Friday, November 17, 2023

Pixel 4a: Two Years And Counting

I bought my Pixel 4a
in September 2021 through the French electronics superstore Fnac - mainly because the 4a wasn't available in Sweden and I heard positive comments from Fnac customers. The purchase went smoothly and the phone was delivered
 without any hassle. The total price was EUR 354.

In the end it was a no-brainer for me, getting the 4a to replace my aging Pixel 2. I definitely wanted to stick with Pixel phones, if at all possible, and here are the main criteria I had before the purchase:

  • Small phone a must-have; can't cope with the huge slabs that seem to be all the rage these days
  • Reasonable power and a good screen. I don't play games but can't do without a smooth user experience either
  • Decent battery life
  • Preferably at least some protection against the elements
  • Top of the line camera
  • Headphone jack - yes, please!
  • Price that doesn't break the bank
The 4a looked like a very decent overall compromise; perfect size, great camera, nice price - but, unfortunately, no weather protection. The headphone jack is truly a great bonus and the phone is also surprisingly light.

Looking back these two years I must say I've had no problems whatsoever with my 4a and I've been really happy with it. Obviously, I've been careful not to get it wet! Right from the start, I also bought a protective and super slim Spigen Thin Fit sleeve and it has definitely saved the phone and thereby my day on several occasions. From now on - meaning winter of 2023 - there are apparently no additional system or security updates available from Google and that is really too bad. This is actually my main gripe with Google and Pixel phones; looks like things will take a positive turn in the future though.

My Pixel 4a is still in pristine condition. I will absolutely keep using it, hoping that the AdGuard software will deal with most of today's abundant malware threats. Battery life, of course, is not stellar (it never was, actually) so I don't get anything close to a full day of use anymore. However, I'm fully aware that the always-on apps I'm using - AdGuard, Orbot, GravityScreen - also increase battery drain. My BT Pixel Buds A-series (my review here) and the 4a are a good match for sure but the headphone jack is also super, especially when hard wiring the phone to my Zoom PodTrak P4.

There is a problem on the horizon, however: how to find a good replacement for the 4a, when the time comes? It looks like there are no small form factor phones coming from Google any time soon and they are a rare breed from other manufacturers as well. Asus Zenfone is an interesting option but the price tag looks anything but nice to me.

The Cool Gear scale is just barely enough to accommodate the Pixel 4a. This is an old budget phone that still today in many respects matches the competition. That's Super Cool.   

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Ice Fishing


This one sure looks a bit frozen - and it is! The October ice wasn't thick at all, roughly a bit more than one inch, and there was hardly any snow. It definitely made good sense for us, being careful during our very-close-to-the-base skating fun! Some more pics and video clips here - from my Pixel 4a (that doesn't get any more updates from Google, unfortunately).

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Ingen pizza - men toppengod!


Oemotståndligt smarrigt!

Bläddrade i COOPs kundtidning - oftast blir det faktiskt att jag bara bläddrar igenom den - och råkade fastna på ett litet recepttips om 'Äppelpizza på tortillabröd'. Att kalla något man gör med (inköpes-)tortillabröd för 'pizza' är förstås att ta i ordentligt men detta verkade ändå lockande. 

Sagt och gjort, vi hade hemma både tortillabröd, crème fraiche, äpplen, kardemumma och såklart (svensk!) honung så det var bara att testa. På med ugnen 225C, smeta crème fraiche på ett tortillabröd, fixa flortunna äppelskivor med mandolin, strö på med kardemumma, smälta honung i vattenbad och ringla över - och in i ugnen med hela härligheten.

Riktigt gott blev det, jamen! Härlig konsistens med det lite sega tortillabrödet, tillsammans med syran från crème fraiche och äpplen och sedan som pricken på i:et kardemumman och honungssötman.

Några ytterligare funderingar:

  • Mandolinen är verkligen grejen i många sammanhang. Tunt, tunt blir ofta så suveränt gott! Klart man kan fixa detta med kniven men det gäller verkligen att vara stadig på handen.
  • Jag tar mycket (mortlad) kardemumma! Helt magiskt. Lite kanel därtill fungerar ypperligt bra också.
  • Flytande honung från utlandet - som beklämmande ofta är fejkad honung - finns det ingen anledning att köpa. Det finns gott om väldigt god svensk honung som blir flytande på någon minut i vattenbad.
  • Vi testade också med Chavroux getost, blandad med lite crème fraiche eller grekisk yogurt - fullträff!
  • Råkade ha lönnsirap i skafferiet vid ett annat tillfälle och jag måste säga att det var inte alls dumt, det heller. Fast minst lika gott blir det med honung, egentligen.
Denna snabba anrättning går att variera hur mycket som helst, såklart, och härmed har vi en ny favorit till gofikat. Enkelt, snabbt och supergott - kanske läge att testa med päron nästa gång? 

