Gadget Watch: Bags, bags and … bags. Plus, some cool new camera gear

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Gadget Watch: Aug. 23, 2014

Bags, bags, bags. Literally – there are three hot bags in this week’s gadget roundup, and if you buy them all, you’ll be out by around a grand. Or you could buy the ultra-expensive Leica M-P, a new camera so minimal it doesn’t even have the trademark red dot on the front, yet still costs $8,000. Or you can go to the other end of the price range and pick up LensBaby’s new iPhone optic for just $70. And that’s just the beginning…

The Attaché leather bag

H.O.T. Those are the three letters that best describe Pad & Quill’s new Attaché bag, a beautiful leather satchel with unbreakable, high-copper-content hardware and parachute-grade stitching on the outside. Inside, you'll find padded MacBook and iPad pockets, plus orange suede pocket linings.

As a bonus, the marketing copy for the Attaché seems to have been written by Hannibal Lecter, containing this line: “Your taste buds and your liver deserve top shelf [and to be] savored in a glass.” (some words added for comedic effect). How much? $420

Dragon device holder

You can’t get much simpler than the Dragon device holder – it’s a pair of aluminum clips that snap onto the cylinder at the back of your Apple wireless keyboard and slide up and down, letting you space them to fit anything from an iPad to an iPod nano. The clips have a tail at the back to provide stability, and a little lip at the front to hook the bottom edge of your gadget. If you use a full-size keyboard with your iPad, this little gadget should be in your bag. $25

Brooks Hampstead holdall

This bag comes from Brooks, the English bike saddle maker. Weighing in at a hefty 1.6 kilos (well over 3 pounds), it has a roll-top enclosure and adjustable clips that can attach the bag to the rear rack of your bike. The body is “water resistant cotton” and the straps are leather. The price? Around $400.

Leica M-P

In: 2GB RAM (double that of the Leica M). Sapphire glass cover for the camera's rear LCD.

Out: The Leica red dot

Price? $8,000

KERO Power Annex

There’s little to say about KERO’s micro-suction portable battery other than, “What a frikkin’ great idea.” It’s a regular, modest-capacity backup battery (1800mAh, which will get your iPhone back to 75 percent) with a USB port and status-indicator LEDs, but on one side it has a micro-suction layer so you can stick it to the back of your iPhone, over and over. This is so much smarter than having to use a special case to clip the battery on, or just using a case with a built-in battery pack. Or you could do what I do, which is use a regular backup battery and a rubber band. $19

Pyle Smart Bicycling Computer (with Google Maps)

The Pyle PSBCG90 Smart Bicycling Computer tracks your rides with GPS and displays them on Google Maps back at your computer. You can also hook up any ANT+ accessories wirelessly (heart rate and cadence sensors, power meters and so on), and even challenge yourself, Mario Kart-style, using the ghost-route feature. It looks like a decent alternative to something like the Garmin EDGE 500, and it costs only $130.

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Lensbaby for iPhone

Lensbaby now makes a sweet-spot lens for the iPhone. It sticks on with magnets (you need to stick the included ring over the iPhone’s lens) and blurs everything in your photos except a sharp sweet spot in the center. It's just like the regular Lensbabys, only less adjustable and made for the iPhone. There’s another neat feature – the front has a metal ring on it, too, so you can attach any other iPhone lenses you have onto the Lensbaby for some really freaky FX. $70

TenOne Magnus Air

The Magnus Air updates the minimalistical Magnus that originally shipped for the iPad 2, way back in the mists of 2012. Typical of TenOne’s design, it is so simple it almost doesn’t exist, sticking to the Air with magnets and adding an almost invisible stand that holds your iPad at 22 degrees from the vertical, and at 22 degrees from the horizontal if you lay it down to type. And that’s it – an aluminum bracket that looks kinda like a taco shell, for $40.

Cobra Brief

Fact: Cobra Brief is the name I gave to my favorite pair of underwear. And now, it is also the name of a “business laptop” bag from Booq. It has all the compartments and pockets you’d expect, with a space for almost literally everything, plus an outer quick-access pocket for your iPhone and iPad. You can even hook it onto the top of your carry-on trolley, allowing you to be one of those morons who sneaks too many bags into the plane and takes up all the overhead bin space. $295

This cheap plastic bag will waterproof any gadget

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Waterproof. Do try this at home. Photos Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac
Do try this at home -- if you've got a LokSak. Photos: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Today I’m going to review a plastic bag. A new low, even for me? Maybe, but this is no ordinary plastic bag. It’s a bag that has beaten out pretty much every waterproof gadget case i’ve ever tested, because:

  1. It fits almost every gadget I have
  2. It weighs almost nothing. I can keep one in every bag I carry.

The bag is the LokSak, and it’s designed to keep your gadgets safe.

