In 2019 I backed a crowdfunded product called the EcoFlow DELTA. While it was promoted as a “battery powered generator”, the name was misleading: fundamentally a generator creates one form of power by consuming another, and this was a battery that stored and outputted electrical power. It’s a battery. A really, really big battery: 31 pounds and 1260 Wh of power to be exact. It has six AC outlets supporting up to 1800 watts of output, 3300 watts of surge protection, pure sine wave output, four USB-A ports (12 or 18 watts per port), two USB-C ports (60 watts per port), and it charges via AC power, solar (up to 400 watts input), or 12V car adaptor.
I backed the project for $799 after we had an 18 hour power outage at my home and I found it frustrating how many things wouldn’t function. I was looking for a specific solution to allow us to continue using our on-demand hot water heater, which uses natural gas but requires electricity to operate. When the power goes out it’s relatively easy to create light and bundle up if you’re cold, but the immediate lack of hot water is an uncomfortable problem for a family with two kids. I had a quote on a natural gas-powered generator, but the $6000 price tag was too high for the rarity of the outages. I’d need to lose power several times a year for 20+ hours each time to justify that expense.
The EcoFlow DELTA arrived in January 2020, and it exceeded all my expectations. I took a bunch of photos because I thought I’d write up a long, thoughtful review of it…and didn’t. That review never quite got written, but I had all these pictures and a few thoughts I wanted to share, so here’s a photo essay of sorts for anyone interested in the DELTA.
* This was the most badass battery that EcoFlow made in 2019, but in mid-2021 they release the monstrous DELTA Pro, a 99 pound battery with 3600Wh of power! 🤯 But it’s also $3599, so…🙃
Every time I use a new product or service, I either applaud it or I’m critical of the user experience. Often both! I wrote product reviews on various tech web sites (mostly my own) for ~15 years, and when I worked for Spb Software I took on the role of a product manager for Spb Imageer, so I’ve experienced both sides of this coin to some extent (though much more on the reviewing side).
Working at HTC also gave me interesting opportunities to learn more about the decisions that go into creating hardware and software. I understand every product is a series of trade-offs; most teams don’t have enough developers to build things they way they wish they could, and timelines are never quite long enough to fit in every feature and testing.
Sometimes product managers and UX designers will make such inexplicably awful choices, you have to wonder what they were thinking. You also have to wonder if they tested with actual customers in real-world use, or if it was never tested by anyone other than an internal QA team with a checklist and no knowledge of real-world use. The ESPN+ app on Google TV is one such app.
When I bought a Chromecast with Google TV late last year (what a mouthful of a product name!), I was genuinely excited about it – this was the first truly new execution of Google’s Chromecast platform since the first one launched. I’ve done a fair amount of tweeting about my impressions of the hardware/software from Google – I wish Twitter had a better search function, but here are a few – so this blog post is focusing on one very specific scenario: how utterly terrible the Chromecast with Google TV is for watching long-form content on a poorly designed app. Walk with me through this real-world scenario…
I have a long history with AudioEngine speakers; I first reviewed their A5 speakers back in 2007, and their A2 speakers in 2008. I’ve owned their A5+ speakers since 2011, having only recently retired them from use last year, and not by choice; we put a bigger TV in a spot where a soundbar was needed in front of the TV because we needed all the width of the mantle for the TV. The point is, I have a deep fondness for AudioEngine products so I had high expectations as I excitedly unpacked the box with the A2+ powered speakers. I have a tremendous ❤ for products that are red, so one of the reasons why I asked to review the A2+ speakers was because they game in this glorious red colour:
The speakers are available in satin black, high-gloss white, and the above high-gloss red. The photo above is slightly deceiving: it looks brighter in my photos than in the normal lighting of my office. Because it’s so glossy, the colour pops depending on how much direct lighting they are in. Tucked beside and behind my iMac, they are a deep, dark, blood red.
In virtually every review of speakers or headphones, the writer will trot out obscure artists and tracks, trying to impress the reader with their musical pedigree. I shall do no such thing, and simply say that with the variety of music I listen to regularly from these speakers – pop, rock, a capella, country, orchestral scores – I am extremely impressed with how great the A2+ speakers sound. You’re not getting booming bass here without hooking up a sub-woofer – that’s a matter of physics, and these are small speakers – but when cranked up, these tiny powerhouses will move some serious air (you’ll actually feel wind blowing strongly on you at higher volumes) and they sound quite full for their size.
Volume wise, listening at four pips of volume on my iMac has the speakers at about 62dB (measured with a sound meter at 16 inches away). It’s what I consider a “comfortably loud” volume level – not quiet background, volume you can actually hear and appreciate the music. At 50% volume (8 pips) they’ll hit 84db. At 100% volume (16 pips) they’ll hit 105db – a volume level I find painful being so close and would never use, but if you’re trying to full a medium-sized room at a party, you may need this volume. At max volume they hold up without distortion on every song I tested them with, and while I won’t “song drop” I tested a live cover of “Superstition” with some heavy bass and at 100% volume it was smooth and (OK, OK, check the bass solo at 4:08 here).
Back in September I saw a Kickstarter project that looked like it would help with one of the main complaints many buyers had with the new design of the 2016 MacBook Pros: nothing but USB-C ports. DockCase is a clever mash-up of two things most MacBook owners want: a way to protect it and a way to add more ports. Previously I’d solved the port problem by putting my MacBook in a sleeve and carrying a variety of dongles, USB-C to USB-A adaptors, SD card readers, and a USB hub (which has an SD card slot, USB ports, and HDMI port) scattered across the two bags I’d use for transporting my laptop. I’d guess I’ve spent around $200 or so on these accessories, partially out of the paranoia that I’d need a slot/port and not have it.
