Monday, May 22, 2017

Review: Shimano PD-T400 Click'r Pedal

Ever since I got Bowen his SPD shoes and mounted cleats on it, we've been riding with him fully cleated. He loves it because his feet never come off the pedals, which is a hazard on the tandem because the pedals won't stop spinning just because your feet came off!

The big challenge, however, has been getting him in and out of the pedals. Our solution was to use the kickstand, and then have him on the bike and I'll click him in by hand. There are two problems with this: first of all, it gets pretty old fast. It makes even stopping for a restroom break a chore. Secondly, when we tour, we'll have a load on the panniers, and between the load on the panniers and a 35 pound kid, this might very well overload the kickstand hardware! I reduced the spring tension on our SPDs all the way down to the bottom, but he just couldn't clip himself in or out, even when he got the position right.

What I didn't realize was that Shimano makes an entire line of pedals that a light release action called Click'r. The marketing literature claims that they have 60% less activation force when clipping in, and 50% less activation force when clipping out. Since I didn't have to use much force with my hand when clipping in Bowen by hand, I figured that might be sufficient for him to clip in and out. For $23.25 per pair, it was a cheap experiment (also, I bought it from Amazon for easy returns).

The pedals showed up and installing them was as easy as my M520s: unlike high end pedals, these came with wrench flats, which are great. We tried them as is, an no-go. His feet just wouldn't clip in. So we got out allen keys, and pushed the tension down as low as it could go. We also switched the cleats on his shoes to the ones that came with the pedal, just in case that made a difference.

Sure enough, that did the trick. Bowen can now clip in and out of his pedals by himself, and he liked it so much he practiced doing it 10-15 times so he could get it right. We took the bike for a short test ride, and after that I asked him to spin the pedals backwards as quick as he could to see if he would unclip by accident. Nope.

Bowen asked about getting these for his single bike but I pointed out that his feet never came off the pedals on that bike, and even if they did, the pedals wouldn't keeping spinning so it wasn't a dangerous situation. In fact, if you couldn't clip out fast enough you might fall over. He thought for a bit and then agreed.

These are great pedals, and I can foresee that I might be buying at least another pair in the future for his brother. If you have kids on a tandem, or if you're new to clipless pedals, get these. Recommended.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review: Spigen Rugged Armor Moto G5 Plus Case

The Moto G5 Plus proved to be too slippery for me. Furthermore, the rear camera protrudes from the bottom, and sooner or later I'm going to leave the phone on the ground somewhere and end up scratching the lens, so I decided to buy a rubber case for it. The Spigen Rugged Armor case came with good reviews. In particular, it's just thick enough that the camera lens is flush with it, so I can put it down without the phone being wobbly. In practice, Motorola should have just made the back of the phone thicker by sufficient amounts and given me even better battery life, but then I guess no one would have a reason to buy the Moto Z Play.

The case is easy to put on, easy to take off, grippier but not too sticky when putting it into and out of pockets. It's easy to reach into my jersey pocket to pick up the phone and shoot pictures while cycling, which is mostly what I ask of it. I hope never to test how well it protects the camera if I should drop it, and while the raised lip of the case on the front should protect the phone from scratching if it falls face down onto a smooth surface, it won't protect the screen from keys in your pocket, etc, so I would still put a screen protector onto the phone.

The case weighs 32g, which is much lighter than an Otterbox, and not very objectionable at all.

Recommended.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review: ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 10

If you use your camera enough, sooner or later you end up with a closet full of camera bags. The key is you want to be able to travel with just the right amount of equipment for the job, and different bags have different jobs.

We bought a Think Tank Mirrorless Mover 25 back when we started with the EOS M3. It's a great bag, and we've filled it up with the EOS M3, the 22mm prime, the 11-22 wide angle zoom, the EF-S 55-250 zoom (with adapter), a small flash, spare batteries and lens cleaning accessories. But there are days when I'm carrying 2 kids up (or down) a mountain and it's just a bit much. On those days, I'd just hang the 11-22 zoom on my shoulder, but of course, it would dig into my chest or get hammered by the kids.

