Gadling Gear Review: Microsoft Surface Pro

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve no doubt seen the ubiquitous advertisements for Microsoft’s Surface Pro tablet computer. You know the commercials I’m talking about. The ones that feature a good looking group of young people dancing around the boardroom while snapping the device’s removable keyboard into place with a distinctive “click.” Those advertisements would lead you to believe that the Surface is a device capable of handling the full workload of a laptop while still offering the convenience and simplicity of a tablet — which if true would make it the Holy Grail of travel devices. I recently had the opportunity to put a Surface Pro model to the test on two very different road trips and I can tell you that it (mostly) lives up to its billing. The device really is unlike any other I’ve ever used and it has the potential to make many road warriors very happy.

Before I dive too far into the performance of the Surface Pro it is important to point out that Microsoft has released two versions of the tablet. In addition to the Pro model there is also the Surface RT, which runs a stripped down version of Windows 8, which comes with a few compromises. For instance, it can only run apps specifically made for Windows RT, while the Pro model can run any Windows software that you care to install. The RT also has a less powerful processor as well, but it makes up for it with longer battery life, a thinner and lighter design and a smaller price tag. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to use a Surface RT for any length of time, this review is based off the Surface Pro, which is a considerably more powerful device. In simplified terms the RT is a tablet with laptop aspirations while the Pro is a laptop wrapped in tablet form.The Surface Pro comes in two configurations, one with 64GB of storage and the other with 128GB. It features an Intel Core i5 processor and a beautiful 10.6″ full-HD, multi-touch screen capable of generating resolutions up to 1920×1080. It also has 4GB of on board RAM, front and rear-facing cameras and an array of ports including USB and a microSD card reader. A built-in kickstand allows you to prop the device up on any flat surface while a set of internal gyroscopes and accelerometers orient the screen from portrait and landscape modes. The entire system weighs in at about two pounds, which is a bit on the heavy side for a tablet, but fairly light for a laptop.

One of the things that struck me when I first took the Surface out of its box was just how solid and durable it felt. Its case is built from VaporMg, a special type of liquid metal that Microsoft created specifically for the device. The material is lightweight, rugged and looks great too. I recently took the Surface Pro on a backpacking trip to Australia and the device held up very well to the abuse of travel. In fact, I never once felt that the tablet was in danger and it returned home without so much of a scratch on it thanks in large part to its VaporMg casing. If you often find yourself carrying your laptop into some demanding and difficult environments, the Surface may be the alternative you are looking for. Chances are it is both tougher and lighter than what you travel with today.

Microsoft Surface Pro
Microsoft

In terms of performance, the Surface Pro is fast and smooth, running Windows 8 exceptionally well. In fact, it feels like the touch-focused OS was made specifically for the tablet incorporating gestures, swipes and taps to accomplish all kinds of different tasks. Windows 8 apps extend the functionality of the device even further but the real strength of the Surface is its ability to run any other piece of Windows software as well. While the iPad and Android tablets are restricted to running only the software available in their respective app stores, the Surface Pro is capable of running off the shelf software that you find anywhere, including a full version of Microsoft Office. This is a huge advantage over other similar devices and one that should not be ignored by those who need to be productive while on the road but still want to carry a compact device.

One of the distinguishing traits of the Surface tablet is its keyboard, of which there are two versions available, both of which also serve as protective covers. The Touch Cover is lightweight, flexible and features soft keys, while the Type Cover is a little thicker and heavier, but has keys that are much closer to what you’d find on a notebook. Both versions lock into place by connecting to a special magnetic port on the bottom of the tablet and when used in conjunction with the Surface’s kickstand, the transformation to a laptop is complete. Both keyboards take a bit of practice to get accustomed to, but after spending a little time with them, I was able to type surprisingly well. My personal preference leaned toward the Type keyboard, which was so easy to adapt to that I almost forgot that I was using a tablet and not a true notebook. Inexplicably, the less expensive Surface RT includes a Touch Cover out of the box but it is an additional purchase with the Surface Pro, raising the price by $120. The Type Cover will set you back $10 more but is well worth it if you intend to do any serious typing on the tablet.

