Category Archives: Gear

Gadgets gone Wilde At CES

It’s the stage for intense hyperbole.

I am no longer a Consumer Electronics Show virgin. I have conquered my first time at the biggest tradeshow convention of my life. More than 150k attendees have dropped into the Las Vegas Convention Center to explore the latest and “greatest” technology to come. Everything here is the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, the most efficient, the greenest, the most innovative, the only, the _____ (your adverb here).

We entered the South Hall Thursday morning and were instantly disoriented. Imagine walking into a robust casino with every slot machine going off and you have an idea of the frenetic energy on the show floor. Oh, and, the South Hall doesn’t even cover a third of who’s here at the show. By 6 p.m. we had barely made it to the Main Lobby where Microsoft, Samsung, Sony and Panasonic were displaying ginormous 3D flatscreen TVs.

The trends you’ll find for next year start with tablets. Everyone is making a keyboardless touchscreen thanks to the iPad frenzy. Blackberry’s Playbook is getting the lion’s share of the buzz but that doesn’t mean you won’t find a pad that’s just right for you and within your budget. Could I tell you who’s making the best? NO. I’d have to use all of them and I don’t see that happening. But I do plan on chatting with the marketing dude for CES to get his expert opinions on all things electronic.

Motorola debuts the Xoom Tablet

Green energy and home automation to address energy saving is all over the place. I can’t wait to get my hands on an electronic thermostat I can control with an iPod app. GE and a few other companies are working on “smart systems” that integrate your home appliances with your power meter but until the utility companies purchase the technology we won’t be able to fully utilize what they’re creating. But I did hear that a company called Trane has a stand alone, mobile-enabled thermostat.

Imagine you’re out skiing and you realize that your thermostat was set to 70 because it was frigid when you woke up and you ran out without lowering it back down. Just open your app and log into your home meter before the tram doors shut and you have nothing to worry about.

Another company I’ve hunting down is called Vision Objects. They’ve developed handwriting recognition software that really works! The possibility of me writing in my journal or on a notepad, recording my penstrokes and uploading them into a word doc is really here. I can use my own paper anywhere. It’s too much to ask to make the pen and recorder waterproof but that day may come shortly.

This one didn’t

I’m sure you’re wondering if I saw any robots. Of course I did. In addition to the iRobot Roomba, the little, round disc that bumps into walls and furniture and jams up from all the dog hair, there were a few of those Jetson/R2D2 buddies attracting attention. Some worked, some didn’t. Most are still in the development phase and will be used by researchers. The one below is only for friendship at the moment. I’m not sure what’s worse; social interaction solely through Facebook or a robot friend.

Other attention grabbers at the show include boxes to stream Internet programs to your television, gaming like Wii’s race car driving game that you play from an inflatable race car, electric ‘smart’ cars, solar chargers of every size and shape with finally enough juice to power your iPhone smartphone or Mp3 player, pocket projectors to screen movies onto a wall from your iPhone and 3D digital cameras.

I slid into the Oregon Scientific room knowing I could find outdoor gadgets. Wireless weather stations, a new point-of-view waterproof helmet cam with a GPS add-on accessory that will map your trails and locations, and a strapless, touchscreen heartrate monitor wrist watch dazzled my expectations.

OK, I have to confess that one of the most exciting things I saw today was a wireless, waterproof, um, massager called the Alia from Lelo. Ladies, the little gizmo was sooo cool! Can’t wait to, um, test it.

More gadgeting and reporting tomorrow.

