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Posts Tagged ‘review’

Harbor Freight 800 Watt Generator

July 21st, 2012 No comments
This entry is part 6 of 9 in the series Generator

Harbor Freight 800 Watt Generator

I needed a small generator for an upcoming camping trip. And my every other day Harbor Freight sales e-mail arrived in my inbox. So I took the plunge on this popular little generator. The first one didn’t work out so well (ahhh, Harbor Freight, you never fail to fail). But the second one seems to be working. Read all about it – I gave the generator its own review page here.

Red Oxx Air Boss – 4th Review: Another Trip to California

May 28th, 2012 No comments
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

Trip Length: 4 days, 3 nights.

Time of Year/Weather: May 2012

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination: San Diego, CA (SAN)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737

Purpose: Industry group conference. Presenting on a panel and business meetings.

Contents:

  • Dress pants and shirts for 4 days in Eagle Creek 18″ folder
  • One suit.
  • Underwear & socks
  • 13″ MacBook Pro in a Timbuk2 Crater laptop sleeve
  • Asus Transformer TF101 tablet w/ keyboard in a Timbuk2 Quickie Laptop Bag
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube with assorted cables, chargers, etc.
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube w/ assorted toiletries (toothbrush, razor, etc.)
  • Freedom Baggie
  • Running clothes and shoes
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • Assorted magazines

The Verdict: This will be the final review for the Air Boss for a while – thankfully, I’m not traveling again for several weeks. After spending 3 out of 4 weeks on the road in May, and flying nearly 16,000 miles on a variety of planes, and carrying everything from suits to running clothes, I can say that I love this bag. I still have work to do on my packing strategy, but that isn’t the fault of the bag. I like the Air Boss for the following reasons:

  • The pockets are well thought out. There aren’t too many (a big problem on some bags) and they function well. The full-height ticket pocket works great for holding boarding passes. The full-width zipper pocket is a great place to stask all the stuff you don’t want to wear through the x-ray machine. I routinely dump wallet, cash, watch, belt, and cellphones into this pocket as I reach the security line. Finally, the snap pocket is great for magazines and books.
  • The center compartment is deceptively large. It easily holds running shoes, a laptop, a tablet, freedom baggie, chargers, and miscellaneous stuff.
  • The offset shoulder-strap mounts work great to distribute the load.
  • The inner and outer pockets hold a surprising amount of clothing. I use Eagle Creek folders and have very little problem with wrinkling. In fact I didn’t iron a single thing during any of the three trips I took this month. Others report excellent results with the bundle method.
  • The handles are well designed: they snap together for comfortable carrying with a heavy load, but quickly come apart to allow unobstructed access to the pockets. When standing at the TSA checkpoint for instance.
  • The bag is tough. I stuffed it into crowded overheads, slid it on the floor through long security lines, stuffed it into my closet at home, threw it into the trunks of rental cars, and generally abused it. And it still looks like new with not a single loose thread.

The major changes I made were to add an Op/Tech SOS Curve strap. The bag came originally with “the Claw” strap, but I found that strap too sharp if the bag got heavy. The Op/Tech strap seems to distribute the weight much more evenly and is plenty sturdy. Although this wasn’t my primary mission, both the strap and bag are made in the USA, so I have a complete USA manufactured system. That is rare and cool in this day and age.

I also added a Red Oxx Pin Mount Key Clip to the webbing in the outboard pocket, which permanently holds a tiny LED flashlight and a metal dog-tag style luggage tag I bought on EBay for $1.00. I also hang my keys there when I have them along on a trip.

Overall, I am happier with this bag than with any of my rollers or simple duffles. It is very well thought out and suited to its task, and seems tough enough to give me many, many years of use. And if there’s a problem, they’ll fix it. I was very impressed by the story of the Red Oxx company. I’m even more impressed by their warranty:

A NOBLE WARRANTY IS A NO BULL WARRANTY

A noble warranty is the kind of warranty that I myself like to have for products I buy. When you make an investment like the one you do with Red Oxx Gear, you expect it to last. In the event that something does happen, you want to be able to get it repaired. We’re not here to ask you why it happened, just sent it back to us and we will fix it. If we can’t fix it we’ll give you a new bag, It’s that simple. The warranty is a safe bet because these bags are built to last. Think of it as worry free peace of mind.

In the end, I guess this is the clincher for me. I buy a ton of cheap Chinese junk and I’m happy to do it. Just look at my Harbor Freight tools page if you need proof. But there is a place in my heart for things that matter and are made in the USA. For things that stand up to the test of time and are just always there when you need them. For things that are built well, and serve uniquely American needs. Things like my Buck Knight knife that I’ve carried a version of for 20+ years. Or my Aerostich 2-piece Roadcrafter suit that I always wear on my motorcycle. Or my Stormy Kromer cap that serves me all winter long year after year. Or the Remington Model 700 that helped me bag my first deer 26 years ago. There’s more of course, but you get the point.

