My Hard Graft Ocean Flat Pack Review at Tools & Toys

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I finally got around to reviewing my Hard Graft Ocean Flat Pack, and I did so over at the awesome Tools & Toys. It’s my only blue bag, and the leather has darkened beautifully over the past year.

This was a fun little review to shoot. I took my A6000 and tripod up to the roof of my apartment building in winter and used the Sony PlayMemories app to control the shoot myself. I held my iPhone in my left or right hand and would trigger the shutter after posing myself properly in the frame. I’m happy with how the picture turned out, especially given how cold and uncomfortable it was to shoot. I only realized afterwards that I could have made everything so much easier by using a timer delay on the shutter. Ah well. 

One thing I want to add is that I’m looking into replacing the closure mechanism on the Flat Pack. I really like using the bag for lighter days, but I think it would be a lot better if it was a detachable buckle that held the strap together. It’s not quite Hard Graft’s aesthetic, but I’m also starting to think that the company does a much better job with the leather and wool felt than they do with their metal hardware. I’ve got a spare Cobra buckle lying around that I may use as a closure mechanism, but I need a leather sewing machine to be able to attach it. 

Review: Apple’s Saddle Brown Leather Case for iPhone 6S Plus

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I’ve often ignored Apple’s full-body cases because there are so many other great case-makers on the market. Sena, Vaja, Case-mate, Spigen, and TwelveSouth are a few names right off the top of my head. However, for the iPhone 6S Plus, I wanted to balance a classy look and an improved grip without going overboard on price.

It wasn’t until I saw Matt Gemmell tweet about the Saddle Brown case on Twitter that I considered Apple’s own offering. I’d seen the Brown leather case on iPhone 6 models and wasn’t very impressed by the colour — it looked beaten up and dull. It didn’t feel luxurious, just utilitarian. The Saddle Brown colour that came out with iPhone 6S is a different story. It’s a far richer colour than last year’s basic Brown, and — as you can see above — looks positively delicious out of the box.

There are plenty reviews of what this thing looks like when it’s new, but not as many of how the leather darkens and breaks in over time. This is what I found interesting about this purchase, so I took shots of the case ever few weeks to track how it was wearing in. This thing didn’t go into my jeans pocket very often, but it did go in and out of the front pocket of my black winter coat.

Week 1

The case still had a caramel colour to it, and there wasn’t any spotting. There were a few natural marks on the leather and slight wrinkling in the corners, but I consider that par for the course. It is animal skin, and not every cow can afford Maybelline.

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Week 2

Seven days in and the case was starting to show signs of wear along the corners, but more importantly, the colour changed very quickly to become a deeper, richer brown. This is exactly what I wanted from this purchase, and I was surprised to see it happen so quickly in the winter sun. The darkening of the corners made me realize that my pockets were dirtier than I thought, since they were the main material that my case was coming into contact with.

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Week 3

This is where differences started to get a bit starker. In addition to the corners, the top and sides of the case were becoming distinctly black, as if someone had done some light charcoal shading on those areas.

Week 4 + 5

To be honest, I hadn’t really noticed any more changes to the case after week three. The sides and top were still slowly getting darker, but I had to really look for these changes. I had a feeling this case would end up looking like a vignetted photo over time — a nice dark border that creeps towards the center, but which should highlight the lovely dark saddle brown leather. Unfortunately, as you can tell by the past-tense I’ve been using, this case never made it past week #5.

One of the corners started peeling (like dry skin in the winter) and I suddenly got very cold feet about the long-term durability of the case. It was expensive enough that I wanted it to last a good year or more, and five weeks of light wear were already doing some damage that was more than cosmetic. The folks at the Apple Store weren’t up for providing a full refund, understandably, but they did offer to exchange the case for something of similar value.

Apple-Midnight-Blue-Silicone-case

Silicone in Midnight Blue

I might have had a bad version of Apple’s Saddle Brown case, but I decided not to take the risk on another one. I ended up choosing a silicone case in Midnight Blue instead. I’ve had it for about three weeks now, and it’s been holding up perfectly thus far. No signs of wear, no darkening in the corners, and none of the matted silicone topper has rubbed off.

I’m not nearly the case fiend that I used to be from even a few years ago, but this case ticks off a lot of the right boxes for me:

  • covers the camera lip on the 6S Plus so it doesn’t make contact with tables
  • has an exposed 3.5mm jack so it works with all my headphones
  • has an exposed Lightning port so any cable works with it
  • is thin enough to fit in most iPhone docks
  • has great covered buttons that maintain a satisfying clickiness

Most importantly, this case gives me the confidence to hold the iPhone 6S Plus however I’d like. I can confidently use it with one hand on the subway without feeling like it could slide right out of my palm. I can also pinch the phone by the sides while I’m reading in bed. I tried reading last night without the case, and found the aluminum sorely lacking in the friction department. Unless my hands are a little wet, the naked iPhone wants to slip right out of my palm and onto the floor. It hears gravity’s summons and dearly wants to respond with a crash.