The Surface Pro has a few more tricks up its sleeve to help separate it from both the RT model and the competition as well. For instance, it has a built-in Wacom digitizer that works with an included pressure sensitive stylus pen that allows the device to actually recognize the user’s handwriting and convert it to text. It takes a little practice to learn how to use this feature but it can be great for taking notes in meetings or classes. Handwriting recognition has been a part of Microsoft’s tablet operating systems for years and it shows. The feature is robust, mature and surprisingly useful once you actually become accustomed to using it.

My one complaint has to do with the hardware rather than the software. The Surface has a port along its right side that serves the dual purpose of both charging the tablet via the AC adapter and holding the pen in place when it is not being used. Unfortunately that means you can’t have the stylus there at the same time as the device is being charged. I also lost the pen at the bottom of my bag on more than one occasion when it became dislodged from its cradle as I put the Surface away. Fortunately, I haven’t lost the pen altogether, although it seems like it would be easy to do. I would have much preferred a dedicated slot for holding the pen that is more secure.

One of the key features of any decent tablet is great battery life. The iPad is capable of 10+ hours of use out of a single charge and many Android tablets are in the 8-10 hour category as well. The Surface Pro doesn’t come anywhere near that, averaging about 5.5 hours of use in my testing. That isn’t great when you view it simply as a tablet, but if you instead consider it a laptop with some tablet capabilities it puts it more in line with many ultrabooks that are currently on the market. Still, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed that the Surface didn’t perform better in real world battery use. Another 1.5-2 hours would have really made this a killer device on long distance flights. The Surface RT is rated for 8 hours of battery life although I can’t comment on whether or not it actually delivers on that promise.

So, is the Surface Pro the ultimate travel device? I’d say the answer to that is both yes and no. This is a device that straddles the line between being a laptop and a tablet and as such it needs to be evaluated a bit differently. For instance, it is heavier and thicker than an iPad, but smaller and more lightweight than most laptops. It doesn’t simply run apps either, but instead has access to the full Windows software library, which puts it in a category unlike any other. Add in handwriting recognition, the ability to connect all kinds of peripherals via the USB port and a rugged case that is designed to stand up to abuse and you end up with a product that has a lot to offer frequent travelers. On the other hand, the lack of a long battery life really limits its use when away from a power outlet and that is a shame. If there is one thing that Microsoft can do to improve this product with the next version it is to improve battery life.

The Surface Pro carries a price tag of $899 for the 64GB version and $999 for the 128GB model, although MS is currently offering a $100 discount on both. That’s actually a solid value for a device that is as versatile as this one, after all you’re actually getting both a full blown tablet and a laptop in a single package. If you’re in the market for a new travel computer and you want a system that is compact, yet powerful, that you can take with you anywhere, the Surface Pro is a great option. Just set your expectations for battery life appropriately and you’ll be quite happy with the experience.

Gadling Gear Review: Eddie Bauer MicroTherm Down Hoodie

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Down Hoodie
Eddie Bauer

One look at the calendar (not to mention the thermometer) will tell you that we are most definitely in the dog days of summer. But it won’t be long until the mercury begins to drop and we’ll start planning our cold weather adventures. The key to enjoying those escapes is good gear that will keep you plenty warm even as the temperature plunges. A down jacket can be the difference between a wonderful day spent outside and hours of misery in frigid temperatures.