I had the opportunity to vote with my money and to support a unique American business that makes a unique bag that does its job exceptionally well. I’m really glad I did.

If you travel a lot, you need this bag. Get one today – you won’t be disappointed.

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

Red Oxx Air Boss – 3rd Review: 4 Days/3 Nights in California

May 25th, 2012 No comments
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

Trip Length: 4 days, 3 nights.

Time of Year/Weather: May 2012

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination: Palo Alto, CA (SJC)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737

Purpose: Academic conference at Stanford University.

Contents:

  • Dress pants and shirts for 4 days in Eagle Creek 18″ folder
  • Underwear & socks
  • 13″ MacBook Pro in a Timbuk2 laptop folder
  • Asus Transformer TF101 tablet w/ keyboard in Timbuk2 Quickie Laptop Bag
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube with assorted cables, chargers, etc.
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube w/ assorted toiletries (toothbrush, razor, etc.)
  • Freedom Baggie
  • Running clothes and shoes
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • Assorted magazines

The Verdict: I’m beginning to reach the capacity limit of the bag. Well, the comfortable capacity limits anyway, because as many people will tell you, the Air Boss will swallow lots of stuff. I haven’t had to sit on it to get the zippers closed, yet, but this trip’s load certainly stuffed it. The major additions this time were running shoes and my Android tablet and keyboard dock. Both of these were additions to the middle compartment and were the main contributors to the volume.

But, I still love this bag. I added a new strap since my last trip – an Op/Tech trap I bought from Amazon for under $20. Many people recommend the Absolute strap from Tom Bihn for the Airboss, but this thread on One Bag One World (and a few others) claim the Op/Tech strap is the same thing for much less money. What an improvement this strap makes! I loved the Claw that came with the bag because it didn’t slide off my shoulder. But the narrow piece that actually rested on my shoulder did cause discomfort when toting a heavy bag through several airports. This strap eliminated those issues. The buckles and hardware on the Op/Tech strap aren’t nearly as substantial as the original Claw, but for less than $20 it was totally worth it.

This trip saw two instances where gate agents were forcing people to gate-check roller bags that looked like they wouldn’t fit. On the way home I was in line and the passengers ahead and behind me had bags that were clearly smaller than my Air Boss. Both were asked to gate-check. Not a bit of attention was paid to my Air Boss though. And of course it fit right into the overhead without trouble.

I still give this bag my full recommendation. If you travel for business and don’t absolutely need a roller, this is the best bag I’ve ever seen. Like all good gear, it’s tough and it just works. And it works well.

Categories: Rants Tags: , , ,

Red Oxx Air Boss – Second Review: 3 Days, 2 Nights to California

May 4th, 2012 No comments
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

Trip Length: 3 days, 2 nights.

Time of Year/Weather: April/May 2012

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination: 
San Jose, CA (SJC)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 757/MD80
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): American, Boeing 737/Boeing 737

Purpose: Industry conference. Supplier & customer meetings; presentation on a panel.

Contents:

  • Men’s suit w/ shirt and tie in an 18″ Eagle Creek folder
  • Underwear & socks
  • 13″ MacBook Pro in a Timbuk2 Quickie Laptop Bag (my Quickie is an old model I bought for $16 on clearance)
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube with assorted cables, chargers, etc.
  • Eagle Creek 1/4 cube w/ assorted toiletries (toothbrush, razor, etc.)
  • Freedom Baggie
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • Assorted magazines

The Verdict: I’m starting to see what all the fuss is about. I’m beginning to love this bag. In reality this trip didn’t really much more stuff than my previous overnight. The main difference is that I packed a full suit inside the bag this time and that took up more room than before. But the Air Boss wasn’t even close to full.

Where it shines is when the airlines have a full flight and begin to enforce the 1 bag carry-on requirements. On the second leg of my flight to San Jose we were on an MD80. The MD80 has 2 seats on one side of the aisle in coach, and the overhead bins on that side aren’t deep enough for a standard roll-aboard to go in lengthwise. Which means that if everyone brings one, it can be a dogfight for bin space on the three-seat side. This is exactly what happened on the second leg of my outbound flight. And it didn’t bother me in the least because my Air Boss fit perfectly in the bin on the two-seat side. On the flight home they actually made a few people use the sizer at the gate. A woman two people in front of me in line had to show that her roll-aboard wasn’t too overstuffed to fit. It was. And she was forced to remove a bunch of stuff from the outer pockets before they let her go. But no one gave my Air Boss a second look.

I also find that the bag works great at the security line. The outer pockets hold everything I might have in my own pockets before I go through the metal detector or x-ray machine. I keep anything I need to access (laptop, Freedom Baggie, headphones) in the center compartment. Popping it out at the checkpoint takes no time at all.