Placing a silicone case on the 6S Plus has eliminiated its desire to shatter itself on the floor, and I’m happy with this purchase. The Midnight Blue is not the most eye-catching thing on the market, but the case’s durability and soft-touch feel are serving me well enough for now. If you’re at the first-party Apple cases, I’d suggest sticking to silicone over the leather — at least where the iPhone is concerned.

My Isar Coated Canvas Review on Tools & Toys

Isar Coated Cavnas review

I had previously mentioned that I’d review the Isar Rucksack in Coated Canvas, and I had every intention of publishing the resulting review on this site. But then the folks at Tools & Toys approached me about an opportunity to work with them and I decided to take them up on it. I love the photography and the gear they discuss on T&T, and I’m happy to show my work alongside that of writers like Shawn Blanc and Josh Ginter.

I tried to specifically avoid rewriting my original Isar review, and this newer version of the bag really is my favourite one. It fits my camera better, handles rain better, and fits my frame.

Check out the full Isar Coated Canvas review on Tools & Toys.

The HDM Wallet

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I’ve never been one to tuck a large bi-fold into my back pocket, but that’s probably because I was never given one as a child. The first wallet my dad gave me was a slim tri-fold case with $10 folded into one of the pockets (it’s bad luck to give an empty wallet to someone else). That tri-fold had a zipper pocket for change, six key hangers on ball bearings, and pockets to take folded cash and cards.

This made for a very simple check before I left the house: wallet + phone? Good to go. However, this setup created a bulge in my front-left pocket, and it also wore the wallet out very quickly. The combined weight of coins and the sharpness of keys do not bode well for leather.

That awesome little tri-fold soon ripped, and so I looked for a smarter way to carry my cash and cards around.

Zeroz wallet

Zeroz

Zeroz were an interesting idea: a simple leather sleeve to hold 8-10 cards; plastic inserts helped you differentiate cards and pull specific ones out for quick access. A minimum number of cards (about four) was needed to create enough tension in the leather to hold the cards in place, or they’d fall out either side. This wasn’t an issue in practice because you really only take two cards (e.g., credit card + points card) at any given point in time. The failure of the Zeroz lies in its elastic money clip (not shown in pic), which ripped after about six months of use. That money clip was the only viable way of storing cash in the Zeroz, so the wallet has just been sitting in my drawer ever since.

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Banana Republic Bi-Fold

I tried a Banana Republic bi-fold for a while, just to see what all the fuss was about…and also because I got sick of always having to fold my Canadian bills in half to store them. There wasn’t anything inherently wrong with this wallet, but it was bulkier, as all bi-folds are. Bi-folds double their thickness because they fold in on themselves, and each card slot was used a separate strip of leather, which further increased the thickness. Placing bills into my wallet without folding them was novel to me, but the ubiquity of credit and debit card payments has eliminated the need for cash 99% of the time. That killed the main draw of the bi-fold very quickly.

twelvesouth bookbook wallet case

The TwelveSouth BookBook

The BookBook from TwelveSouth was an interesting compromise because it was a case first, and a slim wallet second. The product is still around, and it’s gotten a lot sleeker over the years, but now that I have an iPhone 6S Plus, there’s no way I’m ever fitting a BookBook into my front pocket again. The phone is just too big. My back pocket is an option, but I’ve always felt paranoid about someone snatching my iPhone + wallet without my noticing.

Hard Graft Mighty Phone Fold Wallet

I also tried Hard Graft’s Mighty Phone Fold Wallet last year, mainly because the marketing really got to me. That classic Hard Graft combo of leather and wool looked so gorgeous, and the embedded snap buttons made the whole experience feel so lush and impressive. Hard Graft is definitely onto something with the combination of wool and leather. The leather is soft to the touch, while the dense wool felt provides form and structure, without being too dense. Unfortunately, the Mighty Phone Fold Wallet didn’t fit the way I dress. HG’s wallet was begging to be tucked into the breast pocket of a wool coat, right beside a Mont Blanc pen and a silk handkerchief. It did fit into the back of my pants, but I hated the idea of sitting on it and ruining its beautiful lines.

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The HDM Wallet

I tried all of those wallets out over the course of years, but it wasn’t until I made my own that I was really, really happy with one. This was an important step for me because it’s what led me to think of myself as a maker. I’ve analyzed stuff for years, but because I never went to school for design or more technical skills, I didn’t think it was in me to make something awesome. This wallet was my first step in changing that presumption.

It took a few prototypes, but the final design I’ve arrived at combines a few features I’ve liked about various wallets over the years:

  • one-handed access to my TTC Metropass
  • quick access to my credit card
  • space for 2-3 folded bills
  • access to all other cards
  • slim, expandable design

I’m calling it the HDM Wallet, just ’cause.

