Gadling Gear Review: This Year’s Favorite Gear

I’ve been reviewing gear for a few years now. I wrote for a snowshoeing magazine and a site focused on gear for travelers before I joined the Gadling crew. That means I’m kind of a tough sell when it comes to new outdoor and travel clothing, bags and accessories. And I test everything, I ride my bike in the rain to see if that jacket is really waterproof, I wrangle that roller bag into the overhead bin, I wear those noise-canceling headsets on a long-haul flight. I pay attention to what always makes it into the bag, to what gets used more than once, to what works. Here are six things that really worked from this year’s gear.

Birki’s Skipper Slides
: You could not have told me that a shoe from Birkenstock would become a (fair weather) travel favorite, but they’re great for long-haul flights, easy to get in and out of at the airport, they do double duty as slippers or flip-flops when you’re running down the hall to the ice machine and, though they may not suit your style – they’re very casual – I love these things and think they’re great if you’ve got room for a second pair of shoes in your bag.

Ozone Ultralight Roller from Osprey: Just about perfect as a weekender, at its smallest size, this super light bag holds everything you need for a three-day getaway. What’s causing it to miss the 100% mark? It needs a shoulder strap for when it’s not appropriate to roll it. That aside, this is an extremely well designed bag with lots of pockets in sensible places – there’s even a place for your netbook or tablet – and it looks cool.

Gregory’s Border Laptop Backpack
: Everyone’s got a system for getting you through the TSA checkpoint with your laptop pack; most of them are fine. They all seem to use the same open flat configuration, but that doesn’t mean they also make a great day pack. The Border pack is full of sensible pockets that are exactly the right size and shape for whatever it is you’re carrying. If you can’t find the right place for it in this pack, you don’t need to be carrying it. (Ok, one exception: it’s not built to carry a DSLR.) This is, hands down, the best laptop pack I’ve tested.Mophie Juice Pack Plus: Addicted to your phone for travel apps, podcasts, photography, etc.? Yeah, me too. Which means I’m always burning through the battery. The Mophie Juice Pack Plus doubles the life of your phone by wrapping it in a case with an integrated battery. Strategists can shut down some of those power sucking things like Wi-Fi or data to get even more time out of it. That’s a terrific extra for the mobile addict.

Panasonic Lumix: I’m a devoted photographer and at times I carry a big heavy DSLR with big heavy lenses. But I sprung for a new Lumix this year and I left my DSLR at home for two big trips. I’ve been so happy with what the Lumix offers me – excellent optics, works beautifully in low light, all kinds of customization settings for photo nerds, and it fits in my pocket. I love this thing. Love it.

SmartWool Anything: Lots of brands are making nice stuff out of merino wool these days and it’s good stuff. Icebreaker makes styling clothing and base layers, Nau makes cool pieces that pack well; it’s all great stuff. SmartWool has been around forever, though, and while they’re not the cheapest and don’t always have the edge on style, they’re stuff is consistently excellent and it lasts for a very long time. I have SmartWool gear that I purchased more than ten years ago and it’s still in great shape. Their gear fits, wears tough and lasts. Get whatever you like, but the midweight stuff that they came out with this year? Aces. It’s rare that I’ll endorse a specific brand so whole-heartedly, but I am never disappointed with their gear. Never.

[Image credit: Packing for NZ by herdingnerfs via Flickr – Creative Commons]

Cellphone Accessories For Our Mobile Overlords

iPhone Case from G-FormThere’s no device I love to hate as much as I hate to love my iPhone. (You read that right.) Your mileage may vary; you may not feel like both a chump and a devotee while caressing your mobile whatever. Until I attain your Zen-like state, I feel annoyed whenever I find myself buying presents for my phone, even if they are practical and make using my phone a better experience. Here’s the drill on three extras I’ve been using lately.

G-Form Extreme Grid iPhone Case
: Drop your phone one time ONLY on the bus and you’ll wish you’d shelled out for a case. It’s like Apple is intentionally propping up the case market by using that slippery exterior. I used an Otter Box on my iPhone 3, but I’ve come to prefer the weird grippy exterior of the G-Form on my iPhone 4. People keep making fun of the almost tire tread like bumpy black box I wrap my phone in, but the fact is, it stays put in my hand and has enough padding and bounce that my phone didn’t shatter into tiny expensive bits when I dropped it on the 54. There was an audible gasp from the people around me, but I just picked up my phone and went back to listening to vintage sci-fi radio theater and posting pictures to Instagram.

The case comes in black or black and yellow. I kind of wish I’d got the yellow just because it would make the phone easier to find when it’s lost in my backpack. Cost: about $40. That might seem expensive, but it’s going to cost you more than that to buy a new phone.

Mophie Juice Pack PlusMophie Juice Pack Plus: With great addiction comes the endless search for outlets and places to recharge the phone, right? You can buy yourself a lot more time with a spare battery. Mophie builds theirs into an attractive case that allows you to double the use time of your phone. I think this case/battery combo is pretty freaking great. It serves to protect your phone, and gives you all that extra use time, and it comes in a bunch of happy colors. I dropped my phone in this case, too, because apparently, that’s how I roll. The case is a little scratched up, but it still works just fine and my phone is still totally intact. It’s charged via a mini-USB cable. You leave it off until you need the extra juice, then it charges your phone while you use it. It’s great for long-haul flights, especially if, like me, you spend your airtime with audio entertainment.

The Juice Pack is pricey – it’s about $100. Here’s the truth: I like this thing and bring it everywhere.

