB sticks, chargers, power banks and external hard disks, a zippered and padded compartment for a laptop and a tablet, and ambient space for clothes, magazines/books etc. on the other side of the backpack divided by a zippered mesh – brilliant!
  6. Laptop compartment might an issue: Keep in mind that the laptop compartment fits a 15-inch laptop (not the typical 15.6-inch ones). As a result, my Acer Aspire E15 laptop will not fit at all in the compartment…it is a good thing that I rarely carry it around; instead I use my 11.6-inch transformer tablet with detachable keyboard.
  7. I like the top handle: In some cases you need to carry the backpack with the top handle. The one of the Odyssey is pretty awful: thin and covered with a hard, plastic material (stitches started failing already), which makes it unpleasant to use it. On the other hand, I love the thick and soft top handle of the 15.3, which is well-thought.
  8. I miss a shoulder strap slot for my metro card. No matter if it is zippered (like the ones of the previous versions of Riutbags) or not (like the XD Design Bobby has), I would appreciate a thin slot for storing and quick accessing my metro card while on the go.
  9. I don’t miss a USB port for charging my phone: The availability of a USB port connecting a power bank inside the backpack with a smartphone outside of it seems to be a must during these years. However, I never used this feature of my Bobby Compact nor I missed it in my HP Odyssey.

I will make the transition in the next days I guess, so I will have the opportunity to use my treasured R15.3 under real conditions – pretty challenging in some cases – and provide some useful (I hope) insights. Until then, it will be safely stored in its nice bag 🙂

Bringing the Lenovo Watch 9 back to life (firmware v.0.4.0)

Yes, my Lenovo Watch 9 become almost useless after upgrading its firmware to the official v0.4.0. What happened was that everyone with this firmware version received a “Low Battery” message on their new smartwatches, so Bluetooth could not be enabled and thus connection with the smartphone could not be established – so the smartwatch turned into a traditional wristwatch.

The strange thing is that I tested the watch’s battery and it was full. No matter how many times I reset the damn watch (by removing its back panel and pressing the tiny reset button), it would still show the “Low Battery” message. There was also no way of reverting back to a functioning firmware (i.e. downgrading).

I was disappointed by the total lack of support by Lenovo: Several users reported the issue on the official Lenovo Community Forums but there was no response. The same went for efforts contacting Lenovo support through Twitter and Facebook. Total lack of support.

The solution was tricky but it worked for me: There was a Lenovo Forum member who had seen a post on a Russian forum about a customized version of the Lenovo Watch app. This version would trick the Watch 9 into “upgrading” to firmware v.0.2.0 (in fact downgrading). I only had to do the following:

  1. remove the latest version of the Lenovo Watch app from my Android smartphone,
  2. install the modified version of the Lenovo Watch app from the Russian forum
  3. change the battery of my Watch 9 with a fresh one so that it Bluetooth will be functional again
  4. connect the Watch 9 with the app via Bluetooth
  5. Install firmware version v.0.2.0 as prompted by the app (make sure your phone has internet access)
  6. Remove the modified app version and install the latest one from Google Play

For the last couple of weeks the Watch 9 worked like almost flawlessly after this process, almost three months after being crippled by the latest firmware version. I’ve only witnessed a couple of accidental stops of the watch (mostly when it vibrates, e.g. when reaching the target number of steps or when turning on and off the Bluetooth). This requires when another reset (when I notice it) and leads to loss of the data so far (e.g. the number of steps for the day). It sucks.

Another issue I faced was that the latest version of the app prompted my to upgrade the watch to firmware version 0.4.0 (the bad one!). The workaround I found myself was to pair the Watch with the app only with WiFi turned off. Then, after data syncing is complete, I disconnect the Watch and turn WiFi back on.

In fact, the only issue I faced was that the latest version of the app prompted my to upgrade the watch to firmware version 0.4.0 (the bad one!). The workaround I found myself was to pair the Watch with the app only with WiFi turned off. Then, after data syncing is complete, I disconnect the Watch and turn WiFi back on.