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The whole thing is made of two pieces of leather: one for the wallet, a second for the strap. I hand-stitch it with waxed thread, and it’s still in great condition after 10 months of use. The construction is as simple as I could make it in order to keep it strong. It’s also slim and short enough to store in a front or back pocket, without bulging egregiously.

My wallet holds about 6-8 cards alongside a few bills and receipts. Two cards fit in the front quick slot. As long as my hand isn’t too dry, I can slide my Metropass out of the wallet with one thumb — perfect for flashing the transit pass as I board a streetcar. My credit card sits right behind the Metropass, accessible but obscured (so the CC number isn’t visible to others).

The other cards, cash, and receipts fit in the main compartment, which is accessed by pulling on the strap at the top. That leather pull strap is anchored, so you can never pull too hard and have your stuff spill out. Tension from the pull strap keeps the cards secure enough, but it won’t necessarily hold up to shaking upside-down.

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Once the cards are extended, it’s easy to fan through them to find a specific ID, or grab my debit card. Cash is folded into thirds and kept in front of the cards for easy access. It’s slower to fold cash into thirds before storing it, but paper bills aren’t really a design priority because of how often I use cards.

This is probably my third iteration on this design, and although I might play with the aesthetics over time, I’m very happy with it as-is. If the HDM Wallet strikes your fancy, ping me on Twitter and I could make you one for $45 CAD + shipping.

A Comparison of Isar Rucksack Sizes (Medium vs. Large)

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I published my review of the the Icelandic Ash Isar in January. That bag was holding up really well…but it’s no longer my main backpack. As of June 2015, a Medium Coated Canvas Isar is what I’ve been using to haul around heavier loads.

I sold my larger Isar within a few weeks of purchasing the smaller canvas version, but while I had both bags in my possession, I took a few measurements for comparison. One of the biggest questions I had before purchasing the Isar was whether there was a discernible difference between the two sizes.

Isar: Medium vs Large

The Isar comes in medium and large sizes and the two don’t look very different on paper, but after having worn the large version for a year, there’s no question that the medium is a better size for someone of my height and build (5’11 and 180 pounds).

Côte&Ciel provides their own measurements of the bag on their sites, but I didn’t trust these measurement when I first saw them. There are so many variations of the Isar rucksack, and I thought that Côte&Ciel might have used a generic set of numbers for all of their bags.

So I took my own stock of the dimensions. I measured the rear compartments, not counting the “shark fin” fold that’s created by the main compartment. Official measurements are on the left, my measurements are on the right.

Icelandic Ash – Large Length 26.7” / 22.0″ Width 14.5” / 14.0″ Depth 8.5” / 8.0″

Coated Canvas – Medium: Length 25.2” / 20.0″ Width 14.2” / 13.5″ Depth 9.25” / 8.00″

Regardless of whose measurements you look at, the two sizes don’t look very different, do they?

Part of this is because it’s difficult to measure the bag because its form changes so much depending on how tightly the compression strap is pulled and the contents of the main compartment.

isar-canvas-vs-coated-canvas

There’s no question that buying medium has made a difference, though. The two-inch difference in height makes it easier to keep the bag on my lap on the TTC, and it also keeps the pack from digging into the back of my belt as I walk around. The laptop compartment is also a little narrower (max. 15–inch, instead of 17–inch in the Large), which makes the medium look slimmer when viewed from the rear.

The main duffel compartment is smaller, which means there’s less fabric to wrinkle and fold. This gives the medium Isar a more crisp profile, and also means the bag doesn’t jut out as far when it’s fully loaded.

Proportion

What it all comes down to for me is proportion. I loved my gray Isar for its design, but I was always a little self conscious about how much space the bag took up, and how much it could dwarf whatever else I was wearing. For taller or larger people, this won’t be an issue because the proportions will match their frame. I also acknowledge that really big bags are part of a specific look: Côte&Ciel has plenty of imagery of the bag taking up half the height of its wearer.

I much prefer the way the medium sits on me. It’s not a small rucksack, but it’s a fantastic daypack and can function as a weekender in a pinch. I suspect it will be that way for most people, and that the larger size of the bag should be conserved for a more niche audience.

isar-medium-vs-large

Yet Another Isar Review

I’ll be taking a closer look at the coated canvas Isar in the coming months [Edit: the review is up]. I think this bag will warrant its own (smaller) review because Côte&Ciel changed the laptop compartment’s design and location. It’s no ultra secure behind the straps, but it has become a lot more accessible as a result. This single change has made it a much better camera bag, which I’ll talk more about soon.

You CAN recover deleted files from iCloud Drive!