The DockCase offers a variety of ports: SD card + microSD card slots, three USB-A ports (supporting USB 3.0 speeds of 5 Gbps), one USB-C port (supporting USB 3.1 speeds of 5 Gbps), one USB-C PDC (power delivery charge) port, HDMI video (1080p @ 60Hz or 4K @ 30 Hz), and a gigabit Ethernet port. That’s a comprehensive list of ports and replace every port a modern non-MacBook product would have (and then some). I paid $89 when I backed the project on Kickstarter, and it shipped pretty much on time (a rarity in the crowdfunding space).
VAVA (which appears to be a sister company to HooToo) did a launch promotion on the VOOM 22 for $39.99, so I ordered it from Amazon the first day it was available – and as I write this, no one has reviewed it yet. The product packaging arrived a little banged up – and with a rip on top – which surprised me. Opening the box, I found a small instruction pamphlet, a power adaptor, a 3.5mm cable, and the speaker itself. The power adaptor made me frown – it’s round-plug style connector rather than something more universal such as microUSB or USB-C. That means if you want to charge this while travelling, you need to bring this special power adaptor. It’s a huge failure in my eyes when companies do that. The rather large power supply outputs 18v at 2A, so I’d guess they opted for faster charging at the expense of customer convenience, and that’s a mistake in my eyes: I’d rather have a device that might not charge very fast but can charge with the cables and external batteries I already have. The power adaptor prongs also don’t fold down, so it would be a hassle to travel with. On the plus side, the VOOM 22 plays while charging. There are only three dots showing battery level so you’re either at full, 2/3rds, or on the last 1/3rd. You can press the power button once to display the battery level.
The journey continues! By month four, I was starting to really get the hang of OS X, and most of my questions were more about “Why did they do that?” versus “How do I do that?”. I’m still no power user, but slowly the mysteries of OS X are unveiling themselves to me…
I am puzzled by what OS X does with videos and resolution. It looks like, in the case of video (because nobody like tiny videos), Apple will automatically double the playback size of a video; normal is a 2x zoom. This can cause some confusion if you’re working with videos – I’m not entirely convinced this was the right decision for Apple to make, but you can certainly play video at 2x size and have it look fairly good so there’s not a bit quality loss here visually.
Above: the default size of a 1920 x 1080 JPEG as viewed with Lily View.
Above: the default size of the QuickTime player for a 1080p video.
Above: the QuickTime video reduced in twice by two steps – close to proper size.
I’ve slowed down taking notes on my “learning OS X” project – largely because I seem to have gotten over most of the rough edges – but I still have many notes to share from the intense first few months. Here’s what I was experiencing in month three.
I’m not clear why/how, but the Microsoft Office updates for OS X are really terrible. The download takes forever – I’m on a 40mbps connection, but because there’s no speed indicator I’m not clear if the updates are gigantic or the update server just dishes up the bits slowly (hello Xbox Live!). The install progress also takes a while. The number of updates is fairly frequent (feels like almost weekly), and it’s a process that’s simply far too slow. Microsoft really needs to do better here. It would be great if updates for Office came through the App Store, but I imagine Microsoft has reasons for not using that delivery mechanism…
A friend of mine started working for LeEco a few months ago, so I’ve been introduced to this curiously-named, but wildly ambitious Chinese company who is entering the US market in various categories (mainly audio and TVs for now – Android bikes and electronic cars may come later). Oh, they also make smartphones. LeEco sells their products via LeMall, a site where their already-affordable products often go on “Flash Sale” for 50% off, meaning these Leme Bluetooth Headphones that are already cheap at $39.99 go for a simply-crazy $14.99 (which is what I paid for them). So how do they stack up? Here’s a quick review.
At AT&T I don’t travel for work as much as I used to for HTC, but when I do I usually bring my personal laptop with me – and that means two different power supplies. I use a Rocketfish universal charger for my HP work laptop (a rather chunky and heavy machine) and the Dell charger for my XPS 13. The Dell charger is small, but the Rocketfish charger is your typical brick. It has a USB port for charging though, which is a big improvement over your typical charger. Together, carrying the two chargers is a hassle, especially since I fly carry-on 95% of the time. I usually put both chargers in a carrying case inside my carry-on luggage.
In my quest for a new, lightweight universal charger I backed the FinSix Dart on Kickstarter back in April of 2014. After waiting 19 months (!?!), I gave up waiting and requested a refund. Props to FinSix for giving out refunds – many Kickstarter campaigns do not.
I then ordered a Zolt: it seemed better in every way. Getting it was a bit of a fiasco – they didn’t indicate there would be a wait on getting it, so I was expecting to receive it shortly after the November 19th launch date. The neglected to communicate that’s when pre-orders would start shipping. It was almost five weeks later, a day after I left to spend two weeks in Calgary that they informed me they were shipping the Zolt. I think it’s pretty foolish to surprise ship a product right at the holidays when so many people travel, but I give credit to their customer service team: they were able to re-direct the shipment and ship it out the day I got back. There was a bit of a delay, but I finally received it. I’ve had a couple of days now and here are my thoughts so far. Continue reading The Zolt Universal Laptop Charger: Is This The Ultimate Mobile Charger?
When my daughter fractured her leg earlier this year and was put in a large cast, both my wife and I thought we’d have 6-8 weeks of us carrying her around, plunking her down someplace, and her staying there wanting to be entertained. She wasn’t yet two years old (so not old enough for daily screen time) but we decided to make an exception on a short-term basis and buy her a Fire HD 7, complete with a purple giraffe skin case. Here are my thoughts on this device after having it in our family for a few months. Continue reading Amazon Fire HD 7: Great for Content, But Keep Your Expectations in Check