In fact, the only issue I faced was that the latest version of the app prompted my to upgrade the watch to firmware version 0.4.0 (the bad one!). The workaround I found myself was to pair the Watch with the app only with WiFi turned off. Then, after data syncing is complete, I disconnect the Watch and turn WiFi back on.

Video on how to access the back pane’s reset button; a knife will also work

It was that simple but still the solution was not provided by the official Lenovo support but from some experienced users. I was informed that the Watches are not manufactured by Lenovo but by another supplier and then are branded as Lenovo. I could not care less about that; a Lenovo-branded product should have a Lenovo-quality support.

On top of that, another forum member stated that the Watch 9 may be targeted to Chinese market only, and this is why e.g. instructions are only available in English, ads in app are in Chinese, the watch is not available through Lenovo sites other than the Chinese one etc. Even if this is the case, what about the Chinese owners of Lenovo’s Watch 9 with firmware 0.4.0? Don’t they have the same issue as we do? Don’t they expect a solution to this issue?

A nice review of the Watch 9

In any case, Lenovo or their partner put the Lenovo Watch 9 users into trouble, almost crippling their smartwatches. Lenovo did not take ownership of the issue and have not provided any help after many months; they should at least push their vendor to fix the issue.

As a result, my trust in Lenovo as a customer has been disrupted and given the hard competition, it will be hard to restore. Would I upgrade to the more fancy Lenovo Watch X or even X Plus, shelling out even more money for another unsupported device by Lenovo? No way!

HP Odyssey backpack: First impressions

I have been using the HP Odyssey backpack for more than three of months now, mostly commuting to work by train – and it has been a pleasure. But how did I end up with the Odyssey?

I am always in search of a comfortable and practical backpack and I have been doing quite a lot of research over the last years. I have used backpacks with great organizational options but with limited space for bulky items, others with large main compartments but with weight balancing issues (i.e. not holding their shape), slim ones, bulky ones, many different kinds.

My last addition, the Bobby Compact by XD Design, was a great experience thanks to its anti-theft features and my frequent use of public means of transportation – at the same time, its small dimensions and limited capacity made it hard for me to keep using it as my daily gear. I do not need a huge backpack for daily use, but I would definitely need some additional space for the stuff I typically carry around.

The Odyssey by HP has always been in my wish list: It is a low cost and diverse backpack with sufficient volume and nice looks. When the time came for a quick replacement of my backpack, I found it dead cheap on the market (about 25 EUR incl. shipping) so I went for it. I was concerned by its pretty deep and narrow design (referring to its main compartment) but I had the opportunity to get my hands on it after noticing a colleague of mine carrying one around and I realized that this would not be a problem for me.

 

My first impressions, after these months of daily use:

1. Material: Material is thick enough without being too heavy. It is a mix of a faux-leather like material (front side) and a thinner one (on the sides). The back panel is extremely comfortable, and the same goes for the straps. The same thick material is used at the bottom of the bag, so it looks pretty durable and water-resistant (at least I hope so).

2. Organization options: There are different organization option, serving different roles:

a) Laptop compartment: Instead of being a part of the bag’s main compartment, it is cleverly located as a separate slot facing your back. This not only allows for a better weight allocation (the closer to your back heavy items are, the less the discomfort), but also makes it more secure, as the double zippers are practically at the height of your neck. The laptop compartment is well-padded and fits laptops larger than 15,6-inch. It can also hold larger than A4 paper documents, books etc.). It has a double zipper that makes it easy to access and prevents accidental drop of the laptop.

b) Main compartment: As I mentioned earlier, it is rather deep and narrow; however, it fits my typical lunchbox, which was really important! Its back side features a tablet pocket and a shorter pocket for e.g. small notebooks and smaller-size documents. On the opposite side you will find a zippered mesh pocket for even smaller items that you don’t want to spill in the bag (e.g. USB sticks, micro-SD cards, short cables, stationary etc.). On the sides (internally), there are two open elastic pockets that can be used for storing e.g. external hard disks; one of them has a small opening to the external side pocket, that can be used for passing through the cable of e.g. a powerbank so that devices can be charged.

There are also 4 elastic pen slots and a key loop; the latter is located pretty low in the bag so it looks pretty useless to me.

