Mophie Juicepack Air

Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 2 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's better to marry than date.

The Long Version: When I'm writing these reviews I sometimes ask myself: 'Self, if this (whatever) went away through no fault of its own, would I buy another?' That is, with the benefit of experience, and everything that's changed between my first buying decision and the time when I write about it, would I do it over again?

With the Mophie iPhone battery case this isn't a hypothetical question – I'm on my third one. The first one I bought was for my i4s, but that phone broke less than two weeks later. The second was for my brand-new i5s – in fact I had the case even before I had bought the phone. And that one was my favourite case until it developed the annoying habit of repeatedly connecting and disconnecting while charging the phone. So case #2 went back to the local big-box store, where I had to settle for a credit since they didn't have the red Mophie Juicepack Air in stock to replace it with.

I sat on that credit for quite some time, and even bought the Apple leather case for daily wear, which I really like. So eventually I decided to use that store credit for something else – I wanted to cash it in before they file for bankruptcy, not that I have any inside knowledge – and spent time researching bluetooth speakers and other trinkets that cost about the same amount as the Mophie case before heading back to the store.

Ah, but when I went to the store I took a fateful stroll down the aisle where the battery cases sit. There it was: the Mophie Juicepack Air in its metallic Product Red colour. I couldn't resist and bought it again. It's just so pretty.

The Air isn't small. Putting it on the phone isn't a trivial choice, although its smoothish surface, curved back, and extra weight keeps the phone quite solidly pocketable. There are times when I take it off in favour of keeping the phone small, but I'd say that I use the case five days out of seven in three out of four weeks.

There's a practical difficulty that comes from only using the battery case occasionally: the Mophie charges from an industry-standard Micro USB cable, rather than the Apple-standard cables, so I keep both cables at my household charging station. The restrictions Apple puts on the Lightning port also means that the Micro USB port on the case can't do data pass-through, so the bottom of the case has to be removed when the phone needs to be tethered.

The biggest day-to-day complication with the Mophie case is that the headphone port on the Air is too small to let anything larger than the little white Apple headphones plug in directly. Mophie includes a short adapter cable to allow other headphones to work, but despite fairly light use the connection on mine has failed. I happen to have a spare, since I kept the one from the case that also failed, but this is not a reassuring trend.

The other challenge with the case is that it redirects the speaker port to the front of the phone, so leaving it face-down overnight muffles the alarm quite profoundly. I was nearly late for work as part of figuring that little tidbit out.

I lack both the means and motivation to do a thorough rundown test on the phone and phone+case, but my impression is that I can pull the phone from about 30% to 80% power with a small top-up reserve left over. That's lower than the specs suggest, which is typical, but it makes it easy to get through a day with moderately heavy use. If I'm conservative I can skip an overnight charge, but that's rarely my goal.

The real benefit of the battery case is that I don't need to cushion my power use. When I'm not using the Mophie case I always have an eye on the power level, and typically plug my phone in for an extra fifteen minutes before I leave for work and then top it up after I return home for the evening. That's less trouble than walking a dog, and I'm sure that I'm not the only one with a spare charger plugged in next to the couch, but there's a reason why lower-maintenance cats and fish are also popular pets.

I was hoping that the Mophie case would be ideal for travel, but it's not quite a straightforward choice. It does add to the phone's ability to be away from a power outlet, but it also adds to its size and weight. The case and the phone charge quickly when they're together, and the case can be recharged without the phone when it needs to be plugged in where there's the risk of theft. Airport lounges or shopping mall food courts come to mind. But travelling with other iThings means that the case needs its own cable, which adds complexity in an already too-complex world.

Aside from size, weight, cost, and somewhat modest capacity, there's one other limitation on Mophie's battery case: it can't charge anything else. Not that its little battery would take my tablet or camera very far, but if being able to top up anything else is a requirement, then any dedicated battery case won't help. For that we need a power cell with an assortment of cables, including one to charge the battery itself with, adding a lot more hassle to its benefit of flexibility. I have a couple of those external batteries, and do endorse them, but never carry them without some specific purpose. The Mophie case is easy and convenient by comparison, and something that I know I'll have unless I've specifically chosen to leave it at home.

But now I have to ask myself: 'Self, if the Mophie case were to go away for some reason that wasn't its fault, would I replace it?' Honestly, I probably would buy another. 'But what if it failed again, like the first one did?' In that case, no, not a chance – and I'm saving my receipt just in case.

last updated 23 apr 2014


MicroTouch ONE Safety Razor

Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: Safety razors are back, but did they ever really go away?  

The Long Version: Rick Harrison from the reality TV show 'Pawn Stars' has been pushing this model in commercials, which is what first piqued my interest. While my father was missing somewhere in Laos during the 1960s I used to dig around in his belongings fairly often, and playing with his razors was always the most fun--and I looked forward to shaving with them someday. The clamshell doors operated by a twisting knob on the end of the handle? Kid magnet!

Unfortunately my mom started me off with BIC disposables, and by the time I thought about it again dad's razors were gone.