Know Before You Buy. Burton Fail

We always have to find out the hard way. I will never purchase anything from Wal-Mart that could break. NO returns or exchanges after 30 days. Period. Staples is off the shopping list too. My CyberPower Battery Backup went belly up after a year. I bought the thing because of a 10-YEAR warranty! Staples just shrugged their shoulders and I walked out of that store for the last time. Luckily, the manufacturer took care of me and sent a new battery and all’s right in computerland.
Granted, most companies do stand by their products and repair or replace, no questions asked.The stores present the problem. They make the money from the sale and then turn their back on you when the product they pimped doesn’t work? That’s wrong. If a manufacturer’s defect is the culprit, the store should accept responsibility then deal with the manufacturer themselves- sending us happily on our way with a replacement product or our money back. That’s plain good customer service.
But what if the manufacturers themselves throw up their hands?? I called Burton today. My heated Mighty pants sprang a split in the inseam. Arrgggghhh. Looked down one day and there it was. Here’s what I learned about Burton’s touted W48 warranty program: 1)You have to have an original receipt with the price so make sure if it’s a gift you ask them how much they paid. (Do you know where your clothing receipts are two or three seasons later? Not to mention if you buy a jacket for your son, it goes to his brother and then to your nephew. Where’s the receipt then?); 2) The product has to cost more than $200 or you’re SOL after the first season; 4) If you bought it from Craigslist, eBay, or any other “unauthorized” retailer you’re also SOL and 5) They don’t repair only REPLACE. So if you really loved your jacket or pant and it fit you better than anything you’ve ever worn, too bad. Don’t get attached. They’ll send you whatever they have in stock to replace it with. I don’t want new or different pants. I want the ones I have. To be honest, I didn’t pay for them so I couldn’t get them replaced anyway. But they’re worth a lot to me.
Even if I fixed them myself, I can’t even send them the receipt for reimbursement. “We just don’t do that, ” said the CS agent. Do What? Stand by your gear? Believe in your own products enough to say, that’s one bad apple; we’ll fix it? At this point, it’s not about my personal pants, it’s about a company’s policy.
Bottomline- If you do shop or gift Burton, do so at your own risk.
Built to last. That’s the mantra. You spend $300+ on a jacket or pants, you don’t expect to toss them in a year. Ok, I know that many of you do because it’s too much of a hassle and causes too much stress to get something fixed. My broken pearl strand is going on its fifth year in a box.
But if you knew that a company stood by what they make, you would believe in the company. You would always shop them first. You would trust that it wouldn’t fall apart in a year. A lifetime warranty says our products will last a lifetime. That includes hand-me-downs, resells and give aways. It’s the life of the product, not YOUR lifetime. It shouldn’t matter where you purchase something. The product should be the same quality regardless of where it was purchased. That company put the product into the market. If it’s faulty, they need to own it. I understand normal wear and tear. But a popped snap, busted zipper, unraveling seam, these shouldn’t happen. This economy is too fragile to be purchasing disposable items.

In conclusion, I would like to give a shout out to Obermeyer, High Sierra, and White Sierra for standing by the products they make- no questions asked, no receipts required. And BOO to Burton.

P.S. Super props to Affliction Clothing. I had a broken zipper, sent them a short email with a photo and got this response:

Dear Jill,

Please return the item(s) to us for exchange. Please write on a note to us what you would like in exchange (the same item) including size, model number and color. Please also include your full name and mailing address so we can mail the item back to you and mark it as defective in the note.
Please use this return shipping label to mail the item back to us so you don’t have to pay for the postage.