BestBuy had a sale on the Mirrorless Mover 10, and I ordered it to see how it would work. The good news is that it fit nicely on the Deuter Kid Comfort III's waist belt, even with it cinched tight. It has sufficient capacity for either just the EOS M3 with the 11-22 zoom + the small flash, or the EOS M3 with the 22mm prime and the 40mm (with adapter), a spare battery, and lens cleaning kit. On the side there's enough room for a mini tripod. Together the entire kit would weigh 1kg (2.2 pounds)

The bag comes with a shoulder strap, but in practice I'll probably never use it, and would detach it before traveling. The idea is that on a car based touring/hiking trip, you would have the full kit in the car. If you drive to a trailhead and then have to carry 2 kids up a steep hill, you'd move what you need into the Mirrorless Mover 10 and then you'll have a lighter weight kit that would leave you hands free (for kid carrying) when you're going up and down a mountain. Or you could carry a spare body and lens while your wife carried the main camera.

When BestBuy shipped me the camera bag, it didn't have a strap. I called ThinkTank, and they didn't even ask for a receipt: they just immediately shipped me a camera strap. Whatever else you may think of the company, they have fantastic customer service.

Recommended.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

First Impressions: Moto G5 Plus (Amazon Edition) 64GB

After I decided that the S7 was unacceptable, I had a dilemma. I could not go back to my 2015 Moto G, because I had given it to my mom so she could have an unlocked phone in Singapore. It seemed as though I had to give up on my desire for waterproofing as a core feature. The chipset that has the best battery life at the moment is the Snapdragon 625. Unlike the chipsets in the 800 series (or even the siblings in the 600 series), the 625 was actually designed for power efficiency. It was featured in the Moto Z Play phone last year, and while most phones don't get mentioned 6 months after they launch, the Moto Z Play is still getting rave reviews for stellar battery life.

I somehow missed all the deals for the Moto Z Play, but the Moto G5 Plus launched recently, and uses the same chipset. Even better, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you get $60 off for the 4GB RAM/64GB Storage version. My experience with the Blu R1 HD is that the Amazon add-ons to the phone aren't obtrusive, especially if you have lots of storage and so can forgive the non-deletable pre-installed apps. Having learned my lesson about storage, I decided to go for the larger storage version. 4GB of RAM can't hurt, since I did notice that the Moto G 2015 did frequently run with very little free space.

Compared with the Moto Z Play, the Moto G5 Plus has:
  • Smaller screen (5.2" vs 5.5")
  • No NFC (the European versions have NFC but no compass!) NFC is nice, but as far as I can tell, none of the phone payment methods have really taken off, so it's a non issue. The compass is very useful when using any navigation apps, so I really appreciate that the US version has the compass.
  • LCD screen vs AMOLED screen (no question, AMOLED screens are superior!)
  • Smaller battery (3000mAH vs 3510 mAH)
  • No Moto Mods (no big deal --- as of date there are no Moto Mods worth the price or weight or bulk)
  • Lighter (156g vs 165g)
  • Different camera (can't tell whether it's any better or worse, just different)
  • 4GB RAM (vs 3GB)
  • 64GB storage (vs 32GB storage)
  • micro-USB vs USB C (this is a feature as far as I'm concerned --- no need to buy new cables!)
  • No full-time "OK Google". (would have been nice to have, but I didn't have it on the 2015 Moto G or the S7 either!)
Except for the smaller screen (and it seriously would have been nice to have an AMOLED screen), it didn't seem like it would have much of a compromise. In fact, in other ways (storage and RAM), the G5 Plus seems like the better phone.

I bought the phone and got the free same day shipping. It arrived and I immediately tried the "transfer data from a nearby phone" feature of Android 7.0. Oh wow, Google Play Services crashed! And crashed! And crashed! I finally rebooted the phone and went back to setting up my phone the traditional way.

After the setup, the phone was fast! Browsing, e-mail, and even taking pictures is reasonably fast with next to no lag. I was also very impressed by one of the new Moto gestures, which is to use the fingerprint reader as a substitute for the on-screen navigation buttons, recovering several pixels worth of space from the bottom of the screen. In fact, on-screen navigation buttons take up about 0.3inches of screen space, which effectively means that the 5.2inch screen on the Moto G Plus is now equivalent to the 5.5inch screen on the Moto Z Play! This is a great move and I wonder why other manufacturers don't do it.

Sound quality and bluetooth seemed to work better than my 2015 Moto G, which would get audio stutter whenever a music player was being asked to multi-task with any other app. I guesss I was CPU limited but didn't even know it.