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

This Is How: To Skip Dessert


Yes, I did skip dessert

It was a sunny winter day and it felt just right to skip dessert - and, actually, lunch as well. This Is How brewery is, surprisingly, not located in the US but in a very northern town of Piteå, Sweden! I checked the How To Skip Dessert can one more time and sure enough, there is not a word anywhere to be found about the origin of the beer. Everything on the can is in (American) English! Strange. I had the impression that the good folks in Piteå town are not the least ashamed of their home turf!

The very dark goodness of this chocolate stout is definitely extremely tasty - and filling. Super delicious and I'd guess it is as close a beer gets to chocolate, without a complete transformation. Yup, you can definitely skip dessert and choose How To Skip Dessert instead. Perhaps not such a great idea to skip lunch though. 

Apparently This Is How will also open a 'taproom' in (even more northern) Luleå; interesting for sure!  

Friday, March 4, 2022

Pixel Buds A-series


Pixel Buds - the expensive ones, especially the first gen but also the second - have had their share of teething troubles, and then some. Actually, it seems that all those woes have never been completely straightened out. On top of that, the lack of ANC has been almost a deal breaker for me. However, the Google buds do have a 'feature' that very few among the competition can match: they fit pretty much flush in the ears so nothing sticks out. This last thing is something that I do like a lot, for several reasons, and one of them is that - on my home turf - being outdoors wintertime equals wearing a warm ski hat of sorts!

Then the Pixel Buds A-series came along: almost exactly the same design as the earlier ones, not all the bells and whistles but more budget friendly price for sure. Then the most important thing: these cheaper buds didn't seem to have connection problems, either. I made up my mind - time to purchase the A-series and hope for the best. Perhaps, perhaps I'd be able to cope without ANC.

At the time of this writing I have been using the cheap(?) Google buds for almost a month and I do have slightly mixed feelings about these A-buds.

The Cool Stuff

  • These tiny BT buds are super light and very comfortable in my ears (default tips). The tiny stabilizer arc does not bother me at all and apparently does its job since the buds stay put - even though I hardly notice wearing them. 
  • Did I mention that the A-Buds fit darn close to completely flush in the ear conch? Superb. Further, apart from the practical aspects, I would not like to walk around advertising that I'm wearing (a certain brand of) ear buds. That is something that, say, Apple Airpods users invariably do.
  • Audio quality is fine - considering the price - now that Google added the possibility to boost the low end. A couple of notches results in a balanced audio without any 'boom bass' at all. Works extremely well for voice as well - my listening using in-ear buds is perhaps 90% podcasts. However, I feel that the audio does not quite match that of Sony WF-1000XM3 that I tried earlier but the Sony buds were never an option for me (see my review).
  • IPx4 'water and sweat resistance' is a good thing for sure but does not mean you should shower or go swimming wearing these! Workouts and a bit of rain should be fine though.
  • The BT connection is solid, I haven't had any dropouts at all. Nil, zero, none, regardless where I carry my Pixel 4a. The reach of the signal is also very decent, even through a couple of apartment walls. Good job, at last!
  • It's great to be able to take out one of the buds and keep listening through the other one.
  • The Google assistant is available in all its glory, providing your phone is connected to the Internet of course, and that can be very handy. However, I sure do not use the assistant when other folks are around - I would feel pretty stupid doing that.

Not Very Cool

  • There were many reports about exceptionally low volume on A-buds when they were first introduced. The firmware updates seem to have fixed this; however, I still get a feeling that I need to raise the volume more than when using other earphones.
  • There is no volume control on the touch surfaces - however, what you do get functions better than I expected. After some practice, I get the tap right (almost) every time. No need to push the buds hard, either, and my warm winter hat doesn't cause any trouble so kudos for that.
  • The Adaptive sound thingy increases the listening volume automagically when the noise level around you goes up. It's a bit weird and when, say, a loud car approaches you and the listening volume typically goes up after that car is already gone. Nah, I'm not a fan. Especially when listening to music, I find that the setting completely wrecks the listening experience.
  • There is no multi-pairing - switching from the Android phone to the pc takes some strenuous manual labor, each and every time.
  • No wireless charging; luckily, that doesn't matter to me.
  • The case is small, smooth and 'pebble rounded' in a way that feels great when holding it - and you can use it as a fridge magnet, if you really feel the need. The lid seems okay, snaps shut reassuringly and the buds stay in their magnetic slots the way you'd expect them to. So, what about if you drop the case? I'd guess that depends on the circumstances but I sure try not to do a crash test! Most probably the buds would go flying, to start with..
  • Battery life is definitely not stellar - most of the competition does better - but it's still ok with me; frequent intercontinental flights have never been a part of my routine. Using one bud only (I often do) obviously doubles the listening time available and the bud that goes back into the 'den' charges reasonably fast.