Eddie Bauer has a long history of making quality gear that performs well in any environment. Over the years, its clothing has protected climbers on their way to the summit of Everest and explorers traveling to the extreme ends of the Earth. A few years ago, the company launched a new line of adventure inspired apparel that would carry on that legacy into the 21st century. The First Ascent line was designed specifically for active travelers and adventurers with a focus on delivering a high level of performance in an affordable and attractive package. Thw MicroTherm Down Hoodie fits that description very well, keeping the wearer warm and dry when the weather takes a turn for the worse.
Featuring 700-fill goose down, the Hoodie is extremely lightweight and highly packable. This isn’t a jacket that is built for extreme weather conditions but will still serve travelers well when temperatures drop below freezing. Its outer ripstop polyester shell is water resistant and windproof, which will keep the wearer warm and dry when an unexpected storm rolls in. When that does happen the comfortable protection of the integrated hood will be much appreciated as well.

Because this jacket is intended for active outdoor enthusiasts it features an athletic cut that is designed to be form fitting without restricting motion. The closeness of that fit may seem a bit uncomfortable to some, but I personally found it to be the perfect design for those who like to mix a bit of a physical activity into their travels. The Hoodie simply allows you to do the things you want to do while not hindering movement in any way. That means whether you’re climbing a mountain, hiking a trail or simply strolling the streets, you’ll move in comfort and style the entire time.

Speaking of style, I happen to think the jacket looks great too. It has a simple, yet rugged, design that makes it perfect for an active day in the backcountry or a night out on the town. Its lightweight design makes it extremely versatile for travel as well and when paired with a base layer and/or a mid-layer, the wearer can improve performance in colder weather even more. Throw a hard shell over top and you truly have a fantastic cold weather combo.

The jacket features three external zippered pockets, one for each hand and another located on the left breast. Two large internal pockets are large enough to carry a water bottle or other important items too. The breast pocket even includes a media port allowing the wearer to plug a set of earbuds into an iPod or smartphone and run the cord along the interior of the Hoodie. A nice touch in this day and age when we are seldom far away from our favorite gadgets.

If you’re planning a cold weather adventure of your own in the months ahead, and need a high performance jacket to keep you warm, the Eddie Bauer Down Hoodie may be the perfect choice. It is incredibly lightweight and packs down surprisingly small. That is a rare combination of traits to find in any piece of travel clothing, let alone a jacket like this one. Add in a high level of comfort, the ability to move with ease and classic look and you have the complete package.

The Hoodie carries a price tag of $199 and does nothing to harm Eddie Bauer’s long-standing reputation for making excellent outdoor gear that performs well in demanding conditions. While using this jacket on a recent trip to Australia, I stayed comfortably warm, even when cooler temperatures and rain set in. If you’re looking for similar performance out of your gear, I think you will appreciate everything the Hoodie brings to the table.

Developing The Island Of Sal: Cape Verde


Nearly three hours past the scheduled landing time, my flight from Lisbon to the island of Sal, Cape Verde (Ilha Do Sal), is now taxiing to the gate. The local time is almost 3 in the morning and I’ve just spent the last 18 hours in Lisbon, where it’s 5 in the morning. My internal clock says it’s midnight, the beginning of a Thursday, and by that clock, I haven’t slept since Monday night, which can also be communicated as: it’s been 42 hours since I’ve slept. The friend I’m traveling with has brought three significantly heavy bags with her and needs me to carry one of them. I have my own bag, of course, on top of a backpack and a bad case of tendonitis. The bag I’m carrying for my friend is one that doesn’t have wheels. It just drags along the concrete resilient as a military tank. I feel as though I’m dragging along the concrete untouched too, but my outer shell is fictional, comprised entirely of my nonplussed delirium.

