Gadling Gear Review: Goal Zero Sherpa 50 Solar Charging Kit

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 solar charing kitLet’s face it; in the modern era of travel most of us rarely hit the road without a slew of gadgets in tow. Smartphones, tablets, digital cameras and a host of other devices have all made travel simpler and more enjoyable than ever before. But keeping the batteries on all of those items fully charged can be a real challenge, especially when traveling through remote locations. Fortunately, there have been some excellent advances in solar charging, which have made gathering energy from the sun a more viable way to power our devices while on the go. The most impressive of those options that I’ve seen so far is the new Sherpa 50 charging kit from Goal Zero, a system that is so powerful that it can even charge your laptop.

At the heart of this kit is Goal Zero’s excellent Nomad 13 solar panel, so named for its ability to generate up to 13 watts of power, and the Sherpa 50 Recharger pack. The two work in tandem to provide an excellent on-the-go charging system for just about any device you could possibly carry with you on your travels. Both are durable, compact and lightweight, so they won’t take up too much room in your pack either. Together they tip the scales at just 2.7 pounds, which isn’t much when you consider how useful this kit can be.

The Nomad 13 solar panel folds open to collect as much of the sun’s rays as possible and can either directly charge a device from its built-in USB port or store energy in the Sherpa 50’s internal battery, which is capable of holding up to 50 watt hours. Charging times depend greatly on the amount of available sunlight but one of the strengths of the panel is that it is capable of drawing power even on overcast days. In bright sunlight the Nomad 13 can fully charge the Sherpa 50 in as little as five hours, but in the real world, however, it only operates that quickly under the most optimal of conditions. It is more realistic to expect a seven to eight hour charge time under normal circumstances, and on cloudy days it could take as much as 12 hours or more. The Sherpa 50 can also be charged in as little as three hours via a wall outlet, which is convenient for having it ready to go before you ever leave home.Once its internal battery is charged, the Sherpa 50 becomes a portable generator that provides plenty of power for all of your gadgets. It features multiple built-in ports for plugging in all manner of devices, including both a USB port and two 12V ports similar to what you find in a car. Goal Zero also offers an AC inverter for the Sherpa 50 that actually adds a standard wall outlet to the mix. The inverter was included in the test unit I was provided, although it is an additional $50 add-on if you purchase the Sherpa 50 as an individual component and not as part of a kit. It is well worth the extra cost, however, as it greatly extends the usefulness of the battery pack. With the inverter included with the Sherpa 50 you can quite literally charge or operate just about anything powered by electricity.

A fully charged Sherpa 50 is capable of recharging most smartphones seven to eight times and a tablet such as an iPad twice. It will even fully recharge a laptop via the AC inverter or a special 12V adapter one time before needing to be topped off by the sun once again. When plugged into the inverter, my MacBook Air charged quickly and efficiently and the Sherpa 50 still had a little juice left in the tank when it was done. I found that to be pretty impressive, as it meant I could still power up a couple of other devices before needing to recharge the Sherpa itself.

Goal Zero Sherpa 50 battery packGoal Zero has created an efficient, easy to use solar charging kit that a lot of people are going to really like. Backpackers, campers, mountaineers, sailors and other outdoor adventurers will definitely want to add the Sherpa 50 kit to their mandatory gear list before heading out to explore the world. The system is perfect for keeping satellite phones, GPS devices, rechargeable headlamps, camera equipment and other items running even when you are hundreds of miles from the closest power source. And if you want to shed a little weight, both the Nomad 13 and the Sherpa 50 are perfectly capable of providing useful services on their own, although the battery pack could become dead weight without a way to keep it charged.