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Earlier today, with a distinct lack of coffee flowing through my system, I managed to delete an 800+ word post that I had been working on. I scoured the app and iA’s website for a “restore” function, but they report that iCloud does not provide one.

Then I remembered an amazing post on SixColors about how iCloud Drive has an extremely well-hidden restore function. The feature is hidden hilariously well and is only accessible from a desktop browser, but the good news is that it works!

A few clicks later and I had my article back within iA Writer, like nothing had happened. Apple should really, really build this function into the iCloud Drive app on iOS 9.

Five Weeks with the Apple Watch

HDM 5 weeks with Apple Watch

There are plenty of Watch pieces out there already, so I’ve broken this one down into bullet points by category. I figure that could help if you’re a prospective buyer and are interested in hands-on info on a particular set of features.

Look and Feel

I own a 42mm Space Gray Sport with the black Sports band.

  • I really like the 42mm screen size, text is very easy to read at the default size
  • I love how the Sports band tucks into itself; contrary to many reviews, I find it very easy to put on and take off
  • I’m wondering what other strap I might want to try later on that would match the Space Gray nicely (might wait on 3rd party straps for this)
  • The Space Gray looks much more premium to my eye than the silver Sports model, and the finish doesn’t show any fingerprints

HDM Apple Watch Look and Feel

Alarms

  • not nearly as loud as the iPhone, but reliably loud enough to wake me and make me reach for the nightstand
  • vibrating alarms are so awesome for naps and snoozing
  • the Watch knows when phone alarm is ringing and I can stop iPhone alarms (and timers) from the watch

HDM Apple Watch silent alarms

Music

  • does control audio apps like Spotify on iPhone, but can only pause and fwd/rwd
  • choosing music from the Watch is really awesome, the Digital Crown mimics a click wheel and the touchscreen is quite accurate
  • you can swipe backwards to go from Now Playing to the Artists screen, just like on iOS
  • I frequently use Siri to bring up specific songs or artists while walking, and it works really well

Battery

Battery life was one of my concerns for this first-gen device, but it really hasn’t been an issue for me in these past five weeks of ownership. I usually take the Watch off the charger at around 7:30am.

  • Day 1 was 20% upon arrival at home at 7pm after a heavy day
  • Day 2 was 30% when I got home at 12:30am with medium usage
  • Day 3 was 7% when I got home at 1:00am (tracked a 3-hour walk with Exercise app that day)
  • Day 4 was light use and so I got home at 8:30pm with 63% battery left (I took the Watch off the charger at 9:30am)
  • Day 5 was medium use with a 30-min workout, ended day with 24% at 1:00am

After my first week with the Watch, I stopped tracking battery life entirely as it became a non-issue. I keep brightness at the lowest setting, Haptics on maximum strength, and I keep notifications to just a handful of core apps.

HDM Apple watch water resistance

Fitness

The gamification of fitness via the Activity rings has been surprisingly satisfying. I’m realizing that I do enough walking to burn 500-700 calories per day, and I’m still adjusting my Move goal (calories burned) so that it’s achievable, but still motivational.

  • the Watch hasn’t once felt uncomfortable or too large while walking or exercising
  • the Activity app tracks Exercise without my having to explicitly load the Workout app; my heart rate just needs to be high enough to count as exercise to the Watch (still finding out what the BPM threshold is)
  • it’s really satisfying to see the Exercise ring revolve twice over, just from walking to and from work

HDM Apple Watch checking time

Checking the Time

  • there is a split-second delay before the screen turns up, but it’s fast enough that it never feels like lag
  • as others have reported, bringing your wrist up to check the time has to be an exaggerated motion (and not a slight wrist tilt, like with a real watch)

Sleeping with the Watch

I tried this once I realized I usually get 1.5 days of battery life with the Watch, but it turned out to be a mistake. I’d turn and the Watch would wake up, blasting either me or my girlfriend with light. I’d still like to be able to sleep while wearing future versions of the Watch, but the Do-Not-Disturb function should keep the screen from waking up automatically.

Watch Faces

  • I’m sticking to Simple, Color, and Chronograph faces for now; totally loving the animated second hand
  • handy to have quick access to traditional watch features like alarms, chronographs, and timers
  • matching the Watch face to your clothes, [as espoused by Matt Gemmell], is fun
  • I really don’t care for Mickey
  • I’d love to see more clean digital Watch faces that aren’t faux analog designs

Complications & Glance

Complications are the little tidbits of info displayed on the watchface; Glances are the widgets located one swipe below the watchface. Complications are currently Apple-only, while Glances are a mix of first-party and third-party apps.