Concerns: Of all the problems I listed in my last review, the only one still bothering me is the strap. I do really love the way it doesn’t slip, but is it narrow and therefore a little painful. I am looking into a Tom Bihn Absolute shoulder strap as a replacement. I will place an order this weekend, since I have two more back-to-back trips to California coming up at the end of  this month.

Final Thoughts: Overall, I like the bag more and more as I use it. And I am absolutely loving the one bag travel concept. So much easier getting in and out of taxis and arriving at the hotel. It also makes it much less nerve-racking when trying to make a tight 40 minute connection between flights. No worries about whether your bag is going to make it. If you do, so will your bag. I’ve become a fan.

More thoughts coming soon.

 

Categories: Technology Tags: , , ,

Red Oxx Air Boss – First Review: Overnight to Jacksonville, FL

April 4th, 2012 1 comment
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Red Oxx Air Boss

I recently bought a new Red Oxx Air Boss suitcase. I promised a few reviews as I traveled … here’s the first.

Trip Length: Overnight

Time of Year/Weather: April 2012/Sunny, temps in the 80s

Origin: Boston, MA (BOS)
Destination:
Jacksonville, FL (JAX)

Outbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): Jet BlueEmbraer E120
Inbound Aircraft (Airlne, type): Jet BlueEmbraer E120

Purpose: Keynote speech at a conference

Red Oxx Air Boss - Overnight Bag

Contents:

  • Business casual pants and shirt in an 18″ Eagle Creek packing folder
  • Underwear and socks
  • Brochures and papers for work
  • 13″ Macbook Pro laptop
  • Eagle Creek bag w/ cables/chargers/etc.
  • Eagle Creek Quarter Cube with various grooming stuff (electric razor, toothbrush, etc.)
  • TSA Freedom Baggie w/ toothpaste and other liquids
  • Eagle Creek Quarter Cube with various office supplies (business cards, pens, etc.)
  • Bose Quiet Comfort headphones
  • A couple of magazines

Verdict: The Air Boss is a surprising large bag. Some people say that it is too big for an overnight bag, but honestly, have you ever heard someone say, “I wish I didn’t have all this room!” Of course not. The Air Boss has 6 pockets: a flap with a snap closest to your body when carrying the bag, a small zippered pocket for boarding passes, three full-size pockets for clothes, and a zippered pocket on the farthest side from you. For this configuration, I put my magazines in the pocket closest to me, my work papers under the straps on the inside pocket, my computer, headphones, underwear, TSA bag, and cables in the middle pocket, clothes and quarter cube bags in the far pocket. Finally I used the outer zip pocket to hold things when going through security.

The bag was super easy to use and I had no problems going through security. Keeping anything I need to remove in the center compartment made it easy to retrieve in the security line. The bag fit fine in the overhead bin of the Embrear jet. Overall I have no complaints for my first trip.

For the return trip, the Eagle Creek folder got my dress pants, shirt, and sports coat. The outer pocket also got a couple of souvenirs for my daughter. The return trip was fine.

Items to watch for:

  • I will be interested to see how the bottom of the bag holds up and whether Red Oxx needs to reinforce this area. When I am waiting in the screening line I find myself placing the bag on the ground and then sliding it forward with my foot as the line moves – at least if things are going slowly. I wonder how long it will be before the floor begins to induce wear.
  • Other people reviewing the bag have noted that the center compartment lacks padding in the bottom, so laptops can be vulnerable to jarring in there. I ordered a Timbuk2 Crater laptop sleeve for my MacBook, but it didn’t arrive in time for this trip. I just placed my underwear and socks at the bottom of this compartment for a little protection. The Air Boss has padded dividers between the main compartments that provide plenty of protection from the sides.
  • I have a mixed impression of the strap. The “claw” strap functions as designed – it does NOT slip from your shoulder. But I can see some merit to the argument that it doesn’t distribute weight very well. I will keep a close eye on this.
My next trip will be two nights and three days in California.

 

 

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

A $600 Tantrum

March 12th, 2012 No comments

Today I threw a $600 temper tantrum. Along with my T-Mobile G2 phone, which I more or less loved. But one nagging problem just finally got the best of me at the wrong time and I Gronk spiked my favorite phone onto the pavement.

I’m an Android fan. Part of my job is to stay on top of smartphone technology, so I pay attention to what is coming out on the market. I have an iPhone 3GS that I’ve had for a while and I have used plenty of iPhone 4 models. In earlier posts about my G2 I listed some reasons why I liked that model better than my iPhone. The main thing I liked is that the G2 had a slide-out real keyboard – I can’t stand virtual keyboards. The problem is I am apparently the only one because every new phone is an iPhone clone with no keyboard.

Anyway, over the last year I’ve come to really like my G2. Except for two problems. First, if the chassis flexed the wrong way the phone would reboot because the battery lost contact. Usually a quick adjustment of the battery would fix the problem and it wouldn’t happen for a few weeks.