So the design held a definite fascination for me, but not for the rest of the world because cheap plastic razors took over the market and the safety razor disappeared. Then one blade became two, three, etc. My most recent shaving tool had 4 blades, plus a fifth pointed in the other direction for "precise detail work around the edges".
And it vibrated (= Ate batteries).
And the blade cartridges cost about $5 each, but you had to buy at least 4 at a time.
In my opinion, it was a completely out of control situation and I was more than ready for a change--which is when I saw my first TV commercial for the MicroTouch ONE. 
Perfect timing! 

At first I started looking for vintage models at antique stores.
My mental pricepoint was $10, but most that I found went from $15 up and were in poor condition.
Then I tried the upscale shaving store at the mall, but they had sold out completely during the Christmas season and theirs started at $70 and included a brush for mixing and applying your old school shaving soap which I'm pretty sure I don't need.
Very nice pieces by far, but I was trying to save some money not find a new hobby.

Apparently I mentioned all this to my cousin and his wife while they were in town and the wife remembered, because within a week or two she had shipped me a nice new MicroTouch ONE they'd found at their grocery store in the "As Seen On TV" section.

The stand was a little wonky, but it was a quick job to pad the jaws of a small vise and twist it true.
Chrome plated brass, which as I recall is just how they used to be made.
Size and proportions are as before, too.

The instructions scared me a bit, recommending a warm towel to soften the beard and several other tips to avoid cutting yourself, but I guess it was only so much CYA lawyer-speak because it's just like using any other razor. Clean shave, no blood.
(As an aside, 15 blades might give you a closer shave, but after an hour the stubble is already coming back anyway, and super-close shaves invite the possibility of ingrown hairs, which suck).

Mainly I'm attracted by the solid heft of a metal razor, the way it looks and feels like something a real man would own. A cool "guy" device, you know?
Also the fact that it cleans up completely with none of the gunk that ends up stuck between blades 3 and 4 of my old rig. Open it up and rinse.

When you close it up all the way, the blade gets bent into a gentle curve that matches the profile of the doors, so you know these blades are paper thin. Staying sharp so far.

With a dozen double blades included, I should be good for a year at least.
I've already found a local source for replacements at a good price, and you can order them from MicroTouch, too.
At around $20 plus shipping I was employing delay tactics when it came to pulling the trigger on this razor, but I'm also sure that it would've happened sooner rather than later. Now I'm really enjoying what used to be my least favorite morning chore for the first time in my life. It just feels right.

And Rick Harrison is correct when he says in the commercials that you don't need all those extra blades.
Current disposable razors are a huge rip-off, and I'm done with them.

Obviously I like this razor on it's own merits. The nostalgia angle is pure bonus.
Hopefully this isn't just a fad, and more safety razors hit the market. The higher-end ones I've seen were very finely made and impressive, but it would be nice to see more on the lower end of the price scale to help increase familiarity and thus demand.

1: My local grocery store just started carrying these razors and the packaging is identical to what I have. The original mail-order version comes with a carrying case that has an internal mirror, which may or may not make up for the price difference between sales tax and shipping charges.

2: The double-edge blades which to my eye are identical in design and execution to those from decades ago are turning up at more retail locations lately, even sporting store-brand names which is a good sign that the marketplace is committed to this product line. I looked hard for them mere months ago, and now they are popping up like weeds. $2 for ten blades that have 2 edges.

3: Cost VS Multi-Blade Cartridges: 
I shave somewhere around 23 times per month but it's all cheeks and neck because I've had a goatee and mustache for decades.
Starting anew with this safety razor, I pushed the first blade to it's limit. After 6 weeks I finally gave up and installed a 2nd blade, which astounded me with the improvement in smooth clean cutting. Gradual degradation just isn't as alarming as a sudden battery failure.
Lesson learned, replace more often, but how much?

I was pushing a $4 cartridge to last a month before, and now I'm thinking a new blade every other week at 20 cents each will do a MUCH better job.
So...10% of what I was spending after the initial investment.

And shaving cream/gel remains the same OR you can now afford to upgrade.


last updated 18 apr 2014



Concept: 2 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: April 6 is National Tartan Day.

The Long Version: Scarves are something of an odd idea. Creating a strip of fabric specifically for wrapping it in the gap between ones' collar and chin hardly seems like a functional idea. Despite growing up watching "Dr. Who" episodes that prominently featured scarves, I never saw much point to them. Stylish accessories, perhaps, but more trouble than they're worth.

Being of (fractionally and nominally) Scottish descent, the last time I was in Ottawa I took the opportunity to visit a tartan shop on Robertson street. How could I not? The photo above is of the Robertson Hunting tartan, while the one below is a standard Robertson. So my first scarf purchases as an adult were simply as accessories, without too much regard for function.

Of course that was before I knew that this winter would be one of the coldest in recent memory, and before I knew just how much warmth a scarf would add to my usual winter outfit. I still never took to scarves for all-purpose wear, though, since they are much more difficult to add or remove quickly than the typical toque and gloves. I'll certainly want to keep them handy for next winter, though.

Today, April 6, just happens to be National Tartan Day. The lead photo is the 'Maple Leaf', the official Tartan of Canada.

last updated 1 dec 2013

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