  • Glances improved a little after the first patch, but they can still be a little slow
  • Third-party Glances also lack the interactivity of Apple’s own Glances, and I’m looking forward to them acting a little more like tappable widgets with limited functionality (e.g. tap to switch streetcar direction or complete task)

Taptic Feedback

  • I’ve been using the “prominent tap” setting, which sends a strong tap out to “announce” a notification, and then issues the actual tap for the notification itself
  • Taptic feedback feel is brief and more decisive than the buzzing of my iPhone 5S, so I’m feeling fewer “ghost” taps like I would with “ghost” notifications from my iPhone in a pocket
  • I wish iMessage taps could be configured on a per-contact basis, at least for people in the Favourites list
  • Taptic feedback for walking directions is very timely, but I can’t tell between left and right turns by feel
  • I have a strong feeling we’ll see taptic feedback in the next iPhone Home button

Notifications

  • the Watch knows when the iPhone is locked or unlocked and displays notifications accordingly; won’t bug you when phone is on, but will buzz when phone is asleep…perfect!
  • I can get double buzzed while using iPad or Mac, since iMessages sometimes arrive at iPad before they hit the iPhone (and thus the Watch)
  • Watch can act on notifications even if the apps aren’t installed on Watch, so long as those notifications are interactive on the iPhone as well (e.g. complete Due tasks, even if app isn’t installed on watch)
  • I love how notifications don’t wake the Watch screen by default; I just feel a tap and it’s left up to me to wake the watch up to see it at my convenience
  • the Watch has made Calendar and Reminders notifications very useful for me again; they were just too easy to miss on the iPhone

HDM Apple Watch Digital Crown

Digital Crown

  • this little thing was hyped as a revolutionary way to interact with a touchscreen, and yet Blackberry and HTC devices had plenty of clicking dials for navigation in the past…however, none felt quite as premium as this Crown
  • I definitely appreciate the Crown for its ability to scroll and make granular changes to elements like timers or alarms
  • I’ve taken to wearing my Watch with the Crown facing away from my hand; I find it much easier to press that way (I use my thumb to click and scroll)

Siri

In some ways, I think Siri can be the most powerful and convenient input method for Apple Watch users. For one thing, the microphone on the Watch just seems more reliable, and dictated text comes out a lot faster and smoother than on my iPhone 5S (even when held up to my face). Siri can only become a good input method if it’s fast and natural to use, and over the past couple of days, that’s exactly how it felt. I’ve been able to quietly dictate quick texts to the phone without shouting or bringing the watch right up to my mouth, even while in public.

I’m planning an entire other post on this, so I won’t get into too many details here. Suffice it to say that Siri on the iPhone and iPad felt like training wheels, and Siri on the Watch feels like the service’s real debut.

Five Weeks In

This isn’t a full review, but I don’t necessarily think that one is needed on this little site of mine. What I hope I’ve provided are some granular looks at very specific features and use cases with the Watch.

I’m surprised at how quickly I’ve become accustomed to this new device. There is no new workflow to adjust to or to think about, like with the purchase of a new Mac, iPad, or iPhone. The Watch took about a day for me to get used to the controls, and then it just worked as advertised. It has definitely reduced the number of fiddly phone checks over the course of the day, and it has alerted me to several important calls I would have easily missed. The Watch reaches out during tiny day-to-day moments in my life and offers a gentle, decisive tap in the right direction. I welcome the help.

One Apple Watch, Please

Apple-Watch-Sport Space Grey

Ah, crap. I want the blasted Watch. I’m admittedly caught up in the marketing hype. I don’t need the health-related sensors and kickass magnetic straps — that’s all just icing on the cake that is vibrating notifications.

I’m not worried about too many notifications coming through because I’m selective about which apps are allowed to disturb me. I turn many app notifications off, and few are allowed to have banners, or even badges. However, for those few notifications I do care about, I can still miss the iPhone when it vibrates at my hip.

On the other hand, a vibrating alert on the wrist seems like it could grab my attention in just the right way. I also trust Apple to get this done in a way that doesn’t alert the entire boardroom that I just got a text. I think the Watch will have a nearly-silent haptic system that won’t echo like a phone vibrating on a desk.

I foresee the Watch being really useful for specific apps I already love using:

  • Due alerts would go off on my wrist, and I can complete or snooze them from there
  • Any task alerts like those from Evernote or 2Do could buzz me when a task is due
  • Transit app could probably ping me when the streetcar I’m waiting for is 5 minutes away (giving me time to walk to the stop)
  • Maps could be fun for quick, glanceable walking directions when I’m meeting friends at a new restaurant
  • Calcbot could be usable, but that might be a stretch
  • 1Password on my wrist could be extremely useful, since I never have my passwords at my PC
  • changing the song in the Spotify or Music app from my wrist will feel like the future
  • SoundHound and Shazam could be even faster to launch and identify songs

I’m also curious to see how owning a Watch will change the way I see my iPhone. I don’t think I’ll spend the majority of my time on the watch, but I think the phone will stay in my pocket much more while I’m at work.

