Monday, February 28, 2011

Internal Battle Over Electronics

My inner geek has been struggling with my inner curmudgeon over my desire to carry electronic devices during our Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I thought it would be nice to have some ability to take pictures, send email, update blogs, read ebooks, refer to scanned pdf files, upload pics, listen to music, find my way when lost, and find the occasional geocache ... Humping a separate camera, GPS, iPod, smartphone, and all the batteries and chargers seemed like a lot of weight, and a smartphone could do it all, if not as well as the stand-alone devices.

I'm a photographer, and I can not imagine settling for any camera in a smart phone. My Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 is an excellent, if not eggsactly an ultra-lightweight camera, with a great wide-range lens. If I didn't already have it, I'd get their DMC-LX5 which is a few ozs lighter and allows RAW capture.

Getting imagery from my camera onto a smartphone for uploading into the intertubes seems to be an issue ...

Then there's the question of dedicated GPS vice using a smart phone. There are apps that use Topo maps, but they don't get rave reviews for sensitivity or accuracy. My Garmin GPSMAP 60CSx has topo maps, a high sensitivity receiver, and weighs a ton. Their Foretrex 301 doesn't have the mapping function, but can hold 500 waypoints, it can be had at a deep discount right now, uses 2 AAA cells, and weighs just 3 ozs.

The fact that it uses AAAs is cool, because our LED Headlamps use the same. I'm could pack my La Crosse Technology BC500 battery charger which weighs 3.2 ozs and will charge 4 AAAs at a time, and enough Sanyo Eneloop 800 mAh NiMH rechargeable batteries to power the headlamps, the GPS with a few extra in the pack. That's a lot of charging to be done in town, and a lot of extra weight! I hope to find out this fall that I never need the extras!

If I got a smart phone, and used it as my GPS, it and my camera would give me a good chunk of the functionality I want. I can get an extra battery for the camera, I can get one for Androids, but not the iPhone. Smart phones can be put in "Airplane mode" which shuts off the phone function so it's not constantly expending battery power looking for cell towers. That frees it up to be used for the occasional GPS use, writing a note, listening to mp3s ... Still, its gonna draw a lot from the battery, so how do I keep it charged between town visits?

Solar seemed promising. Attach a solar panel to my pack, and hike north with the sun at my back ... But many of those cute, small panels with the built in biner, are underpowered, and some need to be in direct sunlight or they shut down. Reviews of Brunton's foldable solar cells suggest they provide some power even in indirect light, but knowing I'll be hiking in the "Long Green Tunnel," and stories of folks constantly futzing with panels for minimal results sent me looking elsewhere.

I looked at the nPower PEG. It generates power like those shake flashlights, but harvests kinetic power from smaller shakes - like the bumps we generate from walking. It was designed by an AT Hiker, and seems to produce enough power to keep an iPhone charged. But, it is relatively heavy at 12 ozs, perhaps a bit underpowered and is, at least as of this writing, unavailable. Apparently a critical part source is giving them fits, and they are currently taking reservations for when they are ready to ship.

I started looking at rechargeable storage units, and found the Brunton Inspire. It will allegedly recharge a smart phone 2-3 times, weighs 5.2 ozs, can be charged from solar cells, USB or a wall outlet, and costs 59 bucks. Seems promising.

So a smart phone and my camera could give me some of the functionality my inner geek craves, but journalng on that little keyboard seems to be a non-starter ... maybe I need a portable bluetooth keyboard? Or, maybe what I need is one of those new 7" android-based tablets ...

At this point, my inner curmudgeon has had enough. "Arrgh!" he says, "Yer gonna add 10 lbs to my old, aching back just in chargers and batteries!" "Keep the damn camera and phone you have now. Leave the phone turned off. Do your journaling in a real journal with, you know, a pencil. Do email and blog updates in libraries when you get to town, and go ahead and get the damn'd Foretrex for yer geocaching jones ..."

We'll see. Tho the Curmudgeon makes a compelling argument about the weight, the Geek does not give up so easy.

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