The more annoying problem was an intermittent GPS issue. Every once in a while the GPS would take minutes to lock onto satellites. And I don’t even mean 1 or 2 minutes – I mean like 5 or 10 minutes. And no amount of rebooting or restarting the GPS would help. This is annoying on a good day, but if you’re trying to use your phone as a GPS system in a car and you’re lost somewhere, this is unacceptable. Even more troubling, the GPS antenna was problematic and sometimes the signal would just fade. This manifested itself as my navigation system thinking I was on one road when I was really on another, and, the final straw, would sometimes cause my Runkeeper track to wander all over the place which really compromised the distance measurements. This is what finally drove me over the edge.

I had a terrible week last week. I had a business trip that ended terribly when American Airlines left me stranded in San Antonio, TX for 12 hours and caused me to miss my connection home on Friday night. Things were so screwed up that instead of getting me home to Boston on Friday at 3 PM, they could only get me to Bradley International in Hartford, CT on Saturday afternoon and I had to rent a car and drive home. Anyway, Sunday was a beautiful 60 degree, sunny day and I wanted to go for a run. Everything went wrong – my Fitbit fell off twice and I had to keep going back to find it. The zipper broke on my running jacket before I really got going. And then … as I rounded a corner no more than 1/4 mile from my house, my Runkeeper app told me that I had already run 1.1 miles. I stopped and looked at the map and saw the track zig-zagging all over the place and I lost it. I took that phone and I spiked it onto the pavement as hard as I could.

The result - broken phone.

The Result – My Broken Phone

Now I know that the problem could very well have been Runkeeper. In fact it probably was a Runkeeper problem based on some comments I’ve seen on message boards. But after all the stress of the week I wasn’t thinking straight. So my $300 phone hit the pavement. It actually felt like a relief until I realized what this was going to cost me.

I ran back home and called the T-Mobile store near me. It was 4:25 PM and they said they closed at 5. I literally squealed tires to try and get there before they closed. I made it with 10 minutes to spare.

The only models that T-Mobile had with a slide-out keyboard are the My-Touch models (My-Touch Q and My-Touch 4G Slide), an LG Doubleplay, and a Sidekick model. Of these, only the 4G Slide had close to enough processor power to be reasonable. Unfortunately, if you’re going to buy a phone with a slide-out keyboard, the keyboard better be good. The G2 had a great keyboard. The My-Touch 4G, not so much. The one on the store was terrible. Reports on the Internet seem to agree. So I had 10 minutes to decide on what would replace my G2. I knew from prior research that a decent used G2 goes for about $300. Ridiculous, I know, but that’s the truth.

So if I was going to suffer without a keyboard the phone better excel in everything else. That lead me to the two top-end Android phones that T-Mobile now carries, the Samsung Galaxy S or the HTC Amaze 4G. Because I have always liked HTC phones, I went with the Amaze. With no research I was really taking a $600 chance. According to Engadget, I probably did OK, though in a few months I will probably smash this phone on the ground due to poor battery life.

I spent about 9 hours getting all my apps and accounts set up. And I already ordered two Anker extended batteries for it.

Frankly, I’m already starting to hate this phone. But what am I going to do? I’m stuck with it now. Might as well make the best of it.

Categories: Technology Tags: , ,

Big Update to my Harbor Freight Tools Page

April 8th, 2010 1 comment

I finally finished cataloging and writing mini reviews of all my Harbor Freight tools on my updated Harbor Freight page. If you buy from them it’s worth a read. Also check out the new data table using the WP-Table Reloaded plugin.

Categories: Tools Tags: ,

Waring Pro Home Popcorn Machine

November 21st, 2009 No comments
This entry is part 2 of 3 in the series Popcorn

As interest in home theaters has increased, so has the interest in movie or theater style popcorn machines. So in the last few years, many companies have begun to sell professional style (or even small professional) popcorn poppers for home use. A quick search on EBay will yield several different models of popcorn machines for sale at any time.

What makes a “theater-style” machine you ask? The classic theater popper has a “dumpable” kettle with a motorized stirrer. The kettle hangs inside a glass or polycarbonate box which also has heat or lights. Here’s a picture of the Waring Pro example I’m reviewing.

WaringPro Popcorn MakerIf you read my original popcorn post, you know that I said that no home electric poppers were worth using. Since I reserve the right to change my mind, I will exercise that right now. Commercial-style poppers can get hot enough to do a decent job. And the reason is really in the kettle and the surface area exposed to heat. For any given wattage, the commercial-style machines concentrate the heat in a smaller area than the typical home machine, so the kernels are exposed to higher temperatures in the commercial-style kettle. So these machines usually work reasonable well compared to typical counter-top electric poppers.

A Note About Sizes

Manufacturers of commercial-style machines typically describe the capacity one of two ways: either the capacity of unpopped kernels in the kettle or the capacity of popped corn in the tank after a typical load of corn is popped. Of the two, the capacity of the kettle is more standard and easier to compare across machines, since the volume of popped corn depends on the type of corn you are using. The standard kettle sizes are 4 ounce, 6 ounce, and 8 ounce (volume or fluid ounces, not weight ounces). For reference, 4 ounces of corn is 1/2 cup. This yields anywhere from 10 to 14 cups of popped corn.