“Buy this car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for this car”

I also want to address something that feels like pure marketing to me. I think the Watch does have a reason for existing, but it isn’t necessarily for spending less time with technology. I read TechCrunch’s fluffy piece about the device, and although it has some great insider information about battery life and how long-term testers use it, I don’t agree with the tone that Matthew Panzarino takes: that this watch is technology that can save us from technology.

I love tech and I use too much of it, but I don’t think we need to purchase new devices to save us from our current ones. I save myself from the myriad distractions on my phone by turning many notifications off, using Do Not Disturb mode during certain hours, and clearing most notifications from my iPad and Mac.

I see the watch as a way of interacting with technology in a different, more convenient manner. iPads go in bags, iPhones go in pockets. There’s something eminently more accessible and always-on about a smart watch that sits on your wrist — where the only thing that can cover it is a sleeve.

Lock-in

I’ve been playing with paper notebooks recently in an attempt to see what I could comfortably live without. I have a number of must-have iOS apps, but just in case I ever want to leave Apple for an Android device, I want to know that I can take most of my data and my habits with me, without having to drop anything because there isn’t an equivalent experience on another platform. The Watch certainly will not help that, and by buying into the Watch, I realize I’ll be further embedding myself in their culture.

The thing is, as frustrating as it can be to wait for Apple to fix things like the third party keyboards in iOS, or adding a more powerful file system to the iPad, there are some things that Apple does that nobody else is close to getting right. iCloud Photo Library and Handoff are some of the software features that only seem possible when software and hardware are seen as an ecosystem.

It’s those kinds of features that make me feel that it’s OK to be “locked in” to Apple’s system — at least for now.

Price

What I am most nervous about is the pricing of the Watch. $350 is the USD price for the starter aluminum watch with a polymer band, but how much will it cost to put any other kind of band on that watch? Or, if John Gruber is right about pricing, it may not even be possible to buy other straps with the base Sport model. You may need an Watch or the premium Watch Edition to “qualify” for better straps. I really hope that’s not the case.

Something about that proposed strap strategy doesn’t really follow. If buying a certain tier of Watch — Sport, Watch, Watch Edition — locks you into a certain tier of straps, then Apple would require you to present proof of purchase, or bring the actual watch to the store to prove which version you own. That just doesn’t seem like Apple. Their customer service can be so generous that they’ll repair a stolen MacBook if a thief brings it in (true story).

I’m also wary of starting another tech device upgrade cycle. I currently upgrade devices as follows:

  • iPhones every 2 years
  • iPads every 2 years
  • MacBooks every 4-5 years

I also get PC parts now and then for my gaming rig. Adding a watch to the equation every 2-3 years means yet another category to save for and spend on. I do think I’ll have fun with an Apple Watch Sport, but I also think its initial battery life — the unfortunate price of being an early adopter —will be what gets me to upgrade in the next few years.

##A Different Device Future

However, I’m also willing to give this device category (the “wearable”) a try because I think usage patterns could change drastically over the next few years. The next “ideal” tech combo could be a watch, a larger smartphone, and some larger-screened device that could be a tablet, laptop, or a combo of both. In that case, the number of devices I’d have would go down, and there would be room for a watch in the upgrade cycle.

In any case, Tim Cook (or Angela Ahrendts?) should answer a lot of my questions in two days time. We’ll see what the word is soon.

Hands On: MUJI’s 0.25mm Hexagonal Pen

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I was sitting in a milk tea shop in Taipei Taoyuan International Airport looking for various tiny things in my bag that might help me pop my iPhone 5S’ SIM tray open. I was heading home from vacation and had to replace my roaming SIM with my Koodo SIM so that I’d have a cellular signal in Toronto; the kicker was that I had no actual tools to pry the stupid SIM tray out with (everything sharp or pointy was in my check-in luggage). Then I remembered that I’d bought a set of really fine-tipped pens from MUJI; the smallest one a hexagonal Gel Ink ballpoint pen with a 0.25mm tip.

I actually take 95% of my notes digitally in apps like Drafts, but thanks to the seductive pictures on sites like The Newsprint, I’m seeing the appeal of having a good pen and notebook around. Josh Ginter has made me paper-curious.

So for this January trip, I decided that I’d write a journal in a Moleskine notebook instead of Day One. It was a different and more thoughtful experience writing a journal out on paper, and it really forced me to slow down because the ink always comes out slower than my thoughts do. I’m really no expert on pens, but I know that I don’t like very thick ball pens that glide too easily across a page. This MUJI 0.25mm pen still has a ball point, but it has a good amount of friction as I pull it along the Moleskine paper. There’s an enjoyable scratchiness to the experience. I like the fine tip because it forces me to be more precise and purposeful with my strokes, lest the curves in my writing end up looking too sharp.

