*updated April 27, 2016
So here is the review for the electronics I've been carrying with me for the last year. I pretty much list everything that comes to mind and to be honest I am pretty happy about all of my gear. Although many have issues, nothing has critically failed, leaving me in a bad situation.
Conditions: Nothing as major as Year 1 in terms of cold. As low as -15C and as high as 40C. Most of these have also had some interaction with water and being dropped too.
Use: cameras are getting a lot of use filming the SEE THE WORLD videoseries and lots of photos. This also means the cache batteries as well. Tablet & GPS are on and used for navigation (or looking at funny cats on the web) often as well. Lights - one to three hours every evening for cooking (not as often during the long summer days up north)
time: most of the kit is about 9 months, others I've had for years.
GoPro 4 - Silver camera
I heard they recently changed the names but this is the one with the integrated LCD screen. I have used it for 10 months and a 3+ silver before that for a year.
- Timelapses directly to video - just a big time and space saver. Downside is that you can't zoom in as much in the final stage.
- Video + photo mode
- LCD screen (good for setting up ride by shots, timelapses and generally seeing what you shoot. More battery use but its not bad, turns off after 1 min if you are doing longer shots
- If you scratch it up (which you will eventually) just replace the casing! Big plus!
- File size - I have no idea why all file sizes are almost double compared to same modes on the 3+. Even their website lists double record times for what I get, customer service has no clue whats going on. It's a big hassle (storage space and slower processing while previewing and editing).
- Battery. Not the battery life, which is fine even with the LCD screen but ocassionally the camera wont turn on and I need to take it out of the case and take out the battery and put it back in. Poor battery performance in cold weather but that is common
- Nightlapse - one of the main reasons I got this model but you wont get as many stars as a DSLR nightlapse, not even close.
- The app - only using it to pull photos or a video ocassionally, always has the low signal warning even when the gopro is next to my tablet. Big battery drain otherwise, it sometimes takes forever to load photos/videos. Apparently the new update made it harder to get photos off and it removed the option to download low qualty video (its like windows vista all over again!).
- File transfer - take out the microSD card and transfer the files, if using the camera cable, 50% of the time you cant open the storage and the other 50% its too slow.
With the timelapse video and photo+video the 4 Silver beats the 3+ silver in my opinion, even if you have to deal with the large files. Can't comment on other actioncams but as far as I know most dont offer so many features. If you are looking to shoot videos, you can get away with a much cheaper camera (either an old gopro or an alternatve).
Would recommend. Although if I can go back in time, I would keep my 3+ and not spend the $500 on the 4 silver.
Update: Low and behold, a week after putting this review, I had some encounters with mud. turns out the camera does not like it. As of now it's unable to charge, however I can get external battery charger and still use it.
Update 2: Since then the camera died from water on 3 different ocasions, still creates monster size files.
more importantly, editing with these 'double size' monster files that the 4silver puts out (3+ silver is fine) is a little bit of a nightmare. If I need to replace the camera, I am either downgrading to a 3+ or going with a different brand.
Canon EOS M2 camera
This one was given to me by people I met in Death Valley (thanks Jason & Sarah!!!) My previous camera, a panasonic point and shoot was barely working after 10 months. I have had the canon for a 13 months.
- Awesome quality
- slightly wider lenses for landscape shots
- great night photos (with the other lenses)
- lots of options to play around with
- for the amount of times I have dropped it, it's a miracle its still working!
- Bulkier compared to a point and shoot, tougher to fit on the bike and even more-so while hiking or going around town.
- replacement parts (or lenses) are too expensive.
- Battery needs wall outlet to be charged - solved by getting a 3rd party usb charger from amazon.
- Focus! - after 7 months it started having focusing problems, now its nearly impossible to take close up shots in focus or night shots (video also has focus issues, which is very major).
- Timer limited to 10 sec max, so is exposure (to 30sec), wifi app is not great for shooting just downloading images (can't dl video)
- Right about now buttons are stopping to work, one day I got stuck in 10sec timer mode... what fun :)
- Zoom - not much zoom unless you get other lenses.
Great camera but not durable enough for traveling, high price tag and if you can't take care of it, its better to grab something cheaper. My next camera will probably be one of these waterproof models, or another cheap point and shoot, I can live with replacing one of those once a year.
Would not recommend for bikepacking/touring unless you know what you are doing and can take care of it.
Blackburn Central 100 front & 20 rear lights
This ones I got as part of the Blackburn Ranger contest. Rarely had to use them in the long summer days in Canada/USA but I was glad I had them when I needed them.
- Super bright for its size - you could sustain some serious eye damage if you stare at it too long. The rear one is amazing too and definitely makes me feel safe riding in the dark.
- rechargeable by USB, small & light
- Pretty good mount - can attach to headband, backpack even the back of your pants (be sure to tuck in your shirt!)
- Battery level indicator.
- Great visibility on the rear light, definitely makes me feel safer riding in the dark on well used roads.
- a little fragile - the plastic holding the metal clip at the back broke on one side after few crashes (solution: take lights off the front when not in use)
- Battery life at full brightness was about 3 hours, not bad but if you dont have a way to recharge it could be an issue.
- No low setting. Since I use it daily for cooking in the evening it feels that a lot of the brightness is not needed.
Awesome lights, get something stronger on the front if you do a lot of night riding but for touring/bikepacking these make a lot of sense.
Black Diamond headlamp
Had this one since july 2015. Runs on 4 AAA batteries. Sorry, I dont know the exact model.