%Gallery-194271%I locate a man standing at the arrivals gate holding a sign for the hotel where we’re staying, Hotel Morabeza. My online research informed me that the hotel holds a decent ranking among travelers and locals alike. It’s rated as one of the island’s best hotels and the fact that a driver is here at this late hour despite my inability to inform the hotel of the flight’s delay is reassuring to me. The man leads us in the direction of the hotel shuttle and one of my arms is dragging this clunking vinyl bag down a rugged outdoor ramp while the other is guiding my rolling suitcase when a boy appears out of what seems like nowhere to assist with the luggage-loading. I’m wondering whether or not he works with the hotel or if maybe he’s the driver’s son. I then realize he’s just a local kid seizing an opportunity to earn some money, but when I open my mouth to speak, to tell him that I don’t even have Cape Verdean escudos yet to give him, I notice that he only has one arm and yet he’s already hoisted this cumbersome bag up and into the van. He looks about 11 or 12 years old. The man who led us to the vehicle says nothing, his lips seem pursed but his face is sympathetic. When the boy asks the question I knew he’d ask, my heart sinks.

“Coins? Can you spare some coins?” he’s wide awake and, if I might conjecture, exuding a bit of pride over the impressive physical feat he just performed, in a matter of seconds to boot.

“I don’t have any,” I say, confident that it’s true, but rummaging through my purse all the same, because, well, maybe I’m wrong.

It’s probably just because I’m tired, but I want to cry. Poverty and distress can be found everywhere, but most of my travel has been to developing countries wherein the pleas for help are especially plentiful. I know to expect it, I know to prepare for it and I know to not let every request that’s met with my sincerely empty pockets eat me up inside. But I feel my insides being eaten. I have tendonitis. He has one arm.

My friend finally uncovers some coins in her wallet, although it’s too dark for her to tell if they are euros, Belize dollars, or US dollars. She hands them to the boy and he exits the scene as instantly as he had entered.

***

The country of Cape Verde has been held up against other African nations as a beacon of hope; an example of how a young country can best execute democracy. But the islands of this archipelago nation each face their own specific struggles and successes, and Sal’s trajectory seems to have always looked the way it does now: equal parts bleak and promising. Discovered (officially) by the Portuguese in 1460 and originally called “Llana,” the island’s name was changed to “Sal,” which is the word for salt in Portuguese, once the ancient salt of Pedra de Lume was uncovered. The first commercial use of the island was that of a transatlantic slave trade center. The Portuguese brought slaves over to the island from West Africa to the Cape Verdean islands. With exclusive rights to trade slaves from the West African coast, the islands’ slave markets were popular until the exclusivity of West African coast slaves ended in 1560.

Droughts and famines followed on the island of Sal, which is the oldest island of the Cape Verde islands. Hardly any vegetation grows thanks to the low annual rainfall, which nearly categorizes the island as a desert island. The landscape is harsh and unforgiving. The salt from Pedra de Lume was lucratively mined and sold during the 18th century, but the mines are effectively defunct these days. The population of 35,000 is sustained largely on tourism alone now, but the tourism industry can be a double-edged sword on an island like Sal. On one hand, travelers find the white and sandy beaches to be a sunny paradise and perfect for water sports, like surfing, and they bring money to the island when they choose it as their vacation spot. This is arguably very good for the island. On the other hand, these travelers are wealthier than the locals by a large margin and can not only drive up the price of local goods but even worse: stay inside an all-inclusive hotel without circulating any of their money into the local economy.

From the vantage point of Sal’s beaches, the local economy doesn’t necessarily enter conversation. But when traveling inland, the dusty shantytowns are expansive and what might have been the suburbs in some areas are instead a tribe of half-finished skeletons of buildings whose construction was halted mid-way due to a recession. With the influx in tourism to the island, the government is now spending millions developing a sustainable infrastructure for Sal and its economy. Plans for renovations to the airport, fishing port (Palmeira) and local roads have been underway for over a year. With an emphasis on tourism and a collective effort that will support tourism, it seems as though the little island of Sal might continue to persevere against all odds. While Sal has experienced the highest rate of growth among the Cape Verde islands, the unemployment-related poverty is still staggering. The island’s future is in the hands of tourism and the dichotomy of positive and negative effects it brings to the island. Should the tourism decline, should the little boy with one arm have no one to ask for money, should local merchants have no customers, should fewer passengers disembark the planes that land at the island’s international airport – should these circumstances transpire, it’s difficult to envision the inhabitants of the island maintaining their resilience.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Cabeolica, Cape Verde, Wind-Powered Energy Security