HP Odyssey features 2

c) Main compartment cover pocket: The main compartment has a closure with an external compartment; it looks a bit like the Thule’s SafeZone compartment, but without the extra protection. I use it for items I need to access quickly (e.g. keys, sunglasses in their case, a pen and post-it notes, access cards, transportation pass, spare change etc.). Its zip is protected by the thick, water-repellent material used in the front of the bag so it looks like well-protected from rain..

d) Side pockets: A typical mesh one for a water bottle (fits at least my 600 mL thick insulated water bottle) and another one with a zipper and an internal opening towards the main compartment (see above).

e) Safe pocket: There is a pretty small zippered vertical pocket between the water bottle pocket and the laptop compartment. It faces towards my back, so it is pretty secure. I use it for my magic wallet, a thin business card holder and my backup smartphone. A nice addition but since it lies between the water bottle pocket and the internal side pocket (occupied by my power bank), it tends to be squeezed and therefore hard to access…

3. Volume: I find it quite strange that there is no mention of its actual volume – anywhere! Based on its dimensions, I estimate it at about 18-20 lt. I can’t say it is huge (e.g. meeting my needs for a 2-3 day trip) and definitely it is not small (larger than the Bobby Compact). Its main compartment is indeed rather narrow and deep so it is mostly useful for bulky items (e.g. my lunch box, a couple of clothes, some grocery items etc.); you will have a hard time finding smaller items inside it.

Obviously, when the internal pockets of the main compartment are used, the space of the main compartment itself is minimized – the same goes for the laptop compartment, which also puts some “pressure” on the main compartment. Since I do not have to carry a laptop with me (just a 11,6-inch tablet w/ keyboard – and not all the time!), I have adequate space for a pocket book, a newspaper and other documents in the laptop compartment, which leaves some space in the main one.

The compression straps (on top and bottom of the backpack) look good but do not offer much as the bag looks hard to compress (due to its pretty thick material).

4. Practicality: It definitely is a practical backpack. It allows for quick access to its various pockets and compartments even while walking and the top pocket is great for this purpose. It has a sternum strap for better allocation of the weight, a practical front-side handle for carrying it around as a duffel bag etc.

My only complaint is the main compartment, which may get too cramped with items, restricting access to its internal pockets, mostly due to its top-loading design – but then, how often is my backpack that cramped? You can store items, you can hang items (e.g. a small flashlight, a reflective band etc.). The common water bottle / umbrella side pocket is there, quick access options are there.

I also don’t like the top handle; it is too thin and covered with this faux-leather material as the front of the bag. I would prefer a handle like the front side one, which is more soft and comfortable to use. However, I rarely use the top handle, so I do not mind that much.

HP Odyssey features 1

5. Looks: It surely isn’t a backpack aiming at business users, to be brought to formal meetings. It looks casual and has a tactical style (see the side next to the zippered side pocket), and its front handle allows it to carry it around as a compact duffel bag (but still without the perks of it). It still has a limited footprint. I would describe it as an urban backpack, which can be used for work and e.g. gym. I went for the black/gray one, so it doesn’t have these bright red/green details of other types of the same backpack and looks more discreet.

Btw, it reminds me a bit of the Targus Seoul backpack (top opening, front side handle, almost rectangle shape), but with a thicker material and no front pockets. I was about about to buy the Seoul for about 35 EUR but I actually didn’t like the fact that it wouldn’t hold its shape when not full. It also shares a lot of common elements (design-wise) with the recently announced Belkin Active Pro. While it is more than double the price, it looks more professional sporting a leaner design both internally and externally; a colleague of mine recently managed to pack stuff for a two-day business trip in it – I guess thanks to its “cleaner” main pocket design, which allows for more space (but less organization options – you need to balance your priorities!).

6. Bonus: Anti theft design? Well, the backpack is not advertised as an anti theft one, but thanks to its design, it feels more secure compared to most of the options available. One would notice that there are no zippers or pockets in the front of the backpack. Its main compartment has a top cover with a double zipper which can close at the point of your neck, so it would be pretty hard for anyone to have access to it. The pocket on the closure of the main pocket has the zipper protected under a pretty thick material, so it is hard to open unnoticed. Last but not least, the side vertical slot/pocket facing almost at your back is also well-protected. How cool is that?