The Waring Pro Machine

Waring sells the WPM40 popcorn machine in a couple of models. The WPM40 is sold at various retailers in a red color. Mine is a black model sold exclusively at BJ’s Wholesale Club. But the guts of the machine is the same. This is a typical 4 ounce kettle machine sold for between $100 and $160 depending on location and how steep the sales are at any given time.

The case is polycarbonate, the tray and drawers are aluminum, the body is steel, and the kettle is stainless steel. The machine has a bulb socket for a light bulb to act as a heater (real commercial machines use heat lamps). There are two control switches, one for the motor and one for the lamp. It’s a basic theater-style popper.

Construction

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

The popper is mostly solid. I gave it 3 out of 5 because although nothing was loose or hideously misaligned when I received it, the finish wasn’t great. The tray at the bottom and the other aluminum parts had some seriously rough (like cut your fingers rough) edges. And some of the sheet metal needed a little bending and flexing to get a proper fit. Also the door didn’t close when I received the popper and the magnet needed some adjustment. But at least the main mechanical parts worked.

Performance

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

The popper does what it’s supposed to do pretty well. It heats up relatively quickly and once the popping starts, the stirrer keeps things from burning. It pops kernels relatively quickly. The big drawback is the number of unpopped kernels that escape the kettle. This is mainly a function of the small size of the kettle; as the popcorn begins to pop, some kernels are blown out the top with the first popped kernels. This is the tradeoff for not having to stir the kettle manually.

Design

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

The popper has some decent features, though they’re not all well executed. For example, although there is room for a lamp inside the machine to warm the popcorn, the outlet isn’t rated to handle anything like a real heat lamp. And, the bottom tray has holes to allow the unpopped kernels (old maids) to fall through to a little drawer. But the holes are concentrated in such a small area that them miss many unpopped kernels. But overall it’s a decent design for the price.

Cleaning

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆ 

This is where the popper runs into trouble. Not a single part of this thing with the exception of the bottom tray and old maid drawer (which can be put in the dishwasher) is easy to clean. In addition to all the sharp edges on the metal parts which will cut you at every chance, the poly carbonate panels are impossible to get free of greasy streaks, unpopped kernels find their way to the bottom and can’y be picked out by hand, and the kettle itself is simply impossible to clean. The kettle cannot be put in the dishwasher, so it must be wiped down and periodically thoroughly cleaned. What a pain.

Overall

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Overall, this is a decent theater-style popper if that’s what you want. Although it has shortcomings, the low price can make those more bearable. It certainly does its primary job well enough. It gets hot, and pops corn without you having to stir it. For the price, I recommend it.

Categories: Food Tags: ,

Essential Windows Mobile Software For My New T-Mobile Dash 3G

July 12th, 2009 No comments

As I set up my new phone, I am keeping track of the configuration changes I’m making and the software I’m adding.

GPS Navigation

garminGarmin Mobile XT ($99 from Garmin, cheaper elsewhere) — I used this for several years on my Wing and found it to be a very competent navigation program. I’ve used it locally a great deal, as well as using it to navigate from Boston to Ohio and on various trips to California, Florida, North Carolina, New York, and Pennsylvania. Garmin Mobile XT ships on its own micro SD card.

Because Garmin ships on its own micro SD card, it really precludes you from using your own high capacity card, which is ultra critical on phones with no memory like the Wing. It also means that on phones where the micro SD slot is not easily accessible, switching the cards is a royal pain. I understand Garmin’s anti-piracy motivations, but the solution is horrible. They could at least sell the program on a 4 GB card so it would come with extra space, but they don’t. So, I followed the instructions at http://forums.wireless.att.com/cng/board/message?board.id=samsung&thread.id=54245 and it worked like a charm — my software now runs on the 4 GB SanDisk card permanently in my phone.

Google Maps (free download — go to http://m.google.com/maps on your phone) — A great program for walking around a city and finding stores, restaurants, etc. A version ships along with the stock T-Mobile ROM, but be sure and upgrade if you want to use the latest features. mobile_logo The current version incorporates Google Latitude, a free service that broadcasts your position on the map to your friends and vice-versa. While this may be a little creepy if the settings allow broadcast to the public, when you’re on foot and trying to meet a friend and one or both of you isn’t familiar with street names, it’s really handy. As far as finding destinations, many people prefer Windows Live Search. I’m kind of partial to Windows Live myself, but I keep Google installed for Latitude.

gpsedGPSed (Free download – $9.99 for premium version) — This is a new category and something that I’m setting up for my wife. In addition to Garmin’s excellent navigation program, sometimes you just want to record where you’ve been. GPSed is the program for that. The program sits on your phone and logs GPS coordinates as you travel. You can set waypoints so you can add photos (geotagging) them later. What makes this client cool is that it integrates with popular social networking sites (like Facebook) and can upload “live” updates at different intervals so people can track your progress. Of course this requires a data connection so it isn’t going to chart your progress through the Amazon rainforest, but it’s still pretty cool. The GPSed site itself integrates with Google maps and Earth and is a pretty good sharing site in its own right.