- Batteries last a very very long time. Has a battery level indicator, you could run them forever even when it blinks red.
- Packs well, has a focus beam (think alien abduction) and also a widespread beam perfect for the evenings and cooking in the dark.
- Not rechargable (maybe rechargable AAA batteries would work but not many chargers can charge via USB)
Lots of modes, light and it doesn't seem that many parts could break. (I did end up sending mine back since I decided to use the blackburn bike light with a headband instead).
Anker Astro cache batteries (E5 15000mAh and mini 3350mAh)
This is what I do for power. No more dynamo (the hub seized after 4 months of no use and replacing was too expensive). These charge from the wall outlet and can charge my other stuff via USB
- They are good size and pack lots of power. I do not regret not having my dynamo with me. Can last for 2 weeks + if you conserve power and recharge if staying indoors or from power outlets in restaurants.
- 2 usb ports on the big one, 1 on the small one. Big one has a small LED light which could be handy.
- Sometimes the E5 wont charge. If that happens unplug and plug back in. These incidents became more common with time last year and then I replaced the pack this summer.
- overheating / discharge - when attempting to charge during the day in the heat of Nicaragua the entire battery discharged, resetting at zero. Maybe ocean moisture was to blame but it continued to work after. Tip: don't charge on hot/humid days
Definitely a good choice and Anker has different batteries for different needs. Eliminates the need for expensive solar systems or dynamos and charges any and all USB devices! While it feels the discharge accident may have reduced performance slightly, I am absolutely happy with how the battery has done over the year and would buy a new one when the time comes.
Update: +1 on customer service, I was sent a replacement pack and will be using that next year. I would be more careful with using it in extreme heat (only recharge at night) and will report next year!
Garmin eTrex 20 GPS unit
Got this one for the summer CDT/GDMBR ride, thought I would sell it after but it turned out exporting google map routes to .gpx tracks works well.
- Good battery life, can take miniSD card for extra storage, can handle a beating.
- It has a whole bunch of other trip info - time, moving time, elevation, grade, distance, etc. (Not important to me but some people like that stuff)
- screen - run full brightness on these sunny days with no problems. Great visibility!
- Invaluable for backroad and trail navigation
- Kind of useless without topo maps (more $$$) or gps tracks. Most of the time when not doing backroads I use it to tell time, $200 watch!
- Not rechargeable (since I run most of my stuff on 5v USB it would be more useful to me if it had a rechargeable battery).
I am still glad I have it, I would prefer a rechargeable version if there was one.
Samsung Galaxy lite tablet (SMT-T110)
Had an Asus that I really liked but it broke. This was the cheapest tablet with a GPS unit that I could find. I used this since August 2014, so 20 months. Unlike some of the other stuff here, this one has gotten constant use everyday, from navigation, videos, writing journal, emails to even using it as a mp3 player during treeplanting.
- Email, browser, movies, games, journal, notes, photo processing, music... you get the picture.
- GPS and navigation - honestly its the only reason I still keep it.
- Bigger screen compared to a phone
- Tough - I have dropped it many times (no protection cases) and it still works!
- Hmm... hunting for wifi in towns. Eventhough you can go without it.
- Biggest battery power sink out of all my electronics. Maybe I shouldnt be sitting in my tent at night writing reviews... like this one...
I guess more of a review for a tablet than a specific model. As long as it has a gps they are all the same to me. Keyboard on the asus was much better than the one the samsung. I would be very interested in trying a slightly larger tablet with USB conectivity as that would make updating .gpx files on my garmin easier.
Update: As of Nov, 2016 the GPS no longer works, rendering this kind of useless.
*you can also use phone for the same purpose.
Website builder: Squarespace
Before I took off, I wanted to make a website. Wordpress and blogspot werent exactly what I wanted and after trying few other builders I found squarespace. I don't even know what html stands for but I seem to do okay. I also got 1 year free with them but this review is as objective as it can be.
- Easy to use and has plenty of amazing templates
- Lots of different features you can use. from basic to advanced stuff
- Can work on your website anywhere!
- Useful help section and live chat if you have questions
- html block if you know what you are doing.
- Blog app - dont even bother unless you are doing a very short post.
- Squarespace editor - i feel that as newer versions were released it becomes slower and slower. Using it from not very good PC's in central america can be a hassle (this only becomes an issue after about 50 photos per page, I like to add lots of them to my posts.)
- Image edit buttons - they sometimes dont work. Solution - close tab and reload. But doing this for every single image I want to edit??? Not cool squarespace.
- Loading speed - not sure why, even when I've reduced photo quality to near nothing (100kb per photo or less) the page loads very slow.
There are few issues which make posting stuff at times frustrating, mainly due to older computers and slower connections in Central America. Despite that, I still feel that this is the perfect platform for my needs.
Would recommend. Kind of.
Update: Constant issues with photo editor (doesnt load, requires restart of browser so it "may" work). Maybe partly because once you insert an image the first thing that loads is the "Getty images" - where you can buy photos instead of it being a separate option. Did not have this issues with the older version of the web editor.
Other little related things
Blue piston portable speaker - good stuff, good charge and great to listen to. A must for tree planting (headphones are bad) and for riding its good for long uphills or listening to music at the campsite.
Slik tripod - this one I had for almost 2 years. Few parts are missing, lets dont all extend anymore but I love it.
Anker wall charger - 4 USB ports, 7.2 amps total perfect!
Toshiba 2TB hard drive - backing up all these photos and videos. No issues, but best to do second backup every now and then.
That's about it. Will report again in a year!