Outdoor Retailer and SIA Shows: Gone But Not Forgotten

Perhaps the back-to-back dealings are finally registering with OR and SIA attendees. Both the OR and SIA shows seemed a tad slower this year. There were still meetings and buyers combing the floors of the convention centers but the activity was not nearly as vibrant in year’s past. In addition, you heard a lot of groaninhg from crossover manufacturers as their buyers put off SIA meetings to see them at OR. “Why do we even bother?” murmured some sock companies.
The revved-up look of next year’s outerwear made up for the slower pace. Boisterous boarder-inspired prints, plaids, tweeds and colors rocked the halls. We’re flashing back to the 70s and 80s but without all of the neon. Kamik won raves both at OR and SIA for their psychedelic rubber rainboots for kids and women. Bonfire, Obermeyer, Liquid Boardwear, Five Seasons, Isis, Orage, all offered more feminie stylings and toggle-button jackets (where the closure comes across the chest like on a Chinese garment). Colors you’ll see include more white, watermelon, greys, greens- even for men. Another noticeable trend was the number of new baselayer companies. Everyone’s jumping on that bandwagon insisting their garment will produce the warmest/driest winter experience. Not only is Gordini (the glove manufacturer) making baselayers but they have entered the goggle market. In fact, next season you’ll see a plethora of companies with goggles that attack the issue of switching out lenses for various lighting conditions. Eric Richter from Giro says their new Poptop goggle eliminates fingerprints, cracking and airholes you commonly get while trying to change out your lens. Just flip the toggle at the top and slide the new lens in. Back up a sec, Giro making goggles? Makes sense when you consider who better to close the gaper gap between goggles and helmets than the helmet giant itself. After years of research they’ve found a way to “map” the face, developing a comfortable goggle that has a nearly seamless fit with their helmet and gently kisses your cheek (rather than digs into it). Gordini’s goggle works in similar fashion but you unclip the sides of the goggle to get the new lens to snap in. Uvex has been tweaking their Magic goggle to more efficiently jump from a light to darker lens with the push of a button. After last year’s attention to the Snowskirt at SIA, Bonfire has come up with a pant that has a detachable skirt- fun and flirtly. As for hardgoods- skis are virtually the same but with updated cosmetics. Head’s Monster series comes with a new torpedo-looking backcountry ski but the rest of the line stays the same – why mess with a good thing? You’ll also see skis with manual damping devices. Volkl’s Tiger Shark carver series features a powerf switch” dial on the tail to soften or stiffen the flex by adjusting springs you can see on the topsheet. Can’t tell you much about the snowboard side as I kept my head low and cruised past. Their side of the SIA floor is downright unruly – trash everywhere, loud music, shouting, smoking (it’s prohibited in the Hall), kicking back on couches. Ryan wondered if these guys actually get paid to be there. It’s a wonder they have jobs. The kids’ market is going off. Everywhere you turn they’re making mini-versions of adult lines. There also seems to be a growing number of kids-only companies like Roonwear, Outside Baby, Snow Dragon, Molehill Mountain Equipment. Smartwool showed up their new infant merino wool sock and ShredAlert had the cutest little fleece bomber hats for baby. Speaking of hats, you’re finally going to see some updates. Perhaps recognizing that most people wear helmets skiing and hats for Apres, next year’s hats are fashion plates. Turtle Fur’s new FU-R line is skate-inspired and more attention-getting than their old-school style brethren. Suede, faux fur and embroidered flowers adorn the styles.
At OR specifically, recycled fabrics were all the buzz. Patagonia just announced a new program to take recycled polypro from any company (not just theirs), ship it to Japan to be recycled and made into new Patagonia wear. I also noticed manufacturers common to the NY fashion scene, debuting at OR; especially footwear companies. Lots and lots of shoes at OR this year. Maryjanes are huge for next fall. Ecco, Merrell, Dansko, Keen, El Naturalista all have their ruggedized version of the MaryJane. Plus, the traditional hiking footwear companies have added fashionable, calf-high boots for everyday wear.
Another big trend for this summer through fall- the running skort. Sorry, Guys. When the runner chick bends over you get to see NOTHING.
My last observation: companies that seem to have no connection to outdoor recreation hosting boothes and writing orders. Yellowman, for instance, uses tatoo artists from around the world to create designs on long- and shortsleeved Ts. I doubt they would compete with a Duofold baselayer for functionality but they looked pretty cool. Cass and Co., on the other hand, had a great concept of supportive, seamless undergarments made with copper to not only keep the fat rolls from showing under your tops and bottoms but also to tone and stimulate. Anti-aging clothing! That’s about it from the floor. Most of the new innovations are still in prototype form. We won’t see the final versions until the fall. I can’t wait!

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