We are carrying a lot of gadgets on this trip. Every one of which is powered by its own battery pack. It’s a lot to keep track of and to keep charged. We initially had one dynamo on my bike but have since added a second to Liz’s bike. So far it was a good move. The one dynamo wasn’t enough to charge all of our gadgets meaning we have spent a good deal of time sitting in libraries charging items. Particularly my tablet which is a serious energy hog.
Speaking of tablets. Somewhere in my late 20s technology began to leave me behind. It’s crazy to think about. I’ve been using computers as long as I can remember. Some of my first memories are sitting at my grandfather’s World War II era oak desk. A big heavy beautiful thing with an Apple IIe planted firmly in the middle. I spent countless hours at that desk playing Oregon Trail watching green dashes and dots move across the screen. I shot wild game, forded rivers in a covered wagon, and died of cholera. Personal computer after personal computer seceded this one as they became more powerful. Each with more ram and a newer faster processor. I took typing classes in middle school and soon forgot how to write in cursive as I had been taught in elementary school. Eventually in college I had my own laptop and the desktop was an oddity. This knowledge lended well to the work place and made for an easy transition. I can left click, scroll, and type a mile a minute. But wait, what’s an app?
I’m 30 now. Technology has made a new leap forward. While traveling, I have seen children occupied with smart phones and tablets using these devices in ways that I’m unable to fathom. I have realized that they will never learn typing or the art of the left click. Maybe they will, but I doubt it. I’m 30 and all the interfaces I learned as a kid are becoming dated. How can I already be so dated?
It’s for this reason that Liz and I chose a smart phone and tablet for this trip, leaving the laptop behind. Everything can be done on a touch screen. I’m writing this on a touch screen. I run my finger from one letter to the next, never lifting it from the screen. The tablet builds words and then sentences. With practice I may become faster than I was with a keyboard. I’m learning a new skill set. The muscle memory in my hands is changing.
There are frustrations. There are times when something gets deleted or an app doesn’t do what I want. They are of course just apps. Adapted from larger programs run on laptops they don’t have all the features, yet. Excel is one of those programs that takes some getting used to. It’s different. The shortcuts have changed. Some may not be there. But then again, now all my files are stored online, backed up instantly everytime I get a WiFi signal. I can access them anywhere. I’m never worried about a hard drive crashing or the blue screen of death. I don’t ever want to use a laptop again.
When we started the trip we had a couple requirements for our technology. First, everything needed to be rechargeable. We didn’t want to carry any spare batteries. This included our headlamps. Second, everything had to use a micro USB port for charging. Say goodbye to any Apple product with their unique charging system. Using micro USB ports means carrying fewer charging cables as we can use the same one for all devices. Be careful here because you may still need two different power adapters depending on the rating of each device. We carry a 0.5 Amp and a 2.0 Amp power adapter to cover all bases. Third, all devices had to have a microSD or SD card slot. Use a microSD card adapter for devices with an SD card slot. In this way, all our pictures, books, and music are easily transferred between devices and backed up to the cloud as necessary. Just try not to loose any of the small microSD cards. They are powerful but also tiny.
Below is a list of the gadgets we currently carry with us. All of which meet the above requirements.
Sony NEX-3N Camera
Samsung Galaxy S4
Samsung Note 10.1 Tablet
Delorme Inreach Explorer
Headlamps x 2
Wall Charger x 2
Micro USB Cord x 2
So after traveling for two months how is it working out? Amazing. I never knew that I could learn so much so easily. I have a line up of pod casts saved to my device. I can learn about new technologies, economics, foreign policy, Pluto! All while riding my bike. I have audio books on loan from my library in Anchorage. I have mapping tools, email, communication. I’m discovering more everyday.
The biggest challenge is keeping everything charged. As I said earlier my tablet is an energy hog. I’m going to get technical here so feel free to move on with your day if you’d like. Otherwise, read on. Below is a comparison of four devices from the Samsung website. We carry the Note 10.1 and Galaxy S4 with us. Liz is able to charge her S4 very quickly using the dynamo we installed on her bike while my tablet lags behind. This is of course due to the battery size. My tablet has a battery that is over 3 times the size of the S4. I decided to look at this closer and found that when the screen is on both the S4 and Note have the same operating time. This means I require much more battery capacity per hour than Liz when I’m journaling or reading. I estimate 822 mAh’s for the Note vs 260 mAh’s for the S4. That’s a big difference.
When we pedal, each dynamo delivers a steady 500 mA via the Sinewave. Take the battery capacity and divide by the Sinewave output and in theory Liz can get a full charge on her phone after about 5 hours of riding. It takes me over 16 hours of riding for a full charge and I get the exact same screen time as Liz. This is a problem on the road. It’s one I didn’t think about when choosing a device. I just wanted a big screen that met the three requirements listed earlier.
Here is where I would add a fourth requirement. Evaluate the amount of power used per hour of operating time for any tablet or phone. Balance this with your need for screen size. Typically the bigger the screen the more juice it’s going to use. This isn’t a spec listed for you when you buy a device. It’s not a problem for most users as most users always have a place to plug in and aren’t concerned about making their own power while pedaling. That said, I now have a Note 10.1 for sale and will likely replace it with a Tab S 8.4. It uses half the power per hour of screen time when compared to the Note. A smaller tablet means I will likely be able to get rid of the battery brick lightening my load and making more room for food. Time will tell.
For all those excel geeks out there, the above chart was made with Google Sheets on my tablet. I still haven’t figured out how to round numbers so you are stuck with all of the digits after the decimal. I apologize. I’ll work on that for next time.