Web Browsing

skyfireSkyfire (Free download) — The browser on Windows Mobile 6.1 sucks. Particularly the T-Mobile implementation of it with the “web2go” default homepage. (The 6.1 version is way better than the 6.0 version, but still lacking.) That leaves two alternatives: Opera and Skyfire. Opera is the king of the mobile browser, and I used Opera on my Wing and previous Blackberries for years. But Skyfire is now the best in my opinion. Skyfire is free. Opera isn’t. Skyfire defaults to a desktop browsing experience with the ability to zoom (like the Safari browser on the iPhone), Opera doesn’t. Decision made. Skyfire rocks.

Screen Capture

ilium_logoIlium Screen Capture (Free Download) — I use my phone for both work and personal use. Some of the projects I am responsible for at work integrate SMS messaging into medical settings. So I am often setting up different messaging schemes and testing them on my own phone. The results often need to be turned into some kind of document or manual. So screen captures from my mobile are critical. Ilium fits the bill perfectly, and at the right price. It’s simple and it works.

Taskbar Modification

The stock Windows Mobile taskbar stinks. The very first change I wanted was a better battery indicator that told me how much charge was left with better precision that the stock 4 sshot002[1]bars. This can be accomplished by a registry hack, but I simply installed the files shown in this post from XDA-Developers and got the actual battery percentage. (See the screenshot in my Dash 3G post.)

I really wanted colored icons for the battery, but finding a taskbar designed for QVGA resolution and GSM is tough. Most are CDMA and so don’t have the EDGE/3G icons, but rather the CDMA/EVDO icons. So I next tried the FInixNOver taskbar at http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=424926, but it is a VGA set and the battery display doesn’t fit (the % reading is unlegible at the top of the screen as seen in this screenshot). But honestly, I hate the stock taskbar so much that I’d rather have the colored battery symbol with the smushed test than the stock one. But I will remain on the lookout for a QVGA/GSM set of decent icons. If anyone knows of a set … please leave a comment.

Facebookfacebook

Facebook for Windows Mobile 6 (Free download from Microsoft) — For at least a year, Windows Mobile was the orphan of the facebook world. Blackberry users had a dedicated application, so did iPhone users. Windows Mobile users were left with the m.facebook.com web page, which is lacking in features like uploading photos. There were a couple of others that came and went — products of well meaning developers who just didn’t have the time to get them quite right or to keep supporting them. But finally Microsoft of all people have stepped in to fill the void. They apparently decided to include a Facebook app in the Windows Mobile 6.5 release, and finally got around to unbundling it and releasing it for the rest of the Windows Mobile 6 family. Works great — makes me happy.

System Maintenance

total_commander
Total Commander (Free download) — If you want to do anything with your phone beyond installing simple stuff, you are going to need to manipulate system files and change registry entries. For thesetasks, nothing is more highly regarded than Total Commander.

GMail/Google Apps Calendar Management

OggSync Pro oggsync(Free basic version limited to 1 calendar; $29.99 annual subscription for Pro version with unlimited accounts and contact sync) — Many people share their smartphone for work and personal use. I like to keep my appointments separate as well, but remain aware of work or personal commitments when trying to schedule things. Like many people, I keep work stuff on my Outlook account at work (which syncs via Outlook Web Access (OWA) in Windows Mobile) and my personal stuff on my Google Apps calendars hosted on my own domain. Google has released new sync features that allows Windows Mobile to sync calendars live, but it uses a form of OWA and a current limitation of Windows Mobile is that it can handle only one such connection at a time. Thus users like me who use OWA for work have no way of syncing our Google calendars to our devices. Enter OggSync. It’s a little complex to use sometimes and it seems like the company’s support is fading (I think the Google sync feature ate a lot of their business) but for many of us with both business and personal accounts on our phones, it’s the only thing that works.

Games

kevtrisKevtris (free download) — One of many Tetris clones, this version is optimized for QVGA screens. It has several different game variations which offer enough variety and challenge to help you while away long plane flights or time in the DMV line.

Music

logo_pandoraPandora (free download — should be able to get by pointing mobile browser to www.pandora.com, but CABs also available on the XDA-Developers Maple forums. Here’s the CAB I used: Pandora_wm6 ) — I’ve never been one to really get worked up over the one-device-does-it-all idea. I don’t mind carrying around my iPod and my phone and my PSP at the same time. But I have to admit, getting Pandora on my mobile phone could be the game-changer for me; it’s the killer app for 3G in my mind. If you’re not familiar, Pandora is internet radio produced by something called the Music Genome Project (read about it …). The Music Genome Project takes literally hundreds of thousands of songs by all kinds of artisis and assigns attributes to them based on how they are constructed. This allows the Project to easily find related songs or songs of a similar style. The premise behind Pandora is to choose a favorite artist or song, and then the system automatically feeds you other songs or artists related by style. As you give each suggestion the thumbs-up or down, the system learns your preferences and the selections get better and better. If you like music, this is an incredible way to discover new songs or artists. And it’s free … Pandora works remarkably well on my Dash 3G — even when I occasionally switch to EDGE speeds. If you like music, you definitely need to try it.