This trip also taught me that this fine pen can serve another purpose. The 0.25mm tip was small enough to make it into the iPhone 5S’ SIM tray hole, but it wasn’t quite long enough at first, so I unscrewed the collar in order to expose more of it. Doing so allowed me to pop the iPhone’s SIM tray open with the pen and use my other hand to pull it all the way out. For curiousity’s sake, I tried the same thing on my iPad Air 2, but there just wasn’t enough reach, as the tablet’s SIM tray seems to be build differently. Fortunately, I never swap the SIM out on my Air 2, so that isn’t a problem for me.

I’ve been going out of my way lately to find a lot of premium items, instead of settling for cheaper stuff that might be easier to get. These MUJI pens are a reminder that a premium feel need not come with a premium price tag. At about $1.50 CAD, it’s easy to pick up five or six of these and keep them in my bag, at home, and at the office. I really like the clean look of the frosted plastic cap, and the body is minimal enough in its design that it matches my other gear very nicely.

This MUJI pen has been a great find for me, and the fact that it can become a makeshift SIM tray tool is a fun little bonus.

Long-Term Review of Côte & Ciel’s Isar Rucksack

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Before buying the Côte et Ciel Isar Rucksack, I was still using the same backpack I’d used in high school. That bag is tough and probably cost less than $80, but it’s not terribly good looking. It’s the kind of bag I had no shame of throwing down at the foot of my school locker, but it just doesn’t match the way I dress any more. It doesn’t feel like it suits me in 2015.

I actually like messenger bags more than backpacks. I like their accessibility, how easy they are to remove from a shoulder, and I like where they sit on my body as I walk around. However, for carrying heavier loads for longer periods of time, nothing beats two proper backpack straps. Backpacks distribute weight more evenly across my shoulders, they allow me to keep a more even posture, and they can often fit more stuff.

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I acknowledge that duffel bags are the go-to bag for schlepping large amounts of stuff around, but I don’t like walking around for very long with a duffel bag. I think it’s inefficient to have one hand taken up at all times. So for the weekend trips or heavier weekdays, I wanted a new go-to backpack.

Other Options

I looked at a number of alternatives before deciding on the Isar.

  • The GoRuck GR1 holds monstrous amounts of stuff and will likely outlive everyone I know, but it’s too tactical for my tastes. I wanted something tough, but still a little dressy.
  • Tom Bihn bags are highly reviewed by Ben Brooks, but they’re either too bright or use too much nylon as a base material for my liking.
  • Killspencer makes a Daypack with interesting organizational features for notebooks and accessories, but it still looks a little vanilla, and I worry about the leather in the rain.
  • The Hard Graft Back2Back looks like a good transformable backpack that fits a respectable amount of stuff, but I think it looks a little too wide when worn on the back (it could just be the model, though).

It wasn’t until I stumbled upon a review of the Isar Rucksack on Minimally Minimal that I made a final decision. I had seen the Isar months before, but it wasn’t clear from the product shots how the bag actually worked. I was worried it would be a design that valued form over function. However, once I saw how much could be packed into the bag without distorting its shape, I was sold. I went out a few weeks later to Queen Street West and bought an Isar in Icelandic Grey from Nomad for about $325 CAD. That was in May of 2014.

A Laptop Duffel Backpack

When I’m asked about the Isar, my elevator pitch is this: it’s basically a thin laptop backpack with a duffel bag grafted right onto it. That’s a brutal way of putting it that strips out all the magic of the design, but it gets the point across.

One great feature of the Isar is that it can be really secure for your laptop, tablets, and important travel documents. The laptop section sits right against your back and cannot be opened while you have the bag on — it doesn’t get much more secure than that. Actually opening this rear section often requires me to bend the backpack straps forward, but once everything is unzipped, everything inside is very easy to access. The laptop compartment on the Large size fits up to a 17-inch laptop, so it holds my 13-inch rMBP just fine. The tablet pocket is right beside the laptop pocket, and it fits my iPad Air 2, but not very snugly. Most times, I prefer to just place my iPad at the bottom of the compartment, which has side guards that accordion out (to keep small items from accidentally falling out). There’s a zippered pouch opposite the laptop, which is a great place to store a passport during travel.

Depending on how you fold it, the front compartment of the Isar can look like a sail or a shark fin. This area is fantastic for holding unusually sized items, and there are several sets of compression straps to keep items in place, or keep everything snug when the bag is fully packed. The whole thing zips shut with a long vertical zipper that runs the length of the bag.

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The gigantic interior of the front compartment has two zippered pouches for storing smaller items. I use these for pens, cables, moisturizer, and sanitizer. The flat part of the compartment has two compression straps for keeping clothing nice and flat during transport. I’ve used this for suit jackets on long weekend wedding trips, and the Isar has not disappointed me. Larger items like umbrellas, bicycle helmets, textbooks, and camera just sit loosely in the main compartment.