As much as I like this kit there are a few improvements I wouldn’t mind seeing being made to future iterations. For instance, I was annoyed that the Sherpa 50 only had one USB port built in, as there are a lot of items that I carry with me that charge via USB and it would have been nice to charge two of them at a time. I got around this limitation by adding a USB 12V adapter to the mix, but that was just another small item that I needed to keep track of while on the road. Additionally, the USB port that is built into the Nomad 13 solar panel only puts out 1 amp of power, which is fine for many devices but isn’t enough for an iPad or even an iPhone 5. It would be nice if you could simply plug those devices directly into the solar panel itself, but they just won’t charge directly, even if the Nomad is in bright sunlight. The problem isn’t with the panel but the low powered USB port, so hopefully future models will be able to correct this issue.

The other element of the kit that I would like to see improved is more design related. While its weight is only 2.7 pounds, that can still be a significant amount to add to your pack when you’re wanting to travel light. Hopefully future versions of the Sherpa 50 kit can find ways to reduce the weight further, while still managing to keep performance high. This is less of a criticism than it is wishful thinking though, as it wasn’t all that long ago that we would have thought it impossible to have this kind of solar charging option in such a compact package.

As someone who has really come to appreciate having good travel gadgets with rechargeable batteries, I find the Sherpa 50 to be an amazing product. It works well, is simple to set up and it delivers on Goal Zero’s promise of free energy from the sun. I liked this kit so much, in fact, that when I had to return the review unit after I was finished testing it I immediately went shopping for one for myself. I don’t want to get caught without one the next time I head out on a big adventure, as I think it is going to make life much easier.

[Photo Credits: Goal Zero]

Gadling Gear Review: HP EliteBook Folio 9470m Laptop

HP EliteBook Folio 9470mOver the past few years our expectations of what our laptops are capable of have changed dramatically. Not all that long ago we were content with simply having a reasonably fast portable computer that could help us get our work done and stay in contact with friends, family and coworkers while on the road. But now, that same laptop needs to be a mobile workstation with full multimedia capabilities, fast wireless Internet and a bright, clear, high-resolution screen. It should also come in a lightweight, thin – yet durable – package that looks good too. That seems to be the exact blueprint that HP used when designing the new EliteBook Folio 9470m, an ultrabook that meets all of those requirements while delivering a few nice surprises of its own.

The Folio 9470m is the kind of laptop that starts making an impression before you ever turn it on. Its casing is made out of a durable and lightweight, yet very attractive, magnesium alloy that conveys a sense of quality that isn’t always found in a notebook of this size. The laptop has been built to military grade specifications, which means it is capable of surviving all manner of abuse. HP tells me that in order to gain military spec certification the EliteBook had to go through a battery of tests, including surviving drops from a variety of heights, being able to withstand a wide range of temperatures and environmental conditions and withstanding vibrations, changes in atmospheric pressure and so on. The Folio 9470m passed every one of those tests with flying colors, which means it should be able to shrug off the typical wear and tear associated with day-to-day use both at home and on the road.

HP builds this notebook in a variety of configurations, offering something for just about every budget. The model I tested came with 4GB of RAM, a 2 GHz Intel i5 processor and a 14-inch backlit LED screen with a resolution of 1366 x 768. Each of those components can be upgraded further if you need higher performance, but I found that this standard config provides enough power for the average user. A higher quality screen capable of a resolution of 1600 x 900 is a tempting upgrade though.Putting this laptop through its paces I was continually impressed by the overall excellent performances. For standard, day-to-day tasks such as email, browsing the web and listening to music, the EliteBook won’t even break a sweat. More demanding tasks such as photo editing, video conferencing and watching streaming movies went off without a hitch as well. Those processor intensive activities were more likely to activate the laptop’s internal fan however, which was a bit jarring at times, especially considering how quiet this machine is most of the time.

I was impressed with how much I liked both the keyboard and touchpad that HP uses on the Folio 9470m. Both are very responsive and have a high quality feel to them. The keyboard is very easy to adapt to and I liked the “clicky” nature of its movement. The backlit keys, with two levels of lighting, are a very nice touch too. The fact that it is also spill resistant will be much appreciated by anyone who has ever managed to knock over their morning coffee as well.