T-Mobile Dash 3G — First Impressions

July 12th, 2009 8 comments
This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Dash 3G

Yes, you can tether it!

[Updated 7/20/2009 — with tethering instructions and updated impressions.]

[Updated 7/24/2009 – additional comments / GPS issues.]

[Updated 10/19/2009 – Bluetooth tethering.]

Bottom Line: The Dash 3G is a competent Windows Mobile smartphone with a pleasing form-factor. It has sufficient processor speed and memory to run lots of applications and is kitted out with GPS, WiFi, and 3G capability. However, the price is steep compared to other smartphones with similar or better capabilities. Because of this it appeals a lot to diehard T-Mobile customers looking for a 3G device with grown-up features like simple Exchange integration and easy tethering. For other users however, a Blackberry, G1, or even the forthcoming My Touch might be a better value and offer more wow-factor.

Full Review

I’ve been a T-Mobile customer for years. For the last two years, I’ve had a T-Mobile Wing smartphone, and I just might be the only person in the US who actually liked it and thought it was a great phone. But, it isn’t 3G capable and getting a fast connection to supplement the poor wireless [see this post] on my daily train ride is becoming a necessity. So I was stunned when my wife discovered, quite by accident, that T-Mobile had finally released a 3G smartphone that wasn’t the G1.

Dash 3G (lifted from T-Mobile.com)

Dash 3G (lifted from T-Mobile.com)

Cheap Data?

But that wasn’t the best part. It seems that T-Mobile has “grandfathered” their Windows Mobile Data Plan users so that Wing users (and original Dash and MDA users too) can have unlimited 3G data for the $19.99 a month we currently pay for EDGE data. You read that correctly … $19.99 a month for unlimited 3G data. And … according to two separate T-Mobile reps, tethering is allowed. So in spite of what you read elsewhere, you can tether the Dash 3G (as in it works — Internet Connection Sharing ships with the default T-Mobile ROM) and you are allowed to do it without getting booted off your contract. (In fact, here is the official HTC FAQ post about internet sharing.)

Tethering

So, HOW do you tether your phone as a modem? Well for Windows users this really couldn’t be easier. I tethered my phone to my Vista laptop via a USB cable in two easy steps. Really.

  1. Get a USB cable and connect phone to PC. Do not sync phone via the connection.
  2. Go to Start/More/More/Device Management/Internet Sharing on the phone. Select “USB” for PC Connection and “T-Mobile Data” for Network Connection. Hit connect.

To paraphrase Gordon Ramsay completing a recipe on the F-Word, “High speed connection sharing via T-Mobile wireless. Done!”

In the old days, and with some older operating systems and phones, you needed to configure your phone as a modem and use dial-up networking to connect to the data network. This meant configuring data providers on the phone with names like “wap.voicestream.com” and then configuring modem initialization strings on your PC with things like “AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”,”wap.voicestream.com”,””” and dial-up numbers like “*99#.” Ugh… Windows Mobile currently uses NDIS drivers to make all thet mess go away. This is one of the few areas where Microsoft has shown true value with Windows Mobile by making it compatible with XP and Vista to make this simple. (For information on the old way of configuring tethering, see this at Howard Forums or this). I have successfully set up a Vista laptop and a XP laptop using the simple 2-step process above.

Bluetooth Tethering

OK, so the cable method isn’t cool enough for you. Well luckily old King Harald I is coming to the rescue. Bluetooth tethering is almost as simple as the USB kind. At least as long as your computer’s Bluetooth drivers allow you to join a Personal Area Network (PAN). To connect via Bluetooth, do this:

  1. Go to the Connection Sharing settings as outlined above. Except, instead of selecting USB for the connection type, select “Bluetooth PAN.” If prompted to turn on “discovery” for the first connection, do it.
  2. On your PC, click your Bluetooth icon and select the “Join a PAN” or similar option.
  3. In the selection window, choose your phone by name. Click connect. If prompted, enter the PIN.

And that’s it — you should be connected. (Note, your exact procedure may differ depending on your PC’s Bluetooth software.)

And, by the way, this works perfectly for tethering a Mac as well. Yes, you read that correctly, you can tether a Mac via Bluetooth to your Windows Mobile phone. I have done this successfully on my 13″ MacBook. Just set up the Dash 3G for a Bluetooth PAN and add a new device on your Mac. Exchange the codes and you’ll be paired. Then simply select the data connection under the name of your phone on the Mac Bluetooth menu.

