Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

The Best Battery Case for iPhones

I don't often declare "bests" when it comes to gadgets, but I have tried a whole slew of battery cases for the iPhone series of phones, and I believe I've found an excellent choice. It's called the "BoostCase" and it is way less bulky and obtrusive than some of the alternatives (such as Mophie and other "battery jackets.")

I first started using a BoostCase when I had an iPhone 5 - it was purple, and I loved it. I've since used BoostCase battery cases on an iPhone 6 Plus and my current phone, which is an iPhone 6s (my last two were black).

What's the big deal?

First, let me tell you about my relationship with battery cases:

  • I like to use a case on my phone.
  • When I travel, I often run out of power on my phone and want an extended battery.
  • I don't want to put up with a bulky batter case all the time, but I also don't like changing cases or carrying multiple cases around.
  • I also need to have the battery case handy when I need it - and that is often not predictable.

The BoostCase works within all of those parameters. This is a two-part case.

  • One part functions like a normal case and is thin so I can leave it on all the time (that's the bit on the right).
  • The second part is a battery 'slice' that attacked to the normal case very securely, plugs into the Lightning port on my phone and has enough juice to recharge my phone at least once (that's on the left).

Yes, I know Apple just released their own battery case. Yes, I know there are a lot of options out there. But I'd venture to say that if you try the BoostCase, you'll be happy.

By the way, it comes with a microUSB cable (you can charge and sync through it), as well as a tiny adapter so you can plug thicker headphones in when the battery slice is attached.

If you're looking to boost the battery life of your iPhone, check out the BoostCase line of products.

eBike technology from Bosch - hands-on

A couple of weeks ago, Bosch eBike Systems brought an eBike out to me so I could try it out. What's an eBike, you ask? In technical terms, an eBike is a bicycle that has been augmented with an electrical assist that provides supplemental power while you pedal. In practical terms, it is an impressive tool to help you simplify your commuting or road cycling jaunts.

Bosch doesn't make the bikes - they make the "mid-drive" systems that are built into the bikes, so you can find different types, sizes and styles of bikes to fit your needs and preferences. You can find out more and locate a dealer near you at the Bosch eBike site. [Note: I receive no compensation or other consideration for this - just a free ride on an eBike].

Mount up...

I was riding a Haibike XDuro Trekking RX bike with Bosch Mid-Drive technology (provided by Cynergy E-Bikes, a local Portland company), and it was my first time riding an eBike. 

The bike looks a lot like a typical hybrid bike (built for road cycling, and off-road friendly), and I immediately noticed the weight - it was noticeably heavier than the bike I typically ride. That extra weight is because it has batteries on board, and the frame has been reinforced to handle the forces of the electrical assistance mechanism - the Bosch system is built in during the design of the bike, not bolted on afterward, so it is quite sturdy.  

Once on the bike, it rode and handled very well - it felt like a normal commuting bike, and it took no time at all to get acclimated (and it didn't feel very heavy from a rider's perspective). 

Becoming Superhuman

I rode for a couple of miles near downtown Portland, in a big loop along the Willamette River promenade, which gave me a chance to experiment on flat, straight sections as well as some good inclines, congested areas, and curves. The bike was a lot of fun to ride and I found myself thinking about what it would be like to own.

The real fun started when I turned on the eDrive -- I felt superhuman! It is hard to describe the feeling you get when you turn on the eDrive and the bike begins to surge forward, accelerate, and climb up challenging hills under the assistance of the eDrive.

The way Bosch's eDrive system works is by multiplying your power so every pound of pressure you exert on the pedals is amplified when it reaches the wheels. There are 5 modes:

  • Off:     no assistance from drive unit
  • Eco:    50% assistance from drive unit
  • Tour:    120% assistance from drive unit
  • Sport:    190% assistance from drive unit
  • Turbo:    275% assistance from drive unit

You can change modes on the fly, smoothly and without interrupting the ride. That means you can spend most of your time in Eco, but kick things into Turbo for a killer hill or to make up some time on the road when you're in a hurry.

When choosing modes, keep in mind that the more assistance you get from the eDrive, the faster you use up the battery's charge. For example, depending on conditions, the range in Turbo mode (highest assistance) is 20-40 miles. In Eco mode (least assistance) the range is 50-100 miles. The on-board control panel tells you how you're doing and estimates remaining range based on how you're using the bike.

These bikes do need to be recharged, as they don't recharge while you are riding. That said, they last quite a while - you should only have to charge the bike once or twice a week if you use it for commuting, and the recharge time is about 3 hours (you just plug the bike's charger into a normal household outlet). If you run out of power on the road, you won't be stranded - you can simply pedal it as you would a normal bike (though the additional weight may make pedaling a bit more difficult on hills without the power assist).

Who are eBikes suited for?

While anyone would enjoy this bike, it is ideally suited for commuters, as well as people who are less physically adept but want to ride in hilly terrain (or more easily keep up with more accomplished riders). Bosch says these systems are very popular with the 50 years and up crowd, since they like the physical assistance the bikes provide and typically have more disposable income to justify the extra cost (eBikes typically cost about $1500-2000 more than comparable, conventional bicycles).

Commuters will likely appreciate these bikes most - imagine riding 10 miles to work on an eBike and arriving at work without feeling like you need to take a shower; that is possible with the assistance of the eBike power drive. If you get the chance, stop by a local bike dealer who stocks eBikes, and give it a try - I think you'll be impressed.