Summary

A great backpack, spacious enough, comfortable and looking neat. Holds its own weight, it looks rain-proof and sturdy. My only complaints are the top handle (too thin and uncomfortable) and the zippers (seem like the weak lpart of the bag). But for a bit more than EUR 20, it is hard to beat its value for money. I have the feeling that it will serve me well for the next years.

If you want to see more of the HP Odyssey backpack, you can take a look at the numerous video reviews on YouTube. Even though none of them will show how much stuff the Odyssey will hold, they provide a nice visual overview of the bag.

 

Lenovo Watch 9: First impressions

I was never especially attracted to fitness trackers; after all, I was not into fitness. But I am into collecting data related to my activities. And I recently started going to the gym.

I found the Lenovo Watch 9 on a sale for something about 20 euros (after applying a discount coupon), including shipping from China, and it was a deal I could not resist: A nice looking traditional watch with smart features.

When I first got it in my hands, I admit I got a bit disappointed…the app, without which the watch is not smart at all, looked crippled and incomplete. Lousy translations from Chinese, mixed bag of data etc. On top of that, coming from a Timex chronograph, which was my daily companion for the last years, the Lenovo watch looked pretty small, with a really hard to read scale and a lousy manual that left a lot to be imagined.

Lenovo-Watch-9

Since then, I have been using it daily and I admit I tend to like it more and more every day.

What I like

  • The unique combination of a traditional watch with several smart capabilities – at this price level.
  • It is pretty discreet: Its all-black color, with the brushed black body looks serious and I like the contrast with the white hands and bars.
  • It is light and feels comfortable even when wearing it all day – a significant difference compared to my larger Timex Expedition Chronograph.
  • It actually has a lot of features: I mostly use its pedometer and I realized that I can have an indication of the step count by pressing the crown button once (so without connecting to the app). In addition, when I reach my daily goal, the phone starts vibrating! It supports reminders, alarms, remote shutter (but all through the app)
  • I started using it for monitoring my sleep (and it does a surprisingly good work with that!), I play around with the heart rate functionality of the app (which I find rather inaccurate) and I have set a couple of reminders which make my watch vibrate.
  • The hands are (supposed to be) illuminous so they look rather bright at night.

 

What I don’t like:

  • I would like it to be a bit larger. It’s not a deal breaker, but I am used to larger wrist watches.
  • The pretty thin strap; I believe it could be a bit wider, to look more masculine.
  • The lack of light, so to be able to check the time in the dark; the Indiglo feature of my Timex is a really handy feature and a simple led would do the work anyway..
  • The lack of date indicator; I tend to look at my watch for keeping up with the current date. It is a feature I look for in all my watches and I miss this one.
  • I cannot share my progress through social media, as I do with the similar Samsung Health app.
  • The app is lousy, with bad translations from Chinese to English and weird organization of options. On top of that, the weather forecast never worked for me in Greece. I admit that a received a couple of updates over the past few days, which slightly improved various aspects of the app.
  • There is no Windows app, which could aggregate data from the watch, allow export in a standard file format and provide various visualization options.
  • Data about sleep monitoring seem to take ages to sync;
  • There is no clear info on how long / how much data can the watch hold before it syncs with the app.
  • The battery is not rechargeable; while it lasts longer (about 1 year, based on some reviews), it would be nice to have the option to recharge it via USB.

From one hand, it is a nice hybrid watch bout on the other hand, it is hard for anyone to imagine how a high-tech and acknowledged company like Lenovo produced something so incomplete (see the app and the Chinese-only manual).

In this context, while I was attracted to Lenovo’s Watch X and Watch X Plus (especially the latter, I am reluctant to pay for something that looks buggy and under development while on the market. I plan to keep the Watch 9 for as long as it lasts and then I will look around for alternatives, even at higher prices.

For the time being, I am happy with my selection and strongly believe that the Watch 9 is a great value for money – as long as one is happy with what it offers.

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 😉

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.