It’s really this magical main compartment that drew me to the bag in the first place. I find myself more and more attracted to unique or unusual designs, and I love how the Isar manages to create a unique shape without having a very rigid body. The shape of the bag changes a lot depending on what you put in it, but it also maintains its good looks regardless of whether it’s full or empty. Most bags look like rigid containers for your stuff, but my Isar looks like a canvas cover that has been considerately draped over your things.

Use Cases

Instead of reviewing the backpack by just rotating it on a pedestal made of paragraphs, I thought I’d discuss a few different use cases where the Isar’s design shines.

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Walking with the Isar

I really like that the Isar has enough organization to help me quickly grab small items, even while I’m walking around town. The grab handle, which sits at the top of the two backpack straps, is comfortable to hold. The top of the straps are thick, wide, and padded, which means you can wear this bag for hours. It’s really great for day trips around the city.

Holding the Isar by the grab handle and unzipping the main compartment to grab my camera is easy. In fact, grabbing any large item — be it a camera or an umbrella — is easy thanks to the large main compartment. It’s also fun to use the little secret pocket, located on the bottom-left side of the bag. I know some people keep their phones here.

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I’ve found the raw canvas to be pretty durable in my travels thus far. The material will soak up some rain because it’s not treated, but it also dries out fairly quickly, and it’s definitely thick enough to keep my electronics protected during a quick dash through the rain. I wouldn’t go biking through a storm with this bag on, but it works if you’re just walking home without an umbrella.

The good news is that the Isar is available in a variety of different colour and fabric combinations, so if raw canvas isn’t your style, there’s likely another version of the bag that has what you’re looking for.

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Public Transit

The large Isar is just big enough to fit on my lap in a cramped situation. The back “fin” of the back does puff out, but it can easily be flattened for squeezing into tighter spaces. When there’s enough space on the train, I like to sit down and grab the iPad from the rear laptop compartment, and then prop it up on the bag as if it were a little reading stand.

The grab handle also shines for situations where there’s only standing room. Lots of backpacks tend to have dinky little handles that are painful to hold because they’re too thin and insufficient, so my hat goes off to Côte et Ciel for designing a good, solid handle.

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Weekend trips

If there was a primary reason for buying this backpack, it would be weekend trips and vacations. Packing this bag up with two days worth of clothing, umbrella, and my MacBook and iPad reaches the 15 lbs. mark in terms of weight.

I put the bag through a pretty thorough testing during my vacation to Vancouver last year. We’d walk around all day, logging 12 km on foot, and we’d jam food and jackets into the backpack as needed. I was dog tired at the end of the day, but the Isar made the load manageable while still allowing easy access to smaller items. It would have been nice to have the option of a sternum strap for helping with really heavy loads, but I could always add one myself, since there is webbing stitched onto each of the straps.

I’m also surprised at how versatile this bag is in the looks department. You can flatten the entire front compartment down when the bag is empty, so it doesn’t tend to stick out very far. Adjusting the external compression strap is all that’s needed to turn Isar from a daypack into a weekend bag.

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I’ve managed to fit the following on a single trip:

  • MacBook w/ charger
  • iPad w/ charger
  • Full suit w/ jacket and tie
  • compact umbrella
  • extra underwear and socks
  • extra shirt
  • full complement of cables
  • sunglasses in case

Fitting all of those items tidily into the bag without crumpling everything is really, really cool — this level of compartmentalization is definitely a rare feature in a backpack.

Durability

This isn’t the kind of bag I’d take kayaking or for really mud-filled adventures, but for most everything else, I’m confident in the Isar’s ability to handle the punishment. The only part that has me a little concerned is a small rip that I can see in the handle. On inspection, the damage seems to be mainly cosmetic, since the load-bearing portion of the handle is still completely intact, but I thought it was worth mentioning in this review.

There’s also minor wear and tear on the metal hardware, where the paint is starting to chip away a little, revealing what looks to be brass or copper (although I’m really no materials expert). None of the metal hardware has shown any signs of bending or breaking though: it’s tough stuff.

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Conclusion

There really aren’t very many things I’d nitpick in the Isar, and the only warning I’d issue regarding this bag is to think about its size. I bought an Isar in large because that was what was available locally, but if I’d really had my pick, I’d probably have picked this bag up in a medium. I think the medium size (which is sizes for 15-inch MacBook Pros) would make it easier to use during lighter trips.

I’d say that, unless you know you want to carry a monster 17-inch laptop around, 99% of people should stick with the smaller Isar size. It’s also worth paying attention to the various fabric combinations available for this bag. The nylon versions are cheaper and look a little more square when folded, and the leather versions will require a little more looking-after when they get wet. I’m still happy that I chose raw canvas; I like the way it wears over time, and I find the thickness of the fabric reassuring.

If you’re on the market for a durable, tech-friendly backpack that defies convention, you’ll want to consider the Isar.