Gadling Gear Review: Travel Pants And Shirt From Clothing Art

Clothing Arts P-Cubed Pants
Clothing Arts

Awhile back we reviewed a pair of pants from a company called Clothing Arts that were specifically designed to keep your valuables safe and secure while traveling. At the time, we were impressed with their pickpocket proof pants, giving them high marks for security, comfort and style. Since then, the company has continued to evolve its line of travel clothing making subtle improvements to their designs and expanding their offerings. The result is a new generation of apparel that improves on previous offerings in just about every way.

P-Cubed Adventure Pants ($109.95)
The core product in the Clothing Arts line-up remains the P-Cubed travel pants which have seen some nice upgrades since we first took a look at them. For instance, the pants are now available in your choice of two fabrics, the original cotton-nylon blend and the new “nature-like” nylon. The latter of those options is soft and feels a bit like cotton, but has all the benefits of modern high-tech materials. It is lightweight and breathable, dries quickly and is comfortable to wear. It also resists wrinkling and is very durable. In short, it is the perfect fabric from which to make a pair of travel pants.

This new fabric is a fantastic addition to the P-Cubed design but the product hasn’t lost its focus on security in any way. The pants feature six pockets: two on the front, two on the back and two cargo style pockets on the legs. Each of them is deep and spacious, allowing them to safely carry plenty of small items such as keys, a passport and a wallet. There is even plenty of room for a mobile phone, a small camera or just about anything else you may want to take with you on a walk about town or on a trek through the Himalaya.Travel pants with plenty of pockets are nothing new, however, and what sets these apart from the competition is the level of security that Clothing Arts has built into them. Each of the pockets – including the two on the front – have two methods for sealing them shut, making it extremely difficult for would-be pick pockets to actually gain access to the valuables inside. The front and back pockets have zippers and snapping flaps, while the cargo pockets forgo the zippers in favor of traditional buttons. A would-be thief has to be able to penetrate two layers of defense if he hopes to lift something from any of the pockets on these pants.

In addition to the six pockets already mentioned, Clothing Arts has also built in two hidden pockets as well. These compartments are useful for holding your extremely valuable items, the ones that you absolutely can’t afford to lose. For instance, they are excellent for holding a smartphone, mp3 player or a point-and-shoot camera, keeping those devices both out of sight and out of reach from thieves. While these pockets aren’t particularly large they are still very useful. It is a bit like having a small safe installed inside an already secure vault.

Put to practical use, the P-Cubed pants are comfortable, durable and certainly provide good piece of mind while traveling. There is a lot of comfort in knowing that your personal items are secure when visiting places that have less than savory characters looking to separate you from your valuables. But I will admit there were times while wearing these pants that I was a little frustrated with having to hop through hoops just to get to the interior of the pockets. It wasn’t so bad unzipping and unsnapping the rear pocket to get to my wallet, but getting coins in or out of your front pockets can be an exercise in frustration when you have to do it multiple times per day. This is a small price to pay for the level of performance that these pants deliver, but it is certainly worth mentioning nonetheless.

These pants are a piece of clothing that every traveler should have in their closet. They are available for adventure and business travelers alike and Clothing Arts even offers P-Cubed shorts and a pair for women as well. With a price tag of $110, they are admittedly a bit of an investment but that seems a small price to pay for what could be the last pair of travel pants you ever buy.

Clothing Arts P-Cubed ShirtP-Cubed Travel Shirt ($69.95)
Clothing Arts had so much success with their line of travel pants that they decided to expand their offerings to include shirts as well. The company’s designers have created a product that fits in nicely with their approach to travel-specific apparel by developing a shirt that is comfortable and highly packable, while still offering options for keeping your valuables safe. The result is the P-Cubed travel shirt, an article of clothing that is the perfect compliment to the P-Cubed pants.