HP EliteBook Folio 9470mSimilarly, the touchpad is highly sensitive and easy to use and while it’s not quite on par with the brilliant trackpad on Apple’s MacBook line, it’s about as close as I’ve found on a Windows notebook. It seemed to have some issues recognizing Windows 8 gestures however, which was a bit confounding considering how well it performed otherwise. For those who aren’t fans of the touchpad, HP has also included a pointing stick as an alternate method of interacting with the EliteBook. I’ve never been a big fan of that type of input device, but this one was accurate and easy to use.

HP has wisely gives users the opportunity to purchase the Folio 9470m with either Windows 7 or 8 installed. Many have resisted upgrading to Microsoft’s newer operating system and I’m sure this laptop delivers an excellent Win 7 experience should you choose to go that route. My test model came with Win 8 and unlike many other peope, I have actually enjoyed Microsoft’s new OS for the most part. As I’ve said in the past however, the Windows 8 interface is best used in a touch environment and since this laptop doesn’t use a touch screen, it can feel a bit clunky at times. The excellent touchpad helps to alleviate this to a degree, but there was more than one occasion when I found myself tapping on an unresponsive screen, before I reminded myself that this laptop didn’t feature that technology. If Windows 8 is truly the future of the operating system, the ultrabook reference design should mandate touch screens in my opinion.

The EliteBook Folio 9470m was designed with the business traveler in mind and as a result it has some nice touches that aren’t always found on other ultra-thin laptops. For instance, it has a built-in VGA port as well as a Displayport which provides a great deal of flexibility when connecting to external monitors, television sets or LCD projectors. The laptop also features an Ethernet port, two very fast USB 3.0 ports and an SD/MMC card reader. Finally, it also has a docking port that allows it to quickly and easily connect to HP’s new universal docking station which works across the entire EliteBook line. That comes in very handy for quickly and easily connecting to external monitors, keyboards and networks when at a desk.

One of the key elements to how useful any laptop is to a traveler is how well its battery performs. The Folio 9470m doesn’t disappoint in this area either as its standard 52w battery is good for a solid 6+ hours of performance. For $200, road warriors can add a slice battery that adds a little bulk to the notebook but provides an additional 10 hours of battery life. Imagine being able to cross the Pacific using your computer for the entire flight. That’s the kind of performance we’re talking about here and I’m not sure how you could possibly ask for anything more.

This notebook isn’t without a few quibbles however. For instance, the built-in webcam doesn’t perform all that well in low light conditions and as mentioned the trackpad wasn’t as accurate as I would like when using Windows 8 gestures. The standard display is a bit on the lackluster side as well, particularly for a laptop in the EliteBook’s price range. But those minor issues aside, it’s hard not to like everything that this notebook brings to the table.

If you’re a business traveler who needs a lightweight and rugged laptop that can handle your entire workload while on the road, it’s tough to beat the Elitebook Folio 9470m. It weighs in at just 3.6 pounds and is just .75 inches thick. Despite those svelte figure however, it packs quite a bit of power under the hood. Base configurations start at $1049 and go up from there depending on added features. That puts it at the top end of the ultrabook line, but considering the performance and military grade durability displayed by this laptop, I think it is an excellent choice for the on-the-go business traveler.

[Photo Credit: HP]

Gadling Gear Review: hipKey Proximity And Motion Sensor

hipKey helps you keep track of your important items. One of the best things about the rise of the smartphone over the past few years is the incredible number of creative ways that companies have come up with to utilize them. We’ve seen thousands of innovative and interesting apps, and more recently some cool secondary gadgets that extend their functionality by interfacing directly with the phone. Take for example the hipKey from a company called Hippih. The device is a motion and proximity sensor that can alert us when our valuable items have been moved, something that can come in very handy when traveling.