So what’s the drawback? Well, it’s primarily that T-Mobile’s 3G service coverage generally sucks (see my ongoing tracking here). Even in the first cities where T-Mobile began their 3G rollout, coverage is spotty at best. And outside those metropolitan areas it’s non-existent. But if you’re lucky enough to be in a 3G coverage area (and since I work in Boston, I should be, at least when I’m in the city) I dare you to find another carrier that allows unlimited 3G data for $19.99.

Internet Sharing -- Built Right In

Internet Sharing -- Built Right In

Impressions

I’m having a tough time with this. On the surface, the Dash seems like a very competent Windows Mobile smartphone. It is fast, has plenty of memory, and the Windows Mobile 6.1 ROM that ships seems like a decent improvement over the WM 6.0 that I am used to. I like how thin the device is, compared even to the current generation of blackberries. And although only QVGA resolution, the screen suits me fine.

On the other hand, after two days, the transition from a touchscreen PDA to a smartphone is proving to be a pain for me. But this may be more my problem and may go away after I finally get used to some things.

Here are some impressions of the hardware:

  • The processor is speedy. There is little lag when moving around. There is plenty of memory for installing apps.
  • The keyboard is cramped but very usable. The keys are domed to help your fingers find them, and it takes little time to get used to the layout. Some reviewers, including Devin Coldewey have complained about the layout, but I think he’s picking nits. If you can’t get used to slight keyboard variations in the span of two SMS messages you have no business buying new smartphones.
  • The trackball is smooth and reasonably sensitive right out of the box; setting it to high sensitivity makes it even better.
  • The volume buttons on the left side are in a horrible place relative to the cover for the data/charging/headphone connection on the right. I change the volume EVERY time I open or close that cover. After a full week with the phone, this is really pissing me off.
  • Speaking of the cover for the data port, it’s a pain to open.
  • The screen seems bright and clear enough to me.
  • HTC has an odd power-management scheme which shuts down the GPS receiver whenever the screen powers down. On the surface this makes sense –if  the GPS is used for guidance and who would really be navigating when the screen is blank? But it poses serious problems when using a GPS app that isn’t for navigating. Like GPSed for route plotting or other location services. This should at least be a configurable option but I can’t find out how to fix it.
  • Another GPS issue is the reception. I have friends with iPhones and they can keep a GPS signal inside of buildings! The iPhone AGPS setup is solid. HTC claims that this handset supports AGPS, but if they’re serious then either the HTC or T-Mobile implementation sucks. Because you need to be standing somewhere under an open sky to even have hope of getting a lock when you first enable a GPS application. Near a window? Not good enough. In a car? 50-50 chance that you’ll get a lock in under 5 minutes. Outside under a perfectly open sky — then maybe 10 to 30 seconds. Once you capture the satellites then you have a decent chance of holding some signal inside a car or train. But this receiver definitely loses signal faster, and takes longer to get it back, then either my old Blackberry or my OnCourse Bluetooth GPS that I used with my Wing.
  • Similarly to the GPS receiver, Wi-Fi goes to sleep when the screen does and if you’re somewhere without cell coverage (a distinct possibility with T-Mobile) you stop receiving any mail whenever the screen blanks. Not cool HTC. Thanks to a reader’s (Alex) insight (see comment #2) I’ve seen the error of my ways. Although the default settings put the Wi-Fi connection to sleep after the screen powers down, you can turn that behavior off by going to Settings/More/Connections/More/WLAN Settings/Power Mode and unchecking ‘auto turn off WLAN if no WLAN or user activities after LCD OFF over:’. Gee. I can’t imagine why I didn’t find that little gem at first glance … it’s only 6 menus deep. [superemotions file=”icon_smile.gif” title=”Smile”]

As for the software, I am having some issues:

  • The default themes and color schemes suck. There’s not one palatable combination in the whole bunch, and, unlike my last Windows Mobile experience, you can’t easily switch to a simple black background (I finally took a picture with the built-in camera while covering the lens to get a pure black photo and set that as my background).
  • Why are the system font-size choices only “normal” and “large.” Where the hell is small? Not everyone has bad vision and some of us would like to see more than four e-mails in a list. That’s inexcusable — having to resort to a registry hack to change the default font size to something smaller than 10 point should get someone at Microsoft or HTC or T-Mobile fired.
  • The task bar is horrendous. The icons are bland white and convey little information. It’s so bad that an entire underground of programmers has developed to provide noting but improved taskbars! (See http://forum.ppcgeeks.com/showthread.php?t=54514 as an example.) UPDATE! I’ve flashed a custom cooked ROM onto my Dash 3G and it has great custom colored taskbar icons baked right in!

Note — regarding coverage, the 7/20 update of this post was written while tethered on the train between Back Bay and West Natick. Coverage is decent so far!

AT+CGDCONT=1,”IP”,”wap.voicestream.com”,””