Made from the same “nature-like” nylon as the P-Cubed pants, this shirt is lightweight, attractive and extremely comfortable to wear. The fabric delivers the same level of performance as the pants in terms of drying quickly, resisting wrinkles and keeping the wearer cool and dry in warm conditions. Those qualities are even more greatly appreciated in a shirt, however, as I’d argue it plays a more direct role in keeping us comfortable when in a difficult environment.

The P-Cubed shirt features two generously sized breast pockets for keeping a few personal items very close at hand. They are large enough for a passport, smartphone or similar small items. But again, this is a characteristic of many travel shirts and really doesn’t set it apart from the competition. What’s different is that Clothing Arts has cleverly hidden two additional zippered pockets behind these traditional pockets, creating secure places to hold valuable items. Like the P-Cubed pants, these pockets are nearly impossible for someone to gain access to and the contents are extremely safe inside.

When paired with one another, the shirt and pants look smart together. Clothing Arts has designed a set of clothes that look great out and about in town or traveling to the ends of the Earth. No matter where you go, the P-Cubed shirt and pants will see you through your adventure and keep you looking good in the process. What more could you ask for from your travel apparel?

Lisbon Street Art: A Vibrant City Attraction

Lisbon is a city that does street art well. I knew that before I arrived in Lisbon for my 15-hour layover while on the way to Cape Verde, and so I walked around with my camera, snapping shots of every compelling image I saw that had repurposed public space for canvas. I liked Lisbon so much that I came back for an extra four days at the end of my trip.

Terracotta rooftops and cobblestone streets are angled sharply in the town of Lisbon, a place that can’t help but remind travelers of San Francisco, and some of the best art in Lisbon can be found between those cobblestone streets and terracotta roofs. Also situated atop seven hills alongside a bay, utilizing cable street cars for public transportation, triumphing despite a history with severe earthquakes, pouring glasses of phenomenal local wine and boasting brightly colored buildings, the 25 de Abril Bridge cements (or should I say bridges?) the comparison between the two cities – as it should since the same company behind Lisbon’s famous bridge built the Golden Gate Bridge. But the fact that both cities exude remarkable street art is a commonality that secures my appreciation for Lisbon as a parallel universe of San Francisco.

%Gallery-194249%Art, in the broad sense, has a way of amplifying all other elements of a place. Street art, unlike any other form, does this especially well since it transforms a place from the outside and exposes those who aren’t necessarily searching for art to art. Street art provides for us a glimpse into local social commentary, regional values and cultural movements. The messages are relayed instantaneously while the transient art form draws an onlooker to the present to take in that which might not remain tomorrow.

Lisbon’s street art has not only helped to shine light on the vibrant arts community within the city, but the art itself has also been attracting tourists. The city of Lisbon has clearly embraced the role street artists play in the larger scheme of things, at least to some degree. While staying in The Corinthia Hotel, I couldn’t help but notice the murals of animals beneath the nearby overpass, painted in an effort to bring attention to the nearby Lisbon Zoo. Meandering through the slanted city streets offered me views of the varying city recycling bins – many of which are individually painted in a street art style, but clearly the result of a concerted and collaborative effort orchestrated by Galeria De Arte Urbana. Even stencil-type art on plywood surrounding construction is beautiful in Lisbon.

I went out walking in Lisbon one day and didn’t stop until my feet couldn’t physically bear the brunt of another step. My perseverance was mostly at the hand of my inability to quell my quest for views of street art. I purposefully lost myself in the city, taking spontaneous turns and not referring to a map. At one point in time, I happened upon an alley full of street art and a street artist hard at work on one particularly impressive piece. I didn’t dare interrupt him, certain that what he needed to say that day would be said on the wall before him once he was finished.

[Photo Credit: Elizabeth Seward]

Barrio Alto in Lisbon