The hipKey is a small, half-moon-shaped device that is designed to be attached to a set of keys, your luggage or even a person. When powered on and paired with an iPhone via Bluetooth, it can provide a host of useful functions. At its core, hipKey is meant to alert us to changes to the location of the item it is attached to or help us find that item when it becomes lost. If you attach the device to a set of car keys for example, hipKey will let you know when you’ve left them behind via an alert on your iPhone. Or, if you’re one of those people who can never remember where you left your keys, the hipKey companion app (available for free in the App Store) can activate the device, forcing it to make a loud noise.

The sensor features four distinct modes, each of which is designed to address some specific need. For instance, Alarm Mode is meant to alert the user when the hipKey has moved beyond a certain distance from their smartphone. The distance at which the alarm sounds can be set to short (2-5 meters), medium (15-20 meters) and long (30-50 meters) ranges. In Safe Zone mode, the user can designate a specific place on a map as the “safe” spot, then create a geofence around it at the same preset distances as Alarm mode. If the hipKey moves outside of the zone, it will again automatically trigger alerts. As the name implies, Child Mode attaches the hipKey to a child and sets off alerts if the kid wanders out of range as well, while Motion Mode immediately sets off an alarm if the item that the device is connected to begins to move.The hipKey dongle is roughly 2 inches in diameter, which is at times too large and at others just the right size. I say that because when you attach the device to a carry-on bag, for instance, you barely even notice that it is there. But add it to your keychain and suddenly it feels enormous. But the device packs quite a bit of technology into a relatively small space and for the most part you’ll barely even notice that you have it with you.

When designing the hipKey, Hippih integrated BlueTooth 4.0 technology, which provides better range than previous versions of the protocol while sipping less battery life. The device has a built-in rechargeable battery that I’m told will power the proximity sensor for anywhere from two to four weeks. I tested the device for a period of just over three weeks and I wasn’t able to ever run it out of juice, which bodes well for travelers who want to attach this to their baggage while on the go. I also didn’t notice much of an impact to the battery life of my iPhone while connected to the hipKey either.

As mentioned above, Hippih has developed a companion app for the hipKey that allows the user to program it to their specifications. It is through that app that you can set which mode the device is operating in, adjust the volume of alerts, select the alarm distance and so on. It’ll also tell you the current battery level of the device and allow you to designate your “safe zone.” The app is functional and easy to use – and works nicely on an iPad – but for the most part there isn’t much that is impressive about it.

the hipKey proximity sensorIt should be noted that communication between the iPhone (or iPad) and the hipKey is not just one-way. If you can’t find your iPhone, you can tell the device to send an alert to the phone, causing it to make a chiming noise while also vibrating. The alerts can be heard even if the iPhone is set to silent mode, which can come in very handy when you just can’t seem to remember where you left your iPhone.

For the most part, the hipKey works exactly as advertised. It is a snap to set up and it provides alerts when it moves too far away from the iPhone with which it is paired. I tested the device extensively and it performed flawlessly each time. It is nice to know that it has a solid record of dependability when you’re counting on it to ensure that your bags, keys or child stay safe.

Unfortunately, at the moment the hipKey doesn’t work with any other devices except the iPhone. Android and Windows Phone users will just have to wait to see if Hippih brings the device to those platforms. It seems likely that support will be there eventually – particularly in the case of Android – but for now the proximity sensor only works with Apple devices.

The hipKey carries a price tag of $89.95, which seems a little steep at first glance. But if you consider the level of mobile security, not to mention convenience, that it brings to the table, it comes across as a small price to pay. The perpetually forgetful will appreciate the gentle reminders the device will send them when they walk away without their keys, while worried parents will wonder how they kept track of their little ones without it. Make no mistake, this device is indeed a luxury item, but it is also one that could possibly save you a lot of grief when you need it. Particularly when keeping tabs on your important gear while traveling.

The hipKey is an excellent compliment to any iPhone and surely a gadget travelers will love to have on their side in times of trouble.

Hyperlapse Tool Takes Google Street View To A Whole New Level

Google Street View was a boon to desk- and couch-bound wanderers when it debuted back in 2007, but even the most fervent Street View explorers would agree that the endless clicking is a bit of a chore.