Use your best iPhone pictures as postcards

Last year, I stumbled across an iOS app called PhotoCard, by Bill Atkinson. This app allows you to create free, electronic postcards from your iOS photos, personalize them, and send them via email.

You can also convert your postcards into gorgeous physical postcards and mail them to other people. That, of course, is not free but it is also very reasonably priced. I've sent quite a few of them and they are beautiful and very noteworthy, since they are 8.25 x 5.5 inch cards printed in high-quality color printing and mailed by US Mail.

Editing a picture I snapped of The Gherkin tower in London, which I sent as a postcard.

The app comes with over 200 of Bill's own photos, so you can compose something beautiful, or you can use your favorite snaps from your camera roll or photostream.

You create both the front and the back of the card, including your message and the style of the stamp if you are sending physical cards.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, this is a great way to do it. I love this app.

Working out while traveling just got a bit easier

After quite a while of being a slacker, I have decided to pay a lot more attention to my diet and exercise regimen.  A big part of that is designed to help me follow much better habits while on the road.

One part of this change is to do some sort of workout or physical exercise every day.  It's been going well, but workouts on the road can be a challenge when it's hard to create a convenient time window to get to the hotel fitness center.

Bring the gym to you

Last week, I was in Dallas and decided to try out one of the Westin Hotel chain's "WestinWorkout" rooms in which you can reserve a room with fitness equipment in it.  I really like this concept - it allows me to get a workout in when I want to, under much more relaxed circumstances.  Here is a quick tour of the room I stayed in:

 

In the video, I mention I was expecting a treadmill (the bike worked fine, but I still like treadmills better).  Good news:  you can now specify whether you want a cycle or a treadmill, at least in some hotels - I had that choice when I booked at the Westin in Seattle a few days ago.

I hope this trend takes off and spreads to other hotels.  I'm a "Starwood guy" so the fact that Westin is a Starwood property makes me hopeful that other Starwood brands will follow suit. 

Review: Focused Space Incubator Backpack

I recently started using "The Incubator" backpack by Focused Space, and I really like it. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite laptop / travel backpacks so far (and I've used quite a few).

Looks and comfort

Click to embiggen

This definitely feels like a high-end backpack, with quality on par with Tumi, Briggs & Riley, and other high-end backpacks and I think it is reasonably priced considering the quality.

 The Incubator backpack has a trendy design that looks business-oriented enough that you can take it to any meeting, but trendy enough that you can use it for non-business use.  It is very sturdy and the fit & finish is exceptional.  It is also pretty light, so it doesn't make things too heavy on its own and it keeps a fairly slim profile so it fits under the seat easily.

The straps are very adjustable, comfortable (memory foam), and have a sternum strap to keep it in place for longer walks or hikes.  I'm a pretty tall person and this fits me well (many business backpacks have dinky straps that don't work for me)  and it will also adjust down for the typically-sized person.

There is a handle on top so you can carry this backpack (the handle is a tad small, but works fine).  There are also a lot of small loops on the top and on the straps that you can use to attach things to the pack ( the hoops are handy - I use one of these loops with a small "Bandits" bungee cord to hold the bag on my roller bag when I'm walking through airports).

Pockets galore

One of the things I like best is that there are a lot of pockets in this backpack.  I have a lot of gadgets, charing cables, and small odds & ends, and this bag has enough small pockets inside to create a "place for everything" kind of organization system.

There are also two large zippered compartments on the fron for keys, breath mints, your phone, hard drives, and other things you may need to access quickly. 

Click to embiggen

For larger electronic devices, the main compartment features a laptop / notebook pocket with a very soft lining, which will hold a 15" or smaller device comfortably.  There is also a smaller, dedicated pocket intended for iPads or other tablets. 

There are smaller side compartments you can use for storage (I keep my backup hard drive in one, and my business card wallet in the other). 

There is a small pocket on the front that you can use for things like glasses (it's plush-lined), or earbuds (my preferred use for this pocket) to allow easy access.  

There is an additional, larger pocket at the top of the back panel that is hidden and can be a good "stash" pocket for ID's, passports, thumb drives, an MP3 player or other larger, special items. You can see it in the picture on the right, at the very top of the back of the bag, just underneath the top part of the shoulder straps.

Good organization, nice amount of space

These pockets make it easy to organize the small stuff, and leave a nice amount of room for everything else.  There is plenty of room for files and a couple of books, noise canceling headphones in a case, etc.

Speaking of folders, check out my earlier article on how to create backpack folders, which I created for my previous backpack.   They work great in this one, as well.

In spite of the large amount of space, this backpack doesn't balloon up like others I've had - which I consider to be a plus.  This backpack still stays snug and streamlined looking even when it's full, which makes it easy for air travel. 

Awesome, but not perfect

As I mentioned, this is my favorite backpack so far but it still has a few things that get in the way of perfection:

  • I mentioned that this backpack is snug.  If you are used to over-stuffing a backpack, you can't get away with that on this one - it doesn't stretch a lot.
  • While it isn't an issue for me, I now a lot of people who carry water bottles with them when they travel, and this bag doesn't really have a suitable external pocket for that.  If you have a water bottle with a clip / carabiner on it, you could clip it to the outside of the bag, but there isn't a water bottle pocket. 

The bottom line 

In summary, the Focused Space Incubator backpack is an impressive, business friendly backpack with strong organization, good protection for your gadgets, and a very comfortable travel companion.