And wow, storage! I didn't realize how constricted I'd been until I started installing apps and after more than 100 apps on the system the device still proclaimed that I had used only 6.84GB out of 53.71 on the internal storage. My 64GB micro SD card was definitely getting worked more., since it's the default storage location for photos, videos, etc.

Note that both Moto Z Play and the Moto G5 Plus have headphone jacks, which is very nice since one of our cars and many of our high quality audio headphones still use the traditional system. In fact, none of the other Moto Z phones were ever under consideration because of this missing feature. I hope the Android ecosystem continues to thumb its collective noses at Apple's "courage" with regards to this user hostile move.

The physical device feels slippery (I have no idea why anyone thinks that metal is superior to plastic for devices that you need to handle). At 156g, the device is pretty much the same as my old Moto G. Interestingly enough, the charger's much lighter than the one that came with the Moto X Pure. The Moto X Pure's charger is 110g (integrated cable), while the Moto G's charger is 52g with a 21g cable. The Samsung's charger was 42g by comparison.

Surprisingly, I found myself using the fingerprint scanner. That's because it was fast and consistent. I wouldn't put up with it otherwise. Similarly, I found myself using the gestures to turn the screen off (hold the finger print sensor for 1s), or bring up Google assistant (hold the fingerprint sensor past the haptic feedback buzz).  I thought the fingerprint scanner would be a gimmick, but it's turned out to be quite reasonable. (The Samsung also used it for Samsung Pay, but with no NFC obviously I'm not going to be able to use Google Pay anyway!)

And yes, ridewithgps works using Firefox on the Moto G5 Plus. One pleasant surprise is that WiFi calling works on T-mobile using the Moto G5 Plus, without any special configuration. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, that's the only feature I got from Nougat that was noteworthy.

Battery life has been nothing short of incredible, coming from both the S7 and the Moto G 2015. I regularly end the day plugging the phone in and seeing that the battery level is at 40%. This gives me hope that running Live Tracking while riding all day won't kill the battery on the phone.

All in all, I'll be keeping the phone for a while. The lack of waterproofing bothers me, but I guess I'll pack away my phone when it rains into a waterproof bag.

Recommended.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review: Otterbox Defender for the Samsung Galaxy S7

I picked up the Otterbox Defender for the S7 because the phone by itself felt too slippery. The Otterbox promised to toughen up the phone so it could survive drops as well.

The case comes in 3 pieces, an internal shell that goes directly around the S7, a rubber bumper that goes around that shell, and then a holster. The shell and bumper weigh 81g, and I didn't bother weighing the holster because it was so bulky as to be unusable.

The resultant phone inside the bumper felt very grippy. So much so that when I slid the phone into a pocket, it would grab the sides of the pocket and not go all the way into the pocket! Extracting the phone from a pocket had the same feeling.

The rubber bumper has flaps for USB charging and the headphones, and these are the most solid flaps I've ever seen. They definitely will protect the phone!

The biggest flaw with the case is that the top and bottom lips interfere with the functions of the phone. The top lip prevents you from using the "pull down" gesture to drag down notifications. The bottom lip prevents the finger print reader from registering all the time. I don't know how this could have been prevented --- one possibility is that there's so little bezel space that any lip would have intruded, but without trying a slew of cases there's no way to find out.

Ultimately, I returned the S7, but I'm pretty sure I would have to return it for the gesture interference problems anyway.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review: Storm in a Teacup

Storm in a Teacup is a great book, and a lot of fun. The idea is that Helen Czerski's going to show you how physics concepts apply to your day to day life, from teacups to weather. The topics include a discussion of state changes (solid, liquid, gas), electromagnetism, wave theory, gravity (sans relativity), and the sense of scale.

The writing is great, there is no math, and her selection of day to day circumstances (including the construction of a trebuchet) is selected to be enjoyable and relatable.  There's very much of the sense of wonder that comes across when you contemplate the universal laws of physics through day to day forces like that of a platypus hunting for shrimp. I was sad when the book was over and I wanted more.

Recommended.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Independent Cycle Touring now available as a Kindle eBook

I tried several times over the years to put Independent Cycle Touring into the Kindle .mobi format, but it's always been an abysmal failure. Finally, Amazon finally released a tool that would preserve the formatting from the print book into the Kindle edition, so now you can enjoy my favorite cycle touring book in electronic format for the low low price of $5.