Enter a free online tool that uses Street View images to create a personalized animated road trip. The Hyperlapse tool, created by a Toronto design company, lets you choose any two drivable points on the map, and then stitches together the Google Street View images to create an animation that you can pan around in real time.

The above video demonstrates the hyperlapse tool’s remarkable capabilities. The montage includes drives past major American landmarks and through other countries like Denmark Slovakia, Canada and Australia.

The online interface currently only provides basic point-to-point animation with a locked frame rate, so a two-hour drive like the one I animated from Montreal to Ottawa will take but a couple seconds. However, the featured hyperlapses, which show custom-made drives through the places like the Australian outback and Yosemite National Park are well worth a look. No word yet on when we will be able to animate trips to Street View’s more unique destinations, like up Everest or down the Amazon.

Gadling Gear Review: Zippo Stainless Steel Wallet

Zippo Stainless Steel WalletLast week we reviewed an excellent backpack from Tumi that featured a pocket that is specially designed to protect against the theft of data via Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology. RFID chips are now being incorporated in our credit cards, smartphones, passports and other commonly used items in order to pass information while in close proximity to a device designed to read them. But less-scrupulous people have found a way to hack those chips to gain access to that information, which has added another challenge to keeping our data and identities safe.

Zippo, the company that is so well known for its iconic lighters, has designed a new wallet that is built to protect against RFID theft. The wallet features a stainless steel outer shell that suppresses the signal sent from an RFID chip. This makes it much more difficult for thieves to detect the signal, let alone hack it and obtain access to the data contained within. Considering the fact that so many new credit cards are being issued with these chips, you can see how this could be a very useful feature.

The stainless steel shell doesn’t just serve as an extra layer of protection against high-tech identity theft; however, it also gives this product its own unique look. Zippo’s wallet certainly isn’t like any other that I’ve ever seen and it garnered more than a few comments when I’ve taken it out in public. It has an attractive and distinctive look about it that caught the attention of just about everyone who has spotted it, with most asking where I had gotten it. It has a certain masculine appeal that is uniquely its own and makes it a great gift idea for the man who has everything.Zippo Stainless Steel WalletInside, the wallet has enough slots to accommodate up to six credit cards and includes a designated window that specifically allows for quick access to a drivers license or other form of identification. It also has a money pocket, although unlike a traditional wallet, the bills need to be folded in order to make them fit. For my needs, this is plenty of storage capacity, but if you’re one of those people whose wallet is a bit like a mobile office, you may be put off by the minimal amount of space available. There isn’t a lot of room to stuff business cards or receipts for example and if you prefer to carry a lot of cash, it may be tough to squeeze it all into the relatively small bill holder. I’m the type of person who keeps his bills organized in order by ascending value, which allows me to quickly find $1, $5 or $20 bills. But it isn’t possible to do that with this wallet, which I found to be a minor annoyance.

Carrying around a stainless steel wallet also takes a bit of getting use to. Obviously, it is far more rigid than a typical leather wallet and there were times when I’d sit down on a hard surface, only to be reminded of this fact. It definitely has a different feel in your pocket, although after using it for a week or two, it quickly became an afterthought. But the metal outer-shell does provide a level of protection for the contents of the wallet that you don’t get elsewhere and you won’t worry about having one of your credit cards snap when you sit down on it.

The Zippo stainless steel wallet carries a price tag of $49.95, which is actually a very reasonable price for a product like this. I’ve certainly paid more for a traditional leather wallet in the past and those tend to all look alike and offer no form of protection from RFID hacking. This wallet certainly has its own look and appeal, and if you don’t mind its minimalist approach to how much it can carry, you’ll likely be very happy with what Zippo has created here. Unlike leather, the stainless steel outer shell isn’t likely to wear out over time either, which means you’re practically buying a wallet for life. This is a great new spin on a product that most men carry with them every day and I think it’ll be a hit with its intended audience.

[Photo: Zippo]