Able Planet Clear Harmony Sound Isolation EarphonesAble Planet Clear Harmony Sound Isolation Earphones: I’ve gone through half a dozen pairs of iPhone compatible earbuds. On my last trip I lost my isolation Sennheisers. The sound was top notch, but I was on my third pair because they kept breaking (while still under warranty, thankfully). I replaced them with a really cheap pair of JVC iPhone compatible headphones, and they broke too.

I like the isolation earbuds because they don’t take up the space of headphones, but I’ve yet to find a pair that reduces external noise the way active cancelling headphones do. I like the Able Planet brand just fine; they’re far superior to the standard Apple earbuds and they stay put, but I’m not totally sold. They sound great, don’t get me wrong, and they do help with noise reduction on the plane or the bus, but that crying baby still found his way into my head while I was trying to doze on the plane. Even with the white noise app I use, ambient sound leaked in through everywhere. Able Planet makes active noise cancelling headsets too, I own a pair, and I wish I’d packed them instead. I await perfect, affordable, noise blocking earbuds.

Able Planet Earbuds run about $170. They’re fine for daily use, but if you’re really looking for noise reduction and you’re going to spend that kind of money, go with active noise cancelling instead.

New Mophie Juice Pack Plus doubles your iPhone 4 battery life

mophie

Mophie has long been the leader in iPhone battery power cases – and with their new Juice Pack Plus, they will probably keep that position for some time.

The new Juice Pack Plus provides 2000mAh of extra battery capacity, more than doubling the battery life of your phone. Best of all, it does this in a case that does not make the phone all that much thicker.

Charging and syncing is taken care of with a MicroUSB port, and the phones speakers are “enhanced” through a virtual speaker box.

The case is available right now in black, with the three colors you see above arriving “soon”. The Juice Pack Plus is available directly from Mophie, and retails for $99.95.

Review: Mophie Juice Pack Reserve – compact power for hungry Apple devices

When it comes to powering Apple devices, few companies are as innovative as Mophie. They were one of the first to offer a combination case/battery pack, and now one of their newest products offers one of the most compact ways to get your device powered when you really need it.

The Mophie Juice Pack Reserve is a small 1000mAh battery pack with a few neat tricks up its sleeves. For starters, its connector conveniently slides inside the unit, which protects it, and prevents you from having to carry a plug cover. It also features a built in LED flashlight, hidden charging indicators and can be charged off USB using the included MicroUSB cable.

Included in the box is a carabiner clip, which makes it easy to clip the Juice Pack Reserve to your bag or key chain. The 1000mAh battery is powerful enough for just under one full charge, making it ideal to carry for those times where you really need to check your email, and can’t find an outlet anywhere.

The Juice Pack Reserve works on any Apple device with a dock connector (but not on the iPad). It retails for $39.95 and is available directly from Mophie, the Apple Store or Amazon.com.

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The Mophie juicepack air – Protection and power in an single product – the Gadling review

As awesome as the iPhone is, all that awesomeness comes at a hefty cost of battery life. Traveling with the iPhone means you will need to find a power source at least every 48 hours, or you may find yourself with a shiny brick. There are countless battery charging solutions for the iPhone – and we have covered many of them in the past here on Gadling.

In this review, we’ll take a quick look at a battery backup product built into a case – the Mophie juicepack air. The juicepack air is part case and part iPhone 3G/3GS battery pack. The case consists of two parts – you slide your iPhone into the bottom half, then slide the top on, creating a hard shell that protects the entire phone.

Of course, when you add any kind of case to your phone, it is going to add some bulk, but adding a case and battery obviously makes things even bulkier. The case weighs 2.2 ounces (62 grams), so while weight may not be an issue – the added thickness to your otherwise sleek iPhone may annoy you. This is of course the price you pay for more than doubling the battery life of your device.

The design features of the juicepack air are really quite clever – the microphone and speaker are fully functional thanks to two small indentations in the bottom of the case, and because of the way the speaker is pointed up, sound actually becomes more vibrant – as long as you don’t turn your phone screen down.

Charging the juicepack air is simple – you use the included MicroUSB charger cable, plugged into any USB power source. This USB cable doubles as a sync cable, which means you can leave your regular iPhone dock cable at home.

On the back of the juicepack air is a battery level button, and four blue LED’s show the current battery status. Unlike many other iPhone power sources, the juicepack air only powers your device when you need it – by turning it on. This means it is always ready to help power your device.

Yes – your iPhone will become quite a bit thicker, but anyone who has arrived at their destination only to find their iPhone is dead will probably learn to live with the bulk.

Final thoughts

The battery in the juicepack air is 1200mAh – which should be enough to almost double the life of your iPhone battery. In my test, I took an iPhone with an empty battery, and with the juicepack turned on, was able to keep it going for another 19 hours – which is about the same amount of time I’d get off the iPhone without a battery booster. During that test, I did the same things I usually do – lots of email and other apps, Wi-Fi on and some Bluetooth audio streaming.

The price is a bit of an issue – at $79.95 the Mophie juicepack air is not a cheap accessory, and there are cheaper options out there. Several online retailers stock the juicepack air for around $65 – which is still on the high side. That said – the juicepack air is one of the better looking battery packs, and many of the cheaper solutions really don’t look that appealing.

Still – if you don’t care about looks, or value your cash more than your style, then the juicepack air may not be the best option for you. However, if you like keeping your iPhone sleek, the juicepack air more than delivers.

PROS: Good looking, good build quality

CONS: Price, relatively low battery capacity

Personally, I would have preferred to see the package come a little more complete – there is no AC or car charger included, and no screen protector. These extras could have made the price a bit easier to accept.

Product page: mophie juicepack air