The Cult of Mac Guide to Traveling Light

Everything for a couple weeks away, including transport.
Everything for a couple weeks away, including transport. Photos: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

Travel can be a chance to practice minimalism, or an opportunity to drive yourself nuts. What am I talking about? Luggage. You can pare down your essentials to fit in a carry-on – even if you’re away for a month – or you can throw in every item of clothing and every charger you have. The second approach will result in a broken back, and you’ll still find that you left something essential at home.

Over the years, I’ve perfected my packing technique so that I only take the bare minimum. And when I say “perfected,” I mean “struggled with.” But it works for me, and the principles can be applied even if you’re the kind of person who hires a boy to carry your trunks for you when you take a cruise on the Titanic.

So here’s the Cult of Mac Guide to Traveling Light, a roundup of strategies, product recommendations and other tips to make your next trip a breeze.

The Franklin Tote is the George Clooney of bags

Tote-ally awesome: The Franklin Tote can go anywhere. Photos Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac.
Tote-ally awesome: The Franklin Tote can go anywhere. Photos: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

This is Waterfield’s Franklin Tote and I l-l-love it. It’s an open-topped leather bag with hand/shoulder straps and a bunch of pockets inside and out, and it’s just about the most practical daily carry-around I’ve ever used. Does is replace a backpack? Of course not.

Does it do the job of a messenger bag when on the bike? No frikkin’ way. But can I reach into my backpack as I walk to grab sunglasses, or drop in that sweet cantaloupe I just bought from the fruit store on the high street? I think you know the answer to that one.

Gadget Watch: New gear for the beach, the bedroom and the kitchen

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Gadget Watch: July 19, 2014

This week's Gadget Watch has a special summer something for everyone. Fixing up the house? Laying around the house? Getting drunk and stumbling about the house? Then these toolboxes, breathalyzers and hands-free, in-bed iPad stands will serve you well.

Flare pans

The Flare pan looks like an oversized aluminum cupcake cup. It has heat-catching fins on the outside, like the opposite of a heat sink, and a regular-shaped inside. The idea is that the heat (not the flame – keep that turned down like you would for a regular pan) from your gas hob will stream up the sides and pump its energy into the pan through the increased surface area of those fins. The best part of all? It was designed by a real rocket scientist. $150

Excell+1 lens adapter

This magical adapter performs the seemingly impossible. Not only does it put Nikon (or Canon) lenses on your Micro Four Thirds camera body, but it also boosts the speed of the lens by one stop. That’s right – it doubles the maximum amount of light your lens can gather. It also reduces the crop factor of your lens by 0.72x. That won’t keep your wide-angle lenses wide, but it will stop them from turning telephoto. I’m in. $160

Tablift

When I saw the Tablift, my first thought was “LOL.” And that was my second thought, too, if I’m honest. But as a person who uses his iPad in bed far more than is healthy, I began to see how the stable stand could help me. What’s better than hands-free viewing in the sack? Angle-adjustable hands-free viewing in the sack, that’s what. Yup, you can even tilt it down to watch while lying in bed. You might scare yourself when you wake up, but you’ll never fall asleep and drop your iPad onto your nose ever again. $60

Forked Lightning

I’m writing about this gadget mostly because of its name – Forked Lightning. It lets you charge two devices off a single USB port, which is certainly handy for those travel situations where you only have access to one power outlet (I’m looking at you, cheapskate hotels). You probably don’t want to plug two iPads 4 into one iPhone charger, but other combinations should fare better. $50

RØDE iXY mic

I don’t even care that RØDE makes great microphones, I just want the new Lightning-compatible iXY to play with. Look at those stereo mics: Don’t you just want to twiddle them? Or try to jam your finger between the barrels? No? Perhaps you’d rather record sound through the two half-inch condenser capsules and onboard analog-to-digital converter. You can totally do that. $200

Trusco toolboxes

These Japanese toolboxes, painted in bright blue enamel, are tough enough to use every day, but pretty enough to live in the house without anybody complaining. They go from a stackable small trunk-style box up to the big cantilever model with a double-hinged top level and movable dividers. From $20

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Vio Smartphone Breathalyzer

Do you know how many drinks you should have if you’re driving? None. That’s how many. What if you had a couple and then you need to drive, for an emergency or whatever? Nope. Get a cab, or you’ll be killing a cyclist or a pedestrian to do whatever thing is so important that you’re happy to risk another person’s life doing it.

If you insist on drinking and driving, breathe into the BACtrack Vio Smartphone Breathalyzer first – if you’re not too far gone to use the keychain device. The Vio will measure your blood-alcohol content, send the result to your iPhone via Bluetooth, and even estimate how long it’ll take you to return to zero. $70

Solio Sun-Powered Charger

Let’s face it – the people you go to the beach with are boring. They either spend the whole time with their nose in a paperback, or they insist on annoying the rest of the folks on the beach by kicking a volleyball around the place, or whatever it is you do with a volleyball. So, you should either pack some weed and just get stoned, or bring along a Solio Sun-Powered Charger to keep your iPhone going in the bright sunlight, so you never have to interact with your “friends.” $70