From past experience with (wired) Bose QC20, way back in time (see my review), my view is that well functioning ANC is a real blessing. I was well aware that the A-series buds lack this but I still decided to get a pair - partly because I was curious, partly because I had tried some other pricy ANC earbuds that just didn't make the cut.

The A-series are, in a way, the opposite to ANC-buds: A-series are designed to make the person wearing them aware of the surroundings. During a bus commute this is not a great thing to me so I end up using over-the-ear hearing protection! Yup, makes me look like a bozo but it does work. Taking a walk, it really is a good thing to be able to hear what's going on around you so I have, in a way, (almost) made my peace with not having ANC. Would just love to have it in these earbuds though!

So, I do like my A-series buds; they tick most of the other important boxes for me and the physical design feels just right. Extremely comfy, solid BT connection and good audio. They are kinda Cool alright but do not leave the case behind when you put the buds in your ears - forgetting the case equals trouble :)

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Go Solar: Anker Power Port Solar Lite

The pocket book for size comparison only - not included with the solar charger! No rechargeable batteries or a power bank, either, but that would be a bit too much to ask considering the price.

Many moons ago, I figured it would be neat to have a (compact) solar charger available on kayaking trips. My reasoning should be mostly obvious - it's great to have a power source when away from the grid, weather permitting! - but I do also get this warm and fuzzy feeling from using solar power.

Quite a bit of research followed and, in the end, I decided on the Anker Power Port Solar Lite - the 15W rated sibling to the larger (21W) one. Anker is globally known for high quality chargers, power banks and other similar accessories (check the Decoder interview with Anker CEO!) and the Solar Lite has been one of the most popular and budget friendly solar chargers for years.

My experiences from using the Solar Lite are also definitely positive, including the 'bang for the GBP factor' (I bought mine from Amazon UK): I think I paid roughly 40 GBP and that included the shipping cost to my very Nordic location in northern Sweden. A summary of my thoughts, after sporadically using the charger since 2016:

  • The unit is very compact, extremely durable when folded and copes just fine with some light drizzle (the ports are not well protected from rain though). However, I sure wouldn't recommend leaving it unfolded and open in the rain!
  • It does the charging job very well, considering the compact size of the panels. No problems charging a phone or a similar device and in direct sunlight it seems to perform just as well - or better - than a traditional out-of-the-box phone charger. The Solar Lite also resumes charging almost immediately after a cloud has passed and does trickle charge even through some light cloud cover.
  • My unit has two 'old school' USB outputs; USB-C is way too modern of course! I have rarely tried charging two units simultaneously but charging two phones has worked okay, even though more slowly.
  • Normally, I use the Solar to keep a power bank well charged. I have also tried placing the Solar on top of my kayak rear deck, in a clear (100% water proof tested) map 'sleeve' along with a small power bank and that did work, even though charging was slow through the plastic. Your mileage will most probably vary.
  • If you have a tiny phone - or a power bank - it might fit in the built-in pouch with a velcro closure. Beware that whatever you put in there does get hot in direct sunlight; that's generally a very bad idea, especially when NiMH batteries are involved. Get a longer USB cable instead so you can have your electronics better protected from the sun while connected to the Solar.
All in all, a great solar charger that doesn't add much weight to whatever you are lugging around, so a good choice for hiking as well. Cool? Actually the opposite in direct sunlight but a good choice anyway!

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Charging my HX870 VHF radio: In The Wild

I know - the photo is not 'in the wild' at all but it shows all the gear needed at least. Batteries not included!

I still can't quite get it that it took me so many years to realize that a VHF marine handheld really is something I need to have when I'm out there on the water, in my sea kayak. Guess I've always figured that, since I never do any extreme stuff, I'm good anyway. Well, it turned out that's not the case; my writing about that here.

These days both me and my wife are always wearing a Standard Radio HX870 marine VHF radio when kayaking; it's a good choice in many ways but easily charging the battery is not one of them. You have to bring along, in addition to the radio..

  • The charging cradle(!)
  • The car charger (included when you get the radio)
  • An additional USB adapter that the car charger plugs into
Lugging around all that gear, it's possible to charge the HX870 when you are somewhere - probably in the tent - fully protected from the (wet) elements. No 'wet swap' of the battery possible, by the way, but I'd guess that would be a lot to ask. The cable connecting the power to the charging cradle is, unfortunately, of the cheap & stiff kind that you don't want to bend too many times (and the same applies to the car charger cable).

Perhaps the main drawback of the HX870 - and many other marine radios - is this: you can't charge the radio without the cradle and there is no way, that I know of, to charge the battery when it's removed from the radio. Sure, a USB port is a potential point of failure but there are ways - far better than a rubber flap - to secure it from water damage.

Obviously, to be able to charge anything, you also need a power source but that's another story altogether!

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